Field Medic

at Boston Sinclair

Words: Saraphina Forman
November 16th 2021

Last Monday, Field Medic played at The Sinclair in Boston. I started listening to the freak folk musician Field Medic (a.k.a. Kevin Patrick Sullivan) a couple of years ago, and his roving guitar patterns, yearning voice, and somewhat emo lyrics made him the perfect artist during quarantine and beyond.

I have many a memory of listening to HEADCASE (“my days pass in a bright blur / while my mind is elsewhere”) as I walked through desolate streets or listening to “i will not mourn who i was that has gone away” (“Are you a ghost in an empty room?”) as I passed endless hours in my room. But Field Medic doesn’t only write depressing songs; he also writes love songs. As he put it, “It’s either like ‘I can’t stand to be alive’ or it’s like ‘I think I have a crush on you.’ There's only two different kind of tracks that I write.”

Recently, Field Medic has garnered a lot of attention thanks to the music industry’s latest force: Tik Tok. He wrote “song i made up to stop myself from having a panic attack just now,” with simple lyrics and no instrumentals, unlike any of his other songs. At the concert, Field Medic introduced this “extremely micro song” by addressing the audience with, “has anyone ever heard a song that says ‘just relax my friend’? You may or may not know that was actually me.” He also talked about the process of writing and releasing the song: “I was riding my bike and I was extremely spooked out and I made up that song and I made a video of it and I put it on Tik Tok and then this guy named Rich duetted it with his beautiful harmony.” He said that “it’s been really interesting and crazy and unexpected” to see the popularity of the tune, since he “wouldn’t have released it as a song.” However, Field Medic is “obviously very happy that a lot of people relate to the message.” Despite the unconventionality of this song, Field Medic actually pointed out that the songwriting process for it was standard: “For most songs, I kind of just make them up randomly…‘first thought best thought’ is usually my mantra.''

Naturally, when I got one of those tempting Bands In Town emails saying he was playing on the Monday night after Halloweekend, I knew I had to go. No matter the eight hour studio I had that day, the four hours of sleep I'd be running on, or the three skeleton realism drawings due the next day. I bought tickets.

As I was opening my confirmation email I noticed that the tickets didn’t say “Field medic” but rather “Adam Melchor.” Further investigation revealed that Field Medic was in fact just the opener of the concert. This was funny and a bit strange but, despite never having heard of Melchor (an opera-trained pop artist on his first headlining tour), I was not deterred from going to the concert. As soon as I got out of my studio at 5:08pm, I ran up The Hill to gather a few items for the night (among the things I grabbed: four long sleeve shirts, eight gradations of graphite pencils. Among the things I didn't grab: underwear, socks, homework). I sprinted to the Amtrak station and made it by 5:22.

When I arrived at The Sinclair, Field Medic took the stage solo, save for a small boom box. Besides a minor mishap involving said boom box—it apparently wasn’t working until right before he got on, and there was a little hiccup with a beat being too loud somewhere near the end—all went smoothly. Field Medic even used this setback as an anecdote to connect with the audience, saying, “Here’s a tip for if you’re ever stupid enough to go on a tour with casettes and a boom box: make sure they’re not broken. Because they break. For a minute there before the show, I thought ‘well, I'm fucked. No drums tonight’ but luckily it worked out.” In the end, Field Medic was able to play through his set on guitar, harmonica, and vocals backed by the pre-recorded drum beats. His voice sounded rich and full, and, in my opinion, even better than in the studio recordings.

The crowd was mostly what I had expected: friendly, low-thirties, white hipsters. Field Medic has been signed to the Boston label Run for Cover Records since 2017 when he was “discovered” while busking in Golden Gate Park, so even though Field Medic is originally from San Francisco, Boston is quite familiar to him. It seemed like a fair amount of the audience was, like me, there to see Field Medic, because he played for almost half the concert, and the crowd was enthusiastic, often singing along. Someone even threw him a shirt that said “We love you, Field Medic.”

Similarly, Field Medic was “feeling great,” a statement he prefaced with the reasoning, “I’m in the middle phase of growing out my hair where sometimes I looks really bad and sometimes I look like I’m in like a Christian post-hardcore band, and tonight I feel like I am in a Christian post-hardcore band.”

Thus, the good moods abounded and Field Medic reciprocated the energy of the enthusiastic crowd by sprinkling anecdotes in between many of his songs. He politely answered the questions shouted out by audience members, including “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” (“Mint chocolate chip, of course”) and “What's your favorite Daphne Loves Derby album?” (“The acoustic EP”), before Field Medic jokingly commented, “I love the Q&A section of the show.”

He opened with p e g a s u s t h o t z and played through many of his hits, most from his albums Floral Prince (2020), Songs from the Sunroom (2019), and fade into the dawn (2017). He understandably avoided many of the slower and some of the sadder tunes, instead choosing to play more of his several sweet love songs (e.g. POWERFUL LOVE, henna tattoo, i want you so bad it hurts, OTL, etc.—although many of them still had sort of dark undertones “I'm railing Percocet at the party, getting high to find my one true love”). He also mixed it up, though—spoken word made an appearance at some point, and he also played a new song, “Always Emptiness,” a somewhat short, slow-tempoed, and simple piece. In it, he strummed along to the catchy melody that contrasted the dark lyrical content: “I wanna fall off the face of the earth and probably die / Always emptiness / I tried laughing it off but I'm gonna cry / Aways emptiness.”

For someone whose abundance of wordy, poetic, lowercase song titles and plethora of content on his own emotional state might read as pretentious or solipsistic, Field Medic was quite humorous and down to earth. For example, he made fun of himself when he introduced the song “i used to be a romantic,” which talks about his experience as a struggling musician. He said that the song was about a show where “essentially no one wanted to hear me play ‘Always Emptiness'’”—Field Medic then took on a fake crying voice—“… and it was fucked up, man!” Later, before -h-o-u-s-e-k-e-y-s-, a song with an energetic, complex, trilling guitar part, he said, “I gotta say that I thought I knew this song like the back of my hand but for the first few shows [of the tour], I was really having a hard time playing it because I’d just been sitting in my house smoking cigs for like two years straight. Now I think I got it down pat but I'm gonna focus extra hard on this one.” He even admitted, “all my songs are in more or less the same exact chords. And I think I might play a song with more or less the exact same chords right after this one which is also the same chords as this one but it’s a new song so, like, the me-not-remembering-how-to-play-it is potentially even more dangerous.”

A particularly interesting moment was when Field Medic sang “song i made to stop myself from having a panic attack just now.” He made the very short performance as natural as it could be, but it was still a bit jarring, and made me wonder about live music in a future shaped by Tik Tok hits that can be 15 seconds long and without much buildup or resolution.

Field Medic ended the concert with a rousing performance of uuu, a fingerplucked and harmony-heavy love song that got all the 31-year-old couples swaying. With a final “I wanna thank you again for having us, and by ‘us,’ I mean me and the boom box,” he walked off the stage to fans’ cries of “We love you, Mr. Medic!” The set had certainly been the most substantial opener that I’d ever seen.

Once Adam Melchor had taken the stage, while I was watching from the mezzanine, I heard a sound coming from out in the lobby and had the strange inkling that it might be Mr. Medic himself schmoozing with friends after his show. I walked down and sure enough it was, outfitted in a canvas coat and hat. He graciously agreed to a brief interview.

First of all, Field Medic answered the oft-asked question about where his stage name came from. The answer? Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, a book that Field Medic “just loves a lot” and that features a protagonist who is a field medic. He also pointed to his love for the letter “f,” which, especially in cursive, is “very cute and emo,” as inspiration for the band name. This demonstrated expressiveness may have been further enhanced in the last couple of years, as the main pandemic-related change in himself and his music that Field Medic noticed was that he became “more weird.” Field Medic said, “I'm kind of a homebody as is, but not having the opportunity to go out and tour like I usually do, it’s been kind of hard to reacclimate to, like, life, so I think the pandemic just made me more weird and reclusive.”

Finally, the day of the concert being November 1st and me interviewing a guy whose merch features a ghoul stabbing himself through the throat with a crucifix in front of a burning ambulance, I of course had to find out about how Field Medic’s Halloween had gone. He said, “We did a show on the 30th where we all did makeup and stuff, and so that was my official unofficial halloween. Yesterday on official halloween we were actually just driving for like twelve hours, but it wasn’t a bad day. It was actually really fun.”

On the way back from the concert, I thought about how Field Medic demonstrates the power of unflinching honesty. Why be subtle and avoid talking directly about central parts of raw human experience—darkness, death, love, addiction, aging, insecurity? We as people are by nature cringey. Leading a life that will be meaningless at death could be thought of as cringey. Caring is cringey. Loving is cringey. Making art about one’s feelings is certainly cringey. But shying away from cringeiness is the most cringey. Embracing brutal honesty, however embarrassing it may be, can be freeing and powerful. Field Medic’s acute sensibility combined with his courage to expose himself through his music makes for a remarkable experience.

Listen to Field Medic (as well as the artists Field Medic said he’s been obsessed with recently here︎︎︎





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