The snow is long gone by the time I get to Buffalo.
The drive starts off smooth but turns perilous the second darkness rolls in. The roads all seem to slope uphill as I head east along 90. I listen to 3 episodes of the Black Phillip show with Patrice O’Neal and control my anxiety, doing a cool sixty on the slick, sloping asphalt.
I cross into New York around 7 and into Buffalo around 8. Everything is white and black and the cloud-dome of the sky is lit with this vaguely ominous light pollution glow, visible for miles.
The streets are slushy and my socks get wet as I park in a lot across the street from my hotel and check into my room. I freshen up and head down to the Town Ballroom, Buffalo’s self-styled premiere musical venue. The place started as a casino in the 40's, and everyone from Al Capone to Frank Sinatra walked its floors.
A trolley track in the middle of the road leads to an underground tunnel. The road’s been plowed but there’s a thick crust of snow, ice and slush. The blinking lights of the theaters are quite pretty on the glossy December veneer. Traffic is light, pedestrian traffic is lighter. The wind gnaws at you.
Upon entering, I find the Town Ballroom a mid-sized venue made mostly of brick. Comparing it to familiar Detroit venues, I’d say it’s a sort of halfway morph between St. Andrew’s Hall and the Lager House. It’s divided into two main rooms — a bar area and a stage area. The bar area is on the northwestern end, wide and open with a tavern-like feel to it. The stage area is to the southeast, situated around a three-tiered octagonal amphitheater-type deal. There are metal barriers in front of the stage. Standing room only, no seats. There’s a second bar in the show room.
As I arrive, a band called MAGS is just starting. They’re a three piece, very loud and very pop-punkish. Singer/guitarist looks like he could be Gary Clark Jr.’s younger brother. I listen to few songs before getting a Corona and buying myself a vinyl copy of Always Leave the Ground, This Day & Age’s second release. I make small talk with the merch girl and miscalculate how much cash I have on me.
MAGS finishes up. The singer is quiet, gives a quick “Thank you,” before darting off-stage.
I wait around, briefly chat up a trio of cute girls. The place is filling up. I head back to the bar and get another beer, chat up a guy who just bought a MAGS CD. I stay there, leaning and looking, until it’s showtime.
The stage room is nearly full as This Day & Age themselves come out and set up their own equipment. Once assembled, they lean their guitars on their amps and turn on a series of comfy-looking living room lamps arranged on the drum riser. They look at each other with nervous excitement. This is their first show since November of 2006.
I’m standing up front. The merch girl is next to me at one point.
“Gotta stay with the real fans,” she says. She explains to me that with all the band members in town for the holidays, the show seemed like a good idea. She’s been friends with them all since high school. There isn’t any reunion tour planned but if the show goes well they’re open to doing more. I tell her to tell them to come to Detroit.
I first heard of This Day & Age in the spring of 2007, due to a miscommunication. My friend’s band had lost a Battle of the Bands at Clutch Cargo in Pontiac, coming in second to a band called Day In Age. My friend suggested I check them out.
I typed in Day In Age to YouTube and the first song that came up was a C-list music video for a song called Slideshow. Without checking the name of the band, I clicked it.
I was shocked. I loved this group. I loved this dude’s voice. I loved their clean pop rock sensibilities and sensitivity. My friend had lost his battle to a most worthy foe. They just grabbed me, right off. I watched the Slideshow video several times before I double-checked and found out this band wasn’t Day In Age after all, but This Day & Age. I had the wrong band but, oh lord, what a happy accident.
Were they on LimeWire? They were. And their other songs were incredible. They’d put out three albums, with two of them available on a relatively wide release. Apparently they’d broken up the previous fall. The songs More of a Climb, Less of a Walk and Eustace were my personal favorites, so much that they played a role in inspiring me to start writing some of my own stuff.
The singer’s voice was pure cane sugar, just the sweetest emo cookie batter that you’d ever heard. Flawless transfers between a songbird falsetto and a headvoice clear as Christmas bells. The arrangements were bright, clean as a new hotel bathroom — garagy and scrappier on their first album and more progressive and layered on their second, with the keyboards far more prominent and the songs’ structured less conventionally. The guitars were piercing but not shrill, the bass buttery and melodic, the drums crisp with a proper amount of thump and pound to them. It was, in short, very well-produced white middle- class mid-2000’s alternative rock with an emo tilt. These were my people.
Their lyrics were the weakest thing about the songs, bluntly speaking. Bland, hokey, teenage diary fodder. But the wonderful wave of their sound washing over you more than made up for it. I listened to as much as I could get my hands on all throughout that summer, imprinting their music on my memories for that time period.
I never did bother looking up Day In Age, the band that had beaten my friend.
The lights dim and the crowd expresses cheer and the five band members walk onstage and man their instruments. Lead singer Jeff Martin plays a white Telecaster.
They allow the moment to simmer, waiting for the right wave of energy to catch. Then, with giddy grins on their faces, they begin, opening with Sometimes before transferring into Tomorrow Is Waiting. The place is full now and the mood is jubilant. The third song is I Remember Me — Let’s make this a night to remember, goes the opening line. We’re all with them.
“We’re This Day & Age and it’s so good to see you guys,” singer Jeff Martin says after I Remember Me. He declares it a day for nostalgia.
“I was going to say, I was kind of worried about the turnout,” he tells us, referencing the three inches of snow the city received that day. “But then I was like, this is Buffalo — no one’s gonna worry about the snow.”
“FUCK THE WEATHER,” screams someone from the back row.
They move along, Second Star on the Right is up next. Jeff dedicates it to a guy named Justin.
They sound better than they do on the few YouTube videos that exist of their live shows. Jeff’s voice sounds great, an arc of light cutting through the somewhat muddled mix. He lacks the finesse and golden touch that he has in the studio, but he’s on point throughout the whole set, only flubbing a few notes here and there, mostly in his higher register.
Jeff talks far more than I would’ve imagined given his shy, everydude persona.
“I wrote these (songs) when I was 20, 21, broken heart and all that,” he says about halfway through. “And you know what? It turns out all right.” He’s been living in Philadelphia for ten years. He has a real job, a wife.
The whole set is so solid that I can’t even pick out any real standouts or highlights, though a poignant, stripped down version of Building a Home featuring only Jeff and his electric guitar plus harmonies and keyboards is a welcome and unexpected variation.
The songs roll past — History Is Falling For Science (Jeff recounts a show in Houston opening for The Rocket Summer where an overzealous former band member was rocking out too hard and fell off the stage during this energy shot of a song about a pair of unlucky lovers), Always Straight Ahead, Seven Eighty, The Bell & the Hammer, The Day We Started.
They end the extremely short (for a headliner) set — just under an hour — with Slideshow. After 30 seconds back stage, they do a one song encore with Second Place Victory. Then it’s over. Jeff says they haven’t learned any other songs, so this will have to be it for now.
The show has the feel of a high school reunion, and after they leave the stage Jeff and the members appear at the merch table to glad-hand. Everybody seems to know each other. There’s a lot of hugs, a lot of that manic energy that occurs when people are all trying to cram ten years’ worth of life events into 2 minute conversations. I wait by the bar and exchange a few words with the trio of cuties I talked to before the show. Drummer Steven Padin is right in front of me at one point, but I leave him be as he chats with one well-wisher after another.
I finally snag Jeff as he breaks off from his latest conversation. We talk briefly and I tell him my story as best I can. He looks me in the eye and gives me a one-armed bro hug. I invite him on my podcast and he gives me his e-mail. He’s shorter than I thought he’d be. He shakes my hand a second time and then he’s off to the next social interaction. His pretty, bookish wife follows him wearing a proud smile, stars in her eyes.
I go back to the hotel, get a Jack Daniel’s steak at TGI Friday’s, jerk off in the shower and try to sleep. When I can’t, I lie in bed for a few hours before getting up around 5 AM and heading home. It’s Christmas Eve, and the sun comes up as I’m cruising the snowy hills of western Pennsylvania. It’s a cold, white-sky kind of day, and everything shines with healthy winter light.
Another snowstorm is on the horizon, and if I make good time I’ll beat it home.