Shapiro: It's Nice to See Virginia's Best-Kept Secret on the Road

When I drove into Harrisonburg, Virginia, again this month. I didn't need the puddles on the ground to tell me that it had rained overnight — the air was already thick with the smell of dog food.

Townsfolk offer all sorts of excuses for the precipitation-activated odor, but they should feel lucky; a town like Harrisonburg probably ought to smell like dog food more often.

A stream infested with fecal bacteria runs through the center of this town, the home of no one famous except former NBA star/convicted deadbeat dad Ralph Sampson and dubbed the "methamphetamine capital of the East Coast" by former attorney general Janet Reno.

On the plus side: Harrisonburg is home to the best tacos I've ever eaten, and it's home to Shapiro, one of the best local-level bands I've ever seen.

To be honest, I'd rather write a column about those tacos — savory, spicy, served with a cold bottle of Jarritos — but they aren't worth flying to rural Virginia for.

Shapiro, on the other hand, is worth driving to Tempe for.

When I first saw them, they were playing a free show at Eastern Mennonite University, a small, practically Amish college in the outer limits of Harrisonburg. Walking on stage, they looked like a ragtag bunch of doofuses, and I was anything but hopeful, despite the promise of music editor Martin Cizmar, who did two years in the 'Burg and who said I was lucky to be seeing them at all, let alone for free.

Then the music came. It probably kicked off with "Prelude," a slow, steadily building piece of piano-driven power pop that was undeniably endearing. As they worked through their show, it was clear that these guys either spent every waking minute practicing their set or that some freak accident not only landed four stupidly talented kids in this cultural backwater, but also blessed them with a supernatural stage presence and chemistry.

At the time, I'm pretty sure the guys were only about 19 years old and still bagging groceries at the local supermarket while dreaming of making it big — following the Kurt Warner turnaround plan, apparently — but they sounded as polished as U2, as though they'd been doing nothing but touring for longer than they'd actually been alive.

Shapiro's music is generally upbeat, driven more by lead singer Jeremy Teter's keyboards than by the guitar work of Nathan Granofsky, who looks roughly like equal parts Harry Potter and Peter Frampton. Their sound is bound to draw comparisons to Ben Folds, but with a heavier rock edge, it's a lot closer to Jukebox the Ghost.

By the time they'd finished the set, I was amazed. They'd put on a show that was tight, playing with and off the audience and building to a perfect crescendo that culminated in an encore featuring a half-mocking cover of Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie." (The song was still relevant at the time, I promise.)

It was obvious that the guys loved what they were doing, and it can't hurt that they don't take themselves too seriously, dancing like idiots as necessary and taking the stage with Sharpie mustaches. To not enjoy the show, you'd literally have to have a stick in your ass. Even then, you probably couldn't deny that the music was great.

Fast-forward four years, and Shapiro has just released the full-length album that they've been promising since the first time I heard them. Their sound has evolved since then, but not by much, given the high level they were already playing on before some Nashville producer discovered them. To anyone who's already familiar with the band, the album has almost all the songs you're hoping to hear and plenty of new material to justify dropping a few bucks on a copy.

To anyone who doesn't know these guys, hearing "L.E.A.V.I.N.G." for the first time is well worth your time. You'd be even better off seeing them live. Especially in a city that doesn't smell like Alpo.

 
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8 comments
Words and the Thoughts
Words and the Thoughts

Everyone who, like me, lives in or near Harrisonburg absolutely know that it is not exactly a cultural Mecca. Shapiro really is the best thing to ever come from this city; I'd like to know of anything arguably better. I think that instead of persecuting the writer of this article, perhaps it would be more pertinent to comment on Shapiro, what the article happens to be about. Seeing as how the writer, someone who seems at best unimpressed with Harrisonburg, is "amazed" at this local band. We should be proud to be associated with a good band, a band of a caliber not anticipated of the small city they've come from. Harrisonburg does suck. There's really no need to mask that with ornate patriotism toward the town. I think the article successfully conveys the contrast between how small Harrisonburg is, and how big Shaprio can be. So. Shapiro: Appreciate them. They will get too big for us.

Also, regarding the comment made by "Learn Toswim", I think that before making a claim about how good your favorite band is, I would recommend listening to the band you're comparing it to. You might just find a new favorite band.

Annie
Annie

Harrisonburg is a wonderful little city with a lot of wonderful things happening. Like all places, there are things about it that everyone would like to change or make better. It is a beautiful place to live, work and raise children. Your description is shallow and Harrisonburg is much more than your comments. Spend just a little quality time here and you will understand. Shapiro is a favorite and will agree with you on that one.

BB
BB

What was the point of this review, to bash Harrisonburg, or promote Shapiro? Re the anonymous poster: there is no Purina plant in town. Every once in a while (after a rainstorm) we get an odor from the mill located at the edge of the city. No one enjoys it, but it is a miniscule part of living here.

If Hburg is a cultural backwater, then I'd rather live here, than the place that produced a snark like the writer.

Learn Toswim
Learn Toswim

Sorry, but you're going to have to listen to the amazing band Pontiak from Virginia before I take your "best kept secret" allegation seriously. They're so good that I almost don't need to check out the band you're touting to know that Pontiak is better (especially seeing the titles of your recent music-based articles). Seriously.

70
70

The dog food smell is from the enormous Purina factory. its not just when it rains, its whenever they decide to run the place. I live really close to it and can tell you this as a fact.

or is that just another "excuse"?

Tairy Greene
Tairy Greene

What's with the unabashed negativity toward Harrisonburg? It's known for it's 'dog food smell,' 'a convicted deadbeat-dad ex-basketball player,' and most notably 'meth-amphetamine,'-- a place that you ""do time in""? and it's astonishing-- even a 'freak accident'-- that anyone with talent can come out of such 'cultural backwater'??

Brian Bardwell
Brian Bardwell

Finally got around to checking out Pontiak. Not bad.

Comparing them to Shapiro is a pretty futile apples-and-oranges exercise, but I'd say that Shapiro does its thing better than Pontiak does its.

Brian Bardwell
Brian Bardwell

I didn't write the headline, just the story. But I'll be sure to check out Pontiak.

As for the complaints about H-Burg hit job, the truth is that I've spent plenty of "quality" time there. I've been out twice this year, and more than enough times in the past five years to have lost count. I'm sure there are wonderful things happening there -- quilting contests, beekeeping, pinochle tournaments, etc. -- but that doesn't really make it any different from or better than the tens of thousands of other small towns around the country.

Fact is: Harrisonburg kind of sucks.

 
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