on pentimento and buffalo and finding self-worth - 7/5/19

(Alternately known as: “my life story over the past seven years, as told through Pentimento.”)

This past weekend, I made the trip up to Buffalo to see Pentimento play a headlining show. I’ve made that trip three times now, but this trip was extra special because it was the first time I was able to see them headline in their hometown.

Photo by Joel Funk.

Before I go on about this trip, I’d like to talk about my history with the band, and what they’ve come to mean to me over the years - and why, exactly, I keep driving to Buffalo to see them. This will be long, but… how often do you really get a chance to do something like this?

My first memory of hearing Pentimento was back in 2012, when a publicist sent me an advance copy of their split with Young English. I was immediately drawn to “The Bridge”, and I listened on repeat driving back to campus after spring break; seven years later it remains one of my favorite songs (I thought about naming this post after a line from that song, but I couldn’t decide on a single one). Later that year, I eagerly downloaded their self-titled album, and I was officially hooked. Their lyrics were immediately poetic and heartbreaking, and they seemed to follow along with my own introspection and feelings of self-doubt, confusion, and self-hatred as I attempted to figure myself out.

Two days before presenting my senior project, in March 2013, I took a break from studying to see them live for the first time. That night, I interviewed Mike (Hansen, drums) and Jerry (Pauly, vocals/guitar) before the show. They weren’t the biggest band I’d interviewed but the conversation felt really special and I felt like I “understood” what this band was doing. I’m pretty sure I texted my dad afterwards to tell him just how great of an interview it was.

After graduating from college, I went home for a few weeks before spending the whole summer, and immediately after the whole fall, on tour. Touring was everything I’d dreamed of, but spending six months straight (seriously - I had less than 24 hours at home between tours) on the road right after graduation left me feeling like I I had absolutely no clue who I actually was as a person. On one unexpected night off, in Norfolk, Virginia, I was able to see Pentimento play a show - and I just knew everything would be okay.

Early the next year, in 2014, I was feeling confused and, honestly, a bit hopeless about my future - whatever it held in store. I ended up accepting a full-time job; a few days before starting, I saw Pentimento with Reggie and the Full Effect at Asbury Lanes (pre-renovation!) in Asbury Park. I bought a flag, which they wrote congratulatory messages on, and which still hangs above my bed. That job didn’t work out for multiple reasons, and I entered a period of intense depression. I felt, if possible, even more lost, but Pentimento’s music brought me peace - and even when my career path didn’t seem to be working out as I’d hoped, I still had something with what I was doing with Circles & Soundwaves.

In the summer of 2014 I started contributing to a major outlet - I had access to high-profile artists and events and, more importantly, I was getting paid for writing about and photographing music. For a year and a half, I poured everything I had into that outlet as well as in to C&S. In early 2015, I started my Inner & Outer Portraits series, I knew I had to included Pentimento. That summer, I picked up my friends Cayla and Rebecca and we drove up to Buffalo to see Pentimento play The Waiting Room. They weren’t headlining, but it didn’t matter; it was so cool to see them play the city they called home, to a crowd that loved them as much as I did.

Not long after that Waiting Room show, Pentimento announced that they’d be releasing their sophomore album, I, No Longer, that fall. I reviewed the record for C&S - I think I was the first one to run a review - and told readers to prepare for “an emotional punch in the gut.” I, No Longer was everything that Pentimento was, except better - the sound felt polished, but the emotions were raw. I had never been so devastated - or felt so understood - by a piece of music. They announced a headlining tour for that fall, and I ended up photographing five dates across the northeast (you can read more about that here). At the first of those shows, in Baltimore, Maryland, I interviewed Mike and Lance (Claypool, guitar), and we dug in to the ups and downs of what went in to making the record. My dad came with me to the show in New Jersey, and I was so excited for him to meet Mike, Jerry, Lance, and Vinny (Caito, bass) - four guys who had become pretty important to me.

It was a busy few days - on top of driving to all these shows, I was working a shitty part-time job at home, plus tutoring (which wasn’t a bad gig). I didn’t sleep much, but I was enjoying it, and on top of the interview, I took photos each and every night that I felt proud of. Then one morning, a few hours and one shift away before I was set to drive to Long Island for the last of these shows, my phone broke. I emailed my boss at my part-time job to let him know I wouldn’t be reachable while with clients, and when I refreshed my inbox, I found out I’d lost my paid position with the major outlet. As devastated as I was, I wouldn’t let that stop me from enjoying myself, and creating photos that I was proud of.

And then… Pentimento just kind of… stopped. They never announced a formal hiatus or breakup, but - aside from a show or two per year, mostly in Buffalo - they were essentially inactive, with no hints of a Pentimento tour or of more music. My friend Logan and I often lament that they never got the success - the album sales or streaming numbers, the tours - that we felt they deserved (a sentiment shared by many of those who know just how special this band is), but we know that life happens, the music industry can be a tough beast to crack, and sometimes your favorite bands stop being active without a formal announcement.

Sometime late in 2017, Pentimento announced that they’d be playing a show in January 2018, this time at the Town Ballroom, and I bought my ticket and started planning my trip. I shot the show (side note: it was great to photograph Pentimento from an actual photo pit) and after I was done, I remember feeling a moment of clarity. For months and months, I’d been thinking about wrapping things up with Circles & Soundwaves, and officially putting the blog to rest. Catching up with the guys after their set, I told them as much, deciding that this would be the last “thing” I officially did for C&S. Soon after, I called Logan to tell him I would be ending the blog; I then began reaching out to contributors and emailing publicists I’d worked closely with, and officially announced the end in early February.

The remainder of 2018 showed me a range of emotions I’d never felt, as I was settled in to my full-time job in the industry, but trying to figure out what I really wanted in life. What was I even doing? What would be my purpose beyond running a blog? How much time did I want to, or could I afford to, devote to writing and photography? What other things were important? Figuring that out (plus, you know, the other things that came along with living in my first apartment) was a journey but I think, finally, I’ve gotten a sense of what it is that’s important to me in my life… at least, somewhat, anyway. I’ve learned that people are important and music is important and knowing that what you do matters is important. I’ve learned that no opportunity will ever be perfect but that there can be incredible things in places you might never look.

That fall, I nursed what was, essentially, my first heartbreak. I felt pain and I felt anger and I felt sadness in ways I had never felt before, but soon enough (after a lot of yoga, face masks, and angry poetry written in my journal), something incredible happened: I started loving myself. I realized that my worth as a person wasn’t tied to anything - anything - at all besides how much I loved and took care of myself. I realized that I didn’t, actually, hate myself, and that I could create a life filled with things, and people, I love. I realized that I had ownership over my own destiny (I still don’t know what, exactly, that is, but I’m taking it a day at a time).

This spring, after teasing it with an April Fool’s Joke, Pentimento officially announced another show for Buffalo - but this one would be a headliner. My friend Joel had never seen them before, so we set to planning: we’d drive up to Buffalo on July 4, watch fireworks at Niagara Falls, and eat all of Buffalo’s best vegan food before the show on July 5. As planned, I picked him up early on the 4th, and after stopping for lunch, we were off. Joel and I had been internet friends for several years (he’s also a writer) before meeting and we quickly got along as well in person as we ever did online.

We played a lot of Pentimento in the car while driving around the city, and I remember joking that “Pentimento just hits different when you’re old.” Maybe I’m not right to call myself “old” yet - I’m still only 27, I’ll be 28 next month - but this band has been with me for so many years and it really is special to realize that even though my life experiences have changed me, I still connect with their songs.

The day of the show, Joel and I met up with our fellow writing friend Scott and his girlfriend for breakfast. We all bonded over sharing memories of our favorite shows, and our trials and tribulations as writers and trying to pave our way through the music industry. We buzzed with excitement for the show and even joked, “what if they just played a new song?” - but quickly brushed that off. It’d be great, but there was no way that would actually happen; this was surely just a one-off show for fun.

Joel and I were some of the first in to the Town Ballroom that night, and I noticed that Pentimento was selling shirts that said “Pentimento Forever.” I don’t buy band merch that often anymore but I had to buy this shirt. The first three bands - Young English, Post Prom, and I Can See Mountains - all blew me away in their own ways. It was a good time catching up with friends and fellow Pentimento fans (there’s a few of us that regularly make the trip to Buffalo when they play a show), and the night was already a good one, even before they took the stage.

Look, I’ve seen this band a lot of times… I think about a dozen now, across several cities and states. But you know what? I keep going back because when Mike, Jerry, Lance, and Vinny take the stage, something amazing happens. This most recent show, the headliner at Town Ballroom, was pure magic. They sounded the best they’ve ever sounded, and they were playing in front of a crowd that loved them as much as I did. People were crowdsurfing, people were singing along, I was flooded with emotions and excitement.

It would’ve been a great night no matter what, but then something honestly unexpected happened. Jerry started talking to the crowd about how all of this is about the music, when he said that “one of the reasons we got back together” is because the songs are so important. Then they played a new song. Joel and I looked at each other in shock: as much as we wanted it, we did not expect to actually hear Pentimento play a new song. He ended up getting a better video, but we were both stunned, and thrilled, in the best way.

I’m still on a journey of figuring out just who I am and what I want, but now I’ve come to learn that I owe it to myself to put my all in to discovering that. There’s no slacking off when it comes to my own life and health and happiness. I haven’t always felt confident but you know what? A lot of that comes from worrying too much that other people won’t be pleased or impressed… but that actually doesn’t matter all that much. Self-worth is not a job title or a relationship or a salary or a car or any other material object or item on your checklist; it means realizing that your value comes from within.

I have no idea what the future holds for Pentimento, if/when they’ll record and release that new song, and if/when they’ll play more shows or tour, or to what extent they’ll be a band going forward, but after that show, I’m feeling hopeful that they’ve got more in them. In my eight-plus years in music journalism, they’re some of the kindest, most talented, and most deserving of success people I’ve met. I’m so glad I’ve had their music - and their friendship and continued support of everything I’ve done - to get me through the past seven years, and I can’t wait to see how things pan out.