Saturday, March 10, 2018

all around me a voice was sounding

Hey, look -- my first concert of 2018! Thanks to Dave Rawlings and company for the invite.

Dave Rawlings, the Fillmore, March 1, 2018

I'm officially at the point where I've seen Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch so much that I can no longer recall who headlined at the latest show I attended. Of course, this comes with a couple of caveats: (1) That may be my middle-age senility setting in, and (2) A surfeit of Gill and Dave is a nice problem to have.

The latest Dave Rawlings record got me thinking about how much this band, outfit, arrangement, what have you has evolved over the years. After listening to so many spare, stripped Gillian Welch albums, as well as Dave's naturalistic works, you can hear the more modern production on Poor David's Almanack. "Cumberland Gap," in particular, jumps out at me -- the keyboard, especially. Dave and Gill trading verses sent my mind to Fleetwood Mac, though friends cited "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

This, in turn, led me to reflect on the growth of Dave Rawlings as a frontman. I imagine Dave played plenty of gigs around Nashville when he and Gill were starting out, but I don't think he truly embarked on his own until the last decade or so. I'll brag about this to my dying day, but I was extremely fortunate to have caught Dave and Gill so often when they played Largo regularly at both the old and new locations. Many of those gigs were under Dave's name, so I've been able to witness his act develop and his catalog grow.

Those Largo shows were special, but their visit to the Great American Music Hall on what was probably the first true tour under Dave's name also stands out. We were giddy that night, as San Francisco poured out its long-established love for Gillian Welch onto David. I can still feel the joy streaming from both the performers and the audience.

Obviously, there have been many shows between then and now, but as they took the stage this night, they seemed like a true band for the first time in my memory. The setup is still pretty sparse, with no drum kit or even amps, but heck, Gillian and violinist Brittany Haas wore dresses in matching fabric!

They opened with a rollicking "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" from Bob Dylan, and as you can imagine, the crowd ate it up. In my opinion, the first half of the show was oddly paced, partly because they don't exactly excel in onstage banter and partly due to song selection. They went with mostly tracks from the new record, but threw in Gill's "Wayside/Back in Time" for the local angle.

They took their usual intermission, and the pace seemed to pick up during the second half, though to their credit, I haven't shared much of their funnier moments. For example, Gill revealed to us that she had slashed her finger just before the show and was relying on glue to keep the bleeding at bay. Also, both Willie Watson and Gill worked a small set of bongo drums for separate songs, and Willie did a few tunes too.

"Miss Ohio" got its obligatory turn during the second set, but believe it or not, it wasn't the highlight. Instead, it was a song from Old Crow Medicine Show ("Hear Them All") married to the Woody Guthrie classic "This Land Is Your Land," and let me tell you -- it feels like we need that song more than ever these days. No one had to say anything else; our voices singing together did all the talking. Another fun moment from the second set: the aforementioned Brittany Haas trading in her violin for a guitar (on a song whose name I can't remember). Guess what? She was really good. Also, Dave at one point played electric guitar, which never happens at Gill's shows.

But they truly saved the best for last, as they tore through an encore sequence that included a Radiohead cover ("Black Star"), another Dylan cover ("Queen Jane Approximately"), and a Bright Eyes/Neil Young medley ("Method Acting"/"Cortez the Killer"). The last two songs were especially punishing, and for the umpteenth time, I marveled at how they wrench so much tension from that Dylan track. For the third and final encore, they went into a five-person version of "Go to Sleep You Little Baby" (a first for me), and we thought it was over -- but no! They brought back "Jack of Hearts" to bring it full circle.

Dave looked exhausted as they truly bade us good night, for good reason. I hope our cheers and applause let him know that we appreciated every ounce of sweat he poured out onstage.

And finally, one more memory of the night I'd like to share. See you again soon!

See also:
» i remember standing by the wall
» that's all they really want
» hotter than a pepper sprout

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

sings a song sounds like she's singing

Last year was a drag (and worse) in most regards, but at least I was able to see it out with awesome tunes, courtesy of Lucius at the Independent.

Lucius, the Independent, December 31, 2017

I'm not the concertgoer I used to be, and often, I don't even see the bands that I've enjoyed on other occasions. For example, Lucius was fantastic at Solid Sound, but when they came around on tour, I didn't bite. Honestly, I might have opted out on the worst socializing night of the year if Paul weren't in town. Fortunately, he's never led me astray, and it turned out to be a fantastic evening.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I lean toward the earnest and acoustic, but one can't subsist on folk music alone. Even I need to mix it up now and again, and it's a bonus when musicians can blend solid foundational skills with a wink, a nod, and a beat you can dance to. You may first notice Lucius' glam looks with the blond wigs, dramatic makeup, and coordinated outfits. But give them a listen, and you can't deny that their voices are golden, especially in unison.

To that end, they took a different angle with each show of the New Year's triptych, with one all-acoustic night, one electric night, and one surprise night. I'm sure invested fans already knew the plan, but I didn't -- and was delighted to learn New Year's Eve would include lots of cover versions.

The band started the night with its own tunes, but as a uninformed casual observer, I can't tell you what they were. Paul told me one was "Dusty Trails," but I don't know if that was the a cappella track they performed from the middle of the dance floor, under the mirror ball, followed by the New Year's Eve countdown. In any case, they sounded amazing and made me think of how cool it must be to sound that good on your own, without any tricks or effects. What a gift!

The second half of the show was devoted to covers as suggested by fans on the internet (Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?). They started with "1999," and let me tell you, the song still works in 2017 going into 2018. It was all hits from there on out -- no obscure tracks from experimental 1970s albums by one-shot supergroups. Nope, we got all the fun songs from Stevie Nicks, the B-52s, Lips Inc., and more, with not even a whiff of, say, "Despacito."

As a Gen X-er, I was surprised by the song selection, perhaps moreso regarding the audience. You'd expect Lucius as musicians to know a wide range of artists and eras, but if these tunes were indeed suggested by the audience, you had to wonder if they were drawing from their parents' or babysitters' record collections. Yes, I know, music has no bounds now, thanks to the internet and pop culture in general, and I'm not complaining about hearing "Edge of Seventeen." Anyway, thanks millennials! It was the most unadulterated fun I've had at a concert in a while.

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence opened, and it was my first time seeing them, despite living in San Francisco this long and even working with perhaps a junior member of the troupe! They were the perfect choice, and I could see how they helped set the foundation for gay rights and expression in the city, even if their skits spoke more of a past era. When they rejoined Lucius at the end of the show for the cover medley, you could certainly sense that their influence had indeed spread to artistic and curious young men and women all over the country.

See also:
» the boys are back in town

Saturday, January 13, 2018

sorry charlie honey he's back from LA

On the fourth day of Christmas, my music gods gave to me two shows with Jeff Tweedy! Fa la la la la fa la la la!

Jeff Tweedy, Largo at the Coronet, December 28-29, 2017

When Jeff Tweedy first appeared at Largo in 2012, we didn't know what to expect. For his true debut performance at Largo in 2013, there was too much going on for me to fully take it in. This time, it felt like the culmination of -- gulp -- two decades of dedicated music fandom, as external forces had our backs twice over, and I couldn't be more grateful that it all came together. I can't truly put in words how much it means to me to see my two favorite musical artists ever at my favorite venue on the face of the earth within such a short window of time, but I'll give it a try.

To put it mildly, I've seen Jeff at many venues, though perhaps not at the same rate these days, and of course, Largo is a special spot for me, but I can say with confidence that Jeff puts on a different kind of show here. I mean, the music is always good, but his stories and banter are something else on that stage. Last time, he told a story about his meeting with a mohel, and I couldn't believe he started sharing it at other shows. This time, there was a tale of the family's vegan diet and, as a result, the inadequate supply of toilet paper at their expensive Airbnb, as well as extended banter on whether he wanted to be our friends in real life. (He mostly didn't.) I'm doing neither any justice, but they were great in execution.

My favorite bit of the night, however, may be Jeff's semi-confession during "California Stars" that when he asks us to take the melody, we're actually doing him a favor, as it livens the song for him when he sings the harmony. Among my friends, the song gets a mixed reception, but it was funny to hear Jeff somewhat admit to its shortcomings as well. It'd probably be cut out of Storytellers, though.

In between, he also asked for requests, then chose them based on who raised their hands, and complained about a squeaky seat in the audience not keeping the beat correctly. In fact, on the second night, as he ceded the stage to his sons, he approached the fellow in the guilty chair directly and placed an accusatory hand on his shoulder. My guess: That gentleman will never wash his shoulder again.

The other aspect of seeing Jeff at Largo: He sounds so good. Obviously, a lot of it has to do with the foundation of chords and melody he sets with every song, even the intricate "Impossible Germany," paired with his plaintive and endearing voice. Now imagine that in a small room where every note sinks in and the audience is deeply engaged to the point of almost holding our collective breath. In that regard, Largo is like no other, and I'm sure no one minded when Jeff forgot some lyrics and chords. (All's forgiven!)

Jeff debuted a couple of new songs, including a tune about Noah's flood where he asked us to sing along to the chorus. In terms of relative rarities, there was no way he'd skip "The Ruling Class" in Los Angeles, and we got a few requests with "Either Way" (which he confessed to not playing very often, but I love it so much) and both versions of "Outta Mind." As the shows were ostensibly promoting Together at Last, he hit several tracks on the record -- I especially appreciated "Lost Love," one of my favorite tunes Jeff has ever written. It's hard enough to encapsulate Jeff's career over four or five nights, much less two, so odds are good he left off some audience members' beloved titles. Nonetheless, the song selection ranged from Uncle Tupelo all the way to the most recent Wilco album. You can't blame him for trying.

The sweetest part of the shows was the family involvement. Jeff played "Bob Dylan's Beard" per Susan's request, though with his usual caustic aside (he suspected it was the only title she remembered). On the first night, a guy in the audience -- who also got a request for "Blasting Fonda" the second night -- asked for a Chris Bell song. After his typical smart-ass commentary, Jeff obliged by asking Sammy to take the vocals for "Thirteen." Both the song and the son charmed us. Night two, Sammy and Spencer played "Military Madness" as Jeff stepped offstage entirely. From our seat, we could hear Jeff softly singing along with his babies. You can't beat that scene.

Nick Offerman and Sarah Silverman opened for Jeff on respective nights. Nick's set was a shorter version of what he did at Solid Sound, and Sarah slightly tweaked her material from the previous week's Jon Brion show. I was particularly pleased to hear how well Sarah's set went over with the crowd. Also, because I'm strangely gifted (?) with this kind of thing, I can report Friday night was a comedy nerd's dream, as members of Superego, at least one Sklar brother, and Carrie Brownstein were in attendance -- and some guys named Andrew Bird and Jon Hamm too.

I don't expect Jeff to become a regular at Largo, and I won't even bring up that one addition that would make my head explode [HINT HINT]. All I know is that Largo once again saved the best for last and that I'm one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to attend.

See also:
» so flattered by fate
» every night is a test
» always hated normal american kids
» when we came here today
» a few of my favorite things