They say puberty starts between 12 and 16 for boys and between 10 and 14 for girls, but they never tell you about Puberty 2.
When this biological transformation started for me, one of my armpits started to grow hair before the other. I showed my dad and he gasped and laughed and said he couldn’t wait to tell his brother. When Puberty 2 started there was less laughing.
Let me back up.
Puberty 2, or what my generation calls a “quarter life crisis,” is not so much a crisis as it is a catharsis. For some, humor is the easiest form of coping with the past. Typically, it’s easier to laugh at yourself from a distance.
Today, we’re constantly faced with remnants of our cultural past. There’s going to be a new Star Wars movie every year until the end of time. Right now, you can catch a Caterpie waiting in line to buy a Ghostbusters-themed Twinkie while listening to the new, chart-topping Blink-182 album. Oh, and Backstreet’s back, alright.
“I don’t want to assume anything but some of you might be here for nostalgic purposes,” says Taking Back Sunday’s lead vocalist, Adam Lazzara, taking a jovial tone during the Everett, Washington stop of the Rockstar Energy Drink Taste of Chaos tour. “Is that right?”
The crowd is frenzied because we are all in a time machine. The band explodes into “MakeDamnSure” and it’s 2006. Who’s in your Myspace Top 8?
Out of the four acts on the bill, time has been most cruel to Saosin. The band’s turbulent history – including a very public falling out with lead vocalist Anthony Green roughly 13 years ago that lead to nationwide auditions for a new vocalist – is poetic considering their name translates to “careful” in Chinese. But it’s not “careful” in a dull, cautionary way. The name means “careful,” like “be aware that things can change and nothing is permanent.” Underneath an explanation that sounds like one for a regrettable lower-back tattoo, there is an earnest recognition that life is punctuated with multiple enlightenments (or puberties). Even Saosin went through a Puberty 2 where they reinstated Anthony Green as their vocalist, recorded and released a new album, and embarked on a nationwide tour.
“‘Oh, my fifteen-year-old self, my sixteen-year-old self would die to hear this song or that song’” Lazzara continues after a beat, “Listen, I was there when you were exploring your bodies in the back of your Daddy’s car and I’m here now after all these years!”
He raises a surprisingly good point and, by Puberty 2, we’ve grown into those bodies but we can mentally revert back like Warped Tour sleeper agents.
When Anthony Green throws his mic into the crowd, me, my buddy, and three random people snatch it up and absolutely lose our minds, screaming the words to “3rd Measurement in C” to a modestly-filled stadium. My brain commands my voice to be louder than is possible. The young man to my right dons a mewithoutyou back-patch. Catharsis.
Here are a few personal thoughts: Anthony Green was just a few years younger than I am now when he recorded some of my favorite music ever made in the form of Saosin’s Translating The Name EP. His vocals are acrobatic and oscillate between lullaby-soft crooning and banshee howls, which are enhanced by how much he leaves on the stage when he performs. Now he’s a father of three, and before long his kids are going to reach puberty. Christ. I hope I can be a good parent.
Here are a few more personal thoughts: Sometime during college I got really good at being alone. I started eating meals for one in public places, going to movies and shows on my own, and writing like crazy, which can, at times, feel desolate. But there’s something really simple about doing something alone, a penchant that I, along with many others, share with the New York-based artist Mitski.
Puberty 2, Mitski’s fourth album, is also a catharsis but it’s not one in which I can actively participate. When she sings “I am a forest fire, and I am the fire and I am the forest, and I am a witness watching it, I stand in a valley watching it, and you are not there at all,” she’s right.
I don’t experience any of that firsthand. I read about it in the news the next day and it feels distant. Attempting to identify with otherness is dangerous because it relies on assumption. Mitski is a young woman of Asian descent and I am none of those things. Mitski’s two openers, Japanese Breakfast and Jay Som, were both also fronted by Asian women and both kicked butt. This cannot be the headline but it cannot be ignored.
The Crocodile is filled with noticeably younger attendees than I expected and the nature of the set makes me hopeful for the younger generation. Mitski provides a deep emotional stretch that activates emotions and rejuvenates memories that haven’t been used in years, so imagine having that resource between puberties to keep you mentally limber. There is an attentive stillness to the sea of lilac-dyed hair and Dad Hats and other solitary concert-goers. Mitski plays a mixture of songs from Puberty 2 and 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek and the songs wash over us all.
During a set that balances confrontation, examination, and reflection, there is a cover of “How Deep Is Your Love?” by Calvin Harris + Disciples, a seemingly transparent club banger that morphs under Mitski’s direction. The lyrics “How deep is your love? Is it like the ocean? What devotion are you?” are kindred spirits to Mitski’s own songs. She writes about navigating the bullshit, sometimes breaking things, in an attempt to nourish yourself. Her next album could be entitled Chicken Soup for the Tall Child Soul.
“These are my encore songs,” Mitski explains at the end of her set, “After this let’s just go our separate ways.”
By the end of the last song, everyone is glowing.