Buttercream is a bitch--and it kept me grounded the other night when I had provisionally planned on seeing a show. Who am I kidding, though? How often do I get to gigs anymore that don't owe some ties to that one band or that other place? Sara Watkins, of course, qualifies for the latter category, and that was enough to bring me out for her visit to the Swedish American Hall.
Sara Watkins, Swedish American Hall, May 12, 2009: I'm embarrassed to admit the internal debate that preceded my decision to attend this concert, so I'll pass the speaking banana to Liz Lemon: "I just want to go home and watch the show about midgets and eat a block of cheddar cheese." (Or, more specifically, Mad Men DVD commentaries and/or the Celtics game, coupled with that last strawberry cupcake.)
Sara Watkins has become a familiar presence on my concert calendar, whether presenting the Watkins Family Hour with her brother, dropping in on friends' shows at Largo, or touring with Nickel Creek. Her former band enjoyed a good number of dedicated fans; I wouldn't count myself among them, but I find her voice just so pretty.
Those lovely vocals were somewhat muted tonight, however, by a cold that left her struggling for some higher notes. Regardless, she soldiered on, fulfilling at least one audience request. Also, though I wouldn't say her battered throat took away from the show, it didn't hurt that she was flanked by her brother Sean Watkins on guitar and Benmont Tench on the baby grand.
Her song selection closely echoed her album's track list, and she threw in a few more covers, as well as an old Nickel Creek track. My hours logged at Largo have familiarized me with her Morrissey cover ("The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get"), as well as the extra Jon Brion track, but hearing them outside of that wonderful little bubble gave me a thrill too.
For starters, I may have been too caught up in nudges and winks that other time I heard them take on Morrissey to fully appreciate what they brought to the song--namely, Sean's accomplished solo and Sara's soulful fiddle. And "Trouble" was worth the time, if only to hear Benmont admit the song gives him, er, trouble. Don't let his protests fool you, though; Benmont's playing was as masterful as ever. Sean, too, took the spotlight for one song, a new track titled "Reality Calls," appended by some parenthetical I can't recall. (This is clearly shaping up to be a parenthetical year.)
Speaking of Jon Brion, the crew namechecked him several times, not least because they covered two of his tunes. I think a couple of other people in the audience reacted to his name, but in San Francisco, I'll take that--at least until Jon plays here in July. They extended some shout-outs to Largo, as well, and Sara shared a sweet story about playing "Anthony" right after she wrote it on Flanny's voicemail, which has now become a tradition for her.
Largo, for better or for worse, is not the real world. Of course, I love the monastic silence, but sometimes you gotta turn it up a notch. Even in the Swedish American Hall's ascetic space, crucial differences emerged. For one thing, there were no guest cameos, so we saw Sara, Sean, and Benmont pure and simple. Also, this cozier space allowed for more audience interaction. And finally, we came through loud and clear when Sara asked us to kick in for the chorus of "Long Hot Summer Day." Gillian Welch was right--we aren't a bad bunch of singers.
The trio closed out the show with an audience request for "Forever Young," despite Sara's acknowledgment of the toll it would take on her voice. She needn't worry, though; she belted out this perfect closer. Besides, even with a frog in her throat, she still sounds better than Dylan. ;)
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