February 20th, 2012
Last night Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein brought a live version of their popular IFC show Portlandia to town for two sold out shows at the Troc. We were at the late 10:30pm show! Here are 12 things we saw, heard and learned there.
1. Holy Put A Bird On It, that line! Believe us when we say the line outside was THE MOTHER OF ALL LINES. The way it works at the Troc for busy shows is, they start the line about 50 feet west of the entrance, just past a parking lot. The doors open, and they begin to let people in in groups of 20-ish, and, generally, it moves pretty fast. But the line to get into Portlandia—and this is not an exaggeration—went around the corner onto 11th Street, and then around the corner of Cherry Street. We got there about 10:20 and made the line when it was in the middle of Cherry. And people kept coming. And coming. And coming. It was great to look at peoples’ faces as they rounded Cherry Street to see how long they still had to walk after they’d already walked a two blocks. Folks were taking photos of the line when they turned onto Cherry. Lots of “I don’t see how they’re going to fit all these people in.” The line eventually backed up onto 10th and Cherry. Nuts. We made it into the venue at 11:15. Like whoa!
3. Fred and Carrie walk onto stage to rapturous applause. It’s now around 11:45. They both seem genuinely moved by the second sell out crowd of the night. “Geez, Philadelphia. Who knew?” says Carrie. Fred wanders around stage looking aloof. Carrie asks him what’s wrong and they launch into a ho-hum, not-terrible-but-not-hysterical bit about texts the two have sent back and forth to one another. He is warm and affectionate in his. She is cold and distant. That’s the bit. And it goes on for a good 10 – 15 minutes as they read texts back and forth.
4. They play that “The dream of the ’90s is alive in Porland” song with help from a drummer and a keyboardist. Fred is on bass, Carrie’s on guitar. It sounds kinda thin, and it lacks energy. But this song, and the sketch it’s in—the first sketch of Portlandia’s first episode—is the show’s thesis statement. Portland is where young people go to retire. It’s where you can put a bird on something and call it art. (See: Portlandia merch table.) At the very least, we’re familiar with the song, and so we smile despite its being lackluster.
5. Fred and Carrie don’t know much about Philly, so they call someone on stage to ask questions about it. That someone turns out to be a girl named Nicole, who lives in West Philly. We get to hear who her favorite band is (The Menzingers), what her favorite coffee shop is (in West Philly, it’s Satellite) and her favorite restaurant, Govinda’s, which has “the best vegetarian cheesesteak in the city,” according to Nicole. Fred and Carrie ask Nicole what some of the more annoying things are that people from outside Philly associate with Philly when they talk to her. Most of her answers—and ones shouted from the crowd—are pretty typical, but one in particular stood out: Her grandparents, when they talk to her about Philly, ask her to please not get shot. To which Fred asks, “Why? Are you guys known for being shot here?”
6. After finding out all of Nicole’s likes and dislikes, we’re treated to another song, “She’s Making Jewelry Now.” It’s about a lot of people you probably know—they’ve bounced around from grad school program to grad school program, attempted culinary school, thought about becoming a masseuse, wondered aimlessly for years, and now make jewelry, which they sell on their own website. It’s funny, but, again, lacks something. Energy? Just kinda stale.
7. After “She’s Making Jewelry Now” Fred and Carrie begin to banter with the crowd. Do we know anyone who makes jewelry? Has anyone ever made us a piece of jewelry that was awful, but we felt obligated to wear it? At this point, some douche in back yells “I can make you a pearl necklace!!!” Yuk, yuk, yuk. The crowd groans audibly. Really, guy? JESUS. Fred handles it with more grace than you can imagine—it’s reasonable to believe that he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. “Aww. Man. What a bummer,” he says. “Hey guys, remember when the energy was really great in here, really positive? And then he yelled that out and it went bewwwwwwwwwww.” (”Bewwwwww” is how we’re choosing to spell Fred’s nosedive noise.) Carrie then made a point we wish all hecklers everywhere could hear: “There was such little expectation of you tonight. All you had to do was come and watch and not yell things out, but you couldn’t do it.” Fred then jokingly challenged him to come on stage and give him a pearl necklace. “I want to take you up on it. I don’t think you could do it.”
8. Throughout the show we were played as-yet-unaired skits from the show. They were funny, but you had to wonder how people felt about paying $30 to watch something that they’ll eventually see on TV in a few weeks. And that’s the thing about the Portlandia live show: It didn’t seem all that planned. It was amorphous. It had no shape. We’d heard that it was supposed to feel as though we were all just friends in Fred and Carrie’s living room, all just shooting the breeze casual like. It definitely had that feel. But it also felt unfinished. Unplanned. It wasn’t really a show. It had it’s moments, but at $30 a pop, it damn sure didn’t have enough of them. Here’s a visual guide to how some people felt after the show.
9.We go through photos on Fred and Carrie’s laptop. Fred says, from the outset, “There are no jokes in this part.” It’s not meant to be funny. We’re just going through photos on their respective laptops. And some of them are admittedly pretty sweet. There’s one of Fred as a youngster dressed as Dracula. One of him in high school with a mohawk. There’s a poem he wrote about blood. There’s a birthday card from Carrie to her mother that she made at a young age. There are also photos of Fred and Carrie from the first time they met. All very sweet, yes, but it all kinda seemed like an afterthought. Fred had a picture of himself with the late Steve Jobs that was kinda cool though.
10. Q&A with Fred and Carrie. This was especially annoying because, from where we stood anyway, you couldn’t hear the questions from those asking them. Fred and Carrie would just launch into an answer about Battlestar Galactica or how they came up with their safe word or some such and we’d be left to wonder what the question was. It would’ve been nice to have had one of them repeat the question over the mic.
11. Carrie says that, in Portland, when you put any piece of clothing in the closet in Portland—be it made of cotton or leather—it magically turns to fleece. Fleece is the fabric of choice in Portland, she says, adding “It’s the fabric of depression.” A girl behind us says,”It’s so true!”
12. OK, so the show is a bit meh and low energy all around. With the long wait outside we’ve all been standing up for about three hours. We need a big finale. And so … Fred and Carrie bring out Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces to play a few songs with her from her new solo album? They play “Heaven.” And then another one. We, like a good deal of the crowd, decide to take off. It was a weird end to a so so night. Still love the show though.