Your first gig is one of those “firsts” you’ll never forget.
Mine was Blondie, at 14. I screamed to the songs, jumped in place and bought an overpriced T-shirt. That was several decades ago and several hundred concerts.
My eldest daughter, Sophie, is now 14 years old. His favorite band is Mother Mother, an indie rock quintet from Vancouver, BC, who have only recently gained traction south of the Canadian border.
Sophie discovered Mother Mother via TikTok. I discovered Maman Maman via Sophie. She stands up for Mother Mother with the same passion that I once proselytized for another Canadian rock band, Rush.
Mother Mother’s 2022 tour isn’t expected to stop in New Orleans. Wanting Sophie too to experience her favorite band at this point in her life, the family traveled to Houston for the opening date of the tour.
It wouldn’t be his first concert. She has attended music festivals since childhood. As a baby, she witnessed REM’s last American appearance, at the Voodoo Experience in City Park. A decade later, she caught up with Taylor Swift backstage at the Superdome and compared her hair dye notes.
But Mother Mother would be the first gig that really mattered to her.
While driving to Houston, I learned that Ryan Guldemond, the singer and guitarist of the band, would be calling for a FaceTime interview. Sophie, rarely at a loss for words, was briefly speechless.
At 14, I couldn’t have imagined talking to Deborah Harry from Blondie or Neil Peart from Rush. Surely they occupied a higher plane of existence.
Sophie, my 14-year-old daughter, reigned over her younger brother and sister on Saturday afternoon: “Start cleaning, or I’ll beat you.”
We left the highway to take the call from Guldemond. When my old iPhone wouldn’t connect to the FaceTime link, Sophie took over, quickly and calmly transferring the call to her sleek new phone.
She was motivated to make it happen.
Guldemond couldn’t have been nicer. Turns out he was a big Pixies fan when Sophie was around, which isn’t surprising given the similarities between that group and his own.
A few years ago, he was working in Los Angeles on an album with a producer who knew Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago. The producer texted Santiago, who agreed to meet Guldemond at a nearby bar.
He was surprised, “I was like, ‘What?!? I’m not ready for this! I’m not ready to meet my idol!’
At the bar, much to Guldemond’s delight, Santiago offered to play on the album. He recorded his guitar parts at home, then sent them.
“And then he just ghosted us,” Guldemond said with a laugh. “Just disappeared. We texted every week – nothing.
Looking back, “I almost wished I hadn’t (meeted him). Because there is something beautiful in the mystical. When you meet people you admire, you realize they are only human.
The alarm went off at 6 a.m. on the first day of school.
So, should Sophie and I hang up before Guldemond destroys his own mystique?
He laughs again: “I kill him, I’m sure.”
Sophie assured him no. She asked about her creative process. He asked her what her favorite Mother Mother album was.
Throughout the FaceTime conversation, she remained calm.
But as soon as the session was over, she buried her face in her hands and shed real tears. Talking to his hero had been an exhilarating experience.
Others would follow soon.
Houston’s White Oak Music Hall is roughly the size and shape of the New Orleans House of Blues, with a balcony and walls covered in clean wood slats instead of folk art.
Knowing that a positive COVID test would end their all-important tour, Guldemond and his bandmates maintain a tight bubble. They don’t go to restaurants or museums, or interact directly with fans.
“All that is not on the table,” he had said. “It’s like a not fun tour.”
Instead, they held a casual pre-show event for a few dozen VIP ticket holders and guests. From stage security, they answered questions, joked with fans, and performed a few songs acoustically. Sophie was locked down from the time they first appeared until they left to prepare for the ‘real’ show later that night.
She then rushed to the merchandise table outside, happily shelling out over $40 in childcare and Christmas money for a t-shirt.
My future mother-in-law didn’t particularly like me at first.
To mark the milestone, I had worn the 40-year-old Blondie concert shirt that I had purchased in 1982. Like its owner, it is much more weathered now.
Back inside, Sophie staked out a spot along the barricade in front of the stage. It was 7 p.m.
The opening act of the evening, a young Canadian singer named Dyylan, was not expected on stage until 8 p.m. Mother Mother didn’t hook up until 9:15 p.m.
And we hadn’t had dinner.
It had been over 30 years since I had skipped dinner or waited, on my feet, for two hours just to see a band.
Yet I was there.
The room filled up behind us, 800 enthusiastic Mother Mother fans hugging each other. Face masks were required; the vast majority of the crowd, which was young and progressive, complied.
I gave Sophie earplugs. She refused, as I would have done at 14.
“So,” she asked my wife and hopefully me, “you guys ride?”
Sorry, Sophie, you’re stuck with me all night.
A cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” shed light on Dyylan’s set. Sophie loves Nirvana. I attended a Nirvana concert 14 years before he was born. Years later, I discussed the merits of various minivans with former Nirvana drummer and fellow bandmate Dave Grohl.
Between groups, Sophie recognized a Lil Nas X song on the PA system before me. I beat her in the fist to a Prince song.
Hello, generational divide.
Just in time, the five members of Mother Mother made their dramatic entrance, acting faces and stage attire. Guldemond, sporting a Misfits t-shirt, and her sister Molly, a singer and keyboardist, stood on small risers, in silhouette as they harmonized.
With that, they launched into the frantic “O My Heart,” and off they went. Sophie jumped up and down while trying to film on her phone.
“Give it to me,” I shouted. “I will film all the songs you want.”
She wanted most of it. I thus became his official videographer, in addition to my duties as guardian of his newly purchased merchandise.
And so on for 90 minutes. As the momentum built with the band’s most well-known songs, Sophie’s energy level also increased.
The musicians were confident and poised, clearly ready for their American close-up. Guldemond was intense but amiable.
“Who here is attending a Mother Mother concert for the first time? He asked.
Sophie screamed like her 16-year-old dad at his first Rush gig.
The band took a detour to a brief acoustic set highlighted by “Oh Ana,” then went fully electric again with “Infinitesimal.”
Sophie screamed for an encore as if it weren’t a foregone conclusion. As the musicians returned to the stage, she raised her hands in the shape of a heart.
“Molly made eye contact with me!” she reported breathlessly.
His phone died before the final “Burning Pile”, a minor misstep on his videographer’s part.
“I’m literally shaking,” Sophie said when it was all over.
Before leaving the stage, Guldemond threw a pick at Sophie. She groped him over the barricade. He tried again and she fumbled again, blaming the interference from the fan next to her.
It was as if years of catching pearls at Mardi Gras had taught him nothing.
A benevolent security guard retrieved one of the picks for her, an icing on the cake for her first real concert experience.
She will never forget it. Neither am I.
Writer Keith Spera recounts his parenting adventures in the occasional ‘Paternity Test’ column.