Friday, October 31, 2008

i'm not looking for a cure

My roommate/cousin, in addition to providing valuable guidance to this former Rock Band/Guitar Hero neophyte, is a pretty good sport about coming to shows with me. It's only fair, then, that I reciprocate when possible--in this case, to see Jenny Lewis.

Jenny Lewis, Herbst Theatre, October 28, 2008: Even as a so-called young 'un, I enjoyed, at best, a tenuous connection with youth culture (exhibit A: my teenage advocacy of Nick Lowe), and it's only gotten worse through the years. Not that I'm particularly fixated on trends, but this mindset can be problematic when you draw your lifeblood from discovering new, exciting bands or performers.

In the case of Rilo Kiley, all I know is that at some point, I started hearing more about them, but I may have associated them with the likes of The O.C. (the television series) and assumed there was no place for me in their fanbase. This extended to Jenny Lewis' solo career. (See also: Death Cab for Cutie.) Mind you, this judgement has nothing to do with the quality of the music--only my silly hangups over the intended audience.

Of course, this isn't the first time--nor will it be the last--that my shortsightedness has kept me away from listening to worthwhile music for longer than need be (hello, Son Volt!). I'm still not convinced that I'll nurture more than a passing familiarity with Rilo Kiley's material, but I wouldn't mind lingering over Jenny's solo catalog.

I freely admit that it all starts with Jenny's captivating voice, despite my ambivalence over female singers in general. On a handful of songs, her singing was so smooth, though, that the tunes almost veered into adult contemporary, but they were the exception rather than the rule. At their best, her vocals ebb and flow with such ease and grace that you assume the words are pure autobiography--how else could anyone sing so convincingly of such events and recollections?

Personally, I neither know nor care how much of her words are rooted in true events; all that matters is that they sound like they are. I can't think of a better example of this than the song "Acid Tongue," featuring Jenny on acoustic guitar and the rest of her band gathered around her and a single microphone to contribute harmonies. Then again, I'm a sucker for that busking vibe.

She filled out her set of tracks from her two solo albums with the Gram Parsons cover "Love Hurts," accompanied by her boyfriend and bandmate Johnathon Rice, and a new song whose title I didn't catch. Though Jenny is often considered an indie rock pinup, the most ardent fans at this show appeared to be of the female persuasion. One shouted out a marriage proposal from the balcony, though most seemed content to cheer her on. I can hardly blame them; her mix of talent, confidence, and individuality is hard to resist.

The show featured two openers. Pierre de Reeder, also from Rilo Kiley, kicked off the proceedings, and Beechwood Sparks filled out the roster. Pierre turned out a catchy, well-paced set, but I can't say the same for Beechwood Sparks. I wanted to like them, especially now that I've cast off most of the Brit-leaning preferences that dominated back when I saw them open for Saint Etienne (or am I hallucinating that show?). Instead, I found it hard to maintain my interest as one song flowed into the next.

See also:
» searching for light in the darkness of insanity
» i see my light come shining

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

i see my light come shining

Certainly, no one city has a lock on unique music events, whether it's Hoboken hosting Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah shows, Chicago putting on the Hideout Block Party, or Los Angeles and its gem, my beloved Largo, to name just three examples. But can you blame me for swelling with civic pride over my local attractions? Trailing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival by just a few weeks, the Bridge School Benefit took up its annual residence at the Shoreline Amphitheater, and for the second time, Wilco was part of the bill.

Wilco, Bridge School Benefit Concert, October 25-26, 2008: I spend a lot of time on this blog deriding certain types of venues, but I have to come clean: Growing up in the South Bay, I went to a number of shows at the Shoreline Amphitheater, including my first concert ever, Duran Duran/Erasure in 1987. As for other artists I've seen there, I plead the fifth. No further comment, thank you.

But I can tell you not only exactly how many times I've returned to Shoreline in the last five years, but also for what reason. I've been back twice--both times for Bridge School and both times for Wilco. But you already guessed that, didn't you?

A lot has happened to Wilco since the group's 2003 appearance, including new band members (Nels Cline and Pat Sansone), new releases, and maybe even a new standing in the industry--maybe. Regardless, it was good to have the guys back in the general neighborhood a mere two months after their Outside Lands appearance. The feeling appears to be mutual, as Jeff shared how much they enjoy playing "this market." (Sweet nothings!)

Then again, the gig shared some characteristics with their Bridge School debut. For one, they played an entirely different set each night; also, they tried out some unreleased songs, which means I've now heard four songs possibly from their next album. I won't spend too much time trying to describe the new songs, especially since MP3s are floating about the Internet, except to say that they betray, once again, diverging influences within the band and a dark tone to Jeff's lyrics.

I've certainly seen enough Jeff Tweedy shows that I know how the songs sound in a solo acoustic setting, but I think this may be the only time I've heard the entire band unplugged as well. For example, Glenn manned a smaller drum kit, and Nels had none of the gadgets and gizmos with which he augments his sound. Meanwhile, Mike and Pat took turns at a baby grand, an old-fashioned upright, and a gorgeous pump organ for their contributions.

The two songs that sounded the most changed were "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "I'm the Man Who Loves You." Jeff sort of prepped us for the former, admitting they had never tried it before, but Glenn did a good job of filling in where the samples usually start the song--and he twirled his drumsticks, much to the delight of all four of us who noticed! The band sped up "I'm the Man Who Loves You" to a pace more akin to Jeff's solo cadence, and of course, it went out to Susan Miller Tweedy, in attendance that day.

My favorite element of their show, however, was the pump organ. I was told it came from Neil's own collection, and several acts used it. In Wilco's set, it imbued the band's songs with a novel and beguiling element, especially on the likes of "Hummingbird" and "California Stars."

The band--or rather, Jeff--suffered a couple of minor gaffes, such as almost forgetting a line in "What Light" and referring to Pegi Young as "Patty," but they're only human. It certainly gives us something to talk about. Jeff's sarcastic sense of humor was on full display the first day, but the whole band seemed looser and more joyful the second. And who could blame them? I'd be beaming too if I knew that Neil and Pegi Young were set to join in for "I Shall Be Released" to close their set. I don't think I could've asked for a more perfect ending. Also, it was the first time I've felt a pang of regret knowing that I won't be able to make any of their shows together coming up in the next few weeks.

Wilco, Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

Of course, there were quite a few other musicians scheduled for the weekend, and it should come as no surprise that Neil Young himself rightfully garnered the lion's share of acclaim. He opened and closed the festivities, and he was especially busy on the second day, when he joined nearly all the performers on one song per set. These shows couldn't happen without him, but at the same time, he doesn't have to do as much as he does. I'm glad he chooses otherwise, however.

Neil Young, Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

It was my first time seeing Death Cab for Cutie and Norah Jones, both of whom defied my expectations based on cursory knowledge of their repertoire. Death Cab is one of those bands who I always assumed wouldn't be my thing, and besides, they grew far too successful far too quickly for me to investigate anyway. But their sound was tougher in parts than I expected, and I could even see the appeal of their delicate teen anthems.

Norah Jones probably could've gotten a pass just for covering Wilco's "Jesus etc." but I liked that she chose to highlight her rootsier influences and not the silky adult contemporary jazz that everyone assumes of her. Her backing players were pretty awesome too.

Cat Power and Smashing Pumpkins, both of whom I've seen in concert several times, were treats too. I haven't attended a Cat Power gig for a few years now, having tired of the emotional meltdown known as Chan Marshall's live show, but I gotta say she was noticeably more pulled together. She even jumped into the crowd on the second day--a big difference from her formerly withdrawn, retreating stance. And of course, her voice was as beautiful as ever. I almost didn't recognize the new arrangement for "I Don't Blame You" that opened the first show, and she was the first to get Neil onstage, with "Fortunate Son."

Cat Power, Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

The Smashing Pumpkins are often a love-them-or-hate-them proposition, but for this acoustic setting, they shed a large chunk of their bombast. I can't say I'll ever love Billy's voice, but the songs themselves were engaging and appealing. I would've liked it even better if they hadn't imposed Josh Groban on us for the closer "Disarm," the only hit among a set comprising new titles and obscure album tracks, but then again, that Billy Corgan has always been a contrary bastard.

Both nights ended with the group sing-along, and I was pleased to see Jeff Tweedy not only show up the second night, but take his place at the microphone as well (albeit with a forceful helping hand from Nels Cline). I guess his "rift" with Norah Jones had been repaired, as they shared a microphone for one of Neil's numbers. Chan even brought her dog out for the finale! And can I mention how much I loved the Native American dancer?

Bridge School Benefit, Oct. 26, 2008

You won't find me beating a path back to Shoreline too soon, but for this weekend, it felt good to be back under the tent.

See also:
» play one more for my radio sweetheart
» rosin smells and turpentine smells
» there's a dream that i see
» all of those yesterdays coming around

Saturday, October 25, 2008

damn you for being so easygoing

For someone whose mission in life is to hunt down typos and safeguard subject/verb agreement, I miss some big ones. For example, I was sure that these two Andrew Bird shows were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and I banked on catching the Saturday appearance. So much for those plans! On the bright side, I got an extra lazy day in Los Angeles, and it was totally worth the brutal wake-up call to make my Monday morning flight back home.

Andrew Bird, Largo at the Coronet, October 19, 2008: I easily concede that I'm a latecomer to Andrew Bird's music, but my appreciation has really solidified in the last couple of years. All those shows with Wilco last year and earlier this year didn't hurt, but it really started with a cupcake.

Somewhere along the way, probably after that first time I saw him, it hit me that I'd been a fool to skip his gigs at the old Largo, even that secret show taped for the Largo film that I couldn't have crashed anyway. Really--what was I thinking? Granted, there may have been some concerns about finances and vacation time and other pesky details, but as regular readers already know, I welcome those issues. Oh well, now came the time to make up, at least in part, for those missed opportunities.

And really, if you're going to right your concert wrongs, what better place to atone than at Largo? Not too surprisingly, Andrew started with "Why" and another older song, but that's all it took before he went to the new titles from his forthcoming album, which he mentioned he had finished only two days before. In fact, he debuted five or six new songs, complete with explanations--or as much as he could put in words. Several of the songs referred to the natural world, including one that was inspired by blind, translucent lizard who lived in the caves of Texas and that oddly reminded him of himself. Go figure.

Inspirations aside, the songs were, in a word, sublime, but that's about the only thing I can report about them, as the titles have slipped my mind in the last couple of days. I think one might've been called "Fits and Starts," and there were some references to nature in the other songs. I wish I could say more; all I know is that they were gorgeous, and I can't wait to hear how they sound with a full band.

The older songs, oddly enough, gave Andrew the most trouble. He restarted "Plasticities," for example, a number of times before he found the rhythm he needed (it sounded fine to us). Not that he needed to, but he made up for these imagined shortcomings with lots of laid-back chit chat, eager to share his thoughts on songs old and new. The Largo audience, of course, welcomed them with respectful silence, followed by eager applause.

Opening the show was Haley Bonar from the Twin Cities. I knew nothing about her going in, but she won me over by the end of her set, with her clear, strong voice and charming melodies. She also joined Andrew for one song, accompanying him on electric piano.

See also:
» thinking of traveling by land
» i've run out of metaphors
» turn our prayers to outrageous dares
» we'll fight for your music halls

Thursday, October 23, 2008

i know it's today

The last couple of years--I can't complain, despite the stretches between paychecks and those cruel rumors of paid vacation and health insurance. But who needed such frills when I could catch every Jon Brion show on Largo's schedule? No contest! Alas, my schedule isn't as flexible now that I'm once again holding down an office job, but hey, I'm more than willing to take up the challenge of being both gainfully employed and a dedicated rock tourist. (And if worse comes to worst, I can always quit my job again.)

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, October 17, 2008: When it comes to the musicians I really like, no two shows ever feel the same, regardless of how many times I see the artists in question. With your more typical performers, the varying locales and club settings tend to heighten the mystery, but when it comes to Jon Brion's gigs, you can't count on those surface differences. Instead, you have to see how they develop.

But this show's vibe, even from the outset, was colored by several factors: that delicious feeling of having escaped temporarily from the 9-to-5, my solo status, and the massive amounts of Rock Band I've played in the last few weeks. I swear, picking up a plastic toy in the shape of a child's guitar really deepens your appreciation and love of music.

As is often the case, however, the apprehension flitted away as soon as the lights dimmed. Flanny even drew our attention to the two sets of drums onstage, hinting of surprises to come. Of course, this signaled Jon's arrival and his opening salvo, a mix of piano, at least a couple of synthesizers, and a smattering of foot stomping too. I'd characterize it as a modern, jazzy piece, except I swear I heard a hint of "Paranoid Android" in there too.

Jon followed with a trifecta of his originals--at least, I think "Don't Make Me Fall in Love with You" is his, as Google isn't giving me much of a trail to follow. But there's no question of the provenance of "Girl I Knew," which featured one of Jon's trademark outros, rolling together Carmen, James Bond, and Peter Gunn, to name three.

Jon next requested, errr, requests, and I'd like to point out that I did not ask for "Band on the Run." I simply can't inflict that request more than once every, oh, three years or so. Instead, the suggestion came from a guy in the back, and in any case, Jon ventured no further than the song's instrumental intro. I'd also like to gloat that Jon, Benmont Tench, Paul Bryan, and Jay Bellerose granted my request for the whole song back in January. I haven't washed these ears since.

Jon went with an Eno cover next, a blistering "Baby's on Fire." My request--a longtime personal favorite, but now also heavily influenced by the aforementioned Rock Band fixation--got a spin after that: Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone," swathed in whimsical piano and chamberlin in place of its trademark jagged New Wave stylings. Closing out this request block, Jon switched on the vocoder for a somewhat tongue-in-cheek "This Guy's in Love with You," even without E's homoerotic contributions.

Jon went back to his originals, at first by himself, then with the help of some friends. The first guest to emerge was an older African-American gentleman, who took his place behind one set of drums. Jon introduced him as James Gadson, and together they dove into "That's Just What You Are" as a drum and bass production, with James easily finding the beat. It was odd to hear Jon and Aimee Mann's pure pop perfection transformed into a funky, low-key groove, but neither man seemed particularly concerned with its derivation. From what I could tell, they were having too much fun anyway.

With Sebastian Steinberg, they soon numbered three, returning to Jon's back catalog for "Trouble." James and Sebastian were great on the low end, emphasizing the song's gravitas while Jon took it through a jazzy, torchy treatment that incorporated a gorgeous piano solo.

Jon asked for a request, which brought about "Nobody Does It Better." In a twist, the audience--or, rather, the guy who requested it--knew the second verse when Jon's knowledge of the song petered out and had no qualms about taking up the slack through the rest of the tune. The musicians onstage were duly impressed as well.

It's no secret that I go gaga over David Rawlings, ever since that first time I saw him at Largo, so I'll cut to the chase: In the midst of "Femme Fatale," he appeared, carrying some sort of flight bag and looking even more laid-back than the last time I saw him. At first, he chimed in on vocals, but soon picked up an electric guitar, and by the end of the number, there was no mistaking his twangy touch.

For the remainder of the first set, Jon and David switched off vocals, and the centerpiece of this run was probably David's suggestion, which elicited Jon's comment that he liked any song David knew the words to. Before they could get to it, though, they quickly worked out the rhythm and a very loose arrangement, with Jon suggesting a "slow 6/8" beat.

These mystery titles often inspire a personal round of "Name That Tune" in which you try to figure out in as few notes as possible what reimagined song you're about to hear. My initial guess was "Purple Rain," which turned out to be wrong, though not before I nearly had a heart attack contemplating the possibility. Instead, we got "Five Years," which is no consolation prize, especially when David Rawlings belts it out, accompanied by Jon on piano and chamberlin and James and Sebastian comprising the rhythm section.

With the night's guest roster mostly revealed, there weren't too many questions of surprise appearances going into the second set, and Jon sort of admitted as much, stating that he would first tackle a solo segment before opening the floor to his friends. So we got three of his songs, concluding with "Walking Through Walls," complete with the full-body rocking that Jon's been showing off, now that he has some room to move around.

Sebastian Steinberg was the first to return, joined soon after on the second set of drums by Earl Harvin, who had just come from Dave Palmer's gig in the Little Room. Together, the three of them teased out "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." Earl exhibited a light touch on the brushes, but if he felt at all apprehensive about his impromptu recruitment, he certainly didn't show it.

The drummer population doubled as James Gadson returned to the stage. Though I didn't discover James's standing as a drumming legend until a round of Googling after the show, it was apparent that the other performers were honored to be sharing the stage with him. Jon made a passing comment to it in the first set, and for this round, as James took his seat, you could spy both David Rawlings and Sean Watkins tucked just behind the curtains as they snapped pics of this extraordinary gathering.

So with two drummers and a bass player to accompany him, what song did Jon decide on? One of his own, "Same Mistakes." From there, though, it was all covers.

When I see two drummers onstage, the first thing that comes to mind is Adam Ant--but there's no way I could've unloaded that frivolous request on this group. So when Jon asked for song suggestions, I went with one of the more brooding mainstays of their canon, "It's All Right, Baby Blue." Success--they took it up, though Jon stopped the song and started it again so that Benmont Tench could join them. It was just a matter of time before David Rawlings reemerged to chip in guitar and vocals.

Someone in the audience requested "Emotional Rescue," but a quick survey around the stage revealed that no one knew the lyrics, so they cobbled together "Miss You," mostly sans words, instead. Benmont had turned out a couple of gorgeous solos already, and now he took further control, seamlessly leading them to an upbeat, jovial "Blue Skies."

An observation: When Jon and David Rawlings play together, they sometimes reach a point where it seems like they play exclusively to each other, no matter how many other people may be around. We saw a little bit of this during the song, when they sort of took up a musical version of Simon Says, each one trying out a riff and the other aping it, all in keeping with the loose, silly spirit of the set.

It took the Elvis/T. Rex mashup to unleash the double-drum delirium, as James and Earl traded solos. When Dave Palmer squeezed in next to Benmont for "Beast of Burden," the Largo stage became the world's greatest Doublemint commercial ever as it hosted two pianists, two drummers, and two guitarists (and a bass player). Double your pleasure--check. Double your fun--double-check.

Sean Watkins threw off the numbers when he finally jumped in, but the reverie continued. Though Ben seemed reluctant to do "I Wanna Be Sedated," he came through like a trooper, and he inspired the last two numbers of the set as well. When the group admitted they couldn't carry off "Heart Full of Soul," per Ben's suggestion, Jon steered them toward "For Your Love" instead. And it was also Ben's idea to try "I'll Cry Instead," though he was probably as surprised by Jon's yodeling as we were. It turned out to be the last song of the night, leaving Jon to thank us for allowing them to "goof off" in public.

Set 1

--piano and synth noodling
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Don't Make Me Fall in Love with You (?)
--Girl I Knew
--Band on the Run [snippet]
--Baby's on Fire
--Hanging on the Telephone
--This Guy's in Love with You
--Ruin My Day
--Why Do You This to Yourself

w/ James Gadson
--That's Just What You Are

w/ James Gadson and Sebastian Steinberg
--Nobody Does It Better

w/ James Gadson, Sebastian Steinberg, and David Rawlings
--Femme Fatale
--Sin City [David = vox]
--Helter Skelter
--Five Years [David = vox]

--Knock Yourself Out

Set 2
--I'm Further Along
--Over Our Heads
--Walking Through Walls

w/ Sebastian Steinberg and Earl Harvin
--I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, and James Gadson
--Same Mistakes

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, and David Rawlings
--It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
--Miss You/Blue Skies
--My Baby Left Me/Jeepster

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, David Rawlings, and Dave Palmer
--Beast of Burden

w/ Sebastian Steinberg, Earl Harvin, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, David Rawlings, Dave Palmer, and Sean Watkins
--I Wanna Be Sedated [Benmont = vox]
--For Your Love
--I'll Cry Instead

See also:
» the first one said to the second one there
» it's been said many times, many ways
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg
» singin' songs for pimps with tailors

Saturday, October 11, 2008

play one more for my radio sweetheart

I could get used to walking to Golden Gate Park for concerts--though yes, I skipped the gig by that one major U.K. act back in August (I was waiting for an important delivery, dammit!). As if the ease of proximity weren't enough, I was in low-key mode all weekend and wandered over to the Star Stage in the early afternoon instead of my usual pre-dawn stakeout. Even then, I still had plenty of time to get comfortable for Elvis Costello's set.

Elvis Costello's High Whine and Spirits, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, October 5, 2008: Love it or hate it, you gotta admit that Elvis Costello hasn't stuck to the typical rock-and-roll rule book. I admit I haven't followed along every step of the way; not so long ago, for example, I realized his jazz forays are not for my thing, and I couldn't convince myself to check out his collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony either.

Call me predictable, but my favorite Elvis incarnation is with the Impostors (I was a bit too young for the Attractions, alas). As luck would have it, the Impostors were represented at this gig by Pete Thomas and Davey Farragher, while Austin DeLone filled in for Steve Nieve on the keyboards. The top of their set referred to their history with a triple shot of "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Uncomplicated," and "Radio Sweetheart." Had I been sitting in a chair, I would've toppled out of it upon hearing "Uncomplicated." I don't think I've ever heard it live; even better, it comes from probably my favorite Elvis album.

Elvis Costello, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 5, 2008

But when the set is billed as "Elvis Costello's High Whine and Spirits," you can't expect merely the greatest hits, and the musicians obliged, much as they did at Elvis's 2006 festival appearance. After the opening trifecta, Bill Kirchen and Jim Lauderdale soon joined in for a handful of covers and stayed on for the rest of the set. Also not surprising: Emmylou Harris's arrival for "Love Hurts" or the near closer "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" for the second time this weekend.

In no way, though, was this some run-of-the-mill set. For one thing, Elvis's young twins watched their dad (apparently for the first time) from the side of the stage. Wearing big headphones to protect their ears and High Whine tour t-shirts to support their father, they stomped away and waved drumsticks in time to the music--as befits their lineage. Elvis referred to them quite often during the set too, his paternal pride clearly evident and very endearing.

The toddlers nearly stole the show, but they had to cede the spotlight to a few dozen more guests--mostly the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus, accompanied by Jon Langford, Warren Hellman, and even more friends--for the moving finale. Their performance further punctuated a set that beautifully embodied everything Hardly Strictly Bluegrass represents.

Elvis Costello, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 5, 2008

I also caught most of Ben Kweller's set. It's been a while since the one time I've seen him in concert (opening for Evan Dando and Jon Brion), but it wasn't hard to determine that his music has definitely matured, as has he. He even dedicated one song to his wife and son. Ben and his band sounded great, and I think even the older folks around me were impressed.

Yeah, I could really get used to walking to Golden Gate Park for concerts.

See also:
» used to be one of the rotten ones
» now I try to be amused
» searching for light in the darkness of insanity

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

searching for light in the darkness of insanity

When I was in sixth or seventh grade, one of my teachers had us break into groups and gave us an assignment that attempted to connect our interests and passions with the discipline at hand. So as we compiled our alphabetical list of--errr, I can't recall exactly. People? Things? Anyway, when our group reached the letter "N," I suggested Nick Lowe, who at the time had the occasional video on MTV and enjoyed some radio airplay. My friend's reply: a withering sneer of the variety so masterfully deployed by teenage girls. Fast-forward to 2008, I didn't bother informing the same friend--a dear pal to this day--that I was headed out to see Nick Lowe at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Nick Lowe, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 4, 2008Nick Lowe, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, October 4, 2008: I'm obsessed with the idea of musical DNA--that is, some inherent element in your tastes and preferences that you can't escape. Granted, I don't think anyone comes out of the womb knowing they like classical or hip-hop or rock, but I love the idea of those musical tropes that get under your skin without your even knowing it until many years down the line. The two acts I caught on Saturday at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival are prime examples of these stealthy survivors.

Back to that Mean Girls moment from my pre-pubescent years: My friend had a point. We were a bit too young for Nick Lowe at the time, and we listened to synth-pop bands who wore eyeliner and frilly shirts--nothing like the pub rock Nick was known for. Yet, though I skipped the '80s-oriented Regeneration Tour this summer, I made a point of hitting this gig (the price of admission and proximity to my flat helped too).

On the surface, it's pretty easy to see/hear why: Nick's timeless songwriting and soulful voice, though they might never be in vogue, certainly never go out of style. And those rich, warm tones were complemented by nothing but simple acoustic guitar. In addition, despite all the associations he's shared with so many other artists on the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass roster, Nick went completely solo for his set. Thus, there were no visitors from the Prader-Willi benefits from the two preceding nights--or from any point in his career, for that matter.

Nick Lowe, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 4, 2008

But his actual set was a different story, encompassing his handful of hits and, more abundantly, fan favorites. Of course, "Cruel to Be Kind" got a huge reception, but even Nick was surprised when the crowd whooped appreciatively for the more recent release "I Trained Her to Love Me." And do you even have to guess his closing number? Sure, it was "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," but the slower, more deliberate take made for a lovely tidbit. And to top it all off, Nick couldn't have been more charming. I don't think I've ever heard such an effortlessly engaging performer.

Gary Louris and Mark Olson, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Oct. 4, 2008

Immediately preceding Nick were Gary Louris and Mark Olson from the Jayhawks, two years into their reunion and now with a new album to show off. They performed songs from that upcoming release, as well as from the Jayhawks catalog. Gary, a little surprisingly, forgot some of the words to "Sister Cry," and his voice couldn't quite reach some of the high notes on "Blue." Their mellow, melodic set suited the cozy grove beautifully on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon.

See also:
» the whole damn crowd seemed so far away