Ten years of music, six albums, tireless touring, and thousands of devoted fans–all celebrated in one beautiful, sublime evening. I could probably write a novella in this post, but I’ll not to be too verbose (no promises). Saturday night, December 1, 2012, was Kevin Devine’s 10th anniversary show, offically titled Write Your Story Now: Celebrating 10 Years of Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band(s). A celebration of the tenth birthday of his first solo album and the advent of his solo career, Kevin Devine performed three of his six full-length albums: his first album, 2002’s Circle Gets the Square; his most recent album, 2011’s Between the Concrete and the Clouds; and his 2005 release, the recently reissued, Split the Country, Split the Street. Over 1,000 tickets were sold to the event which was held at Webster Hall in New York City
The show was announced a few months before, and I immediately knew I had to go. This wasn’t any show. This was a once in a lifetime event. It wasn’t something that was going to happen again. My friend bought us tickets as a birthday gift to me, the show falling pretty close to my 23rd birthday. We took a car, and a ferry, a cab, and walked a whole lot. We shelled out money we didn’t have, but it was worth every penny and then some.
The show was hosted by two NYC comedians, Jay Miller and Casey Jost. The two worked together as a team filling the downtime between sets with hilarious, albeit ridiculous, sketches. By the time Kevin took the stage for his first set, the 10th anniversary t-shirts printed exclusively had completely sold out. A word about the merch–Kevin was kind enough to donate 20% of all proceeds from merchandise sold to Occupy Sandy, a Hurricane Sandy relief effort.
Kevin walked across the stage, dressed in a suit and tie, armed only with an acoustic guitar, to applause and cheers from the audience. Rapt, we listened as he ran through the songs from Circle Gets the Square, songs that he wrote well over ten years ago. He broke up the sullen acoustic songs with some self-deprecating humor and half-serious apologies about some of the songs on the record. He threw in a brand new song called “From Here,” inspired by returning to Staten Island after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Here’s a video I took of the song, and a bit of the explanation beforehand:
The Circle Takes the Square set went by very quickly. The album is by no means Kevin Devine’s stronger work, but some of the songs still hold their own. I found myself singing along to many of the songs (I didn’t even know that I knew the words until that night). Moving right along, the comedians took over for a while before Kevin returned with the Goddamn Band.
The next set was Kevin’s most recent album Between the Concrete and the Clouds. The rich full band sound on every track provided a refreshing contrast to the spartan acoustic set that came before it. I saw Kevin Devine a little over a year ago when he toured with a condensed version of the band to support this record, and I could definitely hear a difference. The full instrumentation made the songs come to life in a way I hadn’t heard before. The members of the GDB were the same as those who played on the recording of the album. Again, the set flew by. It was wonderful to hear one of my favorite tracks, “Awake in the Dirt,” live for the first time. The band knocked the title track out of the park, and slowed it down a bit with the caustic and strangely beautiful “11-17,” one of the most haunting songs from the album. The set closed with the powerful “I Used to Be Someone,” which was opened by a bit of Eminem inspired freestylin’. Check out the video here:
It was immediately clear that the final set, Split the Country, Split the Street was what many of the fans came to see. Maybe it was just the fact that the album opens with “Cotton Crush”–a fan favorite and live show staple, but there was a surge of energy as Kevin and the Goddamn Band (now with the members at the time of Split the Country’s release) took the stage. To the shock of the audience, an additional musician, Jesse Lacey from Brand New, appeared on stage. I had joked with friends that this would happen, since Lacey provided backing vocals for the recording of “Cotton Crush,” but I never got my hopes up. I immediately recognized him and turned to my friend, grinning, but not everyone around us knew what was going on. For the most part, Jesse Lacey stayed out of the spotlight, and left immediately after the song. Check it out:
That song was all the crowd needed to go totally wild. I was having far too much fun to be bothered by my many drunk peers, staggering and tripping, throwing arms up and slurring lyrics together. It was just such a special moment in an exceptional show. It’s not something that’ll happen again, and everyone in the crowd knew it. We were all in this together; this was a night that none of us would forget. Every one of us, drunk or sober, was part of something extraordinary, something profound, something…beautiful. As the set progressed, I couldn’t help but think of how great the band sounded, easily better than the recording. Maybe it was the spirit of the evening, the camaraderie, or the celebration of the man of the hour, Kevin Devine. This album will always have a special place in my heart–it was my first Kevin Devine album, and “No Time Flat,” the third track, was the first Kevin Devine song I ever heard (and immediately fell in love with). The crowd screamed along to the refrain of “I like to party!” in the fifth track, “No One Else’s Problem.” The band powered through a electrifying rendition of “Buried by the Buzz,” and slowed it down with the earnest story telling of “Haircut” and “Probably.” The evening became quite reflective when Kevin played the somber “Alabama Acres” and the rollicking “Damned Ol’ Dad,” both songs were penned about the death of his father a couple of years before the album was released. Things quieted down again with the last track, “Lord, I Know We Don’t Talk,” an acoustic one-sided conversation with an absent God.
Before Kevin even left the stage, the crowd was demanding more. He didn’t keep us waiting long at all. Along with all the various GDB members and friends, Kevin returned for an encore, starting with a cover from his old band Miracle of 86. Next up was the stellar “Just Stay” from Put Your Ghost to Rest, another personal favorite of mine. By this point, I was really hoping that the show wouldn’t end. I would have stayed and listened to Kevin Devine into the wee hours of the morning. It wasn’t even 10:30, it was simply too early for this to end, yet it had to. Next Kevin and the Band(s) played “Noose Dressed Like a Necklace” from Make the Clocks Move.
The night ended with a gut-wrenching rendition of “Brother’s Blood.” As I’m writing this, I’m uploading the videos I took, and listening to them as I go. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s all over, that I’m home and back to reality. Maybe it’s the exhaustion, the lack of sleep, the aching of my body. I don’t know. All I know is that as I listen to this video of “Brother’s Blood,” I’ve got chills, and I feel so deeply moved. It’s visceral. It’s imperfect. It’s real. I’ll take the risk of sounding sappy. My heart is so full of gratitude and love and hope and some other indescribable emotion, I think I might shed a tear before the song is over.
All in all, it was a night of celebration. Of a man and his career, his music, his fans. It’s not something I think I’ll experience at a show again, at least not anytime soon. The gratitude, pride, and emotion Kevin Devine expressed was genuine. He often looked smiling up at the balcony where his family were watching, surely proud and beaming. As I limped back to the hotel, the whole evening swirling in my mind, I recall thinking that the world, especially the music world, needs more people like Kevin Devine. People who care, people who are dedicated and eternally grateful to share their art with the world. People who do what they love and change lives doing it.
A quick note: There are a few more videos I took that you can watch here. I wanted to briefly address my absence from this blog. It’s not for lack of going to concerts, but for lack of time and lack of motivation. Write Your Story Now changed that. It set something off inside me. That night pushed me to come back here and write, to write my own story now.