Category Archives: Live music lives!
recent (and perhaps a few not so recent) live music immersions
Four guys. Full on. With a tale to tell, in a language all their own. Well, I suppose the language isn’t unique – bass, drums, rhythm guitar, lead guitar in 4/4 time – and truth be told, it’s a pretty darn simple set of phonemes. In the hands of Neil and Crazy Horse, though, the playful, propulsive thrash of garage band chaos opens into a mythic tunnel of glorious noise, a Primal Rock and Roll Orchestra.
On Friday night under a star-spangled sky laced with moon-glowing clouds, a few thousand New Mexicans were lucky enough to be at the unveiling of This Year’s Model—or call it This Decade’s Model, their first time on stage together since 2004. The show commenced with several minutes of roiling, pounding, searing jam (jump on in, the water’s fine!), then Neil swung to the mic, his voice layered atop the instrumental waves, the story beginning to be told:
Long ago in the book of old
Before the chapter where dreams unfold
A battle raged on the open page
Love was the winner there, overcoming hate
Like a little girl who couldn’t wait
Love and only love will endure….
Yowsa! What an opener! And on higher:
Spirit come back to me
Give me strength and set me free
Let me hear the magic in my heart
Love and only love will endure
Hate is everything you think it is
Love and only love will break it down
After settling us down just a mite with his enigmatic Powderfinger, a classic for any of us who’ve ever found ourselves in a bit over our heads (it’s the tale of a younger brother left home while dad and big bro were out and about, whose fate it was to futilely face down some mysterious gunship on the river), Neil then proceeded to toss a slew of brand new songs at us, each one a gem:
This fall, I was psyched to go with Rosa to see Conor Oberst with his long-time main band, Bright Eyes. I got turned on to him thanks to an NPR online concert, and he became a common musical ground for Rosa and I, a good and rare thing for an 18 and 54 year old pair of music lovers.
But little did I know how amazing it would be! By the time it was over, this show had popped into the Top 10 Concerts of All (my) Time list, not something that happens very often any more (three of my Top 10 have come in the new millennium).
Conor’s an intense and inspired songwriter, exploring with a voracious honesty the dark corners of experience (his, those he encounters, all of ours), as well as casting light on our hopes (ragged as they may be these days), always coming from a place of raw and exposed heart and soul, reaching deep. A totally charismatic stage presence, as well, by far the most compelling front man I’ve ever seen up close in a small club. Add Mike Mogis, who’s been his guitar-slinging sidekick for over a decade, and a way-tight-yet-explosive band of two keyboards, two drummers, bass, and occasional trumpet, and you’ve got a recipe for a good time! I don’t know nearly his whole catalog, but got easily caught up even in totally unknown songs whose words I could only catch snatches of: a riveting couplet would reach out and grab me while my body was carried along by the churning band and then sent soaring by a burst of grand rock’n’roll cacophony.
Though scouring YouTube to try to recreate something remotely representative of being there in the midst of it all is a fool’s errand (count me as foolish for the past couple of hours or so), I managed to come up with a solid hour-long video playlist that gives a decent sense of why I feel really lucky to have caught this band in what’s said to be their final tour. There’s a good chance Conor and Mike will continue to do things together; Mogis was the non-singing “fourth man” and producer for the supergroup Monsters of Folk, which brought together three of the top 30-something songwriters into the CSN of their generation; check Conor, Jim James, and M Ward out on this Austin City Limits show. (oops; expires on Christmas! Bah humbug. Here’s a 3-song NPR session.)
Okay, on with the show!
We’ll dive right in at maximum impact, with the final song of most of the shows on this tour, and the final song on Bright Eyes’ final album, The People’s Key. One for You, One for Me:
And a taste of his gentler songwriting, in Bowl of Oranges:
For a bunch more, click on through!
In my music review days, I’d sampled one of Tom Russell’s albums, a twisted and heartfelt immersion in the beat era called Hotwalker. It was like nothing I’d ever heard (featuring “vocals” from Bukowski, Kerouac, Bruce, Abbey, and even pulling in Dave Van Ronk to play guitar, wrapped in folk/story tales); it ended up filed on my CD closet shelf that’s labeled “Oddball/Strange Tales.” So when I saw a few months back that he was coming to town, I snapped up a ticket with very little sense of what to expect; not surprisingly, Hotwalker was way out on the edge of Tom’s catalog, but my compass was tuned in for sure. A true songwriting genius, Tom sings the lives of all sorts of folks, in riveting and heart-wrenching directness. A night with Tom Russell is an American history lesson of the highest order.
‘Nuff said by me. Catch him if you can! And here’s a few introductory earfulls:
From his newest album, the title track, honoring a young Hibbing boy and their shared lodestars:
This video from a rooftop in Dublin features Thad Beckman, the same guitarist he had with him in Santa Fe, an excellent duo, doing a fantastic song about Tom’s ’60’s stint in Africa, called East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam:
For a bunch more of Tom’s many facets, click on through