FEATURE: Their/They’re/There at the Echo, 5.20.2014
by Trevor Johnson
I didn’t attend this show with the intention of writing about it. I didn’t want to have to feel conflicted about enjoying a band in person. Most days, I have a great time digging away at the deeper narratives, the kind all three members of Their/They’re/There lend themselves to on a constant basis, both in and out of the context of this specific group. But on this particular night I didn’t feel like being a writer; I just wanted to be a fan, to enjoy a band on a weeknight without feeling like an old guy (listen to Intersections again, your late-20s are a tricky time).
And then Their/They’re/There ruined it. They got on stage and proceeded to treat every single person in the room like a close friend. I can’t imagine what it’s like when these three get the chance to play a rare show in Chicago for people they know, but I would guess that constant in-jokes might even get in the way of some of the songs. Not that anyone would complain, since the band’s sense of fun is infectious. You get the sense that these are three friends that don’t get to spend enough time together despite the fact that they click quite so well on an inter- personal and aesthetic level. Their time on stage together is just an excuse to make each other laugh in between playing some good songs that they wrote together. They’re just nice enough to let us all in on it.
So I had to reconsider everything. I write about music because it’s fun as hell to be floored by good records and songs and ideas, because hopefully there are those that read it and get the same feeling. That had to be behind the inception of Their/They’re/There: three guys that couldn’t stop making music but wanted to hang out. That’s how a song like “Travelers Insurance” or “End and End” can sound so natural and instantly worn-in, comfortable. That’s when you see all three members singing along at the same time (as an aside, Matt Frank also sings harmonies and backups while he plays his ridiculous parts, as if it’s just a common human ability and not a superhuman accomplishment). That’s also how you get countless on-stage jokes about impending Smash Mouth covers or jabs at Mike Kinsella for using black drum sticks (“Lars Ulrich” punchlines abounded). Evan Weiss even had the fortitude to shout “Chicago, Go ‘Hawks!” after some latecomer bellowed “Where y’all from?” at the stage. “I can say that because you’re all Midwestern transplants that got sick of being cold,” he quipped. The trolling was met with little to no resistance; any Kings fans must have been having too much fun to take offense. Their/They’re/There is a band that takes writing music seriously but refuses to let anything get in the way of ensuing joy.
What’s that, talk about the music? Well okay; they also sounded great. Though I (like many, I’m sure) instantly associate him with the guitar, Mike Kinsella is an impressive and inventive drummer (check out any given Owen record if you need confirmation). Reduced to facial expressions and rim shots after jokes, I partially wished Kinsella had a mic with him back there, but then again, there’s probably a huge part of him that so thoroughly enjoys not being MIKE KINSELLA at a concert for a little while that it would all be spoiled if he were expected to talk. Meanwhile, Evan Weiss’ bass tone falls somewhere between The Rapture and Converge (or perfection, if you prefer), and he frequently plays like someone who has always secretly pined to be a member of the latter. On social media, Weiss has taken to calling this brief West Coast swing as a “California Vacation,” and as the band closed their encore with a cover of Superchunk’s “Detroit Has a Skyline,” that holiday aura grew more realized by the second, as all three sang through grins. There’s no pressure on Their/They’re/There. What makes the band truly compelling live is that their sense of fun doesn’t stop at the edge of the stage. They’re a photographer on family vacation at the Grand Canyon; the skill is so natural and genuine that of course they’re going to take a few pictures. But it’s never for National Geographic (more like National Lampoon’s Vacation), it’s just to embrace the moment.
So maybe the moral of all this is to take what you create seriously, but nothing else. It seems obvious to say something like “go out there and have fun,” but an unusual amount of the “Can you believe this?!” excitement was flying off the stage and into the crowd. Maybe they won’t have time to get to Disneyland this week, but if the shows are at all similar to opening night in Los Angeles, Their/They’re/There’s “California Vacation” will provide for plenty of snapshot memories, for the trio and for their couple-hundred new friends.