Without the benefit of being a fly on the wall, a warm body in the room, a player at the label or a close personal friend or colleague along for the often treacherous ride, the perspective of an outsider with unimpeded love for an artist’s work is the place where we tend to come from, the lane that most of us occupy. And that’s not a bad thing because the art-work is what brings us to the dance and the reason why we initially fall. All else that follows tends to supplicate and reinforce the wisdom of our decision to allow [insert band/artist name here] into our lives – all of which are fractured and fucked up to various degrees – yet it’s the sound of that voice, that guitar, that chorus…those words…that lift the veil and make it all better. Or at least give us the illusion that it can get better and that we are worthy of it.
FACT: SXSW is a goddamned beast unkind to fan and performer, alike, but on vastly different scales. Where the music fan may find themselves shut out of a premium performance or showcase for lack of a proper credentials or simply not being important enough to get in the door or the performer may bust his or her ass (literally and/or figuratively) playing more shows in five days than they have in six months only to roll out of Austin with little more than precious time, energy and beer money spent. The illusion of departing Austin in your battle weary Chevy Astrovan with an A&R rep sniffing your scent like a dog in heat is a fairytale of yesterdays long gone by making the reality far more disheartening. But, hey, at least there are tacos and bbq.
And then there was Mondo Cozmo: A project named after…a dog. Joshua Ostrander’s dog, Cozmo.
In the scope of music industry stories, Ostrander’s is nothing new: talent, possibilities, potential, opportunities, disappointment, moving on. The last outfit of the Philadelphia native, the Los Angeles-based twitchy punkish pop Eastern Conference Champions, dissolved in 2015. Many of us were fond of ECC. Ostrander moved on. Not without angst and certainly not without struggle, but shit happens and you move on. God bless Ostrander for moving on.
When this thing called Mondo Cozmo surfaced last spring, it possessed qualities similar to that of the warm comfort and peace that a ginourmous blanket delivered on a bitterly cold night, particularly due to how 2016 will probably go down in history as the election year most foul, let alone everyone’s individual personal hell. At the time I had no clue who or what a Mondo Cozmo was, that Ostrander was attached to it, but Republic Records was serving it up: “Hold On To Me,” indeed. I did. With every heavy-hearted swell of the chorus and that plaintive voice…indeed. It was the type of music that instantly felt like the necessary kind but no one would have any idea how much so until Ostrander broke the seal on everyone’s soul with “Shine.” Such a warm breath of uplift, so much loving hope and hope in love. Sweet Jesus, man, what were you thinking?
And so SXSW bore something outright beautiful, allowed many of us to bear witness to that something which strongly resembled the spiritual act of manifesting dreams into reality, all else be damned. In four days Mondo Cozmo took on Austin, TX with 10 shows. In four days, Ostrander and his boys threw down on stages underneath the blazing sun, in proper venues and in climate-controlled rooms. I only attended four of those shows (#s 3, 4, 7 and 10) but I know what I saw and I know what I felt.
Ostrander was on a mission because, this time around, he had everything to prove and the players to his left, right and rear – Drew Beck, Chris Null, James Gordon and Andrew Tolman – all had his back full stop. SXSW isn’t easy even if you play half as many shows as Mondo Cozmo did but this was business (Republic Records), personal (Ostrander’s musical vision) and all points in between and – finally – it was all systems GO and all so righteous to watch. The grind, the uncertainty, the humility, the pride, the flow, the rhythm…the smiles. At many of those points in between it became downright emotional. Catching that moment when the MC experience clicked with those in the audience who didn’t even know the band’s name but were so inclined to ask and become informed because they caught the feelings. Watching Ostrander harness the energy around and within him, shifting from Los Angeles languid to east coast skittish on a dime while full-bodied songs like “Plastic Soul,” “Automatic,” “Higher” and more – all so wrapped up in classic soul, OG gospel, hip rock and indie Brit punk – were deliciously and expertly thrashed out by “the boys.”
Not gonna lie: the sonic contraband of “Plastic SouI” tends to bring out the slow dancer in me.
In the midst of it all, Ostrander’s grandmother passed away and his handsome face took on a bit more tension due to it. Perhaps being in the middle of the SXSW madness while belting that everything would be alright if we let it go helped more than it harmed; you’d have to ask him that. But what I do know is that what went down in Austin was a straight up exemplar of “go hard or go home” with Mondo Cozmo swinging for the fences and every open heart in the room every time he took a stage well before the last dance on Friday night at Stubb’s where at the end of jamming out “Automatic” he let a hearty “Fuck yeah!” fly. Man, was that felt because you, sir, came, saw and effectively slayed us with love. Truly as a professional music fan (and simply a fan of good things happening to good people) at the end of the day, all I want for those who make the music that moves me is for them to never have a day job unless that day job is making music and the gift was in being there for Ostrander’s coming out party, reveling in that sweet and sharp painful pleasure that comes from watching extraordinary musical art and its creator being enthusiastically devoured because that art has been good to you…good for you. Hell, that song’s been good to and for everyone whether they know it or not because it and all that Ostrander has actualized beneath the Mondo Cozmo moniker is one true thing: soul music. So I thank him for following his path; we need what he’s selling now more than ever.
“My friends are so alone and it breaks my heart
My friends don’t understand we all are lost
Shine down a light on them and show a path
I promise you they will return if you take ’em back”