Monday, July 7, 2008

Old School: The Nields in Westport, Connecticut

When Ellen and I were in high school, I used to chase The Nields around the Northeast. From the Globe Theatre in Norwalk, Connecticut, to the Roaring Brook Nature Center to the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts, to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival to the Beardsley Park Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and so on and so forth, we would see these guys everywhere, piling the boys into my father's 1987 Mazda 323 and leaving skid marks heading into park entrances. (Ellen was sometimes there, too, but I don't really recall her making the trip out to the scuzzy El'n'Gee Club in New London, Connecticut, for instance.) And over the years, I've seen The Nields about 100 times -- I stopped counting after 75. (This number, by the way, is nothing compared to those that can be claimed by legendary Nields' groupies Bruce Palmatier and Conehead -- they have each been to several hundred shows.)

There I was sitting in Manchester, England, last week, five hours ahead of East Coast time, and a Nields update pinged into my inbox. And lo and behold, they would be playing in Westport, Connecticut, at the Levitt Pavilion, a place where I had seen them in high school and in college and had seen a number of other shows over the years as well. In addition, it was going to be a full band show -- for about five years now, the majority of shows have featured only the two sisters rather than the rocking five-piece unit of my youth. I e-mailed Sandro immediately to see if he wanted to relive those days of yesteryear, and he was up for it. So after landing at John F. Kennedy Airport shortly after noon and unpacking a bit in Morningside Heights, I was on the train to Connecticut.

The day was damp, and the crowd at Levitt Pavilion was a bit sparse. And it was quite grey, too, suggesting a crowd that just came to see whatever was happening at Levitt Pavilion, rather than the mass of devoted young Nields fans who used to attend such shows. In fact, where were the screaming teenage girls? There were hardly any to be found.

There were some young children running around. Half of those are Nields' progeny. Young William Chalfant was on stage for most of the show, playing tambourine and banging on his guitar-playing father's leg. And Nerissa was on stage fully pregnant with another one on the way. Perhaps this should have been a sign that the show was not going to be a rocker.

I also should have just used my memory to figure that out. I last saw The Nields at the Living Room here in New York, where they played an all right set of tame songs before finally kicking into some serious classic Nields rock for the encore. And that encore had been amazing but had highlighted how much the current sound was not the sound that used to tear up the Trinity College campus in Hartford, Connecticut, back in the day.

Now, I don't want to knock what the Nields sisters are doing. They're making some good music -- it's just oriented toward a demographic a little younger than me -- make that a lot younger than me. Over the course of the set, I think that we all warmed up to them, but even when they pulled out a few classics, they didn't have the same oomph that they would have had back in the day. (And this was despite the fact that Dave Chalfant and Dave Hower from that classic Nields line-up were both playing with the band.)

The set looked like this:

  • A song for the kids that I didn't really make a note of, since I hadn't decided to keep a setlist yet
  • "This Train"
  • "This Town is Wrong" -- completely missing the sound of screaming girls at the lyric, 'I sold my computer / For a used acoustic guitar'; Sandro and I could only do a pale imitation
  • "Eloise" -- a relatively new song (from the most recent CD, Sister Holler) that I rather like
  • "Give Me a Clean Heart"
  • "Who Will Shoe My Pretty Foot?"
  • "Love and China" -- a little lacking in edge
  • "The Right Road"
  • "Superhero Soup" -- originally on the first ever Nields' album, 66 Hoxsey Street, apparently a new recording will be on the forthcoming two-CD set Rock All Day Rock All Night -- the latter rocking in which refers to rocking babies to sleep, just for the record; David Chalfant took a page from David Nields' guitar playbook here, using the riff from "Smoke on the Water" as his solo; the band did not, however, shift into "Tequila"!
  • "Who Are You Not to Shine" (?)
  • "Night Rider's Lament" -- such a great song
  • "Easy People" -- also such a great song
  • "Ain't That Good News" into something that I cannot read on my setlist because I was becoming delirious from jet lag at this point
  • ENCORE: a song from the forthcoming CD

It was nice to be back at Levitt Pavilion, and it was nice to be seeing the Nields. Who knows? Maybe I'm a bit tamer, too, these days. But, man, I remember when Dave Hower used to bang out those drums on "Blind" and when "Gotta Get Over Greta" would send the kids to dancing.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I do remember those old days. I probably only made it to 10-15, but I did love them... Thanks for the report.