One of the reasons I don’t see live music much anymore (in addition to all the reasons that come with being a grumpy old tossup, such as “it’s too damn loud”) is that the era of smartphones has undone the very reason live performance exists. The notion of a small, sweaty room devoting its full attention for 90 minutes to a beloved creator of something special has gone the way of full sentences, introducing oneself and children calling adults Mr. and Mrs. Lastname.
People who have presumably paid an ever-increasing sum for a ticket staring at their phones and paying attention to something other than the performers wrecks it for me. And the worst are the people who have not paid for a ticket doing the same. If I’m fortunate enough to be invited to the VIP section, I cringe when some fellow lucky bastard can’t even commit himself to the show being given by someone who’s presumably his friend.
Last Wednesday night, I didn’t have to worry.
Portlandia’s Fred Armisen was at the Bowery Ballroom to see Bob Mould and his band, along with me and a few hundred other fans of a performer whose songbook ranges from punk innovators Hüsker Dü to indie-pop hit makers Sugar to a sturdy solo career.
Armisen passed all of my tests for celebrity authenticity—his entourage was composed of real people, he sang along, he drank beers and, most of all, he stayed off his goddamn phone. I would have expected that, because I used to see his band Trenchmouth back in the day in Chicago (I think I even played with them once). But then it got even better.
Mould’s trio—Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster drumming—totally whaled, mixing great new songs like “Star Machine” with old Hüsker chestnuts like “I Apologize” and even “Chartered Trips” from Zen Arcade. When they came back out to reward the crowd’s enthusiasm, they were joined by Mr. Armisen, who absolutely killed it. Shouldering some kind of Danelectro-looking guitar with authority, he joined the band in playing “Flip Your Wig,” “Hate Paper Doll” and the splendid “Divide and Conquer,” with the SNL star supplying Grant Hart-worthy backing vox, credible guitar and adorable stage moves.
Armisen posed for photos with fans and turned down a request to do his Ira Glass impression because “it’s too loud in here.”
I told him what a pleasure it was to see him perform with a musician whose work had obviously meant a lot to him. Armisen’s reply showed no trace of the detached cool guy that he’s turned into an archetype on his IFC television show.
“It was a dream come true,” Armisen said. “A fucking dream come true.”