Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween at the Ginkgo: Cliff Eberhardt, Tim Fast & a Banjo

There was nothing scary at this Halloween gathering at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse. A packed house warmly welcomed Cliff Eberhardt and local opener Tim Fast. Probably the only thing remotely scary to some was my banjo (which made a brief appearance) and the witch hat and wig, which I donned on and off stage.

Tim Fast kicked off the evening with a nice opening set (including an enthusiastic encore), the highlight for me being his song "Get in Line." Then after a short break, Cliff did a long set with Tim sitting in on a bunch of songs and me also coming up for a few. Cliff was in fine form, funny and engaging as ever, feeding into the great energy of the audience. Here's what he played...

- After the Rain Falls
- Missing You
- I Want to Take You Home
- Have a Little Heart
- I Love Money (best version I've ever heard him do of this song)
- Your Face (w/Tim on harmonies)
- The High Above and the Down Below (really nice harmonica by Tim)
- Memphis (Tim on harmonca)
- Whenever I Sing the Blues (Tim on guitar & harmonies--nice energy)
- When the Leaves Begin to Fall (Tim on guitar)
- 500 Miles (me on banjo & harmonies, Tim on harmonica)
- Cryin' Time (the Ray Charles classic with me on harmonies & Tim on guitar)
- Land of the Free (Tim on harmonies & harmonica)
- The Long Road (solo)

Encore: Glory of Love (solo)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bob Dylan in Champaign, Illinois

How to assess a Bob Dylan show in 2010?

If one has a certain baseline level of information about where Bob Dylan is at these days, there are some expectations in place. Dylan's voice is going to be rough in patches. He's mostly (or entirely) going to play from the keyboard. He'll play a mix of classic and newer material, but the classic material might be reworked to the point of not being immediately recognizable. There will not be stage banter or a stage show.

To a certain extent, going to see him live is going to pay tribute. He is, after all, the man who penned some -- many? -- of the greatest songs of the 20th century. And I bring with me some curiosity about what the songs will sound like -- how will things be rearranged? And of course, Dylan has good musicians in his traveling band. (If Larry Campbell is playing with Dylan, that is -- without a doubt -- all the more reason to go.)

But the tradeoff is knowing that you are going to see an artist who cannot sing the way that he used to, cannot play the way that he used to and does not have new songs that can stand up to the old ones in a fair fight.

And so despite the foreknowledge about what the show was likely to be like, I left Assembly Hall a little disappointed last night in what the show had been. The expected shortcomings were there, and that's fine, but what disappointed me was that I didn't find any transcendent moments to make up for those shortcomings.

Dylan opened -- as he has frequently on this tour -- with "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," and the song was perhaps a high point of the set: Dylan was behind the keyboard, but he was playing with energy, and the rest of the band was playing with energy. It looked like the show was off to a good start.

Dylan stepped from behind the keyboard, picked up his guitar and went to center stage. It looked like things would be getting even better. As my brain processed the melody for "It Ain't Me Babe," I got even more excited. But Dylan just could not hit the notes on this one -- the vocals were painfully restricted, a very far cry from the "No, no no!" of 1964. And on the one hand, that's fine: Dylan's vocal chords are 45 years older, and his whole frame is 69. But on the other hand, Mick Jagger can still get "Satisfaction," you know?

I don't recall another moment in the set where Dylan's voice came up so short on him -- once he moved into the more recent blues material like "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "High Water (for Charley Patton)" and "Ain't Talking," there was no problem -- but having the second song of the set fall so short dimmed the lights somewhat early on.

Dylan's guitar playing actually seemed quite good, and I was disappointed that he didn't return to the instrument again. He picked up the harmonica on the strange near-ska version of "Shelter from the Storm" that they played. (Even after hearing the chorus clearly, I turned to my friend Nate and said, "What song is this?") The crowd kind of ridiculously cheered every time that Dylan successfully blew three notes on the harmonica, although his playing on "Forgetful Heart" helped make that one of the most memorable songs of the night.

The other major shortcoming of the show was Charlie Sexton's lead guitar work. I think that perhaps there was a sound issue here because the guy certainly looked like he was working hard. But there was space for four solos during "Desolation Row," and I didn't hear anything worthy of mention played during those spaces. And during the encore of "Jolene," the hook that makes that song so convincing on Together Through Life -- the "doo-dee-doo-dee-doo-do-do" that comes after each line of the chorus -- was somewhere in the background, not really audible. It's perhaps too much to ask for Robbie Robertson or G.E. Smith, but I was hoping for just a little more juice on the lead guitar.

Donnie Herron's multi-instrumental work, on the other hand, deserves the commendation that it normally receives. On "High Water (for Charley Patton)," he played this great bouncing banjo in the background. And then he followed that with some solid droney fiddle riffs on "Forgetful Heart" that paired up quite nicely with Tony Garnier's bowed bass. The performance was a lot less dark than that found on Together Through Life.

The juice also was lacking on the second song of the encore, "Like a Rolling Stone." (Dylan has ended shows on the 2010 tour with "Thunder on the Mountain" going into "Ballad of a Thin Man" and then an encore of "Jolene" and "Like a Rolling Stone" (and sometimes "All Along the Watchtower" -- we were not so lucky).) Throughout the crowd, raised arms asked, "How does it feeeeel?" but the energy on stage wasn't quite as strong. It was great to hear the song live, but I honestly kept flashing back to singing it around the coffeetable in a cottage in Maine with Sarah and her family, where we were belting out the lyrics and hacking away on a couple of guitars with the gusto that the tune deserves.

I'll see Dylan again in New York in November. I hope that both the band and I will be feeling the energy a bit more at that point.

The complete setlist can be found here at the comprehensive Bob Links site.

For some similarly negative comments on Charlie Sexton's mojo, see the thoughts here about Thursday night's St. Louis show and here about the Nashville show from earlier in the week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bob Dylan and Champaign, Illinois

Bob Dylan is coming to town on Friday night to play at the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall.

A while back, my father called my attention to the song "Champaign, Illinois," co-authored by Bob Dylan and Carl Perkins back in 1969 while Dylan was working on Nashville Skyline -- the two met on the Johnny Cash show. Dylan allegedly had a single verse written, and after Perkins had worked on the song a bit, Dylan told him, "Your song. Take it. Finish it." And so Perkins recorded it for his album On Top.

The lyrics are fairly straightforward blues fare (with a slightly more international perspective):
I got a woman in Morocco,
I got a woman in Spain,
Woman that's done stole my heart,
She lives up in Champaign.

I say Champaign, Champaign, Illinois,
I certainly do enjoy Champaign, Illinois.

Now my friend Nate has called my attention to an Old 97s song also named "Champaign, Illinois" and also co-authored (kind of) with Bob Dylan. The band took the melody from "Desolation Row," kicked the tempo up a notch and took a bit of a different line on the pleasures of Champaign:
Roll on blacktop highway
Circles toward the sun
Springfield's in the distance
And that's the last big one

After that comes judgement
And judgement will be swift
You will be eliminated
But here's a parting gift

If you die fearing God
And painfully employed
You will not go to heaven
You'll go to Champaign, Illinois
No, you will not go to heaven,
You'll go to Champaign, Illinois

So Bob Dylan has co-authorship credit on not one but two songs about Champaign, although I don't think we'll be hearing either of them on Friday night.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ItWasGreat: Rose Cousins & Edie Carey

For those of you familiar with Rose Cousins and Edie Carey's beautiful EP itsgonnabegreat, you know that they have great musical chemistry. For those of you who have seen them live or read Jess' blog posting, you know that they have a similar charm and self-deprecating sense of humor. So it's no surprise that their double CD release show at the Ginkgo was a treat.

Rose Cousins played the first set with Edie guesting on several songs...

- Lost in the Valley (one of my favorites)
- The Send Off
- White Daisies (w/Edie Carey--really great)
- I Were the Bird (done as a sing-along)
- Go First (new song, played on keyboard)
- Home (w/Edie)
- Celebrate (written for Edie's wedding)
- For the Best (new song)
- All the Time It Takes to Wait (Rose on keyboards & Edie on harmonies--beautiful)

After a nice break where I caught up with Rose and Edie, Edie took the stage, starting with a couple solo songs...

- Come Inside
- The Night
- Red Shoes (she sent this out to me!)
- With You Now (Rose joined her on keyboards and harmonies and stayed up on stage for the rest of the show--yay!)
- I Need You (great version of this old favorite)
- Love (really lovely)
-Easy Now (nice sing-along)
- Enough
- Hollywood Ending
- Falling Slowly (from the EP itsgonnabegreat)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The C-U Folk and Roots Festival, Year Two

Ok, ok, ok! So I know that I've been a little delinquent about writing this review, and I want you to know, Sound of Blackbirds readers, that your whole reverse-psychology, we're-not-going-to-complain-about-the-fact-that-you-haven't-posted-yet thing has worked pretty well. The complete silence from you about this lapse has just been intolerable. So at long last, I will meet your unspoken demands and provide a run down of the Second Annual Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival.

David Llewellyn

The festival started on Thursday 23 September with a 6:00 p.m. performance by Welsh singer-songwriter David Llewellyn. With a strong and pure voice, David sang two sets of mostly original songs. A month later, the two that stick with me most are "Lover's Spoon," about an intricately carved spoon made (as apparently the tradition goes) to give to your beloved, and "Silent Aberfan," about the disastrous collapse in 1966 of a pile of runoff from a coal mine in Wales that covered a school, killing 116 children.

In addition to the Welsh musician, Jan Chandler, the owner of the Heartland Gallery, where the concert was being held, also had acquired some simply magnificent Welsh cheeses -- one with mustard seeds and one with horseradish. Insofar as the gratis cheese and cracker spread became my dinner, I was most grateful.

The Mean Lids, the Duke of Uke and Those Darlins

The rest of Thursday evening took place at the Independent Media Center and featured The Mean Lids, the Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra and Those Darlins.

The Mean Lids are a terrific trio featuring Ben Smith, mostly on fiddle, Matt Turino, mostly on guitar, and Miriam Lawson, on "flute, kazoo and ticky tackys" (and she's not kidding about the ticky tackys). I think that these guys are great. They mash together lots of different folk styles -- there's Matt Turino click-clacking his feet in Quebecois style alongside an Irish-sounding fiddle tune that's actually an original and on which Miriam Larson will play some nose-flute. (Seriously -- that's what it's like.)

The band members take turns singing, and when I walked into the IMC, they were singing John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," and that's a pretty great song. My favorite moment though -- as was my favorite moment when I had seen them a few weeks earlier at the Iron Post -- was when Ben Smith picked up an electric fiddle that sounds like a cello and laid down this low groove while Matt Turino fiddled away on a more traditional violin: just great stuff played fully in the pocket. Highly recommended.

The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra put on a solid set of groovin' good time music with uke-man David King sweatin' away while Lorene Anderson alternated between pumpin' tuba and grab-you-by-the-hair vocals with additional help on vocals and tenor sax from Anna Hochhalter.

Those Darlins came out like the Ramones with their blaring brand of cowpunk. I was expecting a little more cow and a little less punk and so wasn't prepared (e.g. no earplugs), so only being able to take so much, I had to make a break for it after a few songs. I hear that the set was killer, and that I missed out on some stage-diving by the band.

Andy Cohen

I was quite excited to see Andy Cohen play. When I was a kid growing up in the dirtpile and muddy streams world of the Old Songs Festival, Andy Cohen was one of those bluesmen who grabbed me by the collar (in a metaphorical way -- he was on stage, and I was in the dirtpile) and said, "Listen, kid, you need to learn about the Rev. Gary Davis." (There were no hyperlinks at the time either.) So he was definitely one of a handful of performers who convinced me to dig out and give some spins to dusty old blues vinyl that I found in the basement box labeled "Blues." (Thanks, Dad, for the good labeling.)

He played some Rev. Gary Davis, and he played his dulceola, and he did a raucous version of "Hard Luck Blues," and he complimented me on my singing-along on "Johnny Booker" over at the cheese and cracker spread. It was great to see him again, and amazing to watch his fingers bounce around that fretboard and great to hear some of the history of the music that he had to share.

Henhouse Prowlers

In 1999, a bluegrass band out of Fort Collins, Colorado, came screeching out onto the national scene. Called Open Road, those guys played the music the way that Jimmy Martin and His Sunny Mountain Boys used to -- blistering tenor harmonies, string-scorching mandolin solos and really sad songs played faster than your momma would allow. Sadly, they stopped touring in 2006.

The Henhouse Prowlers are maybe picking up their torch. They acknowledge the debt -- they played the Open Road original "Mandy Jane." They also acknowledged their country forebearers with a strong version of "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down," the Harlan Howard song that Charlie Walker, Faron Young and Hank Thompson all had hits with. They did a screamin' version of the bluegrass gospel song "I Know How It Feels" (which Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time have a great recording of). During a broken string fix, they pulled out Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes."

All of those songs were quite strong. The first of two highpoints though was the magnificent transition from the fiddle standard "Back Up and Push" into Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues." If I were to say that it was the best version of "White Freightliner Blues," I'd be going up against New Grass Revival, Steve Earle and a ton of other people, but ... it was pretty damn hot. The second was an original by banjo player Ben Wright. Based on his encounter with a 75-year-old man who had just robbed a bank and was waiting for the Metra at the Ravenswood Stop and then his subsequent encounter with several armed police officers, it was called the "Ravenswood Getaway." I'm not sure how I would feel about the tune without the story, but with the story, it was a great ride to go on.

These guys were really solid, and I hope that I get to see them again soon.

Liz Knowles

Over at the Iron Post that night was Irish fiddler Liz Knowles. She was joined by Pat Broaders on bouzouki, and then Johnny Connolly on button accordion and Kieran O’Hare on the uilleann pipes. This set was straight-ahead: one fiddle tune after another, names invented as necessary to keep the crowd on its toes.

The set didn't quite have the intimate energy of Liz Carroll's set from last year, but it was solid. Toes were tapping, people were clapping. The band seemed to be enjoying itself. No complaints.

Hot Club of Cowtown

Wow. I mean, wow. I mean, hot damn wow.

Elana James, Whit Smith and Jake Erwin showed up at the IMC to play, and they near about blew the roof from Urbana to Champaign. Jake Erwin's slap-bass solos are definitely on the list of 100 Things You Need to Hear Live Before You Die -- every time around, he went thumpeta-thumpeta-thumpeta-thumpeta at a whiplash-fast speed, and the crowd went wild. It was pure energy and incredibly skillful.

They got us with "Ida Red"; they got us with "'Deed I Do"; they got us with "Chinatown." It was one after another.

And then -- when they encored -- they got me with "Orange Blossom Special." And that might not seem like much, but I've adopted the reaction to the classic tune that the late Doug Tuchman taught me at a Rhonda Vincent show once: "Grrrrooooaaaaannn... Who wants to hear this one again?" But Elana James fiddled the hell out of it -- playfully, modally, jazzily, swingingly and then just horsehair shreddinly' good. It was a great version -- one of many great tunes that they played over the course of the night. They were having fun; we were having fun; and it felt like it could have just kept going.

So my thanks to the organizers of the festival for another great year. Looking forward to next fall's edition already!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dylan iTunes Review

Of Bob Dylan's most recent album, Together Through Life, iTunes user Bobby Deee writes:
When you've finished your eighth bourbon and the cops have left, this is what you want. It's great music to black out to. Everybody in the trailer park complains when I play this, but they all listen to Tesla and Cinderella, this is real music. The kind you want to listen to when your [sic] cutting up pictures from People magazine or playing with matches.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Poets & Songwriters at 20th Anniversary of Sinclair Lewis Writer's Conference

Last Friday Red House Records artists John Gorka, Meg Hutchinson and Storyhill's John Hermanson joined my alter ego Mother Banjo, former Minnesota Public Radio DJ Dale Connelly and poets Robert Bly and Freya Manfred to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sinclair Lewis Writer's Conference. The songwriters and poets performed a special concert in the Pulitzer Prize winning author's hometown of Sauk Centre, Minnesota. It was a really lovely evening of great writing and fun collaborations. It was also wonderful to see Dale behind a mic again, and he was in fine form, cracking jokes and providing the witty banter that fans so much miss on the Minnesota airwaves.

Here are photos from the concert taken by Dave Simpkins, the editor of the Sauk Centre Herald...

John Hermanson kicks off the concert

Minnesota Poet Laureate Robert Bly charms the crowd

Sitar player David Whetstone joined Robert Bly

They got a standing ovation after their performance

I followed Robert Bly and was joined by John Hermanson, who sang with me on "Revival Train." He then had to head back to the Twin Cities to perform on A Prairie Home Companion.

After an intermission, Meg Hutchinson plays a set

John Gorka joined Meg on her last two songs--"See Me Now" and "Home"

Freya Manfred made us laugh with her stories and poetry

John Gorka finished off the night in fine form, playing his musical interpretations of the poems "Let Them In" and "Where No Monuments Stand," a William Stafford poem featured in a documentary about the Oregon Poet Laureate and activist. Meg joined him on his last song "Branching Out."

At the writer's conference the next day, storyteller-actor-NPR contributor Kevin Kling delivered a wonderful keynote address, hilarious and moving.

All of us were put up at the historic Palmer House, which is famous, not only for being immortalized in Main Street but also for being one of the most haunted inns in America.

The town that once resented Sinclair Lewis' seminal work Main Street now honors him. We all found the Sauk Centre to be extremely proud of the Sinclair Lewis heritage and very welcoming to writers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rock n' Roll Animal (1999)

Some wonderful soul has posted the entirety of a documentary (that I didn't know even existed) about the great Robert Christgau on youtube. See here.

I love the look of his office.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Weekend @ The Iron Horse: Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault, and Erin McKeown

The Iron Horse hosted consecutive evenings of fine singer-songwriters this past weekend. All three are folks I’ve seen live at least once each over the past decade, all are artists I first became acquainted with at folk festivals, and all of them have, at one time or another, had an affiliation with Signature Sounds, the wonderful Valley-based recording label.

Friday night, the husband-wife combo of Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst played around 90 minutes of music together. They shared the stage for most of the evening, with each taking a turn to play a few songs without his/her partner. The feel of the evening was off-the-cuff, casual, improvised. Kris mentioned that her task had been to think of 3 songs she’d wanted to do, a task which she’d failed to accomplish by the time she hit the stage. Having a two-year old child at home probably had something to do with that. Several times, it was mentioned that they had not rehearsed much at all and that, despite their intimate relationship, they rarely had the opportunity to perform together. I’m sure they were referring solely to live performances. No duo can harmonize so beautifully together without spending plenty of time working out the tunes. And I have to believe that, as a happily married couple, there are multiple levels to their harmonies. Which reminds me, I haven’t listened to Buddy and Julie Miller in a long time….

Anyhow, on to the music. I recognized very few of the songs they played, apart from Kris’ “Hummingbird” and Jeffrey’s “Ghost Repeater.” As it turns out, plenty of the songs they played were new songs, as yet unrecorded. It sounds like Jeffrey Foucault in particular has been doing plenty of writing lately. He has a very rich, warm singing voice, which I recall from the one time I’ve seen him live, at the Green River Festival two summers ago. The one CD of his I own, Stripping Cane (2004), didn’t connect with me at first but, after repeated listening, I’ve discovered some really good melodies and writing on it, not only “Northbound 35” (covered by Richard Shindell) but “Cross of Flowers” and “Doubletree.” Kris Delmhorst I remember from the Postcrypt, back in the fall of 2000, and I think she’s been at Falcon Ridge at least one of the times I attended. The two of them played separate sets at Green River in 2009, and I remember preferring hers to his. After consulting my review, I’m also reminded that the band that backed up Jeffrey really rocked out. If you know any of his albums, you know that “rocking out” is not exactly what they do. At any, the quiet, almost staid sound of his (and some of her) recordings was brought to lovely life on Friday night.

What I remember best were the covers they played. There was Simon and Garfunkle’s “Baby Driver,” and, for their encore, Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain.” While my companion for the evening, the marvelous Maggie Pesce, was out making a phone call, they played Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles,” a song that I have a fond recollection of having heard at Falcon Ridge 2008, as performed by Jason Spooner and his band. It’s a great one, no doubt.

The crowd was big for that show, but Saturday night’s Erin McKeown concert was sold out. And no wonder: not only does Erin make Northampton her home, but this was part of her special Distillation 10th Anniversary tour. That means that she plays two sets of music on this tour, the first set comprising the entire Distillation album--working her way backwards, starting from “Love in 2 Parts” and ending with “Queen of Quiet”--before a short break. Then, she returns to play requests, along with a couple of new, unrecorded songs. It also means that, while performing the album, she wears the same outfit she wore for the cover photo on the album—-see here.

I’ve said, on a couple of occasions on my old blog (here and here) that Distillation is one of my favorite singer-songwriter albums of the past 10 years or so. I’ve also said that I’d like to write an entire essay about why it’s so great. That hasn’t happened yet. But I’ll say this for now: the writing, singing, arranging, performances, and overall feel of the album mesh in a way that just doesn’t happen very often (at least, not over course of an entire CD worth of music). The “feel” of the album is something truly strange: it’s nervous and vulnerable, while somehow seeming sly and cocky at the same time. There are strange mutterings and whisperings, showtune melodies, folk-pop, and jazz and country songs, with heartbreak that is muted by the music’s sense of fun or ironic twists to the singing or lyrics or both. It does not sound like Ani Difranco. But it sometimes sounds like Randy Newman, and if you know who both of those folks are, then you understand that, in a way, the Newman comparison is a bigger complement.

McKeown’s band for the evening was comprised of Distillation’s producer, the multi-instrumentalist Dave Chalfant alternating between guitars and bass and keyboards, and a drummer whose name I didn’t catch. I’d seen Dave Chalfant wandering around the Iron Horse before the music began, and it made me think that some of the Massachusetts folk music circuit would be hanging around that night. I was right: there was Katrina Nields, there was Dave Olson from Signature Sounds. I overheard Dave greet someone I’d never seen before as Lorne, and I instinctively knew that this was Lorne Entress, drummer for the luminaries of the folkie scene in this part of the world. And I noted that, during Erin’s set, she occasionally shot little looks in particular directions, looks that said “I know you—thanks for coming!”

She hit the stage at a few minutes after 7:00, and launched “Love in 2 Parts” out into the Iron Horse. I hadn’t realized she’d be playing Distillation in reverse, but that was fine by me. It meant that several of the stranger, slower, more emotionally difficult songs from the album would come first. For “How to Open My Heart in 4 Easy Steps,” the harmonist from the album, Katrina Nields, came up onstage to duplicate her harmony part from the recording. After that, Lorne Entress played the drums for one song, “You Mustn’t Kick It Around.” For “The Little Cowboy,” Ben Demerath, the cowboy yodeler, came onstage to recreate his part from the album. And he and Katrina were both onstage to do harmonies for “La Petite Mort.” There was time for plenty of anecdotes and stories, mostly about the recording of the album. She was in college at the time, finishing up her senior year at Brown University. After a Monday-through-Wednesday class schedule, she’d head to Amherst for long weekends at Dave Chalfant’s house to record the album. It was during that time, she noted, that she and Katrina Nields, Dave’s husband, became close friends. This was the luxury of playing a hometown show: all these folks were there to help recreate the album. I felt pretty lucky to be there.

Other notable musical moments….The eeriness of “The Dirt Gardner” was gripping. As she and Dave Chalfant hissed their whispers into their mikes, the drummer was silent, allowing the guitars to curl around the whispers. I’d forgotten how important the harmony part is to “How to Open My Heart in 4 Easy Steps” until hearing Katrina Nields perform it with Erin. In the middle of “Fast as I Can," Erin noted that the bass overdubs sucked on the recording and that they had therefore opted not to reproduce them in concert, a comment which made Dave Chalfant nod and smile. She noted about halfway through the set that “the big guns were coming out,” songs that she had continued to play, with different arrangements, for years after Distillation, even as other songs from the album faded away altogether. But for this tour, she not only was playing the entire album but was reproducing the exact arrangements. That made “The Little Cowboy” a particular treat. I’ll never forget her opening with that one at Southpaw in Brooklyn, many years ago, and playing a punk rock version of it. It was fun, but the original arrangement is priceless. And having Ben Demerath on stage to yodel his part was a lot of fun. She mentioned that “La Petite Mort” is never played in the middle of her sets and that it felt strange not to be playing it at the end of the show. She took care to instruct us not to shout out “oh Estelle!” the first time the refrain came around, so as to be true to the recording. “Didn’t They?” remains one of my favorites, with its muted pain and vulnerability, and “Blackbirds” is another great one, which features her under-appreciated guitar playing. And “Queen of Quiet” rocked. Some of the nervousness you hear on the album, whether simulated or sincere, is gone in performance. But the energy level was so high Saturday night that whatever might have been lost in tone was more than made up for in concert. Really: I got to watch a great singer-songwriter reproduce her first major CD release, an album that is quirky and catchy, eerie, melodious, and strange, not to mention of some sentimental value to me.

After Distillation-in-reverse was over, she took a break and returned for a bunch more songs. After two new ones, she took requests, whispering which ones she’d decided on to her bandmates. There was “White City” and “Aspera” and “You Were Right About Everything” from her wonderful 2005 album, We Will Become Like Birds. There was “Santa Cruz” from her newest album, Hundreds of Lions (2009), which I’ve only heard parts of, but which sounds great. And there was “Cinematic,” “A Better Wife,” “James,” and, for the encore, “Cosmopolitans,” from Grand (2003). That encore was finger-picked on the electric guitar and sounded especially good.

I decided against hanging around to say hi. One of these days, I’d love to get her autograph and find out if she remembers ever meeting me. I was the one and only American in an audience at CafĂ© La Java in Paris, about 7 years ago, singing along with all her songs at her first-ever Paris gig. Afterwards I walked up to say hi, but before I could say a word she told me how weird it was to look into a presumable French audience that didn’t know her music and see someone singing along with every single song. Another time….

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Peter Ostroushko's Anniversary & CD Release Show

Playing the second of two sold-out shows at the Open Eye Figure Theatre, Peter Ostroushko began his concert Saturday with a limerick that Garrison Keillor had written for him 35 years ago. This was a hilarious and perfect opener for a night dedicated to his 35-year recording career. It was 35 years since he recorded on Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and 25 since he recorded his first solo album. Also celebrating the release of his new album When the Last Morning Glory Blooms, he played a lot of the new tunes.

First Set:
-"Tecumseh" (great fiddle tune he wrote in Ohio while on tour with A Prairie Home Companion-- old-timey opening)
-"Maycomb, AL" (in celebration of 50th anniversary since publication of To Kill a Mockingbird--written for a production done in Kansas City a couple years ago)
- a funny blues song written by Garrison Keillor (Nice jamming by band and Peter on the mando. My favorite line: "I ain't got no home, got no address/I never knew such happiness." He also had some funny banter afterwards about the blues in Minnesota. "The south has the Delta Blues, but we have the Headwater Blues.")
- Southern Baptist gospel song "Little Bessie" (full of death--Peter said afterwards: "Yeah those souther Baptists really no how to party. But then again I'm Ukrainian. I could be in an orgasmic frenzy right now, and you wouldn't be able to tell.")
- "B & B Waltz" (wriiten on the occasion of Red House Records founder Bob Feldman's wedding to Beth Friend)
- after a hilarious play by play of today's Twins game, he invited 15 year-old fiddler Sedra Bistodeau to play a tune he wrote for her called "Sedra's Waltz"
- fiddle tune featuring Sedra and Peter on mando
- Sedra played solo piece by Novacek

Second Set:
- "Down Where the River Bends" (written for the national park service)
- "The Nine Years Waltz" (he said he first heard this decades ago at the Whole Coffeehouse at the U of M and recorded it for the new album with Norman & Nancy Blake--one of my favorites on the CD)
- medley of "Muddy Creek" and some tune from Moldova
- "A & A Waltz" (also written for a wedding--that of Andra Suchy and Andrew Pierzina)
- fiddle tune featuring Sedra and band
- solo tune by Sedra

This was a great evening of music in a lovely little historic theater, built around 1902. Before Susan Haas and Michael Sommers took it over (and did such a fabulous job of refurbishing it), it was the home of Patrick's Cabaret, and rumor has it, the building was once a mortuary--one of the first African American mortuaries in Minneapolis. That probably explains why the room has such powerful mojo. A very cool space that is worth checking out.