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Review and photos: Snail Mail bring community and catharsis to First Avenue

Snail Mail. (Photos by Mary Mathis/MPR)
Snail Mail. (Photos by Mary Mathis/MPR)

by Colleen Cowie

July 16, 2019

The day of a concert, I'll usually find myself refreshing Twitter to see what the Internet has to say about the performer who's about to stop into town. It was no surprise to me when I opened my feed to a flood of tweets about how people were preparing to cry to Snail Mail at First Avenue.

Snail Mail introduced listeners to their heartbreak-flavored indie rock first in 2016 with the EP Habit, and then in 2018 released their debut full-length Lush. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Lindsey Jordan builds carefully crafted pop songs that strike a balance between the intensely personal and universal, and whose themes of relationships, self-doubt, and early-adulthood malaise have earned a loyal following.

Accompanied by drummer Ray Brown, bassist Alex Bass, and keyboardist/guitarist Madeline McCormack, Jordan brought her vulnerable and piercing songs to the Mainroom last night. While her voice soared around the venue, the crowd joined in, creating a chorus of voices to accompany nearly every song.

Snail Mail kicked off their set with a fan favorite, "Heat Wave" — a fitting way to begin a sticky summer evening, with a heat advisory in the forecast. The song was one of the singles released ahead of Lush, which came out in June 2018. "Heat Wave" has quickly become a summer indie rock anthem, and in the song's quiet bridge, the crowd eagerly joined in.

This wasn't the band's first time to First Avenue. Snail Mail have played the 7th St Entry in support of Girlpool and Beach Fossils, and last year for a headlining slot, but this was the band's first time playing in the Mainroom.

Snail Mail breezed through songs from Lush, before playing a handful of tracks off Habit, which the band recently reissued via Matador. Jordan showed off her guitar skills on "Thinning," and strands of inky hair fell into her face as she crooned into the microphone.

The set's most upbeat track was "Pristine," a song full of longing; of feeling not good enough for someone else, yet still clinging to them. Like many of Snail Mail's songs, "Pristine" builds slowly, starting out with a steadily strummed guitar part and builds to a climax at the song's end. The crowd jumped along to the song, nearly scream-singing every line along with Jordan.

Seeing that bobbing sea of teenagers and young 20-somethings reminded me of why I love Snail Mail's music: because it takes personal and heart-wrenching moments and turns them into a cathartic, communal experience. At a Snail Mail concert, you don't just cry about being dumped at summer camp or being ghosted by the Tinder match who you thought was the one — you feel the sting of that memory in a room of 2,000 strangers who are dancing along with you.

One of Jordan's greatest talents as a songwriter is writing a killer breakdown. Her song structures often deviate from the typical verse-chorus format of most pop songs, and instead string together a chain of sections that grow and evolve throughout the song. In this chain, Jordan often takes a moment of pause, bringing the volume down and speaking directly to her listeners.

In many cases, these breakdowns feature just Jordan's voice and guitar, and are opportunities for her to deliver searing lines. "Who do you change for?" Jordan asks the partner who has rejected her, in the breakdown of "Pristine." "Out of everyone, who's your type of girl?"

Snail Mail's breakdowns are an opportunity for Jordan to get up-close and whisper through her listener's headphones, directly into their ears — and at First Ave, these moments were also opportunities for the crowd to interact with her. Sometimes the audience's voices sounded louder than Jordan's, showing just how much her lyrics have resonated with others.

Jordan ended the set with two solo performances. The first song she played was an unreleased song about telling someone you love them for the first time, and she ended the night with "Stick."

Jordan also gave a shout-out to the night's opener, SASAMI. "She's been one of my best friends since I was 15," Jordan said about the singer-songwriter. "She was one of the first people to be nice to me ever in music."

SASAMI is the solo-project of Sasami Ashworth, who played synths in the L.A. band Cherry Glazerr, before leaving to pursue her own music. SASAMI played songs from their self-titled debut album, like the fiery "Jealousy," on which Ashworth wailed through an impassioned guitar solo and whipped her hair around. Throughout the set, Ashworth screamed, shredded, and flung herself around the stage, backed by a bassist and drummer.

Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.



Snail Mail

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.