When they say you can’t go home again, that’s only true metaphorically, obviously. You can go home again; it’s just that when you do, it’ll be different. Things will look different, feel different, whether it is the place that has changed or yourself. You can’t truly go anywhere again.
That felt especially true last night at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. Growing up, the Bottle was always the place where the cool bands would play, a mythical place where magic happened every night — but the trouble was, you had to be 21 to get in. Now, a decade later, I can’t go to that mythical “Empty Bottle.” Now it’s just the odd-shaped bar where I got punched that one time and the performers sometimes complain about the sound quality. (Though, yeah, the bands are still mostly cool.)
Eleanor Friedberger is a performer keenly aware of that sort of change in perspective — she named her latest record New View after all. “It’s important to keep changing your perspective in your work and in your friendships and in your relationship,” she explained in our recent interview. And, after growing up in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, any trip back to Chicago surely has to feel like trying to go home again, especially for someone who has changed bands, developed new sounds, and generally changed as much as she has.
Friedberger and her band’s day began in Detroit, braving a drive through the snow and rain to make it home — or at least to her mother’s home. And, then, after a sound check (which apparently didn’t clear up all the issues, as Friedberger was talking in part to check the feedback in her monitors), she explained that her high school softball coach was in attendance. “He told me I still hold the record,” she explained, with a mix of nostalgia and arch sarcastic confidence. “Nineteen consecutive games with a hit.” That same perspective infuses her songs, heartbreak and joy given equal suspicion, nostalgia, and inspection. Songs like “My Mistakes” and “All Known Things” rang with a golden hue, echoing slightly in the boxy room, yet charming and evocative nonetheless.
“I’m going to move past this,” she noted later, meaning the feedback, yet it felt oddly correlated to the constant perspective shifts of her music. For “Roosevelt Island”, she put down her guitar and walked the stage, one hand in pocket. She looked more confident — perhaps she was just finding a sweet spot on the stage where the ringing would stop, or maybe she really did get some boost from being able to move more freely.
Friedberger began the encore on her own, strumming her acoustic guitar for the adventuresome, galloping “A Long Walk”. And then, as if to physically represent the changes of the seasons and the ensuing changes of perspective that she described lyrically, her bandmates joined her, finally exploding into sound when she moved “in the fall.” To close the night, they delivered a lively version of “Stare at the Sun”. It was at once a high energy rocker perfect for closing out the show and a distillation of her themes, images of the past and their emotional tails blurring together. And there she is, trying to keep from looking too long at one thing, in one way: “I’ll try not to stare at the sun.”
He Didn’t Mention His Mother
Because I Asked You
Never Is a Long Time
Cathy with the Curly Hair
All Known Things
Does Turquoise Work?
A Long Walk
Stare at the Sun