An Evening With Microwave

A dispatch from the ATL alt-rock trio’s intimate hometown show and recent Shaky Knees appearance.

Music Features Microwave
An Evening With Microwave

Microwave doesn’t take the stage until midnight. When I arrive at the Earl on May 3rd, a restaurant in East Atlanta with an attached 300-person venue in the back, it’s only 8:30 PM The ATL-bred alt-rockers got here half an hour earlier for load-in to prepare for the opening night of their tour behind Let’s Start Degeneracy, their new album that came out just a couple of weeks ago. Once I text the band’s tour manager that I’m at the venue entrance, he opens the door to let me into the small, empty space that will soon be filled with eager Microwave fans.

Vocalist Nathan Hardy, drummer Timothy “Tito” Pittard and bassist Tyler Hill have been performing as Microwave for a while now; their debut album, Stovall, turns 10 in August, and their 2016 record Much Love is now considered an emo and pop-punk touchstone. But as soon as I walk in, the nerves are palpable. They confirm as much later, but even just watching them, you can tell it’s a high-stress environment. No one is sitting still. Band members and touring crew alike are frantically milling about, laser-focused on getting everything in order. After making some brief introductions with Hardy, Tito and Hill, I make my way to the green room to get settled and let the guys acclimate themselves and do whatever needs doing.

Come time for soundcheck at 9, I make my way back out into the main area. The trio is onstage—rounded out by touring guitarist Lucas Daniel Jones—and they rip through songs like “Bored of Being Sad,” “The Brakeman Has Resigned” and “Let’s Start Degeneracy,” the latter of which they’ll be performing live for the first time in three hours. Once they play through it, the sound technician asks how they felt about it. “I was pretty lost,” Hill admits. “I mean, it sounded good up here,” the technician responds. They run through it once more for confidence’s sake, and call soundcheck a wrap before heading back to the green room, where I follow closely behind.

Once we all settle into our respective chairs in the Earl’s small, loudly decorated green room, which features everything from a hair salon chair to stacks of merch boxes for tomorrow night’s All Them Witches show, Microwave ask where I’m from. I tell them I left Kansas City on an early flight that I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to make. We all marvel at how I’m still awake and functioning (barely), and Hill talks about a recent Microwave show opening for the Menzingers in Lawrence, Kansas, a college town 40 minutes outside of KC. Hill reminisces on some other venues around the area they’ve played at while Hardy jokes about doing a recent residency at a famous KC jazz club called the Green Lady Lounge. Hill asks me if I’ve ever been to Atlanta before, so I tell him I actually lived in Decatur, a suburb 20 minutes away, when I interned at Paste back in the summer of 2017. I even tried to get into an intimate Spoon show here at the Earl but was denied entry for being under 21.

None of them have played a show at the Earl before as Microwave. They’ve definitely outgrown the venue’s paltry capacity, but it’s a special occasion. Tomorrow, they’ll make their debut at Shaky Knees, an alternative music festival in Atlanta’s Central Park—which features headliners Noah Kahan, Weezer and Foo Fighters—that has since become a staple of the greater festival season. Tonight is billed as one of the fest’s late-night shows, but it’s as much a celebration of their inaugural Shaky Knees set as it is of Let’s Start Degeneracy’s release. A close friend of the band swings by before showtime to drop off a cake with the album title drawn out in red frosting. From the end of soundcheck to the start of Microwave’s set, countless friends and family members wade through the hallway behind the curtain and into the green room to spend some time with the guys.

To be more specific, 50 of the 300 people in attendance are on the guest list. Hardy says the Earl sold the other 250 tickets in roughly a half-hour. They all want to hang out on the patio behind the venue, but the staff told them that there were too many people for that and closed it off. The last time they headlined in their hometown, it was a sold-out show at the Masquerade’s 1,000-cap venue, Heaven. Some family members drove 90 minutes to make it to tonight’s gig, and Hill beams with a mix of gratitude and pride as he tells me this.

Adrenaline has reached a fever pitch as their tour manager stops in to give the band a 30-minute warning until showtime. Chatting with one of the friends, Hardy addresses his concerns that the late-night crowd won’t have a lot of energy. His friend quickly assuages those worries: “You’re the only band. They’re here to see YOU!” At this point, the venue is now swarming with passionate Microwave fans, and most of the band’s friends have adjourned from the green room to join the crowd. Hardy moves a chair aside to do some hip stretches on the floor next to me. Right above him are a bunch of old drum heads that previous performers have signed. As their tour manager makes his way back into the room to get some signatures from all the band members for a drum head they’ll sell at the merch table, Hardy gestures to the ones above. “We could sell those,” he quips. “They’re valuable!”

“The first night of a tour is always the worst show,” Jones states matter-of-factly, handing back the pen he used to sign the drum head to the tour manager. “Whenever I see there’s a tour that starts in Atlanta, I get a little bummed, like ‘Man, that’s probably gonna be the worst show.’” His candor isn’t exactly the most reassuring thing you’d want to hear right before you take the stage, but they’re all grateful they get to do this show before their festival appearance tomorrow, which they argue is the worst way to start a tour. “This is a nice warm-up gig,” Hill remarks. They play right before emo luminaries Sunny Day Real Estate on the same stage, and Jones excitedly talks about the idea of frontman Jeremy Enigk catching Microwave’s set. When I watch Sunny Day Real Estate play their debut album, 1994’s Diary, in full the next day backstage at the fest, Jones stands right next to me. “This is the life,” he tells me, his gaze fixed on the Seattle stalwarts in front of him.

Microwave’s manager, who barely made it to the late-night show and “almost died” on his flight because the pilot slammed on the brakes after a warning light started blinking, stops into the Earl’s green room for a bit, along with the sound technician and tour manager. They each pour a shot of tequila—excluding Hill, who sticks to his tried-and-true Miller Lite that the fridge is stocked full of—and quickly down them. It’s celebratory and functional all at once; designed to generate excitement for a special performance while settling some nerves. I decide to directly ask the band if they’re nervous, and Jones, unequivocally the chattiest of the bunch, reaffirms that supposition with two simple words: “Fuck yes!”

Hardy, who has now finished his hip stretches and tequila shot, proceeds to do some vocal warm-ups while once again taking his place on the floor next to me. “All the high vocal parts are at the beginning of the setlist,” he says before haphazardly launching into various parts of the chorus for “Bored of Being Sad.” As their tour manager briskly walks around the room, ensuring everything is in order, Hardy grabs him: “Do you think the people out there can hear me?” The tour manager steps out to do a cursory check, and then returns with a slight shake of the head. The frontman immediately resumes his vocal exercises, fully supine: “‘And I’m so BOOOOORED! Of BEEEEEING SAAAAD!”

At five minutes until showtime, I find a spot toward the bar where there aren’t as many people congregated and get settled in. Tito comes out from behind the curtain alone. As the crowd begins chanting “TI-TO! TI-TO! TI-TO,” he assumes position behind the keys to perform the appositely titled instrumental piece “Concertito in G Major.” As he wraps up, the rest of the band—Hardy, Hill and Jones—follows suit and hops onstage to launch into “Bored of Being Sad.” Even though I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours now, the exhaustion temporarily goes away as the show itself kicks off. Hardy himself interjects halfway through the set about how “it’s 1 AM! Goddamn…” and that he’s appreciative that everyone showed up to a show this late. Billed on the Shaky Knees website as “an evening with Microwave,” the show’s official name feels like an unintentionally funny misnomer.

Those fears that Hardy had about the prospect of a low-energy crowd have all but dissipated by the time they launch into “Mirrors,” a high-octane cut from 2019’s Death Is a Warm Blanket. A wide smile spreads across Hardy’s face as a mosh pit erupts, and another one ensues as the breakdown for “Vomit” blasts through the PA system. Even as the clock ticks past 1 AM, the later the show goes on, the crowd’s energy gathers momentum like an avalanche. Mosh pits eventually give way to crowd-surfers for songs like “Stovall,” “Lighterless” and set closer “But Not Often,.” After a 90-minute show, all four members head back into the green room to enjoy some of that LSD cake. Despite having misgivings about how the show would go, Jones declares with enthusiasm that “it turned out pretty good!” “Isn’t 2 AM the perfect time to eat cake,” he muses. “Then you just wake up at 5 to shit it out!” As their tour manager cuts the cake, I get an Uber back to my hotel, fully ready to sleep until noon and likely, sadly, miss Been Stellar and Pool Kids play. Hardy calls after me, joking that he hopes they “get a good report card.”

The next day, Microwave performs at the Ponce De Leon stage at 4:15 p.m. in the sweltering Georgia heat. Despite the cloudless, 85-degree weather, the crowd goes full throttle for their hometown heroes. There are endless crowd surfers throughout their entire hour-long set, and Microwave matches the élan of the highly mobile audience that has gathered to watch them. Hardy unleashes throat-shredding screams on songs like “The Brakeman Has Resigned” and “Vomit,” and Jones, clad in a baggy white shirt adorned with the word “DEGENERATE” in black text, hops around the stage like a punk kangaroo with bleached hair.

At one point in the set, Hardy dons a straw hat before they begin performing, of course, “Straw Hat,” a buoyant indie-pop jam from Let’s Start Degeneracy that was excluded from the setlist last night. “We just put out an album two weeks ago,” he tells the sea of festival-goers. “It’s about being happy and taking care of yourself.” As he says this, I think of the previous night, as he was repeatedly shouting the chorus of “Bored of Being Sad” toward the heavens, his voice filling up the small space with an anxious fervor. While much of the band’s music reckons with religious hypocrisy from an ex-Mormon perspective, Microwave sounded spiritually ascendant. Watching them interact with their friends, family and fans over the weekend, I hope they feel that ascent, too.

Listen to Microwave’s Daytrotter session from 2017 here.

Grant Sharples is a writer, journalist and critic. He writes the Best New Indie column at UPROXX. His work has also appeared in Interview, Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Ringer, Los Angeles Review of Books and other publications. He lives in Kansas City.

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