Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Charming and Dangerous Guy

Of the three acts on the bill at the Bell House Saturday night I'd have guessed Robyn Hitchcock possessed the best chance of blowing me away but in the end that honor went to John Wesley Harding, with a strong runner-up to Scott McCauhey of the Minus 5, and this in a show that I didn't even know was going to include Peter Buck.

Robyn Hitchcock
Forgive all my ignorance. Until a few years ago, when on-demand streaming changed my life, acts like these, with the exception of Buck, flew mainly on the periphery of my radar, and as a result this show wasn't a place you'd have found me. Sneaking in a few hours of catch-up listening mornings at the office has provided some thrilling revelation and for me at least has led directly to ticket sales. Unlimited streaming -- I do mine at Rdio -- ought to be a boon for live shows and the formerly obscure but I suspect much has to do with the appetite of the streamee. Either way, it's been an eye- and ear-opening development and had me excited for a solo night out.

Hitchcock came out first and did almost all of the Eye album solo (a few songs accompanied by a harmony vocalist). Eye is almost all acoustic anyway, and doesn't vary a whole lot in style which I guess is one of the problems with these 'album' shows, though he warmed the crowd to it by talking about the period in which he wrote the songs with customary charm and humor. If it isn't quite as distinct as I Often Dream of Trains, Eye at times is beautiful and evocative and Hitchcock did it justice. Before he finished McCaughey, a drummer, and, holy fuck, Peter Buck, came out and they played a few Venus 3 tunes including Ole Tarantula. Fun way to end.

During the break I repositioned myself at the side of the stage right next to Buck's guitar stand and pedals. I was close enough to have given him a hand job for the rest of the night. The 'Minus 5' (Buck, McCaughey, and the slide/lead guitarist, bass player, piano player and drummer from the Decemberists, though that makes six) variously played their stuff and were John Wesley Harding's backing band.

Buck stayed in the background playing his 12-string, providing the jangle but not a lot of fireworks. He did bust out the mandolin for a few. He referred to handwritten cheat sheets on the floor with the charts of all the Harding songs.

Harding, with Buck
McCaughey, and especially Harding were very lively and fun. Harding played almost all of his new album, which I've been listening to a lot recently and was recorded with most of the same players. His stuff is clever, funny, erudite poprock for aging urban douchebags like me (and him -- when he talked about his 5 year old at home, I totally related). He pulled off the solo singersongwriter stuff and the lead rock vocalist stuff with aplomb: If he at all was intimated following a genius like Hitchcock (I'd have been) it did not show even a little. McCaughey just likes to play you can tell. Their drummer was great, and also sang harmonies. It's worth noting here that all five who impressed me (Harding, McCaughey, Hitchcock, Buck and the drummer) had grey, greying or white hair.

Eventually Hitchcock came back out, along with his boy vocalist, then Eugene Mirman (I'm vaguely aware of who he is, some kind of comic?) and then another guy got a pop who turned out to be Ted Leo, who still has yet to meet my listening acquaintance. A friend said Michael Stipe was at the show as well but not on the stage (I'd have noted that). By the end there was about 11 or 12 people up there (singing McCaughey's 'Aw Shit Man'), I'd been standing for five hours so I was happy it finally came to end but a fun night for us old people and good rock for my $.

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