Sunday, April 11, 2010

forever's on your side

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned scheduling my vacation around a set of gigs. The time has arrived for second of those shows: Miles Kurosky, the former lead singer/songwriter of Beulah, in his return to San Francisco and Bottom of the Hill after far too long.

Miles Kurosky, Bottom of the Hill, April 8, 2010: Every now and then, I can look forward to a show by an artist whose music colors an abundance of favorite memories, who at one time or another dominated my listening habits, and whose return to the concert circuit leaves me sorting through too many words and thoughts now that I finally get to blog about him. Miles Kurosky is such a musician, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to frame this concert report.

Miles Kurosky, Bottom of the Hill, 04-08-10

I should probably backtrack to Beulah, Miles's former band. Local favorites, Beulah played in San Francisco a lot, and I hit as many of those dates as I could--you can spot me in a concert scene on their live DVD. I even saw their very last show in New York City (during a torrential downpour) back in 2004, but my favorite gig was probably a gathering of a dozen-plus friends in Chicago, also in 2004, at the Abbey Pub. We were actually in town for another show, but we took advantage of the great timing to get in one grand adventure that has yet to be duplicated. Alas, despite my promises, we didn't rush the stage for "Silver Lining," but it's hard to begrudge Rock 'n' Roll Jesus, also in attendance that night.

At the time, it was common knowledge that Beulah would split at the end of the tour. I typically don't get upset when bands break up and this news was less jarring than similar announcements, so it's not like we were holding a wake for them--but maybe we would've poured one out that evening if we had any idea of how long Miles would disappear from the scene.

Fast-forward to 2010, and based on the crowd at Bottom of the Hill, I'd say that many of the attendees harbored similar memories of long-ago (in rock terms) Beulah shows. At the same time, not everyone was a geezer, so there's hope yet that new ears are tuning into to Miles's music. Making no assumptions, Miles mentioned once being in a local band to the gathered crowd and gave a shout-out to Bottom of the Hill and its staff for all their support. (He also informed us he's moved to Portland, where he can afford to be a homeowner--a punch in the gut to many of us Bay Area wage slaves.)

Now that I've reverted to my more laissez-faire habits, I may not hear a jot of the performer's music before I attend a gig, and former local heroes are no exception. Thus, the evolution in Miles's songwriting was a surprise to me. Sure, his penchant for marrying dark lyrics to charming melodies, harmonies, and hooks remains intact, but the sound was notably beefier and, at times, discordant in a way I hadn't heard from him since Beulah's lo-fi days. Overall, though, it's still great stuff, and after the show, I headed straight to the merch booth to remedy the situation.

You may have noticed over the last decade or so the phenomenon known as reunion tours. I'm hardly a stranger to them, but lately, the prospect has inexplicably saddened me. I don't begrudge anyone who hits these gigs, but I find it hard to indulge in them (says the woman who sees the the same artist/s excessively).

Miles Kurosky, Bottom of the Hill, 04-08-10Despite my protests, I'm not going to walk out when a couple of old friends happen to get together and make music right in front of me. Joining ex-Beulahs Abbey and Eli in Miles's band was Bill Swan, Beulah's co-founder and its jack-of-all-trades. When Miles wasn't turning to him for what looked to be private laughs and cheerful chatter, Bill took his place in the horn section for both old and new songs, as well as providing backing vocals.

As I understand it, the old Beulah tracks "Emma Blowgun's Last Stand," "Landslide Baby," and "Popular Mechanics for Lovers" are part of the regular set at every show, and in that regard, San Francisco was no different. However, I'd venture that Miles and company went the extra mile in San Francisco with a performance wouldn't be duplicated anywhere else. Bill's presence had a lot to do with that, most notably during the encore, which shaped up to be Beulah request hour. With the help of Abbey and Eli, as well as on their own as a duo, Miles and Bill took on as many old songs as they could remember--and a few they couldn't.

The guy who yelled for "Space vs. Matter" was both gently corrected on the title--"Matter vs. Space"--and got to hear the opening notes of the song, but that was all Miles confessed to remember. In fact, he stated that it's been a good six or seven years since he's attempted these works, but I hope he knew we were thrilled to hear them at all.

This is when I wish I kept notes of the gig. I can report that Bill bailed out "Gene Autry" when Miles forgot the second verse (it happens to the best of us). I know he saved other songs too, but I can't name them off the top of my head. The titles that do come to mind: "You're Only King Once," "If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart," and "Silver Lining," to name three.

Miles Kurosky, Bottom of the Hill, 04-08-10

About "Silver Lining"--that was my request, which Miles quickly admitted to no longer recalling, but several voices (in addition to my own) reminded him of the opening lyrics and carried most of the song. Specifically, a couple of women in the audience knew all the words--and weren't shy about sharing them. I don't usually mind singing at concerts anyway, but they deserve some credit for moving the songs along. Miles certainly noticed too, as he called one of them onstage for "Maroon Bible." She did extremely well, but Miles cut off the performance, claiming that when the show devolves into Beulah karaoke, it's time to call it a night.

Unlike most gigs at Bottom of the Hill, we saw only two openers. The first was Lia Rose, a local singer/songwriter formerly of the band Built for the Sea. I'm not a big fan of female vocalists, but she sounded very lovely and did quite well for her first solo gig. The second was Pancho-San, which happened to (1) be Miles's backing band and (2) comprise Abbey and Eli, also formerly of Beulah. I hadn't heard Abbey sing before, but I wasn't at all shocked to discover that they favored a brand of upbeat, catchy pop that perks up my ears. I hope to hear more of them in the future.

Lia Rose, Bottom of the Hill, 04-08-10

I sincerely hope Miles is lying when he vows to never tour again, but I also know that he's not one to soldier on if he's not feeling it (witness: pulling the plug on Beulah). At the least, I hope he understands that many of us would welcome a night of Beulah karaoke anytime.

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