There’s no sensation in the world quite like the first breath of fresh air taken once you step out from a sweaty concert hall after a great show. Especially on crisp Autumn nights, it feels like awakening from a dream. Last Saturday night was particularly surreal as I took that step out of Union Transfer with the refrain “This feels like a nightmare!” repeating in my head. As fellow concert-goers weaved around me, they echoed the same melody. “THIS FEELS LIKE A NIGHTMARE!” they would exclaim randomly, practically skipping to their cars or awaiting cabs. Such is the strange frenzy that can only be stirred by Anthony Green.
As the frontman of Doylestown-based prog punks Circa Survive, I’ve seen Green walk a barricade like a tightrope, seemingly levitating over a crowd. I’ve heard him sing, not missing a note, as that crowd carried him on his back from the stage to the exit. I’ve watched girls barely old enough to drive crowd surf just to give him a high five and I’ve witnessed grown men weep in his presence. I myself couldn’t help but nerd out upon meeting Green for the first time, thanking him for writing a song I’ll hold dear until my dying day. What else do you expect? I can’t just say hi to Anthony Green.
While he may seem superhuman, at the end of the day, Anthony Green is simply human. This has never been more palpable than with Green’s fourth solo effort, Pixie Queen. With lyrical matter traversing themes of overcoming addiction and mental illness with the support of an imperfectly perfect love, Pixie Queen is Green’s most cohesive and courageous work to date. Last Saturday night, Green wrapped up a 21-city tour in support of the album with a triumphant homecoming at Union Transfer.
Backed by Circa Survive bandmate Brendan Ekstrom and Good Old War’s Tim Arnold and Keith Goodwin, with whom he recorded Pixie Queen, Green took the stage at Union Transfer looking like a kid on the last day of school before summer vacation. It’s par for the course with any of Anthony Green’s tours, be it solo or with Circa Survive, that the big finale happens in Philly. As he balances life as a musician and family man, Philly must be the light at the end of Green’s grueling tour tunnel. I caught an early date of the Pixie Queen tour in New York, a week before the album’s release and exactly a month prior to Philly’s show, and while that show was an impressive leap forward for Green, it was almost precious in comparison to Philly’s show. In New York, the album had yet to be released. In Philly, it had been simmering in our minds and in the hands of the band for a month. Watching Green deliver these songs to the Philly crowd was to witness him visibly let the music go.
It made me think back to that first time I met Green. I had to thank him for writing songs that articulated my deepest and darkest feelings in ways I would never be able. Ever humble, he responded by saying, “that’s like thanking me for the ocean when I’m really just a guy in a boat trying to row against the tide.” I realize my outpouring and unabashed fandom places a burden. How many nervous kids does he have to listen to say the same thing on a daily basis?
I get my answer with “Will It Be,” in which Green describes internal struggles over how to raise three sons of his own whilst being preoccupied with “singing songs to some other kids.” Green’s delivery of this lyric upon Union Transfer’s stage was subtly profound. He had already lined up, like a pitcher to the batter’s box, so many verses and refrains for the audience to pick up each time he stepped away from the microphone. But after this one he paused, looked out to the crowd and allowed us all a second of silence to recognize what he was saying, then maybe laugh a little bit, but ultimately move on.
This trend of pause, reflect, proceed continued with “East Coast Winters,” which is the last song Green wrote on heroin, through to “Dear Child (I’ve Been Trying To Reach You),” from his debut solo album Avalon. For as many times as I’ve seen Green perform, whether it’s at Siren Records in Doylestown or some random joint in New York City, “Dear Child” never fails to drive a crowd completely insane.
The ultimate moment of catharsis came during the encore, at which point Ekstrom, Arnold and Goodwin abandoned their instruments to join Green on vocal harmonies for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” It was truly gorgeous, a fleeting moment that paved the way for a real release that came with the set closer “Devil’s Song.”
“Right now, I wanna do something cool,” Green proclaimed as he halted the song to divide the crowd in two halves, bringing “Devil’s Song”, and the evening as a whole, to its grand finale. Those standing at stage left sang, “We’re all in the same spot,” while those at stage right answered with, “This feels like a nightmare!” Together, we repeated this for perhaps only a minute, but long enough to feel like we successfully absolved ourselves of whatever bullshit we carried in. It’s a trance I’ve been fortunate to find myself in many times and it seems like whenever I come to, Anthony Green is always standing there smiling like a cheshire cat. For a man who sees himself as “just a guy in a boat navigating the ocean”, he knows how to create waves like no other.
Anthony Green was also joined by Citizen-frontman Mat Kerekes and Ohio’s Secret Space, who were experiencing somewhat of a homecoming with Union Transfer’s crowd after recording their debut album, The Window Room, in Conshohocken with producer Will Yip (Anthony Green, Circa Survive, Balance & Composure).
But the spotlight was stolen early on by Doylestown-based Heat Thunder. The solo venture of singer-songwriter Joe Montone made its big stage debut at Union Transfer before an enthusiastic crowd, delivering a healthy handful of new material from Phoenix, the 5-song EP produced by The Lawsuits’ Brian Dale Allen Strouse. Montone has grown exponentially as a vocalist and guitarist since Heat Thunder’s debut EP, Melody, Love & Soul. The isolated psychedelia we used to know has been simultaneously stripped down and opened up with more organic, rootsy sounds. Factor in Montone’s urgent vocals and virtuous lyricism and you will find a sound that demands to be heard.Anthony Green, Union Transfer