Antarctigo Vespucci, Katie Ellen, and Alex Silva, By Will Malkus

Antarctigo Vespucci, Katie Ellen, and Alex Silva, November 2, 2018 at Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House, Washington, DC By Will Malkus

Question: How many times can Will and Lorien (Aretesophist Photography) get caught in commuter traffic during a storm while driving to Washington, DC to cover a show? Answer: At least twice.

Fortunately, we were guided by a force much stronger than weather or time: friendship. Despite the rain, traffic, and general gloom, we both knew there was one thing that would lift our spirits no matter what, and that was seeing best friends/soulmates Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock play power pop jams with the rest of Antarctigo Vespucci in a coffee shop basement. This was my first time going to Songbyrd Record Café and Music House but I’ve heard nothing but great things from friends over the years and it did not disappoint. While we didn’t have time to try any of the food or browse the vinyl racks, even just hustling through the upstairs café to get to the basement venue was enough to make me want to go back and spend a lot more time there.

Alex Silva
Baltimore-based electronic musician Alex Silva had already started his set by the time we got into the crowded basement, but I didn’t need to hear very much to understand why he was on this bill opening for Antarctigo Vespucci. I’m not usually a big EDM person, but Silva’s music oscillates between energetic dream pop and heavier, less polished garage rhythms—which is sort of the crossroads where Farren and Rosenstock’s styles intersect into their own band. Two of the tracks he played (“Montealto” and “Cable Salad” from his Mind Pattern Explorer LP) were a little more glitchy on that bright and dreamy side of Silva’s style, but the latter half of his set featured songs from his upcoming 2019 album which really stuck out to me as great. Before moving more into composition Silva spent a lot of time playing in hardcore bands, and you can really get the feel for that hardcore energy on his set closer “Paralogize.” I feel like we always see the “DJ head bob” get made fun of on TV or in movies, but Alex Silva and his music are punk rock enough that it looked natural when he did it. He relocated to Baltimore, Md. a few years ago and founded label Canadian Duck Tapes, through which he releases his own music as well as other electronic artists, and I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out for more of his local stuff.

Katie Ellen
Lorien and I were just starting to dry off and get settled when Katie Ellen began tuning up for their set. Seeing them is always a little emotional for me, not just because they play beautiful, haunting songs that evoke genuine feelings and memories but also because frontperson Anika Pyle’s old pop punk band Chumped was one of my very favorites for years and years. As a fan it’s easy to get wrapped up in musicians who are special to us and resent or blame them for changing or breaking up, but it’s important we recognize and support their growth and need for change. In the case of Katie Ellen, growth is exactly the right word. As much as I loved Chumped, the lo-fi folksy sound that Katie Ellen has mastered is perfect for Pyle’s voice, which can swell from soft and sweet to screaming and full of emotion in a heartbeat. This may not be an entirely relatable sentiment, but listening to Katie Ellen is a lot like feeling a depressive episode come on—it starts off all quiet and slow and then suddenly you realize there are all these threads of anger and manic energy mixed in that you never even noticed.

But as excellent as Katie Ellen sounded, it was hard to appreciate over the noise from people talking. This is pretty common at DIY shows, unfortunately, and I don’t want to call out an entire scene or imply that it’s everyone doing it but I’ve noticed it a lot more in DC than anywhere else. People seem to get this idea that acts that aren’t loud as fuck and jumping around are just there as background for their conversations, but please stop talking over quieter bands and musicians. You may think you aren’t being that loud or the performer can’t hear you but I promise you they can, and so can everyone trying to enjoy them.

Katie Ellen’s set started with “Wild Hearts,” the first song they released on the TV Dreams 7” back in 2016. It has the distinct bedroom folk feel of a Liz Phair song played in the background of Dawson’s Creek, but with some welcome punk edge and lyrical content that should be appreciated all on its own. All of Katie Ellen’s songs are poetry, which has always been one of Anika Pyle’s strong suits, but the amount of honesty and exposure she pours into these songs is remarkable—it’s like she’s inviting the listener to step fully into her mind, body, and experiences. And that’s not to say that every song is a slow coffeehouse ballad; the four piece really put all their energy into the indisputable fucking jam “Houses into Homes” towards the end of the set and closed after a false start with “Adaptations of Para Todos,” which sounds the way break-ups feel: tumultuous and loud, then quiet and reflective, and finally cathartic and resigned. Or peaceful; it’s hard to tell for sure, which is what makes it so good.

Antarctigo Vespucci
The best way to see Antarctigo Vespucci, I can now confirm, is absolutely in a one hundred degree, wall-to-wall packed basement with bad lighting. It’s been said before, but they are so infectious that the excitement bounces from one person to another until even the most stoic punk is smiling and swaying along with the music. Chris Farren, face covered in glitter to match his mirror-crusted guitar, may be trying to distance himself from his “hot guy with glasses” brand these days, but in every other way he’s still the same old Chris. Whether he wants to be the absolute center of attention or not (he does) Chris Farren can’t help but pull every eye to him when he’s performing, including co-conspirator Jeff Rosenstock’s—but at least the feeling is mutual. “Find you a partner who looks at you the way that Chris Farren looks at Jeff Rosenstock,” Lorien texted me a few days after the show while editing photos, along with a picture of Farren gazing lovingly at Rosenstock while he screams into the microphone, and it’s true the chemistry between the two is indisputable.


Considering the first release the two ever put out together was called Soulmate Stuff you have to anticipate a fair number of loving gazes, but I was even more excited that the soulmates were joined on this tour by Laura Stevenson (of Bomb The Music Industry! and Laura Stevenson And The Cans) and John DeDomenici (also of BTMI! and every solo record Jeff Rosenstock has released). Watching this incarnation of Antarctigo Vespucci perform was a lot like watching four best friends just hang out with each other. Laura Stevenson pulled down double duty playing the literal bells and whistles and providing backing vocals; her voice on “Impossible to Place” was an especially great counterpoint to the blend that Chris and Jeff have perfected, and John DeDomenici killed it on bass like the professional he is while also holding down some understated dance moves. They even had Katie Ellen join them on stage to provide some percussion and harmonies during “Breathless on DVD,” because no one is more hype about the music his friends make than Chris Farren himself.

All told, Antarctigo Vespucci played seventeen songs straight through without stopping for breath and we were all soaked through with our own sweat, especially after an encore performance of “Don’t Die in YR Hometown” that got predictably wild. You might think that after Chris Farren casually wandered out into the crowd for “Come to Brazil” to close the night out we would be ready to go home, but as Antarctigo Vespucci exited the stage for the last time there was a pervading sense of reluctance from the crowd to head for the door. The basement of Songbyrd that night was full of friendship and glitter and smiles, but out the front door was just rain and our real lives. It was clear that no one wanted that show to end.

Still, at least we had some guidance, “because the things that last forever are the things that never change.”

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, MD. You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com/.

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