We are all privy to amazing performances. Sometimes we get to share them with massive amounts of people and sometimes we are one of only a few spectators. But they all generate stories for us that we try to relate to people. It’s often difficult.
For example, the best version of “My Funny Valentine” I’ve ever heard was performed by a band called Verbena when they played live at the old Go Studios in Carborro, and one of the best original songs I’ve ever heard was written by a band that never made a record that I’m aware of, but whose performance of said song prompted me to walk up to the singer after the show and say, “That song was perfect.” Because it was.
Rock and roll is a fickle master. Just because you write one of the greatest songs ever doesn’t mean you will see one ounce of recognition in your lifetime or that the record labels will come calling. But it doesn’t mean that your legacy is any less worthy of enshrinement.
By the time this Friday rolls around, Winston-Salem’s Jews & Catholics will have been doing their thing for nearly 10 years. I remember playing their first full-length, 2007’s God’s Trash, on my weekly radio show at WQFS, just as I’ve played every subsequent release of theirs. So it came as a good bit of a shock when I read a few weeks back that they were calling it a day, wrapping it all up with their final show this Friday at the Garage in Winston-Salem.
“We met while working at Ed McKay’s in Winston,” Eddie Garcia, Jews & Catholics’ guitarist and singer, told me. “I had actually just hired Alanna [Meltzer-Holderfield, bass player] at the store and we decided to try playing together. It took us awhile to figure it out — her background was classical and mine was none of that at all.” When you see the band play live, you can see what he means. Garcia plays as if every nerve in his body has been transposed outside of him as he sends out solar flares of noise. Meltzer-Holderfield is focused more tightly, her hands bowing and fretting her bass like a fighter holding back their big punch, waiting for the perfect opportunity for the KO.
I didn’t see them play live until I had them up on my radio show in 2010. They were about to release their second full-length, the Mitch Easter-produced Who Are? We Think We Are! I crammed some large bands into the old WQFS broadcast room, but I remember feeling especially overwhelmed by Meltzer-Holderfield’s stand-up bass and the sheer sound of Garcia’s guitar. They were incredibly nice people, great interviews and played the most raucous set I’ve ever had from a band on my show.
But it does make me wonder how a band this good never got to play the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh with all its focus on in-state music. Or why they never ended up signing with a record label. Or why I sat nearly alone at the bar at the now-defunct Flatiron to see them play to maybe 12 people last year.
But my solace is this: I saw them play earlier this summer at the Garage in Winston-Salem, the same venue that will play host to their final show, and they were amazing. They were the best I’d ever seen them before. They added a live drummer back in 2011 and the extra heft that Jay King brings to their sound is palpable. I came out of the show beaten and tired, but grinning ear-to-ear.
That’s what art leaves us with. It gives us a momentary experience that is every bit as valid and true as the things we’re told were the best by anyone else. It’s why I invited the band to come up and be on my show one last time this week and it’s why I will be at the Garage on Friday night as well: to experience, one more time, one of the greatest live shows and bands I’ve had the privilege of seeing in the past decade.
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