Monday, June 30, 2014

her heart beats like a breezeblock

The drive home late Monday night required me to carefully navigate the dark curves of Highway 17 when all I really wanted to do was blast "The Loneliness and the Scream" on repeat, stick my head out the window, and yell along to the song, all while driving 100mph. However, safety required only one of those was possible, especially if I wanted to live long enough to catch the final show of the Owl John tour in San Francisco the following night.

Owl John, the Chapel, 06-24-14Owl John, the Chapel, June 24, 2014: I complain a lot about San Francisco's current dot-com boom, but one big difference between this gold rush and its '90s predecessor is the fact that more clubs and venues seem to be opening around town, unlike all the threatened closings of the previous round. You can include the Chapel as one of the new spots, and embarrassingly, I hadn't yet made it out there. I was finally ready to fix the error of my ways with the Owl John show.

The Chapel was probably the biggest club on this tour and I'm guessing the grandest, though it still was small enough to feel warm and exclusive. It might've had the best turnout too -- a huge step up from the Crepe Place and even the tiny Echo. Frightened Rabbit has always enjoyed a solid following in San Francisco, and Owl John continued this tradition.

On this larger stage, Scott returned to the electric guitar, and now as an Owl John veteran, I noticed a few familiar patterns. "Old Old Fashioned" kicked off the proceedings, complete with appreciative whoops when the audience recognized the tune, and "Poke" and "Keep Yourself Warm" dominated the early requests, only to be saved for a later slot.

With three shows in my pocket, I'd had a better chance to listen to the new songs, particularly "Los Angeles, Be Kind" and "A Good Reason to Grow Old." Your guess is as good as mine as to how they'll sound with full studio resources behind them, but from what I could tell, the frank, aching lyrics are intact. At least on the latter track, they're openly romantic ... for the first time ever? I'll be listening when the record drops.

In terms of the set, "State Hospital" made the cut again, and it sounded a lot better on electric than acoustic guitar (sorry, Crepe Place). A new friend and I tried to do the backing vocals for "The Wrestle," which caught Scott's attention enough that he encouraged everyone who knew the backing vocals to join in. Unfortunately, the only audible reaction seemed to come from a group of ladies who screamed in the chorus. I'm pretty sure other people were singing in their corners, but the combination of the room, the electric guitar, and our proximity may have drowned out their contributions.

The special track of the night was "Behave," dedicated to a friend who believed in the band long before anyone else picked up on them. Take note, anyone who wants to hear a song from the first record.

Owl John, the Chapel, 06-24-14

Another observation: I don't think Scott likes to do "Fast Blood," though it comes up as a request all the time. Granted, I'm judging from a small sample size, but I've seen this at Frightened Rabbit gigs too. I'd love to hear it, but I won't assume it's a staple at every show.

Scott was again highly talkative, even before a lady in the audience informed him his fly was down, a full six songs into the set. Standing front and center, we had noticed it too, but how do you bring up the topic? I'll file that away for the next encounter. At first, he was embarrassed, claiming he had nightmares about such a scenario. Then he turned defiant and leaned into it, but ultimately, opted for decorum (fly up).

This being San Francisco, he also fielded a declaration of lust from a male audience member who yelled -- I quote -- "I want you inside me." Scott obliged to a certain extent, offering earhole access and no looking, as well as keys to his hotel room.

As expected, the news that he now lived in Los Angeles didn't go well in San Francisco, but as he explained, he moved there because he fell in love ... with Miley Cyrus, whom he tweets every day, but she doesn't reply. It was actually a very sweet moment. He also later admitted that everyone knew San Francisco was the cooler city, which seemed to excuse his actions for the time being.

Owl John, the Chapel, 06-24-14

I noted 21 songs at this show as well, but the sheer volume of chatter pushed this gig toward and maybe even over the two-hour mark. I stayed for every second of it, down to the now familiar closing trio of "The Loneliness and the Scream," "Poke," and "Keep Yourself Warm." The crowd picked up on the clapping for "Loneliness," though Scott warned us not to go too fast, and we filled in where we could on the last two tracks. We did respectably well, though we still trailed Los Angeles in that regard by a ways.

Dan Wilson from Withered Hand opened all the shows, and it was easy to see the affinity between Withered Hand and Frightened Rabbit. They both favored sharp, self-deprecating lyrics with a contemporary outlook, and Dan even name-checked the Silver Jews. Dan's performances had also grown stronger over the course of the tour, and by San Francisco, he simply sounded great. He reminded me a lot of Badly Drawn Boy, which is a high compliment in my book.

In Santa Cruz, Scott pointed out that he'll be back when the album comes out, and in each city, he casually mentioned that he could do shows easily, now that he lived just down the road. "Easy" is probably an exaggeration, but Scott has proven his mettle as a road warrior. I look forward to seeing him in yet another remote location. I hear Pioneertown and Big Sur are awesome!

Owl John in California
» Los Angeles: four worn-out limbs and not one love song
» Santa Cruz: give me soft, soft static

See also:
» let's get old fashioned
» all possibilities

Sunday, June 29, 2014

give me soft, soft static

With a human voice underneath.

Owl John, the Crepe Place, June 23, 2014: My old rock tourism reflexes began twitching as soon as the Owl John tour dates were first announced, but following the Echo gig, I had to make it happen. Early on, Visalia was particularly intriguing, as I'd seen British Sea Power there a few years ago, but other obligations foiled those plans. That left Santa Cruz, which was entirely doable, even after a day at work and a significant drive out of town. Best of all, it was a bona fide tertiary market.

I'd driven past the Crepe Place before, but had yet to venture in. It's right across the street from the fabulous Rio Theatre -- and what's not to love about a concert venue that puts food first? But even knowing Santa Cruz's laid-back reputation and the possibilities of seeing a gig at a creperie, I had thoroughly overestimated the room's capacity and formality. The doorman told me the stage was to the right of the entrance, but he neglected to mention the mic stood planted directly on the bar floor, 10 feet from that initial ingress.

In fact, the Crepe Place was divided into two spaces. In the back, diners sat down in the nicely sized restaurant. In the bar, not even 100 people convened to watch the musical act. Funny enough, in terms of setup, the Crepe Place brought to mind the Cellar Door in Visalia and probably a bunch of other venues I've frequented in the past.

Taking the stage, Scott immediately reported that a lady in the audience had asked him not to do "old shit," then let us know she'd be disappointed, as that was his main plan. The rest of the crowd was glad to hear it.

Owl John, 06-23-14, the Crepe Place

For this smaller room, Scott went with the acoustic treatment, borrowing a guitar from Withered Hand, the opener. Once again, he began with "Old Old Fashioned," more recognizable this time in acoustic form. When he called for requests, the small audience turned out to be enthusiastic and fairly knowledgeable. In a repeat of probably every solo gig Scott ever does, "Poke" and "Keep Yourself Warm" jumped out right away, and Scott had to remind the room that he had to save the hits, for fear of everyone leaving prematurely. Here's a hint, based on my attendance of a grand total of three shows: "Poke" and "Keep Yourself Warm" are almost guaranteed to come up, likely near the end of the gig. It pays to be patient.

With an entire Owl John gig already under my belt, I quickly realized that Scott was sticking to the same general song list, with a surprise or two thrown in every night, which I believe is the same model Frightened Rabbit uses. The rarity tonight might've been "Foot Shooter," which was great to hear. I managed to get in a request for "State Hospital," so thanks to Scott for obliging.

Two differences stood out to me about this show. First, Scott seemed even more talkative than usual, and it's not like he'd been taciturn and shy in Los Angeles. For example, he explained that "Scottish Winds" was a song about where he came from, but after a beat clarified it was not about his mother's womb. In fact, he said, he hadn't written a song about his mother's womb ... yet. He also disowned "Snake," from Frightened Rabbit's first record. And in an aside about "Heads Roll Off," he brought up a guy who had been singing a little too well at one of his earlier shows (probably Los Angeles), adding trills and embellishments Scott couldn't do himself. Scott would refer to him as "Beyonce," probably in the best sense possible. Finally, Scott also told us about the time he lost his voice and saw the accompanying medical photos, in which his throat looked a lot like a vagina. Hey-oh!

Scott also briefly brought up seeing Radiohead's Kid A tour and about the metal tuning (drop C) he uses on "Swim Until You Can't See Land." Somehow this led to a riff on Suck Satan's Cock, the band.

The second -- and related -- difference: The show was notably longer than Thursday night's gig. I counted 21 songs at this date, compared to 19 for Los Angeles, but Scott himself noted it was his longest show yet on the tour. There's probably no single reason for this variation. I suspect Scott grew more comfortable over the course of the intervening gigs and simply wanted to play more tunes. Or maybe Santa Cruz was suitably intimate and low key for him to keep going. No one was complaining.

Scott closed the show with "Keep Yourself Warm," the sorrowful Highland howl nearly an instrument on its own. The crowd helped out, and though Los Angeles had us beat in musicality, the audience did well for the numbers. In fact, the handful of enthusiastic, dedicated fans was evident from the beginning and showed Scott he was as welcome in this town as in any metropolis.

Owl John in California
» Los Angeles: four worn-out limbs and not one love song
» San Francisco: her heart beats like a breezeblock

See also
» fans of alcohol
» the high lonesome truth

Saturday, June 28, 2014

overtook me by surprise

This gig was kind of the bonus of the weekend, but it turned out to be a bonus-plus. Not only would I get to see Robyn Hitchcock at the fabled McCabe's Guitar Shop (all the way on the west side!), but the second set would be all covers. Funny thing is I didn't even know the shows had an agenda -- I was happy enough seeing a Robyn one-off.

Robyn Hitchcock, McCabe's Guitar Shop, June 20, 2014Robyn Hitchcock, McCabe's Guitar Shop, June 20, 2014: Here's a fun exercise: Try to picture everyone at a Robyn Hitchcock gig as their younger New Wave selves. Some will be easier than others -- either due to their bone structure, their genetic disposition, or the fact they haven't changed their hairstyle or their fashion philosophy in decades. To be fair, I'll play too. Imagine an exceedingly nerdy, bookish, and math-oriented girl with plain hair and not good eyebrows, but with the suburban girl designer-label wardrobe, and you got me all figured out.

As this was my first trip to McCabe's, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard all the stories about the size of the room and its day-to-day function as a working guitar shop, and in those respects, McCabe's didn't disappoint. As a non-musician, I can't guess at the value or desirability of the instruments hanging on the walls, but there sure were a lot of them, in pristine condition. I also liked what surely must've been a well-trodden line warning us in case of emergency, please wait until the staff removes the guitars first. You know they weren't lying.

Robyn wore a polka dot shirt and sunglasses (and pants and shoes) when he first arrived onstage, and the sunglasses stayed on for several songs, accompanied by an explanation no one knew whether to take seriously. As previously stated, the set was devoted to covers, and only now looking at a blog post on another site do I see that he has a collection of covers coming out this fall, but none of the songs on the record surfaced at this show.

Still, it was probably no surprise that the opener was Bob Dylan's "I'm Not There." He then proceeded through a bunch of names you'd probably expect: Ray Davies, the Doors (since we were in Los Angeles), Arthur Lee, and David Bowie, off the top of my head. Robyn's Ray Davies recollection had to do with the sorry state of Ray's shoes. Regarding Bowie, Robyn's run-up to the song involved a discussion of the sax solo, and he cited "Soul Love" as the best use of it before performing the tune itself, including humming the sax portion. I think a Syd Barrett song might've been the second track, but Robyn didn't bother to make a formal introduction -- perhaps it was already obvious to everyone else in the room.

As has been made evidently clear in this blog, I'm well acquainted with certain musical eras, not so much with others, and Robyn hit two songs residing squarely in my wheelhouse. The first was Roxy Music's "Oh Yeah," and what do you know? I actually heard him do this song a few years ago. Though I never made the connection before, it now seems inarguable that Roxy Music must've been a staple for Robyn in his formative years. The song was a surprise and a joy, and I sang along to every word. Sigh.

Another tune might as well have been served up on a silver platter, and Robyn of course had a story for it too, dating back to its origins as a B-side that apparently was quite popular in Maryland. Also, Robyn had received an email from the songwriter the week before, and they remain good friends. The song was "Ghost in You," which was part of my teenage canon for me, and I may have applauded a little too enthusiastically in response. This track is, in fact, on the forthcoming record, so we'll all be able to hear it at our convenience soon.

Robyn returned to Dylan for the main set closer, with one of his trademark covers, "Visions of Johanna." I still have no idea how he remembers all the words to that song. I mean, how many verses are in there? Though I'm not much of a Dylan person, I would easily put Robyn's version as one of my favorite Dylan covers in circulation.

If I had one tiny note about Robyn's song selection, I would've liked to hear him cover a song written by a woman, especially since I know he can do it. But for his final song, he went with his own track written for Emmylou Harris, and I believe it will be on the next record.

Coming into the show, I thought maybe we'd get a special guest -- maybe not that special guest, but perhaps the other one? Or any of a dozen others? Almost immediately, it became clear that this was a pipe dream, but Robyn didn't need any of them. He did quite beautifully by himself, accompanied by his inspirations through the years.

See also:
» there's a band playing on the radio
» that's the way the cornbread crumbles
» simple twist of fate
» Take Me Home, Country Pigeon
» i was a new york doll