Dadliness and Dadlessness at Two Shows in New York

Two blogs in two weeks? Yeah but don't get used to it

SORRY TO DISAPPOINT YOU, but I’m blogging again.

Real Estate plays Webster Hall, and Palm opens

Literal prisms of nostalgia: Real Estate takes the stage at the new and renovated Webster Hall (they gutted it) in front of telescoping screens. On these screens are projected cartoons from the 1970s, anonymous camcorder home videos from summer days at the pool, winding drives through unknown mountain roads, “all those aimless drives through green aisles.” Which makes it make sense why the crowd mostly consisted of dads: nostalgia is where dads live and do some of their most powerful work (at least for me).

At Webster Hall on Friday evening, there were both real dads (I saw two Black dads making night of it—fuck yeah, Real-Estate-loving Black dads!), and aspiring dads: indie bros in their 20s and 30s carefully dressed in the fashion du jour of young men on the town. A utilitarian style of dress, ragged tees with baseball caps to hide ragged hair. Denim, denim, denim. There’s no trace, here in Webster Hall, of the cruelty and vanity that accompany an ironed shirt.

Dad swag has colonized the popular aesthetic, an alternative image for young men to aspire to that’s supposed to carry with it some idea of safety. I think the idea is that the more a young man can project the dad he promises to be, the further he seems from the images we have of groups of young men rushing to The Club in their white oxford shirts, pointing down to hell with the sharp lines of their collars. The non-dad with dad swag is in no such hurry; he might pass that herd of brogues clip-clopping the sidewalk in some ratty New Balances, headed at a leisurely pace in the opposite direction: home, to make a grilled cheese and fall asleep watching 🤪Netflix🤪.

(I don’t have evidence for any of these claims, by the way, but I don’t have to because this is uh my fucking blog.)

So, here, at Webster Hall, is this celebration of soft masculine feelings like thinking, at the end of the night, that “nothing [you] said came out right.” Real Estate themselves are the drowsiest dads of all, all balding and bespectacled and looking, as commenters on their video for “Darling” noted, like “a bunch of school teachers who deciding to quit their jobs and form a great indie band” or, even more saliently, “unemployed dads playing casual music while waiting to pick up their children at kindergarten.”

All these dad caps and dad swag and dad bods promote the aesthetics of the white American dad in repose: fishing, hunting, listening to the Dead, and just generally not worrying that much about the frustrations of urban life. And what we’re supposed to get from that is comfort. The thing is, those are not comfortable vibes for me. They’re quite the opposite. If I were parachuted into a group of white dads, I don’t know, yachting, safety isn’t what I’d imagine I’d feel. I think would feel how disruptive someone like me would be to the reverie of a White Dad Afternoon in, uh, the Poconos?

So this advocacy for dad vibes among yuppy hipsters feels like subterfuge, or erasure, or at least a little dishonest (fwiw, you can read up on why this group has a different line-up than they did when I saw them in 2015). For the past two years, I’ve been scared and heartbroken at the prospect of being a dadless dad. But when Real Estate played Webster Hall, I was wondering what being a dad was really even worth. What remains to us, the underdads, if there’s danger in both directions?

Death Cab for Cutie plays Forest Hills Stadium, and Jenny Lewis opens

Here are the bad dads—“Styrofoam Plates”, the dad with fearful eyes in “Black Sun,” and I think we can assume the guy in “60 and Punk” is a dad, too.

All of these songs and more were played by Death Cab for Cutie at their show at the Forest Hill Stadium ($18 mixed drinks) this Saturday. Muscular bass, frighteningly clear versions of songs that I burned into my own mind when I was...12? 13?

Nostalgia again, projectors again, but this time the reality of the present is unshakably…present. When I was listening to Death Cab as a teen in Jamaica I would fantasize about what it would it be like to finally see them in concert. Here I am in 2019, watching a man with a bald spot unsuccessfully try to grind with his wife to “The Sound of Settling.”

I’m grateful to Death Cab for Cutie for putting on a show at the Forest Hills Stadium that looked unflinchingly to the reality of the here and now, and that counterintuitively meant playing only the a few of the best songs from their most recent album, Thank You for Today, and only two from 2015’s Kintsugi. The rest of the set was filled with crowd-pleasing pulls from Narrow Stairs, Plans, Transatlanticism, and The Photo Album. This time, I think nostalgia’s illusion would have been a crowd that wanted to hear the new stuff. They looked through that, and played the set I would have wanted at 13.

Even now, I hear these songs and think back to the surly teenager I was when listening to them, who just couldn’t figure out how to play the guitar line of “Title and Registration” or the piano arpeggios of “What Sarah Said,” and sing the melodies at the same time. Now, I can’t listen to these forty-somethings play “What Sarah Said” without thinking of my own dad.

Other Stuff

  • DON’T problematize me on my own blog.

  • Shout out to Anya for the Death Cab ticket!

  • I loved this guy, Death Cab for Cutie’s new keyboard player, who just loomed in the back wearing a suit. Ghostly dad vibes work for me, for obvious reasons.

  • Palm, who opened for Real Estate, pretty much rule! They use an effect that makes their guitars sound like steel pan and I was trying to think about what that means but I already wrote this whole blog, so here’s their song “Pearly”:

  • If I was in a band I’d institute a rule where if someone yelled “Freebird” we HAD to actually play all of “Freebird.”

  • Shoutout Yaw, who I ran into at the Real Estate show!

  • I need to start wearing ear plugs, seriously.

  • I hate when bands play New York and address the crowd as the borough... like do you really think this crowd at the Death Cab show at the Forest Hills Stadium is Queens?

That’s it! As always, you can read more of my writing at, the Instagram for this newsletter is @CriticalPartyStudies and, if you want to chat, email me at!