THANXFDR: Kilby Court, SLC, Utah

In this heartwarming seasonal series, the Crossfader staff will be running you through some of the media-related things that they’re most thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

Concerts kinda suck. Standing for hours on end, loathing the towering people for obscuring the view or feeling pangs of guilt for doing the same to the shorties behind. There’s the bad crowds and expensive beer; the nerves of not being able to sing — or worse, dance. Then the awkwardness of not partaking in either. Rolling the dice on a bad opener or arriving late and being relegated to the back. Yeah, the music from the opener is generally cool, but the opportunity for the mind to drift into anxious thought about work, friends, or “Do I look high?” isn’t. Such worry is compounded if attending with a crush or date. And exiting, almost nothing audible over sustained ear-ringing, with the obligation to gush over one another’s favorite song before bragging about your “perf” or “epic” night on the Narcissus’s reflective pool that is Instagram.

Hyperbolic, maybe. But it’s not from a lack of trying. In fact, a year ago I would have told you that my preferred going out activity is concert-going (probably still is, but that’s another conversation and not the point.) Despite my words above, I still reminisce about several shows that were nothing less than transcendent (Sigur Ros, Sufjan Stevens, D’Angelo); but on the whole, I’ve had too many sore backs, wasted bucks, or claustrophobic panic attacks to claim I actually enjoy concerts — at least not anymore. What happened? I’m currently listening to more, and increasingly varied, music. I live in Southern California, a disgusting hotbed of shows, venues, and festivals. And I used to fucking love concerts. I suppose it’s fitting I type this whilst home for Thanksgiving break because I’ve realized that, ironically, one special venue in Salt Lake City, Utah both gifted me some amazing shows and spoiled my concert going future. And this Thanksgiving, I’m immensely thankful for it.

Kilby Court is a garage at the end of an obscure West Salt Lake neighborhood street. It’s surrounded by houses that either have deaf inhabitants or none at all, as it holds shows 4-5 noisy nights a week. Most of these are unknown local groups getting a feel for playing on a stage (if 3 inches high actually counts as such), or equally unknown touring bands praying to make enough at the door to pay for the gas and fast food that fuels their van. Not all shows are dismal, as minor indie acts can easily attract the 50+ people needed to feel like a full house and STRFKR (who are friends with the proprietors) put lines around the block several times per year. I’ve been to a wide number of different Kilby shows and even if the music wasn’t up to snuff, I always walked away happy that I came.

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Ought at Kilby Court

PC: Phillip Vernon

Whether it’s moshing to punk or head bobbing to post-rock there’s something about the atmosphere of the venue that creates a special bond between performer and audience. Perhaps it’s the close proximity; sometimes contact between a player and a fan happens accidentally, let alone purposefully. It could be the aesthetic; the plywood walls covered with numerous layers of band stickers lend themselves to a very DIY vibe. Or maybe it’s the turnout — I once dragged three friends to see post-punk outfit Ought play and there were only three other strangers, making me responsible for over half the crowd. And the band played as if it were a late afternoon festival set. The lack of people — and thus lack of nerves — made their mindset more akin to a rehearsal than a show. It’s certainly not the money or the sound quality that cultivates Kilby’s ethereal energy. Whatever it is, those shows imbued in me an expectation that musicians would play with the same passion with which they wrote the songs in the first place.

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Andrew Jackson Jihad at Kilby Court (with Jeff Rosenstock on sax!)

PC: Phillip Vernon

This first dawned on me when I saw Andrew Jackson Jihad play the Echoplex and, later, with Hop Along at this year’s FYF festival. Both played solid sets that my peers were impressed with and even likely earned them new fans, but I couldn’t shake the workman-like feeling of the performances. I had seen the groups on separate occasions at my beloved hometown garage and both seemed like different iterations of bands playing the same songs, the punchiness of their rock and heart wrench of their vocals omitted in the latter shows. Of course, I acknowledge not every concert can put me within touching distance of artists performing at their most emotionally vigorous — most play over 200 shows a year and hope to make more money than what they pull at a place like Kilby Court. I’m only saying that what concerts are in a cultural hub like Los Angeles is a far piece from what I loved about them in my small town bubble of Salt Lake.

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Jeff Rosenstock at Kilby Court

PC: Phillip Vernon

Kilby Court wasn’t just where I saw indie acts like Owls, rap groups such as Blue Scholars, or touched (!!) my beloved Jeff Rosenstock. The local venue was where I got to see my best friends’ band play along with what seemed like half my high school class in attendance. Despite only being a high school band (as talented as they were), their shows were as much a testament to Kilby’s illusive power as any other. Anthropology, lit by the iconic Kilby Court Christmas lights, rocked the house for a brief 50 minutes that any of my old friends and acquaintances will undoubtedly remember five years out. It also provided me, and others, the ideal setting for S A D B O I high school drama. Encounters with exes, hopes to dance with that longtime crush, or toxic love triangles were all commonplace around Kilby’s smoker-friendly fire pit. My senior year Halloween was one for the books, so stressed from the tantalizing possibility of rekindling a romance that I nearly hyperventilated in the graffiti-laced and grime-caked unisex bathroom.

Years out from that embarrassing moment of angst, I’m a senior in college, about to finally embark on my big bad journey into “the real world,” meaning nostalgia is my modus operandi. Shockingly, there’s a lot to miss about Utah when living in Southern California. The actual presence of nature or the freedom to go 65 on the freeway — I even kinda miss Mormons. Sometimes. But what I really yearn for is that sense of small town community. Going to under-attended shows on Friday nights and seeing the same fuckers that were there the week before. Watching my friends take the same stage that Mumford & Sons once disgraced (yes, it happened, no I wasn’t there.) And hearing music played by people that damn well loved to play — because they weren’t making jack doing it. It’s taken me a thousand words to realize it, but my last Kilby Court experience may have already come and gone. All the more reason to be grateful for a venue that taught me to appreciate a good concert and a good crowd, provided a home for my cinema-worthy (and cringe-inducing) coming-of-age moments, and a respite from an otherwise white-washed conservative snore-fest of a hometown. Even if I never return and eventually grow accustomed to the congested and overly trendy L.A. concert scene, I’ll be thankful for the knowledge that little dingy Kilby Court is still charging five dollars at the door for exactly the show you need it to be.

Phillip Vernon

Phillip Vernon is a filmmaker from Salt Lake City, Utah, meaning his taste in food can be summed up as “the blander and paler, the better.” He never got the memo that flannel died with the '90s.

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