Imagine taking in a long, deep drag of a Marlboro, feeling the head rush as the nicotine creeps through your bloodstream. That’s what the October 11th Vundabar concert at Columbus Theater felt like, the apex of that inhalation.
Before that Friday night, I had never been to a Providence show before. Growing up in New York, my only experience with indie music came from stuffy, over-packed shows–the kind of show where you can’t hear the music over the overwhelming smell of sweat, where bodies and plastic cups of beer thrash together underneath the dim-lighting, absorbing the sound. What I experienced at the Columbus Theater show completely changed that, throwing my New York notion of indie concerts aside for something new and distinctive.
The night started like any other great Providence night would: waiting ten minutes too long for the perpetually-late RIPTA. On the bus ride over, my friend and I’s anticipation boiled up, both of us unable to contain our excitement to see our first live Providence show. It was our first break from Brown’s “college-hill bubble,” and we were anxious to dive into the frenzy of Vundabar’s country-surf rock. Yet, what we encountered had an entirely different vibe. As we reached Columbus Theater, the theater’s 1920’s-esque ornery windows and big headliner board with block lettering caught my eye. The vibe of the old-theater followed us as we walked through the gilded box office and up the staircase to the concert’s stage.
One of the biggest surprises of the venue, however, not from the building’s grand facade, but instead, the simple presence of seats. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never been to a concert with chairs. Before Friday, I had thought that indie concerts were only really “worth it” if they included moshing. The Vundabar concert completely contradicted that. They asked everyone to abandon their seats and flood the area in front of the stage, but the chairs still prevented a mosh from forming. However, the overall vibe of the concert was definitely “worth it.”
When the house lights went off and purple flooded the stage, I could tell we were in for a good time. Just standing there before the music, I could already feel the positive energy radiating from the night.
Boyscott took the stage first. They started the concert with “Embarrassingly Enough,” a slow ballad laden with angelic coos of “ooh” and “ah” by guitarist Ellen Mcguirk. The chords of the song’s chorus brought an almost Southern sound to the Providence stage. Opening with this low-tone, yet captivating song created a mellow vibe that lasted the rest of the night and rushed any concerns about moshing away. The band then continued through much of their only album, “Goose Bumps,” interlacing their songs with anecdotes about house shows or lead singer Scott Hermo gushing about how happy he was to be there. Hermo kept mentioning how the crowd’s “socks” would “be blown off” by And the Kids and Vundabar. Yet, I can definitively say that everyone in Columbus theater was thoroughly-impressed by Boyscott’s North American metamorphic rock sound.
Next up was And the Kids, a female trio from Massachusetts with only two of its members present for the show. Lead singer Hannah Mohan brought chilling vocals to the theater, paralyzing everyone with her tenor. In between songs, Mohan noticed the strangeness of playing music for people in seats and encouraged the further clumping of the crowd at the foot of the stage. The concert became more of a communal experience. Smushed elbow to elbow, the music flowed in between bodies. During their song, “No Way Sit Back” Mohan even began to get into the music herself- she took her guitar and started crawling on the floor as she sang. It felt incredibly intimate to watch her let go of societal expectations and give in to how she wanted to move.
After And the Kids’ stunning performance, headliner Vundabar graced the stage. Having previously seen Vundabar in New York, I thought I knew what to expect coming into their Providence performance. However, in New York, the band played relatively tame in comparison to their Columbus theater performance. In New York, there is definitely a certain pressure on bands. Because it’s New York, the site of infamous music break-out moments, many bands will feel anxious and act differently onstage. In Providence, however, there’s less stress — the crowd is there for a nice, chill night of music, not to make-or-break the band’s career.
When Vundabar came on stage, they immediately ran to the three multicolored floor lights. Each one held a light up to their face and stared at the audience for a few minutes. While playing with the lights, the band members mumbled and made unintelligible noises into the microphones. While I know it might seem strange, I feel that the experience warmed up the audience. Seeing the band act weirdly allows the crowd to view them as more human than the unreachable band-member. Having that humbled perception, the crowd seemed more receptive to the music, dancing and singing along as well as shouting out during the band’s “stand-up” in-between songs. After the first song, an audience member shouted “Tom Brady kiss” as lead singer Brandon Hagen blew kisses to the crowd. The comment led into a five-minute back-and-forth between Hagen and the crowd-member about the Brady kiss video. The drummer and bassist contributed to the conversation with comments of “hell ya” every so often. Needless to say, the moment was so ridiculous that I might remember it forever.
The band played through some of their most popular songs like “Oula” and “Chop,” and then moved into showcasing their newer work. Many of the unfamiliar songs came from their album that will debut in February.
To round out the show, the band called for a “vibe-check” with the audience and then launched into the theme song for the show “Ridiculousness” by DEVO. Following their theme of weird interludes, in the middle of the song, the band stopped playing and the bassist strummed a Blues combo. The eclecticism in the way they played made the concert much more interesting. Vundabar entertained the crowd by deviating from just running through their songs. This experience showed me that indie concerts don’t have to be just about playing through the band’s songs or just about the moshing and socialization around music.
Honestly, it was a shock to move into the reality of the cold Providence night from watching Vundabar’s complete deviance from behavioral standards. It took a pit-stop at Federal Hill bakery Pastiche and a mile walk back to our campus to really process the show. All in all though, the mixture of absurd actions and amazing music created an unforgettable first Providence concert experience. The kindness and feeling of common experience of the Providence crowd completely opposed all of the concerts I’ve been to before. To me, the Providence music scene is one of conjoined experience — everyone goes to the concert to collectively share in the night. In New York, music is much more individual. You go to concerts, stand in a clump with your friends, listen to the band, and then go home. There is a certain anonymity in the New York concert scene that does not exist in Providence. In Providence, people gush to strangers about how much they love the music and shout out jokes at the band. After that night, I can truly regard Providence as a place conducive to a thriving, overall kind music scene and I can remember Vundabar as the band that changed it all.