Exceeding All Expectations – Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service at MSG 9/20/23


In my just about 45 years on this planet, I have seen a lot of live music. It’s a passion of mine and one of the things that I really do make an effort in indulge in as much as is financially possible as it generally restores sanity to my overwhelming world. I don’t go to as many big shows these days as I would like to, but I blame that on pricing more than anything. It’s just hard to afford the big ones when things like groceries and utilities seem out of reach in bad months, and that is just the state we are in right now. I will say though that having curated this blog for over a decade has enabled me to squeak my way into a lot of fantastic live shows that have broadened my horizons and truly enriched my life. Music is life for me and is a thing that I need as much as oxygen, sunlight, and human contact. That being said, I just had a live music experience that I am pretty sure has changed me for life – and for me, that is saying a whole lot.

Back in 2012, I somehow got an invite to Death Cab for Cutie at the Brooklyn Museum for a filming of Live from the Artists Den. It was a visually, emotionally, and audibly stirring experience and more or less ruined me for live music for a while. Not much was going to ever live up to that experience for me. I was a fan of the band already, but that experience changed me and made me truly realize how engrossing live music could be, beyond the volume and the song. I have been to a lot of large and small venues to see a variety of music over the years and was not expecting this indie band to change me, but they did.

I already had an emotional attachment to this band. As I was going through trying times around 2007, I was doing a lot of healing to the DCFC album Transatlantacism while simultaneously doing the same to singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and generally swell guy Ben Gibbard’s other project, The Postal Service and their one and only album, Give Up. At the time, I was navigating a divorce and the insecure mourning that comes with it while working through severe depression and finding my way as a single mom working multiple jobs both day and night – and generally just trying to figure out who I was and what the hell I was doing through it all. It was a hard time that I look back on and still feel the pangs of guilt, pain, and anxiety to this day in my stomach. I leaned HARD into music then, and I still do. But at that time, this music was a healing place for me to fall into when I couldn’t stand on my own feet anymore. I was fumbling along in my life, making mistakes and bumping into things. I was dealing with health issues that would not be properly diagnosed for another 9 years (as multiple sclerosis). This music, these songs and their words and melodies, were a space for me to figure things out.

I did a lot of healing to this music. If you are into it, you understand why. The methods of songwriting used bring both meaningful words and emotionally tuned melodies together into something that gets inside you, farther than anything else seems to reach. It can light up some of the darkest corners of you and make you encounter those ghosts that you spend so much time hiding from when really, you should be sitting and chatting with them – and so you do. You do it through these melodies. You do it through these words. In the process, they become very dear to you and you find yourself deeply attached emotionally to these songs.

While this was happening, I was passing a lot of this love of songs onto my son. He was my sidekick in those days, always with me for my poorly executed singalongs and dance parties in the living room or in the car. I didn’t really realize it until he was much older and himself told me. Death Cab and The Postal Service were two sets of songs that we often came to discuss. In one of his music classes in high school, he was teaching himself the key parts to many of these songs and would send me text messages talking about them as he did. We would discuss the progressions and the themes of these albums, the way the songs blended into one another in their transitions. This is why when they announced the tour – these two projects playing these two albums in their entirety – I knew we had to go. My son’s birthday was conveniently close to the tickets going on sale, so I decided to buy them for him as a gift. I used my fandom to its maximum in that moment, having a pre-sale to a pre-sale code and being able to secure two tickets in the Sky Bridge of Madison Square Garden for us. It seemed so far away then, and the anticipation was maddening.

The night came this week.

Much had changed in nine months, as my son was now preparing to movie to Florida from our home in New Jersey to begin commercial flight school. He’s spent the last few years working his tail off with his (also pilot) dad getting his private license while making honor roll, getting a job, and still finding time to play music and skateboard. He’s an unusually amazing person. I know I am his mom, but trust me. This impending move has been a lot for me, as any parent with birds about to leave the nest knows. It doesn’t matter how much we know that it’s the best possible thing – it’s hard and we like them under our wings. It goes without saying that I needed this show to be awesome. This music being so important to the both of us, and it being just a couple weeks before he is to set off on his own adventure.

In the back of my mind was that Artists Den show 9 years ago. That was such an incredible experience with this music that I loved. What would this night be like? These songs are incredible, this band is fantastic, but this is Madison Square Garden. A place I saw my very first concert ever – Nine Inch Nails back in 1994. A place I watched incredible, life changing live shows like Rush, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and Phish (twice), just to name a few. Artists with huge shows, huge songs, and huge followings that made sure you were fully engulfed in the music, the moment, and the experience with huge energy that permeated the entire massive arena.

Then it started.

Death Cab For Cutie came out wearing all black to the expected cheers of the crowd, a blending of people from numerous generations and age brackets. There wasn’t one type of people in the arena. It was a wonderful kaleidoscope of humans who have loved this music for however long and wanted to share in celebrating its 20 years. The moment the first sounds of their song “The New Year” started, the entire arena was awake, present, and ready to feel everything. Ben Gibbard’s voice began the words, “So this is the new year, and I don’t feel any different…” and everyone in the entirety of Madison Square Garden sang with him. We sang every single word, and we didn’t stop for the entire set.

As I said earlier, I have seen a lot of shows in 30 years. I have seen a lot of bands. Live music has been a massive part of my life so I am coming from a specific place when I say these things. Further, I have seen some of the biggest and well-loved bands with the most fanatical, long following fan bases. There are always songs people are singing along with, and there are folks in every crowd who know all the words to everything and make sure to sing along. That’s live music. It’s amazing and captures you with energy. But this – this was something else. This was thousands of people sharing the deep emotional connections they have to these two albums with one another and these artists the best way they know how – their voices. So we ALL sang. We sang loudly. We sang every single word. We were together an extra voice in tandem with those that came from the stage.

When it was time for the Postal Service to begin their set, they came out in all white and began with their song “The District Sleeps Tonight”. Again, as Ben began singing, “Smeared black ink…your palms are sweaty…I’m barely listening…” we all joined him, in unison, and we didn’t stop until the very last song from the album. We were dancing, singing, and breathless by the end – but the singing never stopped. Not for a moment. If there were voices coming from the stage, we were singing with them. It was audible over the microphones. Maybe to some people, it was an annoyance, but to people like me – it was the magic.

Obviously, I was not the only person who did a lot of healing to those two albums. They clearly mean a whole lot to a whole lot of people and we got the chance to celebrate that together. Our show was just one of many on this tour. I cannot imagine the situation to be any different in any other city, though we do like to show our folks a good time in New York City. We want you to know your music is our life, and I think we made that point. There was a moment that I looked from the stage to the seating at the right. That spot always catches a bit of the spotlight so those folks are easy to see. They were just a bustling, dancing batch of humans having the greatest night ever. If you were over there, I felt your vibe all the way up to the Sky Bridge!

Speaking of the Sky Bridge, I want to give quick props where they are due from an accessibility standpoint. I walk with a cane when I know I will be on my feet due to my MS making me a bit wobbly these days. The folks at MSG are STELLAR to folks like me and have made a very easy to navigate venue. Between the escalators, easily accessible elevators, ramps, and just overall layout, I had absolutely no difficulty having a fantastic night. The Garden is truly the greatest arena venue. I always buy Sky Bridge these days because they give me the ability to sit when I need to and still enjoy a great vantage point. I can see the stage no matter what. The seats I chose this particular evening allowed me the space to dance and still feel secure with the wall behind me and counter in front of me. I could easily stabilize myself with one hand. I have not been able to dance at a show in a long time due to this disease and that made this whole evening so much more magical for me. I felt like I got a part of me back that I had lost. At one point, during the Postal Service song “We Will Become Silhouettes”, Gibbard hopped behind the drums and the tempo picked up (as we all knew it would). As that anticipated moment hit and I felt myself lose myself in the music, I realized I had not been able to feel the freedom that comes with dancing to your favorite songs live in at least a year.

The emotion of that moment was overwhelming.

To top it all off, the encore was a gorgeous, acoustic rendition of Iron and Wine‘s version of The Postal Service song “Such Great Heights”, followed by what can easily be called the best cover of Depeche Mode‘s song “Enjoy The Silence” that I have ever heard. This is one of my very favorite songs, and a song I used to use as my ringback (remember those?) back when my son would be at his dad’s for a few days and would call me to say goodnight. For us, in our magical bubble, it was a full circle moment that hit me as hard as anything possibly could. I can’t explain to you how amazing that was. Not to mention, for all the many times I have heard this song covered by numerous artists, it was never done so faithfully and completely. There was not a single synthesized sound in that song that this band did not make sure was represented perfectly.

These two projects of music are made by incredible artists. It was such a wonderful privilege to see them enjoying the experience themselves with smiles and dancing. I was several times reminded of Bruce Springsteen and Courtney Cox in the “Dancing in the Dark” video as I watched Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis dancing together on stage – a warm and genuinely comforting sight to this born and raised Jersey girl. It made me smile. I smiled a LOT of Wednesday night, to the point that I remarked to my son on our drive home that my face hurt. That deep cheek cramping pain that comes from your face being frozen in a smile for a long time. That was the night for me. So while that night so many years back at the Brooklyn Museum ruined me for live music from then on and how beautiful and engrossing it could be, this show at Madison Square Garden solidified that for me. It reminded me with blaring signals that music is life. It heals, it enriches, and it brings thousands upon thousands of voices together in celebration of songs that found our souls in whatever state they were – and made them warmer.

Thank you.

Enjoying The Vibes at the Inaugural Catbird Festival! A Review…

Festivals are a wonderful experience that really needs to be lived to be appreciated. This blog has spent many years coming and going to all sorts of fests in the Northeast and enjoying the energy that takes over the site each time one sets down its roots for one. It’s always been a favorite activity for us that we would look forward to every year the moment the first mention of “festival season” was uttered. Unfortunately, being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis put a wrench right in that plan for me and changed my summers as a music journalist forever. It took a few years to get my footing as a disabled festival goer, but I was given the opportunity this year to take that plunge at the first Catbird Music Festival in Bethel, NY. I cannot say enough how much I loved this gorgeous fest.

As someone who has grown up watching the Woodstock film and obsessing over its history and folklore, getting the opportunity to visit a festival like Catbird was an absolute privilege. There was magic in the air that weekend, and it was palpable the moment you drove into the long driveway that leads to Bethel Woods. If you have not attended a show here, I highly recommend it. The grounds are not only beautiful with their rolling hills and expertly designed facility, but it is truly meticulously maintained. The historic home to the original Woodstock festival in 1969, history and preservation are of major importance to this facility and it’s evident in every inch of the property. The entire facility was designed to be a part of the landscape rather than change the landscape to suit its needs. It’s all built into the land and rolls with it.

While I was absolutely confused as to where I was supposed to be parking with my handicapped permit, the staff on hand helping with the parking aspect of the festival were kind and friendly. I didn’t encounter a single staff member while I was there who was anything outside of helpful and smiling. That’s not easy in a crowd of people. I was herded to the right spot and took my place among the other cars with their dangling placards. There was even a shuttle service on hand in the parking lot for handicapped patrons which I did not make use of, but was happy to see regardless. It was conveniently located very near where I was sent to park.

Entering the fest was a breeze. I was issued a wristband with a chip inside so that I could scan in and out of the festival. Being that this is a weekend event, it was made easy for folks to be able to come and go as they needed to with this kind of technology. Bags were checked quickly and thoroughly without issue, and we were in!

There were two stages set up, one at the top field which you see upon entering the concert facility, and the other in the arena itself. I like the main stage/side stage set up as it allows some separation between acts and gives you the opportunity to move through the festival instead of having to keep to one space for the entire weekend in order to enjoy the music. The field around the second stage had hammocks and plenty of space for folks to spread out with blankets if they so desired.

As I walked down towards the main stage, I was loving the fact that this location allows you to really spread out and just BE. There were people sitting on rocks and in the grass and on hills all around the center. Under shady trees there was always a few people gathered. I also loved how many kids there were at Catbird! SO MANY KIDS! Babies all the way up to teens were with their families across the main lawn, playing corn hole or dancing. Some were just sitting together on blankets and enjoying the music. It was a truly lovely vibe across the entire festival that families could come and enjoy this music together and that made for an even more gorgeous weekend. Kids 10 and under were free to enter the festival as long as they were with a ticketed adult – what a wonderful thing for families! There is nothing better than being able to bring your kids to enjoy a festival of wonderful live music, and Catbird made that possible.

Having watch the Woodstock film more times than I have probably watched the backs of my eyelids, it was really cool to see all the camping set up around the festival as well. The rolling hills around the center have not changed too much and it made it easy to spot the different camping set ups around Bethel Woods. The property itself is enormous and they did a wonderful job spreading everything out so that nothing felt cramped. We have covered some festivals with very jumbled camping in the past, so this was a nice thing to see. And really, it was just so pretty!

I do have to say that there is a LOT of walking required to navigate Bethel Woods. As a disabled person who walks with a cane, this was a challenge, but nothing that could not be handled with some patience. Thankfully things were never really crowded anywhere thanks to the expansive facility that it is so for me, it was simply a matter of taking frequent breaks. There are a lot of benches and places to sit around the center which was immensely helpful. There is also a lot of staff around to assist if you had any questions or ran into an unexpected issue. That was a relief!

One thing I saw that I really loved was that people were carrying plastic bags and collecting cans from around the center. At first I was not sure what this was all about, but it was nice to see! On my next walk, I came across the tent for Rock and Recycle. This bunch of fantastic folks encourages attendees to fill a bag with cans for recycling and trades the full bag for a festival shirt! What a great idea! It keeps the discarded cans off the ground and out of the landfills which serves a global purpose while keeping the beautiful grounds impeccable. I hope to see more and more of this!

It goes without saying that the music this whole weekend was amazing with sets by artists like Trey Anstasio Band, Dispatch, Charley Crockett, Amos Lee, Margo Price, Tyler Childers, and so many more. A huge highlight for me was Trampled By Turtles who I had never seen but absolutely LOVED. Their energy was simply infectious and bounced right off the crowd with so much enthusiasm! Clearly I was not alone in that as I saw fans running to see them as their set began! I also loved finally getting to see Band of Horses who I have enjoyed for over a decade. I count “Laredo” as one of my favorite songs and getting to see it done live in such a gorgeous setting was pure magic. I hiked to the top of the lawn and watched them with a crowd of dancing families and it was such a treat.

I also was surprised by how much I enjoyed 49 Winchester over on the Gala Music Stage, for no other reason than that I had never heard them before and was treated to their music upon entering the festival right away! Their live set was a real treat with a lot of emotion and energy – I was truly transported. I have heard them called country, but I feel like their sound is a fresh feel of soulful Americana with classic mountain vibe. I definitely walked away wanting to hear more. Much love to them for a great set!

From the standpoint of accessibility, I have to give Catbird huge props for making sure that ALL fans had an enjoyable and safe experience at their festival all weekend. Entry was easy and moved smoothly, restrooms were clean and very easy to access for everyone regardless of ability, and the grounds were set in such a way that despite the excessive walking required, there was ample space to stop and take a breath if you needed to. At no point in time did I ever feel slighted or not welcome here and that was truly a wonderful feeling. This is a festival that really, genuinely understands what it means to have accessibility and inclusivity for ALL fans. While I did encounter some struggles this weekend with my ability to enjoy things as much as I wanted to (multiple sclerosis is a jerk), that had nothing to do with Catbird or Bethel Woods and they made every possible arrangement for fans like me to be able to enjoy as much as we could. They truly rank highly for me as a welcoming place for any fan.

This was the first Catbird festival and I really hope they will be back at Bethel Woods again next year because I have every intention of being there again. This is a festival for ALL fans, young and old, and I would love to see it be an annual event.

Thank you so much, Catbird!

Catbird – Bringing a Fest Back to the Woodstock Grounds – PREVIEW

The Catbird Festival will be coming for their first go on the original concert grounds of the historic Woodstock Music and Arts Festival on August 19th and 20th. Now part of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the original grounds have been lovingly kept and maintained for visitors to come and visit for many years. The center itself has it’s own separate concert pavilion, keeping the original concert field as a memorial to the festival that brought hundreds of thousands of music lovers to the fields once owned by Max Yasgur back in 1969. Catbird will be the first festival to bring music and camping back to the grounds.

SCHEDULE: With two stages of music, Catbird is bringing a list of jam and indie artists for all kinds of tastes in a truly special environment. Attendees can check out The Lumineers, Band of Horses, Trampled By Turtles, Dispatch, The Trey Anastasio Band, and Tyler Childers, just to name a few. The fest has released their schedules for both days on their website, and you can check them out right here:

MUSEUM: In addition to music, the festival will allow (for a fee) attendees to stop by the Museum At Bethel Woods to check out the wonderful preservation work on the music and times of the original Woodstock festival. A favorite place of mine, the museum showcases not just the unique weekend at Bethel, NY in 1969, but also the historic significance of that time in history and what was happening all over the country to inspire so many to travel for such an important event. There are interactive exhibits and immersive experiences throughout. It’s a truly lovely place to visit to really feel the spirit of Woodstock.

FOOD AND LODGING: The Catbird Festival offers a variety of food vendors to fit all sorts of tastes with items like tacos, calzones, and seafood. The camping offered this year has several options for festival goers from car camping, tent camping, RV options with and without hookups, and even a “glamping” option for those who need a little extra pampering. The camping passes start at just $99 and are still available at this time. There are some lodging options in the area, but it looks like most of those have been snatched up by attendees as of today. There are a handful of options still taking reservations in nearby Liberty and Monticello last I checked.

TICKETS: Tickets for the Catbird festival are still available with one ($145) and two day ($205) options for General Admission. There are also some Plus, VIP, and Platinum options available as well with extras like access to special lounges, lockers, and a dedicated concierge services. Parking is included in all ticket prices, regardless of tier, though there is a Premier Parking option available starting at $70 which gives access to the lot immediately opposite the entrance.

ACCESSIBILITY: Accessibility features at this festival so far are outstanding. In addition to reserved handicapped parking (as long as you have the necessary state issued placard/plates) and accessible entrances to the festival, there will be an on site Accessibility Services Hub for patrons who might need to stop in for additional assistance or information. There are also accessible camping options and if needed, patrons can reach out to access@catbirdmusicfestival.com after their tickets and passes are secured. In addition, those patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing will see that the schedule specifies which artists will have ASL translation ready to go. Just look for the hands in the bottom right corner of the artist listing.

That’s the preview, folks! A Perfect Mess is BEYOND excited for this festival. We will be on hand at the grounds to provide up to the minute coverage and updates on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Threads, and we cannot wait to bring you all the excitement of the first Catbird Festival!

Tickets, camping, and updated festival information: https://www.catbirdmusicfestival.com/

The Crucial Importance of Accessibility and Inclusivity in Live Music

You don’t stop loving live music just because you become disabled.

This is something I learned from experience, and it was not always a happy experience. In 2021, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I had no idea at the time how much it would impact my life as a music fan. Since then, I have lost significant vision (including some color) in my right eye. This has heightened the hearing on my right side. Most prominently, I have also lost some of my balance causing me to require a cane when I know I will be on my feet. This is made worse due to sudden surprise bouts of severe vertigo or the occasional “foot drop” that catches my foot and sends me tumbling. I also struggle to stay on my feet when conditions are hot and need to have someone with me all the time, just in case. This has impacted my ability to enjoy a show the way I always did. I no longer feel safe going alone and difficult conditions are now often impossible ones. Things like stairs and uneven ground, large crowds or too little space can be a dangerous situation for me. This has all opened my eyes to things I wish I had known to be conscious of before – that not all shows and venues are friendly to the disabled community.

I have had other attendees knock me over, use my cane for their balance walking up stairs, or push me into walls or barricades – mostly because there was simply nowhere else to be as space for patrons who needed it was not made available. I have been in situations that I had to climb stairs to get to rest rooms or vendors because elevators were not made available. I have had venues tell me I could not bring someone with me, despite wanting to pay for that person to be there with me. I have also had staff go above and beyond to make sure I was able to get to my ticketed seat, restrooms, and vendors safely and without issue despite obstacles and made sure that I was able to enjoy the show despite my limitations with vision.

I have experienced the very best and the very worst of the NYC area in terms of venues and whether or not they care for their disabled patrons. This goes beyond ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accomodations. Those are quite simply THE LAW and it would shock most people to know how few of those are even taken into account. Before I attend anything now, I have to Google the venue, the event, the area, and everything in between to see what their accessibility options are just to determine whether or not I can even go. When certain bands hold a “lottery” for their tickets, this becomes even more of a challenge. What’s worse – perfectly able bodied fans who claim to be otherwise to get the seats that ARE allotted for people like myself.

As an independent music journalist, it’s my job to bring these things out in the open. Moving forward, A Perfect Mess will be making sure to cover the accessibility and inclusion of all shows and venues where a review takes place. If I am in attendance, you will know what the options and accommodations are. It’s much needed information for the disabled community and the music community as well.

No one should have to stay home because they cannot feel safe at a live show due to disability. I intend to make sure that if there is a way, we will all be there listening to the music, feeling the vibe, and enjoying the show.