Monday, April 11, 2011

Chris Smither and Patty Larkin @ The Latchis Theater, Brattleboro, VT, April 9th, 2011

Last night, after a long day that included an early morning run, a hike up and down a mountain, and an hour’s worth of walking around Brattleboro, I planted my butt in one of the old, battered seats of the Latchis Theater to listen to Chris Smither and Patty Larkin play their guitars and sing. This was my first time in the Latchis, and it’s a beautiful place. The décor is faux-classical, with columns and murals depicting scenes from antiquity. Sitting in the third row of the theater, front and center, I spent at least a minute simply staring up at the ceiling, which is deep blue with mythical beasts outlined in white.

I saw Chris and Patty play together this past December at the Half the Sky benefit concert in Arlington and, while I’m always happy to see Chris, I was particularly eager to see Patty this time around. Her agile, intricate guitar playing and deep, surprising melodies were a treasure of the Arlington show, and I wanted to see if there was more to it than a single concert. I wasn’t disappointed, although when Chris opened the show, I stopped thinking about her. He was in unusually strong form. From the opening moment, as the foot-tapping and guitar lick announced “Don’t Call Me Stranger” to open the show, he proceeded to own the stage. Song after song bit and held, just like they always do, and his singing was passionate and nuanced. Songs from his latest album preceded “Love You Like a Man,” which I haven’t heard him play in a while now, and “No Love Today,” for which he invited Patty to come onstage and sing harmonies. By that time, I was yearning for a full Chris Smither set.

After Chris left the stage, leaving Patty to a play set of half a dozen songs. She began with “Tango,” which she played at the Arlington show. It’s full of beautiful, intricate picking and strumming and banging, and there wasn’t a dull moment in the song. “The Cranes” was less impressive, but the rest of her set was gold, from “The Book I’m Not Reading” to “Pablo Neruda” to “Dear Heart.” That last one featured the electric guitar and the violin bow and, just as it did the last time I heard her do it, it moved me. It’s a great one. At some point soon, I need to sit down with a CD of hers and give it a good listen, because I’m starting to think I’ve been missing out.

Patty’s set preceded a 20 minute intermission, after which the two musicians returned to the stage to play a set together. Patty, I was pleased to hear, stood toe-to-toe with Chris (figuratively, I mean). Not that it was a competition, but I’m a big Chris Smither fan, and it’s asking a bit much to expect a stagemate of his to play songs the equal of “Can’t Shake These Blues” or “Train Home,” both of which he wowed me with Saturday night. I didn’t know the songs Patty played in her second set, but her guitar playing and singing were enticing and I certainly didn’t tune out.

Their banter during the duo set was cute. “Play me something,” Chris invited Patty, after he finished his first song. A couple of songs later, Patty broke a string and left the stage to take care of her instrument. Chris told her not to worry. “I’ll play a long one,” he assured her, which wound up being “Drive You Home Again,” one of his greatest. “Now I have a crush on you,” he said later on, after Patty played a particularly tender love song. He responded with “Father’s Day.” “And now I have a crush on you,” she said after it was over. There was some talk about their roots. Knowing he was from New Orleans, she asked him when he moved to Cambridge. When the answer came—1966—it elicited a collective murmur from the audience. He talked about how writing songs was something he forced himself to do after he realized that, as a musician, it was the way to make money. He shrugged. “I was going to be an anthropologist.” “Makes sense,” she replied. “How’d you get out of Wisconsin?” he asked her a bit later. “On a bus,” was the answer. Throughout the set, each would occasionally play a little guitar to accompany each other. She contributed some electric guitar to the finale, “Statesboro Blues,” which features some particularly raucous singing. When they came back out for the encore, Patty had a mandolin with her, and her strumming and harmony singing enriched “Leave the Light On,” which Patty said ought to be in everyone’s songbook. And who could disagree?

1 comment:

Matt Winters said...

"On a bus" -- can totally hear her saying that.