“I like to pet nice things.” —Lennie; Of Mice and Men
For the last three months I have listened to little else but White Fence. Always a favorite but never tyrannically so, Tim Presley's catalogue sat in my spinal ganglia like a disease, waiting for my defenses to be sufficiently lowered before slinking down to subsume my subconscious. It didn't have to wait long.
A girl I cared about decided she didn't want anything to do with me. My good friend decided he wasn't ready to stop doing heroin. Everything I wrote—when I could write—felt heavy and stale. I still bobbed and shook and opened beers to Presley's guitar, but his pitch-shifted yelps began seeping into my dreams, chasing me like a reverb cerberus. Good art is personal, but these songs all made too much sense. Some of them made me sad.
Naturally, I had to see this band three times. My goal was to pet White Fence's skin off (with my ears) and stare down at the bones to see how much of myself I recognized and whether I could bear to keep looking.
June 14, Brooklyn Bowl, Northside Festival, With Mac DeMarco, 9:30 p.m.
All of the members of the security team at Brooklyn Bowl wear a black shirt with the word “Welcome” printed on the back, which is short for “Welcome To A Party In A Giant Abandoned Copper Mine/Casino Whose Entrance Just Collapsed So You Can't Move But Hey, There's Bowling (Also Hot Wings).” Questlove was DJ'ing the late show, so I guess his fans came early—you want to be in the perfect spot on the dance floor when “Get Lucky” comes on.
White Fence's set was bright and short. Presley's solos in “Mr. Adams” were exceedingly sharp and delicious, and the slide guitar peeled back the hairs on my neck during “She Relief,” just like it was supposed to. A few guys crowd surfed, and then it was over.
A little sketchbook that came in the obligatory Northside Festival tote bag nicely encapsulates what it's like watching White Fence thirty feet from where an employee from some startup just bowled three strikes in a row on their monthly happy hour.
Overheard: “She had two bedrooms and the second bedroom was her closet.”
Number of People Wearing Shirts With Collar Stays: 15
“Get That Hearts”: 0
Times Tim Presley Jerked His Head With Half-Open Eyes To Suggest, “Climb Into My Sweet-Smelling Conversion Van & Join Me For Conversation & Marijuana & I Think There's Some Seltzer Around Here Also”: 2
“Sticky Fruitman Has Faith;” Vengeful Or Triumphant? Vengeful
FOUR OUT OF SEVEN PICKETS:
June 15, South Street Seaport, Seaport Music Festival, With PAWS, 8:50 p.m.
It wasn't too long ago that life at the South Street Seaport revolved around the bustling Fulton Fish Market next door. New Yorker columnist Joe Mitchell described it in 1952 as a seemingly endless rows of stands, “heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and a half a dozen foreign countries.” Combined with “the racket the fishmongers make, the seaweed smell,” and the “rough element” known to patronize the ancient, dilapidated bars nearby, the area was lurid and vital.
Today, the Seaport houses a shopping mall, a Johnny Rockets, and an Uno Pizza. A bar with those expensive-looking firepits sits next to the East River. A Brookstone store sits across the street. Men selling glow-in-the-dark t-shirts shout at tourists and block foot traffic. It is a strange place for a rock concert, so in that respect, not much has changed.
A storm had rolled through around 6 p.m., shortly before the bands were supposed to go on, and initially it looked as if turnout would be sparse. A man in a collared shirt holding a bland laptop satchel appeared troubled that he might be the only one to show up to a free show.
But the clouds kept parting, and people kept trickling in. PAWS, who made sure everyone knew they were from Scotland, played to an enthusiastic audience. One of them was a small child who wanted to break in their new eardrums in front of the PA.
It's hard not to notice how much of a gig Tim Presley spends with his back to the audience. The cover of Cyclops Reap illustrates this nicely, but usually, out of captivity, Presley points his guitar at his amplifier, vibrato finger wagging, as if to show us where the marrow is coming from.
I begin to think that Presley resembles those ghosts in Super Mario that turn away from you when you face them, but stalk towards you when you leave them alone. I guess he could also be facing his amplifier to make sure he gets the right tone but this seems unsatisfactory.
White Fence's hourish set was nearly identical to their first, but this had more clarity. “Breathe Again” sounds fantastic against a warm breeze. The audience—families, street vendors, security guards, strung out dudes with beards, tramps, derelicts, teenagers—sipped on deuces wrapped in plastic bags and swayed to “Lizards First.” This was very fun.
Overheard: Man to hot dog vendor: “You get all the girls cause you got the job. I'm unemployed so I get no girls.”
Price of a Draft Beer (Newcastle): $7
People Checking IDs: 0
Women Who Brought Their Sweet Large Vintage Bicycles Into The Middle Of The Crowd: 1
“Sticky Fruitman Has Faith;” Vengeful Or Triumphant? Triumphant
June 16, Knitting Factory, Northside Festival, With Las Rosas, HONEY, 1:15 a.m.
Many of White Fence's songs feature extended smatters of chaos from which a salient guitar melody rises up to banish the confusion, the way a hot sun clears fog. This requires a simple but rigorous formula that relies on accuracy, timing, and a bass player, who halfway through “Get That Heart,” essentially stopped opening his eyes and conserved even more energy by playing a touch softer. A few songs later, he would leave to take a breather.
Whether it was fatigue or booze or the hour, White Fence played their two-hour set like a melting ice cream cone, and we (wait for it… yes, oh yes) lapped it up.
Tim: We're used to playing longer sets because in Europe they make you play for an hour. I know it's cool to just play a 20 minute set and leave.
Some Guy: Aw man, it ain't that cool.
Tim: Exactly! That's what I'm saying!
Other guy: Play a song!
Tim: I'm sorry! Yes, OK, you're right.
“Harness,” the The Only Ones' “City of Fun,” and a sloppy “Be Right Too” (“Is it weird to admit that I have no idea what fucking chords I just played?”) later, the rhythm guitarist, fatigue painted on his face, started to walk suggestively towards the exit. Not yet. Then came a few bars of “Minor Threat” before Presley thanked the crowd, which by 2:50 a.m. had boiled down to only the people with wide, tired grins on their faces.
“I'm so intimidated by you, New York. Thank you very much.”
Overheard: “They're gonna end up being 40-year-old museum curators of their local museums or whatever, which is really just the Salvation Army.”
Shots of Whiskey Bought For Tim Presley Onstage: 3
Shots of Whiskey Tim Presley Drank: 3
“Sticky Fruitman Has Faith;” Vengeful Or Triumphant? Triumphant