I meet up with the lads of Blaenavon after their soundcheck at rough trade. I tell them my plan, which is spending about an hour together taking in Brooklyn.
When Harris hears this, he laughs and says “sounds good to us, but you may get bored of us quickly, or start to hate us.”
The sun has just started to set and the whole band is gushing over how lush the lighting is for photos right now. As I lead them out of the venue, a girl shouts out at the band “hey are you Blaenavon? My sister loves you guys!” Turns out the sisters drove two hours from Pennsylvania to get to this gig because they wouldn’t be in town to catch the tour when it’s closer to home. The guys have a brief conversation with the girls, snap some pics and thank them profusely for coming out to the show. We then head down to east river state park to get some portraits on the beach as the sunsets over Manhattan. The tide is higher than I planned for it to be but the lads deal with my photo plan as we make our way to a dry patch of beach for some photos. After we lap up every second of golden hour that we can, I lead them to one of my favourite pizza chains, two boots, for the most New York meal one can have, a slice.
We arrive at two boots and the amount of pizza topping options seem to blow their minds. They each go for something a little extra than just the staple cheese slice, and I can’t really blame them with that selection. We sit and chat over pizza for the next 20 minutes. We start discussing karaoke and how it’s a must do in NYC. The conversation moves to how karaoke songs are created. Apparently it’s just from taking away the vocals from a song that was recorded ‘properly’. I joke that I always thought karaoke songs were made by the Nokia ringtone man. My comment makes Ben’s eyes light up, “oh an 8bit karaoke bar would go down SO well in east London.” “A vegan 8bit karaoke bar!” quips Harris. They think this is going to be the next big thing. We finish up our pizza and beers and stop for a few more photos outside to commemorate our times at the pizza chain.
As we head back to the venue, Frank tries to explain to me how to correctly pronounce the band name “it’s like Bryan Adams” he says, following up by slowly saying “Bly-an-a-von.” I try to duplicate the pronunciation he just did, but it sounds foreign and butchered in my American accent, so I make a face of disgust. He laughs and tells me I’ve said it right, but it still sounds wrong in my head. As we get closer to the venue and we’re all chatting and laughing, I think back to Harris’ comment when we first met. I tap him on the arm and muse “well you weren’t boring and I don’t hate you guys, so I think this was a success.” The whole band cracks up laughing “oh I may have to tweet that you said that” Ben exclaims, as he jots down in his phone my exact words. When we get closer to the venue the lads start to voice concern over whether people will be into their set tonight. I mention the girls we met earlier, and then recall that while I waited for them to finish soundcheck, the people waiting on line for the gig were all singing along to their soundcheck. My comment makes the band to collectively sigh in relief.
Then, Frank asks Ben if he’s planning to dress up for tonight’s gig. Ben tells him no, that he wants the music to do the talking for once. When I inquire what they’re talking about, Ben explains that he usually wears something a bit out there and wears eye makeup during their gigs. “I’ll probably wear some tomorrow night, guess you’ll have to see us again” Ben retorts, I laugh, “I guess my plans of a chill night in tomorrow are cancelled.”
We get back to Rough Trade and sadly our time enjoying Brooklyn together draws to a close. We head inside the venue, I head to the front of the crowd and the guys head to their dressing room to prepare for their set. Having only recently discovered Blaenavon I’m very excited to see what they have in store for the crowd. When the guys take the stage, they seem a bit timid, but as soon as the music starts, there’s no timidness left in any of the members of Blaenavon. Their stage presence is electric, their energy is palpable, suddenly I’m sucked into another dimension where only Blaenavon exist. The set feels like it’s over in minutes, yet it also felt like it lasted a lifetime, and I’m left wanting more. While they played almost every song I wanted to hear live, I would not have minded if they played for another hour. The fact I get to see them tomorrow night is suddenly the best news I’ve had in weeks.
Fast forward 24 hours. When I arrive at Mercury Lounge in the lower east side of Manhattan, the doors have only been open for a few minutes. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, Blaenavon take the stage. Harris and Frank are in very similar outfits to last night, but Ben has on a blue long sleeved shirt that’s most see-through and has blue, Cleopatra-esque eye makeup on. While the setlist is the same as last night, something about the guys energy when they take the stage, tells me tonight is going to be special. The set is again electrifying, and the crowd tonight is way more into their music than last night’s crowd was. By the end of their set, the crowd, including myself, is on a high from the energy exuded from the lads. Blaenavon know how to put on a rock show that sticks in one’s mind. So much so that I’m positive that if I had gone to the gig not knowing who they were, I would have left needing to know every last thing there was to know about them.
Words and photographs by Sara Feigin
Words by Sara Feigin