All photos: Daniel McEnrue
Maybe I’m just a naïve college kid, but the concept of an open bar has always fascinated me. And so, in the face of our bleak economy, I was quietly impressed to see that NPR’s All Songs Considered Listening Party, tickets for which were free to begin with, had a table set up in the Gibson Guitar Showroom with bartenders and classy beverages for the taking. Due to my sad state of youth, I awkwardly asked for a cup of straight cranberry juice, though I reassured the bartender that “Thirsty Thursday” was to ensue upon my return to campus. Nonetheless, sobriety didn’t prevent me from enjoying an intimate evening full of exciting new music and enthusiastic dialogue.
Inconspicuously located in Chinatown, the Gibson Guitar Showroom was an aptly chosen venue. The walls were gorgeously lined with Gibson instruments I will never be able to afford (including a Robot Guitar, which can digitally tune itself), and the 100 capacity room lacked a bad seat. On each chair was a set of cards ranging from one to ten, which audience members held up when rating songs. Bob Boilen, creator and host of the All Songs Considered podcast, curated the music while his co-host Robin Hilton walked around with a microphone taking comments from audience members. Also onstage was a guest panel, which consisted of All Things Considered host Audie Cornish, NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson and Amanda “Fucking” Palmer, who was in town after a show at the 9:30 Club the previous night.
Much like on their weekly podcast, Boilen and Hilton engaged in playful banter which kept the “listening” portion of the night fun and energetic. Hilton usually took comments from those who gave each song the best and worst ratings, including the panel members, and this feedback was the source of several amusing exchanges. One woman, after listening to a new Atoms For Peace song, said that she has never been a fan of Thom Yorke, provoking a shower of lighthearted boos. Another audience member called The Mountain Goats a “wannabe Neutral Milk Hotel,” which was perhaps the ultimate NPR burn. “Get divorced, so you can appreciate the music of The Mountain Goats,” Thompson said in response.
After discussing songs from Buke and Gase, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Alt J and a few others, the All Songs crew turned things over to Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra for a raucous four-song set. Having recorded an NPR Tiny Desk Concert earlier that day, Palmer and her band utilized a stripped down setup comprised of small amps, a grand piano, and Stomp-esque bucket percussion. For a rather informal performance, Palmer jumped around as if she was doing a second night at the 9:30 Club. The lack of microphone support was irrelevant, since I was practically inches away from a master of theatricality whose sheer presence transformed a space where well-dressed urbanites were previously fetishizing over Thom Yorke. During “Want It Back,” off of her Kickstarter-funded album Theatre Is Evil, drummer/bucket-ist Michael McQuilken led us in some choreographed body percussion. At one point, he yelled “Play your neighbor!” and started drumming on my shoulder, effectively validating the artistic potential of my clavicle.
Palmer finished the set standing on her piano bench and strumming through “Ukulele Anthem,” a clever and heartfelt ode to the quirky, creative spirit in all of us. It’s songs like “Ukulele Anthem” that epitomize why so many fans connect to Palmer’s songs and are more than willing to crowdfund her music and play with her live for no financial compensation. Regardless of one’s opinion of her, it’s hard to deny that she’s a helluva voice for the underdogs. When Amanda Palmer is telling me to do my homework with a fork and banish evil with a cheap Hawaiian instrument, Thirsty Thursday can wait.