Friday, December 21, 2012

Hot Tuna @ The Beacon Theater, New York City, December 1st, 2012

Over the past decade or so, Hot Tuna has passed into the realm of comfort food. I do not listen to the recordings as often as I used to, but Tuna at the Beacon may become an annual tradition for me. This was my 5th (or 6th?) time at the Beacon for Hot Tuna since the fall of 1999, and I have yet to be disappointed. This year’s show was important for a few reasons. First, it was my first Tuna show since the release of Steady as She Goes (2011), the band’s first studio album since Pair-a-Dice Found (1990). While I’ve heard Jorma perform some of the songs from this album in solo performances, I had yet to hear most of them performed with the full band. Furthermore, this show included a number of special guests, some of whom I’d heard play with Tuna before, others not. My last Tuna show was the 70th anniversary bash at the Beacon, detailed here, and, much as I love the Jorma solo shows I’ve seen in the meantime, it’s his band that means the most to me.

The show began about 10 minutes past 8:00, when Jack Casady walked out on stage alone. After thanking us for coming and saying a few respectful words about New York, especially in light of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, he began playing some bass guitar alone on stage. Two minutes into the solo, Jorma Kaukonen, Barry Mitterhoff, and Larry Campbell walked onstage and began picking out the familiar opening to “Hesitation Blues,” which elicited enormous cheers from us all, and off we went.

This edition of Hot Tuna included the core band—Jorma, Jack, Barry, and Skoota (my favorite of the many drummers that have passed through the band)—and this evening featured many special guests: G.E. Smith, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Lincoln Schleiffer, Bob Margolin, Bill Kirchen, and the wonderfully named Cindy Cashdollar. The material from Steady as She Goes prominently featured Larry and Teresa, particular the latter’s harmony vocals. Larry Campbell played some killer violin, starting with the opening number, and he sat down to do some pedal steel on a couple of tunes. His guitar playing, meanwhile, is superb, and if you have not heard the recording of Tuna’s Beacon shows from 2010, which include his tasteful licks on “Genesis,” among other Tuna classics, you are missing out. But he and Teresa shone most brightly when, in the middle of the first set, they did an extended jam on the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree,” a great surprise. Bob Margolin was a guitarist in Muddy Waters’ touring band back in the 1970s, and he contributed some fine solos, particularly on “Rock Me Baby,” and a couple of his own songs, most prominently “She and the Devil,” in which Bob gets down on his knees to pray: “Lord, give me strength / don’t let me kill this woman,” later followed by an assurance: “someday she'll surely go to hell.” Bill led the band on Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’ Changing,” another nice surprise, and Cindy played some mean lap steel on that one and on a couple of others. But the greatest contributions, I thought, came from “George,” as Jorma called him (and that *is* G.E.’s name, after all). His loud, distorted chords on “I See The Light” and “Hit Single #1” made those two the real highlights of the first set, and his solos on “Rock Me Baby” and “Bowlegged Woman” stole the show. And in the second set, he brought Richard Shindell’s “Arrowhead” to life. I hope he gets to play with these guys more often.

Since I’m a Hot Tuna fanboy, it’s hard to write about the band without simply raving. These guys are instrumentalists without peer, and it’s such a treat to hear Jorma, in particular, play electric guitar. His sound is very much his own, and it hasn’t changed too much in the past 45 years (at least not to my ears). The guitar solos (and let us never forget, Jack Casady’s bass solos) were consistently exciting, but it was the ensemble playing that I liked most. “I See the Light” is a thing of beauty, and G. E.’s contributions rocked the song like I haven’t heard before, and his contributions were every bit as great to “Hit Single #1,” which is also Barry Mitterhoff’s moment to shine. Other than those two, and the electrified version of “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” toward the end of the second set, my favorite moment was when Larry played pedal steel and Teresa sang harmonies on “Bar Room Crystal Ball.” If my memory serves me correctly, the last time I heard them play this song was my first Tuna show back in the fall of 1999 (at the Beacon), and it’s one of my favorite, most lyrical moments from the Yellow Fever (1975) album. I see here the set list from that show; time flies!

Hot Tuna doesn’t tour the electric band as often as they used to, so get it while you can is my advice.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rodriguez @ World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA, October 28th, 2012

After a hectic travel day from Portland, ME to Philadelphia PA that featured a delayed flight and plenty of worry about whether hurricane Sandy would strand me up north, I made it down to World Café Life with Amanda to see Rodriguez. I had imagined that we were like most of the folks at the venue in that we first became aware of the great man through the recent movie, Searching for Sugarman. In fact, given how knowledgeable many audience members seemed to be about his music, I sense that Amanda and I were behind the times. Given that Sixto Rodriguez has been touring on and off since 1998, when he made his first visit to South Africa, this is really not too surprising.

Rodriguez’s performance was relaxed and quietly confident. He opened the show with “(You Give Me) Fever,” performed with some nifty strumming on his nylon-string guitar. Much of the rest of his set consisted of switching between his own songs and covers of traditional rock songs (“Blue Suede Shows”) and ballads (“It’s Just One of Those Things” and “I’ve Only Got Eyes for You”). He performed these covers with a lot of enthusiasm and remarked that these songs meant a lot to him. His own songs—“Crucify Your Mind,” “Establishment Blues,” “Sugarman,” “I Wonder,” “Inner City Blues,” and others that I could not identify but the audience seemed to know—felt different, as stripped away from the elaborate arrangements on Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971). The ethereal imagery and turns-of-phrase of his own songs contrasted strikingly with the more plain-spoken oldies that he enjoyed so much.

The overall feel that Rodriguez exuded in his performance was of a man who was simply happy to be there. Pretensions were limited, and so was stagecraft. He stood and smiled at us. He retuned the guitar after almost every song, turning down the volume to pick and strum the next song just for himself, making sure he knew what he was doing before turning the volume back up to play for the rest of us. He told corny jokes and stories—about Mickey and Minnie Mouse going to marriage counseling, about how to keep successful relationships together, about the unfortunate city of Detroit, about his own luck at getting to play music for a living at his late age—that his audience, me included, ate up and applauded. He mentioned his performance on David Letterman, pointing out that the full arrangement of “Crucify Your Mind” would have sounded even better if he had not been playing at all. The self-deprecation might have sounded self-serving from another performer, but knowing what we all know about the decades he spent away from professional music, it was a poignant reminder of how challenging his life has been. I sense that that is what a lot of his current audience actually hears. Rodriguez is a survivor, a soulful, big-hearted professional who for too long was denied the vessel best suited for his self-expression and managed against the odds to resume his calling. His songs are good, but they pale in comparison to the example set by his life.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fourth Annual Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Folk and Roots Festival November 2-3

Urbana, Ill. (October 4, 2012) – Now in its fourth year, the Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival (CUFRF) is coming to Downtown Urbana on November 2-3.

“Each year, the festival has gotten bigger and bigger,” explained Brenda Koenig, chair of the CUFRF steering committee. “The fall festival is a culmination of a year’s worth of planning by our committee and a number of concerts that have brought national and regional performers to the community. The annual festival is entertaining, hands-on, and accessible, which is what folk and roots music is all about.”

This year’s festival will host over 80 performers, artists, and storytellers celebrating American roots music, dance, and stories. This year's festival activities will also include jam sessions, dances, workshops, sing-a-longs, storytelling, and family activities.

“Champaign-Urbana is already a rich musical environment,” said Ed Hawkes, one of the organizers. “The Folk and Roots Festival brings in well-known national and international performers and it celebrates our local music scene as well.” A plethora of performers includes a turn-of-the 20th Century mandolin orchestra, folk, blues, and bluegrass, Klezmer music, and Irish fiddle music can be enjoyed within a few blocks of each other.

The Charleston, Illinois band, Resonation Station, will kick off the festival on Thursday, November 1, at Krannert Center’s UnCorked, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Singer-songwriter Robby Fulks heads the list of featured acts at this year’s festival that includes the Freighthoppers, Storyteller Mike Anderson, Canada’s Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, Devil in the Woodpile, John Lilly, Blind Boy Paxton and Brandon Bailey, Mugdock Pipers, Red Tail Ring, Irish fiddler Rose Duffy, harmonica master Deak Harp, The Curses (jug, swing, blues), and The Blue Ribbon Revival.

A number of area artists performing at various venues include members of the Champaign-Urbana Singer/Songwriter’s Collective, Black Coffee Fridays, David Howie, Kevin Elliot, Almost “A” Quartet, accordianist Jay Landers; plus, a Nightjar Productions showcase with Gloria Roubal, Justin Rondin, Midas the Crow and Vivian McConnell, the Mugdock Pipers, The Shanties (Celtic), The Stay Gold Boys (rockabilly), The Young & Fretless, Emily Otnes, and Margaret O'Brien.

On Friday and Saturday, there will be a variety of jam sessions throughout the day. Bring your uke and jam with the Homebrew Ukulele Union. Free public workshops, sings, storytelling, and art sessions are also scheduled throughout the festival including instrument "how-tos", children’s activities, sing-a-longs, and community jams in a variety of styles. Scheduled dances include contra, Cajun, square, and folk styles.

A festival wristband costs $25 (children 12 and under are free) for access to all performance venues and activities. Tickets for single events, including dances, can be purchased at the door of the individual venues. Wristbands are available at Heartland Gallery and the CUFRF booth at the Urbana Farmers’ Market on Saturdays through October.

Visit for a complete schedule of events and performances, to purchase a wristband, to become a sponsor, or volunteer during the festival. The C-U Folk and Roots Festival is a not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to the promotion of accessible art forms and community building in East Central Illinois. In addition to many area sponsors, the festival funded in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council and the City of Urbana Public Arts Commission.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

John Fullbright on Prairie Home Companion

This great singer-songwriter, who is currently on tour with Devil Makes Three, performed on Prairie Home Companion over the weekend. Have a listen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jorma Kaukonen w/ Loudon Wainwright III @ The Colonial Theater, Phoenixville PA, September 14th, 2012

Not long after entering the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, I entered the men’s room, just in time to hear a couple of guys, at least two decades my senior, talking about their excitement about seeing Jorma Kaukonen. I was a bit irritated, however, to hear one of them announce, apropos of his excitement, how great Bless Its Pointed Little Head (1969) is, and the other swear that that album, Jefferson Airplane’s first and best live album, goes together with their third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967). I was irritated not because I disagree about the greatness of either (although listening back to Baxter’s now, it’s a bit uneven, though its great moments are some of the Airplane’s greatest), but because you’d think Jorma hadn’t done anything since the ‘60s were over. But he had just gotten started. In any case, Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna shows seem to attract folks who, if their offhand comments and in-concert whooping are any indication, checked out after the Airplane landed, or perhaps after Hot Tuna cooled off at the end of the 1970s, and were out to recapture something. This is not the first time I’ve noticed this—and as someone who was born in the later 1970s himself, I’m at a generational disadvantage in assessing an audience that in some broad sense I’m not a part of—but it’s the first time I found myself a little annoyed. Jorma Kaukonen plays a lot of traditional material—folk songs, let’s say—but he’s not a nostalgia act. Over the past decade or so, he’s been recording some excellent albums, including the first new Hot Tuna studio album in over 20 years, and he doesn’t shy away from performing those songs in concert.

The opening act for the evening was Loudon Wainwright III, who takes generational solidarity more seriously than most touring singers his age simply by writing the personal songs that he’s always written and not pretending that he is anything other than he is. At the moment, what that means is that he knows that most of his life is over, and death is very much on his mind. Several of the songs from his set came from his most recent album, Older than My Old Man Now (2012), which contains entirely songs about “death and decay,” as he told us. He preceded two of the songs he played from that album—the title track, along with “Something’s Out to Get Me”—with recitations of Life Magazine columns that his father had written, one about his own father (Loudon Wainwright I, that is) and another about his own impending demise. The generational disjuncture made itself felt about halfway through the set, when he made a show out of peering into the audience and claiming to notice that he could see his demographic out in the crowd. That comment led into “My Meds” from the new album, a recitation of all the substances he was on (or would be on by the end of the night, he assured us). “Heaven” and “The Picture” both featured death in their own way, one moving me to laugh out loud, the other making me tear up. “Over the Hill” he co-wrote with his late wife Kate McGarrigle, before either had turned 30. When they weren’t playing music together or raising their son, he said, “we were trying to kill each other.” “The Morgue” was the highlight of the night, as it combined “death and decay” with his favorite theme from earlier in his career, “shitty love.” And there was also time for “Ode to Pittsburg,” which he wrote in 1969 and was trying to prepare for his show in that city the next night, where he went to college. He forgot about half the words, prompting him to announce, as he struck the final chord, that he was going to have to go home and google the song so that he could memorize the words in time for the show.

While Loudon Wainwright’s performances tend to be emotional roller coasters, Jorma Kaukonen’s performances (at least his solo acoustic ones; Hot Tuna is another matter) are, by contrast, steadier enterprises. This is a function of the kinds of material they perform, their performing styles, and their own particular quirks and talents. Jorma is a blues singer, plain and (not so) simple. His set with Barry Mitterhoff, as usual, combined a handful of original songs with traditional blues songs, some of which have been in Jorma’s repertoire since the 1960s, like “Good Shepherd” and “Come Back Baby” which, probably not by coincidence, are also the two songs that featured the longest jams of the night. “Hesitation Blues” and “How Long Blues” were recorded for the first Hot Tuna album and elicited some of the loudest applause of the evening. As usual there were plenty of Reverend Gary Davis songs, this time including “Children of Zion” and “Let Us Get Together Right down Here.”

Jorma was a gracious host. While Barry did most of the talking, introducing songs and doing the usual thank yous, Jorma’s stage presence was wry and warm. He pointed out that the ukulele that Barry Mitterhoff took up for “The Terrible Operation” dated back to the 1920s. He shrugged off a particularly loud request for “Killing Time in the Crystal City” by saying “now there’s a cheerful song.” He dedicated “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?” to his old friend and bandmate Jack Casady, whose wife passed away not long ago. He referred to Miller Highlife as “the champagne of bottled beer.” And, as usual, he let Barry advertise their merchandise: CDs, t-shirts, and an assortment of teas which, as Jorma said, was for our benefit, not theirs. He bade us all stay healthy and take good care of ourselves so that we could all make it to NYC for the Beacon Theater shows after Thanksgiving. The musical high points were when Jorma got flashy. His solo on “Barbeque King” was especially fine, and the uptempo segment of “Hesitation Blues” is always marvelous to behold. And the encore of “Embryonic Journey” was a great moment. It was the Jefferson Airplane song that the crowd had been waiting for. And I’m glad they, I mean we, got it

Monday, July 30, 2012

Marshall Crenshaw with The Bottle Rockets @ World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA, July 25th, 2012

For my first evening of live music in Philadelphia (not counting a rather lonely evening at Ortlieb’s, watching a jazz guitarist solo over some r&b backing tracks for half an hour), I stuck with the tried and true—Marshall Crenshaw—and something new –The Bottle Rockets. I hadn’t heard of this band other than in the context of Marshall Crenshaw, who has been playing with them on and off for the past couple of years. It turns out they’ve been putting out albums for the last 20 years, pretty good ones according to Robert Christgau, although I did absolutely no research on them prior to the show. They played for about an hour, before returning later as Marshall Crenshaw’s backing band.

I associate the term “World Café” with the radio show, hosted by David Dye, which I’ve been listening to ever since I discovered WFUV about a week after moving to New York City in the summer of 1999. The venue of the same name is a place reminiscent of the now long-defunct Bottom Line in NYC, with a couple of rows of tables, one elevated a little , close to the bar, and a second cluster closer to the stage (which is where I was, very close to the sound engineer). Unlike the Bottom Line, there was also a big standing room area close to the stage. I was afraid at first that the standers would be in the way, but the stage was high enough for that not to be a problem. There were over 100 people, maybe as many as 150, at the show, and that was not quite enough to convey the impression of anything close to a sold-out show. I think all the sitting room was filled up, but there just weren’t enough folks up and dancing close to the stage and, toward the end of the show, it felt like the crowd was getting restless. I overheard at least one woman say that it was past her bedtime. This was clearly an audience full of Marshall Crenshaw fans, most of them well over the age of 40. The only clear Bottle Rockets fans were about a dozen or so younger folks—some college aged, a few around my age—who were clustered close to the stage, at least a few of whom seemed to vanish after the Bottle Rockets finished their opening set.

So, I didn’t know what to expect from the BRs. What I got was an hour’s worth of loud, raucous rock n’ roll. The crunching guitars were loud enough to drown out a lot of the singing (except when the bass player harmonized; I wish he’d done more of that), but it didn’t matter, because the band was great. Pretty much every song deployed a short, catchy riff, and every one had at least one guitar solo to absorb. Best of all was the drummer, who looked totally relaxed and was clearly having a great time. He held things together. They were tight and focused and clearly have been doing this for a long time. Some songs veered toward rockabilly, a few were slow. But most were uptempo and hard-rocking, and nothing bored me. They were a bit reminiscent of Joe Ely at his loudest. If you’ve heard Joe’s album Live at Liberty Lunch (1990), picture an hour’s worth of stuff like Joe’s “Are You Listening Lucky?” from that album. Song fragments I picked up included an opener called, I think, “Shame on Me,” “Indianapolis,” “Mountain to Climb,” “I Fell Down,” and a really great one called “Welfare Music.” Great stuff, and I’ll seek them out in the future.

Marshall Crenshaw, on the other hand, I know a thing or two about. The first time I saw him, he played as 1/3 of an acoustic trio, at NYC’s Rodeo Bar, but the next two times I saw him, in Brooklyn and in Northampton, he played alone on stage. He’s quite a guitar player, and I’m partial to his singing voice, but for years now I’ve craved seeing him with a rock band to back him up. And last night my craving got satisfied. I was not disappointed. The Bottle Rockets fit Marshall’s songs superbly. If anything, they sounded particularly good on the two newer songs, from the Jaggedland (2009) album: “Live and Learn” and “Stormy River.” They both featured some extended guitar solos that really worked. The ensemble playing was excellent throughout and have I mentioned that drummer they’ve got? He’s really something.

But it wasn’t the newer material that this crowd wanted to hear, it was the songs that made the man’s career, 30 years ago. “There She Goes Again” and “Cynical Girl” opened the set back-to-back, and “Mary Anne” came a few songs later, with “Calling Out for Love at Crying Time” and “Starless Summer Sky” in between. The final four songs of the set went from great to greatest: “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “Something’s Gonna Happen,” “Someday Someway,” and, to end the set, “Better Back Off,” a song that Marshall described as “a happy song about anxiety.” But to me it’s simply a song about a man trying to get his lover to stop being so critical of herself. Why don’t more people write those kinds of lyrics? The same guy also wrote “What Do You Dream Of?” which came in the middle of the set, and is incredibly beautiful, one of my most favorite songs by anyone. The covers of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and Richard Thompson’s “Valerie” soared, and the encore of “Not For Me” left me wanting more. Here’s hoping these two acts start teaming up more regularly. And here's a young man and his upbeat band getting famous in 1982.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aoife O'Donovan w/ John Fullbright @ One Longfellow Square, June 13th, 2012

Wednesday night's concert at OLS was a beauty. I know Aoife O'Donovan as the lead singer for Crooked Still, who I've seen half a dozen times or more, and who I hope to see perform again sometime. For the time being, though, that band has fragmented, with its constitutive parts all doing their own thing. Aoife has lately been touring with her own band and recorded a short CD called the Peachstone EP (2012) which I regret not buying. On the basis of what I heard at OLS, this is one to buy.

Before I get to her, though, there is the matter of John Fullbright. He took the stage with a wry, "how ya' feelin' out there Wichita?" He was an Oklahoma native and, we learned, doesn't play out east too much. After that greeting, he let us into his world with the following: "Don’t tell me that you love me / I’ve got nothing left in turn / Except this empty bag of promises / And second degree burns." He had barely 30 minutes to perform, so he kept between-song commentary to a minimum and, instead, let his crisp guitar playing and big soulful voice fill the room. By the end of that first song, "Satan and St. Paul," he had clearly won over the audience. The applause from the still-only-half-full room was big and enthusiastic. It's always exciting when something like this happens, and after the fourth song, "Forgotten Flowers," which conveyed heartbreak with a splitting cry in the singing, I realized that I was watching a star being born. After that one, he told us about the two CDs he had for sale at the show. You'll probably like the first one better, he explained. The second one was recorded live in concert. So if we liked what we were hearing this evening, maybe that would be the one to buy. "It's no better or worse than what you're seeing." In other words, he's a pretty funny guy. He ended with "Jericho," in which he howled about walls come tumbling down, and in which I didn't hear anything funny at all. Watch for this guy.

The featured act came onstage at about 10 minutes before 9:00, accompanied by a 5-piece band: Ryan Scott on guitars, Jacob Silver on bass, Robin MacMillan on drums, Maine native Jed Wilson on keyboards, and Charlie Rose on pedal steel. They played for a little over an hour, and almost all the songs were Aoife originals. Many of them were from the Peachstone EP, including "Lay My Burden Down" which, I now learn, Alison Krauss recorded for her newest album. "The Beekeeper" was particularly striking, as was "Electric Ponies," which was the longest song of the evening and featured Jed Wilson playing some xylophone, some enticing shifts of melody, and some particularly nuanced percussion. Throughout the performance, Aoife sang beautifully, but the real attractions were the arrangements and ensemble playing. There was obvious care taken to build sophisticated music around the lyrics to "Pearls," "The Beekeeper, and "Electric Ponies," in particular. It felt ambitious, a gently psychedelic folk-rock with the pedal steel adding an eerie undercurrent to every song, and Ryan Scott alternating between soft functional accompaniment and searing bluesy solos that I can imagine competing with the banjo in a Crooked Still arrangement. Like I said, I really should have bought the CDs that were on sale.

Throughout the show, Aoife was a charming hostess, smiling and friendly. During the music, though, she was focused on her guitar-playing and singing. She and her band seemed very comfortable with each other, and there were plenty of little in-jokes tossed back and forth between the half dozen people on stage. For the encore, they gave us Bonnie Raitt's "Love Letter," with Aoife dancing a bit, grinning up a storm, and smiling at Ryan Scott, who let it all hang out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chris Smither @ One Longfellow Square, Portland ME, May 20th, 2012

A few songs into Chris Smither's Sunday night performance, I found myself wondering what it would be like to hear Chris Smither again for the first time. Not possible for me, of course, and every person's first connection with a musician or work or art that becomes meaningful cannot be duplicated. But before the show I was wondering if hearing the great man could ever feel as meaningful as it did a decade ago, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2002, or at the Joe's Pub shows in the years that followed, or even the performance at the Green River Festival in 2009. Perhaps thinking in that way put me in the right frame of mind, or maybe sitting less than 5 feet away from the performer had something to do with it, but Sunday night's show was one of the greatest performances I've seen from him. I sat front row center and looked up into the great man's worn, serious face as he picked and stomped and sung song after song with more power than I've heard from him in years. My attention rarely swayed after that one moment early on.

One thing that made the show unusual was that the performer was promoting a new album. He played most of the songs from Hundred Dollar Valentine (2012), which is now available. The only ones from the album that he didn't do were the oldies that he rerecorded, the profoundly plain-spoken "I Feel the Same" and the dark but hopeful "Every Mother's Son." I haven't listened to the CD yet--I bought it after the show--so I didn't know any of the new songs. There was some dense verbiage in several of them, and one was a blues that the writer remarked he didn't write too much of anymore. If you think you've heard it before, he told us, there's a good reason for that. There wasn’t a single dull moment in the entire show, including the new songs whose hooks and twists seemed familiar somehow, offhandedly borrowed from the same wellspring of blues and folk music that are the square root of everything the great music plays.

He played two one hour sets, separated by about a half hour intermission. The early set featured mostly recent material. After the opening manifesto "Open Up" and the diseased love song "Lola," he unveiled the new material, and it sounded glorious. The foot-tapping was as simple as always, and as profound as always too, as it complemented the lyricism in the words, the rough depth of the voice, and rhythmic syncopation of the guitar. The new album's title track was particularly fine, especially with the line about the airline taking away his lighter. And "Don't Call Me Stranger" from Time Stands Still (2009) elicited laughter and applause with its greatest couplet, "I'm not evil / I'm just bad."

The second set began with "Link of Chain" and "Can't Shake These Blues," songs that date back to the mid-1990s. Smither's longevity and reluctance to play any original material that he recorded before 1990 allow for the labeling of those two songs as oldies. Much of the rest of the second set consisted of familiar material, like "No Love Today," which elicited some of the loudest applause. Dave Carter's "Crocodile Man" smoked, and so did "Seems So Real," which sounds ok on the Train Home (2003) album, but really gathers steam in concert. The set concluded with "Leave the Light On," which will probably conclude his sets for many years to come.

For the encore, he played the oldest of the oldies, "Sitting on Top of the World," which dates back to the 1920s. Or back to the 1984 album It Ain't Easy if, like me, you think that Chris Smither reinvented the song. Which brings the "oldies" question back onto the table…and reminded me of the performance I heard earlier in the day of a trio performing a honky-tonk version of the same song, at Local Sprouts. As I once heard Stephin Merrit say in an NPR interview, song lyrics don’t convey enough information to direct a singer how to sing them—or something like that. I’ve heard this particular song over and over again, in different arrangements with different attitudes. Earlier in the day, the trio played the song for good times and smiles. At night, Chris Smither’s performance evoked peaceful quietude, hiding something sad, even dreadful, as the stolid foot-tapping transformed the suppressed hurt into graceful forbearance.