It had been a minute since I was last at the Grog Shop in Cleveland, so I was pretty stoked. The Grog Shop has provided some great times for me and also is where I was first introduced to Strongbow in 2009. That was a gamechanger.
This is where Craig Owens was playing his acoustic set on December 16th, and it had all the promises of being intimate and beautiful.
Henry, Nikki, Robbie and I got there before doors opened. We had been standing for a bit in line when we realized some older lady was going around with a notepad, interviewing the people in line in front of us. I mumbled to my group, “Oh god, let’s not make eye contact. This lady looks—HI YES I WILL ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT CRAIG OWENS!” My tune changed as soon as she approached us because I LOVE TO HEAR MYSELF TALK.
She was kind of creepy, I’m not going to lie. She said she goes to all of his shows and does this, makes a list of why all of the kids are there, and then she gives it to him at the end of the night. She made it sound like they are tight, and who knows—perhaps they are. But she was still kind of annoying.
I made some past-tense comment about Chiodos and she snapped, “He’s still in Chiodos. They’re still together.”
(I really don’t think they are. But she clearly knows it all.)
Then she said something about how she wants him to play “3 AM” but she knows he won’t because he doesn’t plat Chiodos songs at his solo shows, which made me raise my eyebrows because he certainly has in the past.
“Isn’t it interesting to hear a man’s POV of a one-night stand?” she asked us in regard to the meaning behind “3 AM” and we all just nervously laughed until she finally moved along.
The doors opened around 7 and we traded in our toys for meet-n-greet wrist bands and then I pushed away imaginary people on my mad dash to claim us seats at the bar. Henry gave me that “why are you running?” smirk.
BECAUSE I AM ALWAYS IN A HURRY? How is he not accustomed to this by now. I hate him.
And then I found out that they didn’t have Strongbow and sighed a sigh to end all sighs. They had some kind of cherry cider though so I got that and it was beautiful. Henry was the DD so he just sat there nursing his water while the rest of us went to town. That’s what you get for being a dad, Henry.
The first band to play was a local group of seemingly high school-age kids (I think they might have been slightly older but we’ve already established a few blog posts back that my eyes are third-rate) called Trusting Obscurity. They had a girl singer and I will give them an A for effort: they had enthusiasm and moxie.
But they weren’t really for me. Or Robbie. Or Nikki.
(I didn’t ask Henry though because he doesn’t have opinions.)
They were mostly alt-rock, did a decent Paramore cover (“That’s What You Get”) and a questionable Fall Out Boy one (“Sugar, We’re Going Down”) and then a mixed bag of originals. I thought the girl had a pleasing voice, kind of husky, but their set was kind of long and I was getting antsy. And then they did some bastardized reggae banger and here’s a fact about me: I don’t like reggae. SORRY MARLEYS.
Me and Sober Hank.
From the moment the second band started playing, my eyes dilated with pure hearts. whenskiesaregray were the perfect blend of hardcore and emo, reminiscent of The Saddest Landscape and Pianos Become the Teeth, and I thought I was going to catapult off my bar stool. I was so into it, that it was making my ribcage hurt.
It was like someone handed them an Erin Will Love You starter kit and they followed it step-by-step:
Their set was over entirely too fast.
We were talking about how none of us were very fond of the first band.
“Yeah, that first band played way too long,” I cider-shouted just as the singer walked by.
She might have heard. I don’t know.
About whenskiesaregray, Robbie said, “They reminded me of that one genre…you know, like The Number 12 Looks Like You and…”
“Circle Takes the Square!” I added, because I always have to add. If you’re not adding, you’re subtracting, OK?! Get on my math level.
“But what’s that genre called?” Robbie asked, and Henry at this point had the glazed-over eyes that he probably had all throughout high school too.
“Grindcore!” I remembered a minute or so later, and Robbie was like, “Yeah!” and Henry looked like he was having really bad flashbacks to the days when I was really into grindcore. (For example: THE LOCUST.)
Too Close To Touch was next and they were your basic post-hardcore type of band and in a perfect world, I would have been all over them. I don’t know if I was just way too excited for Craig or if I was losing consciousness from inhaling the French whore perfume of this one aging, over-dressed scene queen who kept sauntering past, but I don’t really remember much of their set. Plus, I was on my second drink — a real life beer — and another fact about me is that I drink so infrequently these days that two ciders/beers is going to more than do the trick.
I think it was right after this band when we Facetimed with Chooch and Nikki got really excited and came running over to say hi to him; Robbie, you better watch out! I know that Chooch was fine back home with Judy, but I still hate it when we’re apart for too long.
Until we reunite and start arguing three minutes later.
Before Craig came on, we all got up and found good spots near the stage. Robbie and Nikki went straight for the middle of the crowd, but I dragged Henry over to the right and we parked ourselves right between French hooker and her friend, Other French hooker. I was prepared for them to start screaming like Japanese girls at a Corey Feldman concert, but when Craig came out and started playing, they stood there, motionless and with stony faces.
OK, here is where I eat crow. I had really lost interest after the last time I went to one of Craig’s acoustic shows. It was boring, I thought it was weird that he kept doing Hulk Hogan-esque “I can’t hear you!” motions with his hands, and I was irritated that we drove through a snowstorm (true story, published in 2011) to essentially hear a roomful of teenage girls sing the songs instead of Craig. I was really worried it was going to be that way again. But nope. Craig came out, strapped on that guitar, and sang his fucking face off.
The ratio of Craig Singing : Fans Singing was exactly proportionate to what you want if you paid to hear one of your favorite singers sing his songs. I was OK with the singalongs. The vibes were positive. Craig seemed absolutely jubilant. His voice was on point.
And the setlist was diverse and spanned his career perfectly: from Chiodos to D.R.U.G.S, to Cinematic Sunrise to his recent collaboration with Before Their Eyes:
He and Pete teased the new song that we got to hear earlier that day at the Alternative Press office, but then at the last minute they stopped playing it, laughed, and went on to another song. I felt kind of smug because we had been lucky enough to hear that song multiple times in one sitting and it is a glorious jam!
He ended the show the same way he had the other times I had seen him solo: by jumping into the middle of the crowd and closing it down with “Baby, You Wouldn’t Last a Minute…” which will always be my favorite Chiodos song.
(Because Craig doesn’t perform Chiodos songs when he’s out on his own.)
Afterward, we ran over to the merch tables, where a line was forming for the meet and greet. Even though we had already met him earlier, my stomach was churning. But I at least wanted him to sign the tour screenprint that I bought, because why not.
“Look, that lady’s giving him the list she was writing in line,” I laughed, and we all watched as she basked in the attention Craig was giving her. “Jesus, that’s going to be me one day, isn’t it?” I groaned rhetorically. Ugh, she was SUCH A MOM.
We were pretty close to the front, so before I was fully ready, it was our turn. Nikki and Robbie went first and Nikki, true to her word, asked Craig if he’s ever met Justin Bieber. (She’s a pretty big Belieber.) I know you’re dying to know the answer: Craig has not ever met Justin Bieber.
When it was my turn, I just gushed endlessly about he’s been like, an icon in my family for years and my kid has quite literally grown up listening to him (I showed him this picture on my phone, even though we gave Chiodos a copy of it at the 2013 Warped Tour), and he made all the right “I’m interested in what you’re saying” facial expressions and hand gestures. Nikki took this picture so here, I have proof that I’m not always invisible:
He signed my screenprint and said that he was really happy I bought one, that there were only 100 made (I got #3!) and that no two are exactly the same and again, I blew my chance to mention Loma Prieta, Hotel Books, or any of the other 6 unique topics I had on the tip of my tongue instead of opting for the typical fan-gushing. I am the actual worst at talking to musicians.
The lighting was terrible in this corner. I tried to take a group picture of Nikki and Robbie with Craig using the flash, but it was even worse. I wish we could go back and have a do-over!
What a fucking epic day. I’ve been going to so many shows by myself lately, and it felt really great to have a crew there that night. Even Henry said, “Yeah. It was good” when normally his highest praise is “it wasn’t bad.” Henry actually said the g-word!
Going to work the next day sucked, but it was totally worth the exhaustion. Cleveland, you’re so close, yet so far away.