Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Night Vale or Bust!

During a particularly awful blizzard in January, the Welcome to Night Vale Twitter account announced they were going on a East Coast tour. Since Welcome to Night Vale is my favorite thing in this or any other universe, I gleefully waited to see what cities they'd go to. The dates, they announced, we're going to be in March and April. Perfect, I thought as I steeled myself to go shovel another foot of snow, the weather will be great by then! One of their first stops on the tour was Philadelphia, the city I work in, so I snagged tickets to the early show on March 3rd so fast I think my credit card started to smoke. Joseph Fink said on his Twitter that Philadelphia was definitely going to be spoiled for special guests. I was besides myself with excitement. "Oh yeah", I said to myself, "the weather will definitely be better by then!"

Friends, the weather was not better by then. The American Midwest and East Coast has had THE WORST winter in the history of all recorded human time. We battled through temperatures that were below freezing for weeks on end, we felt our resolve eroded by almost daily snow storms. If Charles Dickens had been writing about this winter, he would have penned "It was the (best scratch out) worst of times, it was seriously the absolute fucking worst of times". Don't even get me started on the rather Night Vale-esquely named "Polar Vortex" that made made half the country stop dead in it's tracks as even the most hardened winter warrior threw up their hands and gave up in the face of -20 degree below zero temperatures.

I tell you this so you can understand why I completely and utterly flipped the hell out when I heard there was going to be another snow storm on March 3rd, on my Night Vale day. "It's fucking MARCH" I shouted to no one. "The weather was supposed to be better by now!" I cried. All of my Night Vale plans hung in the balance as I watched the weather reports in dismay. Up to a foot of snow, they said. You aren't going anywhere, they said. On Twitter, Joseph Fink announced that the shows were still on no matter what and I began to have just the slightest bit of a mental breakdown. This winter has taken such a mental and physical toll on me that I refused to let it take Night Vale as well.

I woke on March 3rd to six inches of snow outside. I died just a little, then resolved to do my best to make it into the city and to see Night Vale. I wouldn't forgive myself if I missed it (and Ticketmaster sure as hell wouldn't give me my money back). I was outside shoveling snow at 7am. I was cleaning off my car, I was walking through my neighborhood to see how clear the main roads were. I completely lost my shit on Twitter as I kept an eye out for snow plows to come and clear my neighborhood. I kept refreshing the news page of the train I take into the city, looking to see if they had delays. By 3pm, all seemed hopeless. If I wanted to get into Philadelphia in time to see the show, I would have to leave my house by 5pm. I began to lose hope.

Then, by some miracle, the plows came. They hurried through my neighborhood, leaving clean pavement behind them. The trains announced they were running every ten minutes instead of every half hour. I made the executive decision to try and make it. My plans for my Night Vale outfit (a summery purple jersey dress, black and white stripped tights and purple high heels) were ruined by the frigid temperatures so in haste I threw on a purple thermal top, a black sweater dress, sweater tights and a pair of black leggings OVER the sweater tights. My black combat boots finished the look. My notoriously wild hair was even wilder than normal. I didn't even try to look good, I wanted to be warm. I grabbed my ticket, grabbed my phone, grabbed my bag, bundled up in my coat and left the house before I could change my mind. Night Vale or bust!

Everything fell together. The roads, while not great, were okay enough to get me to the train station without being killed. The train arrived two minutes after I got to the platform. When I got into Philadelphia, I was able to grab a cab right to the venue. I tipped the driver extra for being out in the bad weather. I was the first person there. The concert venue was a small building squeezed between bars and shops in trendy South Philly. The sidewalk hadn't been shoveled especially well and I slid around in the slushy, icy mess as I tried desperately to get to the ticket booth and make sure the show was still on. I couldn't believe I was the only person there. The street was completely deserted. I was sure people would have been lining up to get in for hours.
Soundcheck. Oops.

The door inside was unlocked, so I thought perhaps they allowed people to stand inside since it was below freezing out. I walked in and looked around. The venue was small, with a little stage and folding chairs lined up in neat little rows. A sharp dressed guy and a woman with short dyed hair unpacked merchandise in the tiny lobby. They didn't even look at me as I wandered in. Because I'm me and I explore places I shouldn't go, I walked right into the concert area and discovered I had stumbled upon the sound check! The band for the evening, a two piece folk duo, were on stage practicing a beautiful, sweetly melancholy song, as Cecil Baldwin, Meg Bashwiner and Joseph Fink talked with their heads bowed together in one of the back rows. My knees went weak as I realized what I had accidentally walked in on. I stood there for a few minutes, watching and listening, and no one paid a single bit of attention to me. Deciding I didn't want to get in trouble, I went back outside and discovered two people had lined up for the show.

One thing I've learned from going to nerdy events is that the strangers waiting in line instantly become your long lost best friends when they realized you're One Of Them. I quickly struck up a conversation with them and dutifully stood behind them (I was third in line!) as we waited. More people began to arrive and I offered to go to the Starbucks across the street for warm drinks if they'd hold my place. Soon we were drinking teas and lattes, stamping our feet on the ground to try and keep them warm. I won't lie to you, I froze out there. Even through my gloves and my coat and all of my layers I was shivering and I couldn't feel my toes after a few minutes. It was getting dark and the temperature was swiftly dropping.

People arrived in all manner of costumes. Many people wore "Hello, my name is Joseph Fink!" name tags, there were many different types of Cecil and Carlos costumes, as well as a few Hooded Figures and even a man in a tan jacket. Everyone was excited about the show, bewildered by the continuing bad weather and commiserating about how cold we all were. I honestly think we all nearly stampeded to get inside not from excitement but from a desire to get warm! All told, I waited outside for a little over an hour. I was beyond cold.

Once the doors opened, I was one of the first inside. I glanced at the merch table but then hurriedly made my way into the seated area. I was able to snag a front row seat, on the middle/left side of the stage. As pins and needles flooded my extremities, I struck up conversation with the fans around me. To my left were college freshman girls in costume. On my right were a trio of guys in their twenties in plain clothes. Behind me were some older goths and punks. I saw people with their confused parents, groups of teens, and fans who had gone solo who were studiously looking at their phones. Knowing the merch table would be crazy after the show, I asked the goths behind me to watch my coat and my seat then quickly went back to purchase a gorgeous tour poster and a Night Vale logo shirt.

There was a screen that was down over the stage to prevent us from seeing any set up going on. It displayed other shows the venue was hosting. There were bands and festivals that everyone mocked or said they liked. I knew I was with my people when an ad for a Robin Thicke concert was displayed and the entire place boo'd so loudly I thought the walls shook. We did that twice more as the ad circled around. While we waited, the venue played a selection of awesome songs by CHRVCHES and Of Monsters And Men, as well as some choice cuts from the weather like John Vanderslice, Simone Felice and Satellite High. Soon the screen went dark and ascended into the rafters and the lights went dim in the room. It was time.

I had seen Night Vale live shows on Youtube and watched one they streamed from a podcast festival in California. Nothing prepared me for the awesomeness I was about to encounter. Meg Bashwiner came out first to tell us the rules and wish us hello. Meg is the voice at the end of every Night Vale podcast, giving us info about the episode and our proverb. She was fun and seemed just as excited as we were. She also wore the most beautiful skirt that I recognized from the Betty Paige store a few blocks away from my office. That girl has STYLE. She told us that pictures (without flash) were ENCOURAGED and that the episode we were about to hear would one day be up on their bandcamp page.

Danny and Carrie
The show started off with a three song performance by Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkins. Danny was the weather on episode 8, "The Lights In Radon Canyon", and they both gave a great performance. It was stripped down and heart felt. They returned during the performance to be that night's weather as well. You could feel the tension and excitement in the room when they went back stage and Meg returned to introduce Cecil Baldwin. When the voice of Night Vale walked on stage the entire place erupted in cheers and screams. It was like an A-List Hollywood actor had just walked out. People clapped and cheered for a solid minute before Cecil was able to settle us down. He wore skinny pegged jeans with a blue button down shirt and a brown tailored coat with shinny brass buttons. He cut a very fine figure, tall and slim, with a profile that would make John Barrymore seethe with jealousy. He also has completely perfect posture. In his hands he held the script for the night's episode and when he opened his mouth and that booming, honeyed baritone voice came out, I think a few people swooned.

Listening to Welcome to Night Vale and actually seeing Cecil perform are too very different things. While his voice conveys so much on tape, his movements on stage were expressive and added so much to the show. He's a total performer, utterly at home on stage and he played the audience like a violinist plays a violin. He had us in the palm of his hand the whole time. His face lit up with expressions, from frowning disapproval to wide eyed fear to jovial exuberance. It was astonishing and visceral to watch. Just completely enrapturing. The world could have ended at that moment and none of us would have realized it. And his voice, oh my god, his VOICE. Take the podcast and times it by twelve. His voice was just as velvety and amazing as you can imagine.

The episode was entitled "Librarians" and concerned the small desert town rebuilding the library that had been destroyed during the Summer Reading Program. The construction crew had gotten a little lax and one of the fearsome librarians had escaped. It was a genuinely terrifying episode. Cecil even did a truly spinetingling voice for the librarian, when it wandered into the car repair shop and threatened an employee there. Cecil brought us reports and updates of the librarian situation in between the usual program segments. There was a community calendar and he took the time to read the weekly horoscopes. When he would say a zodiac sign, he'd look into the audience for someone who had cheered or raised their hand at their sign and read to them directly. It was so much fun. Audience participation! When Cecil got to Leo, my hand shot up into the air like I was Hermoine Granger in Transfiguration Class. Since I was in the front row, Cecil spotted me easily and made eye contact. I was the Chosen Leo. He read my horoscope to me while I laughed helplessly because it involved being poisoned. "Yeah..." Cecil drawled at the end, "then there's just a green smear here...". He put his fists on his non-existent hips and stared at me for a long moment. It was fabulous. He was soon flitting off to tell some poor Libra what misfortune would befall them.

Meg Bashwiner came out after to do the "sponsored" bit, which involved a credit card that may or may not exist. It was insanely funny and Cecil and Meg played off each other well. Then the special guests really started to come out. A woman named Symphony Sanders came out and was an impressive Tamika Flynn. She did an incredible monologue as Tamika, talking about the power of books (and how they make such good weapons) and how she wasn't crazy enough to go up against a librarian again. Mara Wilson was next, reprising her role as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your House. She was so much fun and shockingly spooky. The Faceless Old Woman has my vote for Mayor! She also introduced the term "throat spiders" to my vocabulary.
Cecil and Tamika Flynn

To my great surprise, Hal Lublin from the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast (and a Philly native) came out and did a bit as Cecil's sworn arch enemy, Steve Carlsberg. I can't tell you have amazing it was. Watching Cecil nearly writhing on the floor with rage as Steve talked on, completely oblivious. It was an absolute riot. Cecil looked physically pained to have to speak to Steve and made faces at the audience while Hal was talking.

Cecil and the Faceless Old Woman
Even better than a Steve Carlsberg appearance was the final surprise guest; Dylan Marron playing Cecil's boyfriend, Carlos. I swear, it was like the second coming of The Beatles when he walked onstage. The crowd didn't just cheer, it screamed itself into a frenzy fit for a rockstar. Dylan looked excited and humbled by the response and he and Cecil shared a few tender moments together that made the audience cheer. Guys, they got to a very special place in their relationship and it was just awesome to experience. Dylan plays a fantastic Carlos. He's outgoing and full of bravado, only taking Cecil's advice to stay safe once he realized how worried Cecil was. Dylan, like Carlos, has breathtakingly perfect hair and wore suspenders, skinny pegged jeans and boots.

Cecil flipping out on Steve Carlsberg
The episode was incredibly well written, frightening, hilarious and just completely wonderful. The last segment was one of the most intense and fascinating moments I've ever experienced in a theater and the entire place was so scared and on the edge of their seat that you could have heard a pin drop between Cecil's sentences. There was more audience
participation towards the end, where he directed certain parts of the audience to scream and cry out. He ordered the entire front row to stand up and shriek as they pulled at their hair (something I did very well since I have just oodles of hair). When it was over, Cecil took a simple bow and walked off stage as the entire place stood up and cheered loud enough to shake the foundation.

Cecil, Carlos and Carlos' perfect hair
Meg walked back out and introduced the people behind Night Vale. Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor walked out, smiling and looking partly stunned and humbled at the standing ovation. Soon the entire cast was on stage, smiling and hugging and waving. Meg gave us our proverb and thanked us for being such a good audience. Everyone went back stage and the audience started to gather up their belongings and shrug into coats almost in a daze.

Because this was the early show and they had another show in twenty minutes, the Night Vale gang was unable to come out and meet people and sign autographs. I wasn't too upset since I have no idea what I could have said to them to let them know how much I love their podcast and how much it means to me. It saved me the embarrassment. The experience of the live show was enough. Hal Lublin did step out for a moment to say hello and was swarmed by people. As I walked by, I caught his eye and said "I love you on the Thrilling Adventure Hour!" to which he grinned happily and informed me that I was awesome and had excellent taste in podcasts.

I walked back out into the insanely cold Philadelphia night, walking past the new group of fans who had lined up for the late show. There were more Cecils and Joseph Finks and even a Glow Cloud. I navigated the icy sidewalk and encountered a bar next door to the venue that had figured out a way to get those Night Vale fans to stop in, advertising StrexCorp Beer for $3.

It was too cold to walk, so I again grabbed a cab to get back to the train station and tipped well because of the road conditions. I managed to catch a train within minutes and soon I was on my way home, clutching my Night Vale poster and grinning to myself over what an awesome experience I had just had. No ice or snow could keep me away from a small desert community and their roving, bloodthirsty librarian.

Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor!
Winter had a final laugh at my expense when I arrived back at my car and discovered the doors were frozen shut. Some pulling, begging and swearing finally got them open and I drove home on an empty highway, hoarse from cheering and still in an incredibly good mood. I fell into bed that night wearing my new Night Vale t-shirt and feeling insanely grateful I had been able to see the show. Good night, Night Vale, good night...

I'd like to thank the TLA for being such an awesome, intimate venue for Welcome to Night Vale (and for not kicking me out when I wandered in accidentally). A huge, heartfelt thank you to the entire Night Vale gang. Joseph, Jeffrey, Cecil, Dylan, Symphony, Mara, Hal, Meg and Danny and Carrie... you all came out and gave us the performance of our lives. It was an amazing night. Welcome to Night Vale is such a startlingly fresh, scary, wonderful, thoughtful, crazy podcast and I can't thank you enough for giving it to us. You guys are lovely. You are all awesome.

From Cecil Baldwin's Twitter
Pin It