By Kat Freydl
The Ritz is not what we were expecting.
We stand outside, bouncing up and down anxiously, our legs mottled with cold. I’m clutching the ticket and the other thing—the improvised press pass that appears to double as a sticker—while we wait for our friend Daniel, who had to get out of line to return his mace to his car. People trickle past us, and I’m yet to see one without the 21+ wristband that means they’re eligible for alcohol. They’re all dressed much better than I am. The cool metal of the barrier that keeps me from plummeting off the concrete steps and into the shrubbery presses into my back, and from below I hear the lady distributing wristbands mutter “I’m just glad I’m not, like, a bouncer. I’m not about to babysit a bunch of kids who’ve just discovered orange vodka.”
Daniel finally worms his way through security for the second time, and the three of us link arms as we enter the hoard of people squeezing their way through the doors of the Ritz. From the outside, it looks like a seedy bar; on the inside, it looks like a classy bar. A series of tiny disco balls is oscillating on the left; on the right, a neon sign flashes, the shape of an astronaut. We pass four bars as we make our way onto the floor.
It’s standing room only, and Delida, Daniel, and I take our spots at the back, gradually pushing our way forward as people shift. The opening act is HANA, a single girl illuminated by pulsating pink stage lights and paper umbrellas suspended from the ceiling behind her. All her songs sound the same to me, but her braid is nice, thick and swinging well past her waist. I’m already sweating. The room is dusky, and at first I think it’s just my failing prescription glasses until I realize it’s fog. I assume it’s a fog machine until the sweet, skunky smell hits me, overpowering in its proximity. So. Well. I breathe in.
When Purity Ring finally comes to the stage, we’ve worked our way towards the front. A woman gives us glowsticks, shrieking that we’re the Purity Ring squad. I’m stressed, because I know what I’m here for: I got in for free so I could write a review. Photos not required but strongly encouraged. My grainy iPhone photos aren’t cutting it, especially considering the fact that I’m 5’3 and the guy in front of me is 6’4 and drunk enough that every time I try to worm past him he just gives me this indulgent grin and palms my shoulder and sways to the rhythm of whatever it is that Hanna is playing. When I get trapped between two guys who are being staggeringly affectionate, the sweat cools on my forehead as claustrophobia-tinged panic starts to set in, the creeping fear of failure gottawriteareview gottawriteareview making my vision go dark around the edges. I start to shake.
And then Purity Ring comes out, and the lights go dark. The two guys extricate themselves from each other and I escape, and then. And then. There is no more room for analysis. It is sweat and a haze of weed smoke and lights, thudding bass and people all around and songs I barely know but screaming my voice hoarse anyway. I’m not me anymore. I’m everyone in this room. For this moment, I believe in Confucianism—I believe that my strength is the family’s strength, and that my enthusiasm is the crowd’s enthusiasm—I am not my own, here. I am part of a better (more drunk, more high) whole, and I feel it. When Megan James looks into the crowd, I swear she’s looking at me. I swear it.
Delida has a better position than me in the crowd for taking pictures, so I snap the few that I can and then hand her my phone. Looking back at the photos now, they’re almost all blurry or obscured by someone’s hand or Megan is partially out of the frame. They don’t capture the performance—they capture what it was like to be part of it. Some of them are even of us.
Purity Ring has been critiqued for falling behind. People say that they waited to long to come out with their sophomore album, another eternity (a lowercase album title featuring all-lowercase song titles); that their style is contrived and exactly what you’d expect from a Canadian electronic duo; that their music just doesn’t cut it now when compared to the veritable glut of emerging artists. All I can tell you is that at the Ritz, surrounded by a crowd that thrummed with suppressed intensity, the product of electric excitement mixing with radiating calm, it felt anything but contrived. As Purity Ring blasted onto the stage with “stranger than earth,” Megan dressed in a white two-piece bodysuit with padded sleeves, one that vaguely reminded me of Lady Gaga, Corin Roddick at the helm of the instrumentals at his place behind a set of tiki drums, Purity Ring immediately departed from the style of Shrines, just enough to create something interesting without changing their sound entirely. "Another earth" is lighter, more jubilant; it’s the product of a three-year hiatus, and thus three years of artistic growth.
Megan twists and undulates across the stage, grinning, her hair mussed, a fan blowing it loose around her face as she sings. When she leans into the crowd, it feels conspiratorial, the upside of a smaller venue. She makes the performance feel intimate, a shared secret between friends. Corin Roddick’s instrumentals are positively thunderous, but Megan never struggles to match his volume with her vocals. I wish I had my notebook, because I would be writing down what I feel right now, what this sounds like to me—ethereal comes to mind. Dynamic. Forceful. Like all good crowds, it is messy and imprecise, but like all good music, this is catharsis. At some point—I’ve lost track of what song she’s singing, too absorbed in the music and the swaying and the way she dances through the twinkle lights that hang from the ceiling like wisteria—she pulls on a pair of white gloves with what look like jagged pieces of mirror on the palms. If this is a piece of technical equipment, it’s one I’m not familiar with. She places her hands into the light and sends it reflecting back onto us, fractured. There is something holy here.
At every concert I’ve attended, there is a song I’m hoping for. This time it’s “fineshrine,” and it seems like that is the song everyone else was waiting for, too. The crowd shrieks at the outset, and then we’re all singing, practically exceeding Megan’s volume. Hands go up. There is dancing. There is wonder. There are puffs of weed smoke as people smoke with renewed fervor. We all feel the tension that comes right before we all start to scream encore.
Megan squashes that particular desire quite quickly—Purity Ring doesn’t do encores. She ends the night with “begin again.”
You be the moon and I be the earth
And when we burst
Start over, oh darling
Begin again, begin again, she sings, and I answer.
Begin again, begin again.