Sunday, May 31, 2009
Rule number one when headlining a live gig: don't let the opening band upstage you.
NQ Arbuckle opened the early show at the Mod Club in Toronto on Friday, May 29, with some serious country-rock. Lead by raspy-voiced Neville Quinlan, the band rocked through eight songs spanning all three of their Six Shooter Records releases. They opened with a smoking version of "Huntsville Affair" from the fantastic album XOK, which made many alt country music bloggers best-of lists for 2008. In fact, I first learned about NQ Arbuckle last year from a 24-year-old fan in Alabama (isn't the internet awesome?), which makes you wonder if "Huntsville Affair" refers to the town in Ontario or the city down south. As Quinlan chugged beer, did tequila shots, and told funny stories, the band played through many crowd favorites including "Punk Rocker," "I Liked You Right From the Start," "Part of a Poem by Alden Nowlan Called Ypres: 1915," and "Cheap Town." Guitarist Pete Kesper cranked out some serious bad-ass solos especially on "Ontario, Michigan." They also played a track that they recently recorded with Carolyn Mark from a new collaborative album that is scheduled to be released this October. What a rockin' way to start a Friday night!
Twenty minutes later fellow Six Shooter artist Justin Rutledge took the stage and played mostly tracks from his 2008 release, Man Descending. This album is a beautiful record steeped in classic country traditions, with sorrowful lyrics that make you want to blubber into your beer. Rutledge is a master of this type of country music, but I felt it really clashed with NQ Arbuckle's opening set. The audience was chatty and anxious, and it was hard to hear Rutledge sing at some points. Its not to say that he wasn't good. In fact, he and his band were wonderful. David Baxter cranked out some sweet, sobbing electric guitar solos, while Burke Carroll was masterful on pedal steel. They played "St. Peter," "This Too Shall Pass," "Alberta Breeze" among other tracks from Man Descending.
After Rutledge played a few solo acoustic tracks, he brought out the band and, much to my surprise and delight, local country musician Doug Paisley. Paisley lead the group in a Lefty Frizzell song (sorry, track name is escaping me, I didn't bring my notebook with me!), which I thought was cute as Paisley himself if a "lefty" guitar player. Then Rutledge joined Paisley and the band in a slower, country-fied version of "Johnny B. Goode." Rutledge and company picked up the second half of the show significantly, playing a much more up-tempo set which even included some gospel numbers. He closed his show with his trademark "Jellybean" song; Rutledge came out into the crowd and lead everyone in an acoustic sing-along. Great way to end the night.
Its not that Rutledge was genuinely upstaged by NQ Arbuckle, but the two artists were of vastly different country styles which did not transition very well between the two sets. But overall, it was a very solid night of music by two incredibly talented acts.
NQ Arbuckle - Cheap Town.mp3
Buy (Amazon MP3 only, $US): Last Supper In a Cheap Town (2006)
Buy (CD and MP3, $CND) from Six Shooter Records
NQ Arbuckle - Huntsville Affair.mp3
Buy (Amazon MP3 only): XOK (2008)
Buy (CD and MP3, $CND) from Six Shooter Records
Justin Rutledge - St. Peter.mp3
Justin Rutledge - Everyone's in Love.mp3
Buy (Amazon CD $US): Man Descending (2008)
Buy (CD and MP3, $CND) from Six Shooter Records
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Massey Hall is arguably the most famous stage in Toronto. The acoustics are spectacular, and the majority of the seats have excellent site lines. Opened in 1894, and designated as a Heritage Property in 1975, Massey Hall has hosted such venerable performers and dignitaries such as King George V and his wife Queen Mary, Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama, Luciano Pavarotti, George Gershwin, Oscar Peterson, and Bob Dylan among many, many others. Many famous live albums have been recorded there, including Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie Jazz at Massey Hall (1953), Rush’s 1976 live album All the World’s a Stage, and more recently Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 release in 2007. Massey Hall is also where Jeff Tweedy of Wilco infamously called the staid Toronto crowd “motherfuckers” for not dancing during their rock show. In the crowd’s defense (I was at that Wilco show too) Massey Hall isn’t exactly conducive to rockin’ out, but that didn’t stop Joel Plaskett from bringing the house down on Saturday, May 23.
Horseshoe Tavern owner/president “JC” introduced Plaskett and called him a musical “genius” and his “favorite singer and songwriter in the whole world.” Having never seen Plaskett perform before, I could only think, “Whoa. The owner of the Horseshoe, who has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing musicians, is calling Joel Plaskett a ‘genius.’ I am in for a treat.”
Plaskett performed his first set mostly acoustically. He was joined on stage with his father Bill, and fellow musicians Ana Egge and Rose Cousins, all three of whom back him on his outstanding new triple album Three. Bill Plaskett and Cousins played acoustic guitar, while Egge rocked the mandolin, and Joel Plaskett flipped between acoustic and electric guitars, his “$7 Value Village” mini keyboard, and even percussion instruments. Joel backed each of the ladies as they performed original solo pieces. The vocal harmonies were spectacular, especially between Bill and Joel in the song “Nothing More to Say.” Joel Plaskett assured the crowd that the lyrics of this song had nothing to do with his relationship with his father while on the road, and the entire time I was thinking, “Wow. What an amazing relationship. If I traveled or worked with either of my parents, blood would be shed.”
Joel Plaskett in person comes off as such a normal nerdy dude, but at the same time cool as hell. He frequently showed off his slick dancing moves, and played to and with the crowd. A recurring joke through the night came at the expense of his father. While Bill was taking a while to tune his guitar, Joel quipped, “This is my secret B-side called ‘Tuning, Tuning, Tuning.’” And later on he joked that he registered “Tuning, Tuning, Tuning” with SOCAN so that he “gets paid every time someone tunes on stage.” Can you imagine the poor bastard in a bar trying to tune a 12-string and having to pay Plaskett for the privilege of “Tuning, Tuning, Tuning.” Hysterical!
For the second set Plaskett brought out his band The Emergency, drummer Dave Marsh, bassist player Chris Pennell, with Peter Elkas joining in on backup guitar and keyboards. They blasted Massey Hall into next week opening with “Work Out Fine,” and kept the rock intensity soaring for the rest of the show. Egge and Cousins soon joined in for backup vocals. And, unlike the aforementioned Wilco show, fans were freaking out in their seats, dancing in the aisles, and charging the stage. Fans ages 7 to 70 were having an awesome time, and it was great to see entire families together at the show. From my seat in the upper right gallery I could see Horseshoe owner “JC” freaking out backstage, dancing and clapping up a storm.
Plaskett cooled it down just slightly for the solo acoustic track “Spinning for You,” available as a password-protected download on his website (you probably can guess the password). Then he lead the audience with his 12-string in a sing-along to his hit “Nowhere.” The Emergency and the other musicians rejoined Plaskett for a rousing version of “A Million Dollars” and “Wishful Thinking.” The crowd went crazy. For the encore, Plaskett surprised the audience with the old Thrush Hermit song, “Before You Leave,” then rocked the crowd with the fan-favorites “Love This Town” and “Fashionable People.”
Plaskett started Thrush Hermit in 1992, and has been playing solo and with The Emergency since 1999. Seventeen years is huge longevity in the music business. At one point in the show Plaskett said, “I still can’t believe I’m in this room!” in reference to the legendary Massey Hall. After 17 years, you earned it buddy. Such a great performance. I can’t believe I waited this long to see Plaskett live.
1. Happen Now - La De Da (2005)
2. Deny, Deny, Deny - Three (2009)
3. Pine, Pine, Pine - Three
4. In the Blue Moonlight - Three
5. Farmer's Daughter, Ana Egge solo - Road to My Love (2009)
6. Nothing More to Say - Ashtray Rock (2007)
7. Heartless, Heartless, Heartless - Three
8. Rewind, Rewind, Rewind - Three
9. Lost in the Valley, Rose Cousins solo- If You Were Me (2006)
10. Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' - Three
1. Work Out Fine - Truthfully Truthfully (2003)
2. Extraordinary - Truthfully Truthfully
3. Through & Through & Through - Three
4. Gone, Gone, Gone - Three
5. Sailors Eyes - Three
6. You Let Me Down - Three
7. Precious, Precious, Precious - Three
8. Ashtray Rock - Ashtray Rock
9. Run, Run, Run - Three
10. True Patriot Love - Down at the Khyber (2001)
11. Spinning for You - website download
12. Nowhere With You - Make A Little Noise EP (2006)
13. Lazy Bones - Three
14. A Million Dollars - Make A Little Noise EP
15. Wishful Thinking - Three
16. Before You Leave, Thrush Hermit - Clayton Park (1999)
17. Love This Town - La De Da
18. Fashionable People - Ashtray Rock
19. On and On and On - Three
Joel Plaksett - Deny, Deny, Deny.mp3
Buy (Amazon MP3 only): Three (2009)
Buy CD from Maple Music.
Joel Plaskett Emergency - Fashionable People.mp3
Buy (Amazon MP3 only): Ashtray Rock (2007)
Buy CD from Maple Music.
See also interviews with Joel Plaskett in the Toronto Star and Now Magazine. Plus, CBC Radio 3 has a Joel Plaskett show from Moncton available for download as a podcast. Click on Podcasts/Show and scroll down to CBC Radio 3 Sessions.
Monday, May 25, 2009
This is how it’s supposed to be
Let’s remember our fallen heroes
In the land of the free
This track perfectly describes Memorial Day in the Rockstar family of my youth. Have a good one, and remember that some of us ex-pats have to work today. So you down south, keep it down!
James McMurtry - Memorial Day.mp3
Buy: Childish Things (2005)
Brilliant album from an even more brilliant songwriter. Purchase this one pronto!
You can't take my pride, cause I'm a fuckin' soldier!
Let's also remember our right to dissent against the man! I love this song. Indie hip-hop is alive and well my friends!
The Perceptionists - Memorial Day.mp3
Buy: Black Dialogue (2005)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
My introduction to Jay Bennett's music came by way of Wilco. He joined Wilco in touring support of Wilco's album A.M., and then contributed to Wilco's next three albums. I first discovered Wilco via Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album Bennett co-wrote with Jeff Tweedy on eight of the eleven tracks.
Jay Bennett, a rock musician with deep ties to Chicago best known as a former member of Wilco, died early Sunday morning in downstate Urbana, where he had been running a recording studio, according to a spokesman for his family.
The singer and multi-instrumentalist was 45 years old.
"Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed," said Edward Burch, a friend and musician who collaborated with Bennett on the 2005 album "The Palace at 4 a.m." "The family is in mourning and is unavailable for comment at this time."
Bennett released five solo albums, the most recent of which was released last year as a free download. I have linked a sample track, and the link to entire album:
Another Town Another Ride Another Window.mp3
Whatever Happened I Apologize (2008)
There are also several Jay Bennett solo sessions on Daytrotter.
R.I.P. Mr. Bennett.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The Pogues - Dirty Old Town.mp3
Buy: Rum Sodomy & the Lash (1985, reissued 2006)
Motorhead - Ace of Spades.mp3
Buy: Ace of Spades (1980, Deluxe Edition 2009)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Start a War.mp3
Buy (Insound): Live at KEXP, Vol. 4 (2008)
Monday, May 18, 2009
So Who Does Windsor, Ontario, Think They Are?
Jack Scott - My True Love.mp3
Originally released in 1962
Buy: Jack Scott's Greatest Hits (1991)
The Band (multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson was born in Windsor) - Ophelia.mp3
Originally released in 1975
Buy: The Band - Greatest Hits (2000)
Jefferson Airplane (Windsor's Alexander 'Skip' Spence was their first drummer and co-wrote parts of their first album) - Don't Slip Away.mp3
Buy: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966, reissued 2003)
Moby Grape (Spence founded Moby Grape and wrote their biggest hit) - Omaha.mp3
Originally released in 1967
Buy: Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape (2007)
Alexander 'Skip' Spence - Broken Heart.mp3
Buy: Oar (1969, reissued 1999)
The Tea Party - Stargazer.mp3
From: Seven Circles (2004, out of print)
Elliott Brood - Twill.mp3
Buy: Ambassador (2006)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
1. "One Step Up"
Song of the week from his blog (2008)
2. "Ramblin' Woman"
Aubrey Debauchery & The Puke Boots
He's A Damn Good Liar (2008)
3. Capturing The Flag.mp3
The Long Ryders
From: State Of Our Union (1985, out of print)
4. "Circle Of Light"
Brendon James Wright
Live At WDVX's Blue Plate (2005)
5. Gotta Get Up.mp3
The Bottle Rockets
Buy: Brand New Year (1999, reissued 2004)
Loudon Wainwright III
Motel Blues (2008)
8. "The Drinking Song"
Loudon Wainwright III
Motel Blues (2008)
9. "All The Colors"
All The Colors (2009)
10. "Steam Engine"
Ghost Shirt EP (2009)
11. "Rain Roll In"
Sea Of Tears (2009)
Buy (MP3 only): Harder...Faster (1980)
13. "Oh Darling (Live)"
Two Cow Garage
Suburban Home Records Spring 09 Sampler (2009)
14. "When Jesus Comes"
Ballads and Mental Breakdowns (2008)
15. "Shake Your Rump"
Paul's Boutique (1989, 2009 remaster)
16. Bigger Wheel.mp3
Buy: From the Five (2005)
17. "Get Yo Shit"
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears
Tell Em What Your Name Is (2009)
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I dig the below track because it is more of a reworking than an actual cover.
Buy: Townes (2009)
($2.99 DRM-free digital download, US only)
Also, check out a great article on this release from last week's New York Times.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Elton John - Tiny Dancer.mp3
Buy: Madman Across the Water (1971, reissued 1996)
Edit: if you listened to this track before 3:15 pm Eastern time it was actually a Ben Folds version. My bad! The link has been fixed.
(There is also a hysterical version of Dave Grohl doing this song where he talks about the movie. Its floating around the internets somewhere, so get your google on.)
What many people do not know is that the actor who plays Larry Fellows, the bass player for the fictional band Stillwater, is Mark Kozelek, a very talented musician in his own right. You can hear his distinctive vocals when he starts the "Handing tickets out for God..." lyric in the "Tiny Dancer" scene. Kozelek first formed the band Red House Painters in the early 90s, but after having label problems, he eventually released a solo album in 2000. He resurfaced with the band Sun Kil Moon in 2003, and released what many of my rock snob friends consider the best album of the decade, Ghosts of the Great Highway. In 2008 they released April, which landed on many critic's year-end top ten lists.
I wonder how Kozelek ended up with the roll on Almost Famous? Is he friends with Cameron Crowe? Is Crowe a fan of his music? If anyone knows the answer to these questions, please let me know.
Sun Kil Moon - Salvador Sanchez.mp3
Buy: Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003, this one is the 2007 edition with bonus tracks)
Monday, May 11, 2009
The day is celebrated mainly in areas that have large Polish populations. Chicago has the largest Polish population of any city in the world, save for Warsaw. This is a separate holiday from the federal holiday, General Pulaski Memorial Day, which commemorates Pulaski's death at the Siege of Savannah on October 11, 1779.
Illinois enacted a law on June 20, 1977 to celebrate the birthday of Casimir Pulaski and held the first official Pulaski Day celebrations in 1978. The bill was introduced by Senator Leroy W. Lemke, a Democrat from Chicago. Chicago celebrates Pulaski Day on the first Monday in March with an annual parade. Chicago Public Schools, Cook County government offices, and the Chicago Public Library close on this holiday.
Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day.mp3
Buy: Illinois (2005)
This song is dedicated to Junior, Devin, Nic, Southern, Brad, random Polish tourists, Alex the dancer, B.J. the waitress (waiter?), and all of the other poor, unsuspecting fuckers we tortured in Miami last weekend. Actually, this song is incredibly sad and I find it hard to listen to cause it makes me cry. Its about a woman who dies of bone cancer, on May 1, which happens to be Casimir Pulaski Day in Illinois. I never want to dedicate a song about dying to strangers, because I really wish them nothing but the best, but how the hell does Casimir Pulaski Day come up in conversation at 2:00 a.m. at a club in South Beach? Oy.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The Blues Brothers - Going Back to Miami.mp3
Buy: The Definitive Collection (1992)
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I have a playlist on my MP3 player that I call "Sadies Originals." Its all original tracks of songs that I have heard The Sadies cover live. Here are a few "originals" that John Doe and The Sadies cover on their album Country Club.
Roger Miller - Husbands and Wives.mp3
From: Live at the Birchmere, Alexandria, VA, Feburary 16, 1991.
Full disclosure: I pulled this track off of a wonderful live Roger Miller show posted on the A Truer Sound blog. Great show. You should listen to the entire thing!
Willie Nelson - Night Life.mp3
From: Revolutions of Time: The Journey 1975-1993 (1995 Box Set, out of print)
Rosanne Cash - I Still Miss Someone.mp3
Buy: Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash (2002)
Not the original, but this version by Johnny's daughter is my favorite. Vince Gill and Cheryl White sing background vocals, while Marty Stuart plays electric guitar.
The Sadies - Before I Wake.mp3
Buy: Tremendous Efforts (2001)
The original version was performed by Dallas Good with his mother Margaret singing the female part. Margaret returns on the updated version with lead vocals by John Doe.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Sonic Boom and The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
Thursday, April 30, 2009
You know how when you read a really good book, and then see the movie and the movie didn't quite live up to your love of the book? Or when you are at a restaurant and you eat some apple pie, but its not nearly as good as your mom's apple pie? Its not a completely fair comparison - your interpretation of a novel verses a director's film interpretation, or mass produced restaurant pies verses your mom's secret recipe. But you compare them nonetheless. This is sort of how I feel about The Sadies recoded music verses seeing The Sadies live. Yeah, their albums are good, but the records don't come close to the awesomeness that is a Sadies live show. Thus, I was uber excited that I got to see The Sadies with and without John Doe twice on Thursday, April 30, in Toronto.
I darted from work in the pouring rain to get to Sonic Boom for John Doe and The Sadies in-store show that evening, promoting their new album Country Club. Though my leather shoes were soaked through to my socks, it didn't stop my toe tappin' as Doe and the boys happily played through five songs from their new album. Doe was chatty and jovial , and his voice sounded terrific. In fact, in terms of country music, Doe's voice sounds a lot better live than on the record. The Sadies were a tight quartet as usual, with brothers Dallas and Travis Good singing backup in the places where women sang backup on the album (not that the boys sounded girly at all). Dallas rocked his killer electric guitar that has his name splayed over the fretboard, while Travis and Doe played acoustic guitars. The audience was thrilled, and as I looked around I spotted a smiley and drenched Greg Keelor in the corner sporting sunglasses and a yellow rain slicker. The performers mingled after the show, but I had to bolt home to change into dry clothes and forage for food before part two.
Sonic Boom (in-store) Mini Set
- I Still Miss Someone
- Husbands and Wives
- It Just Dawned on Me
- Stop the World and Let me Off
- Are the Good Times Really Over for Good
Photos by Ryan O'Shaughnessy from his photo blog.
The rained stopped in time for me to head over to the Horseshoe Tavern for the 10:30 start time. Local Toronto roots band The Pining was in the middle of their set when I arrived, and the crowd was so chatty that I could barely hear the all-woman quintet. I hate that! The crowd was an odd mix of people, including many in the over 50 age category who I am assuming were there to see John Doe. I overheard one man behind me say that he took two days off of work to drive to Toronto from Rochester, NY, just to see Doe and The Sadies.
I didn't know how the main act would proceed. The Horseshoe web site listed two sets, and I was hoping one of the sets would be The Sadies doing their original tunes. My hopes came true when the foursome took the stage and blasted into an hour set of 15-18 (I lost count) tracks of kick-ass surf, gospel, alternative, and instrumental rock, leaning heavily on their 2007 release New Seasons. By the end of the first hour I already had my $17.50 ticket price worth of entertainment. And there was more to come!
The Horseshoe Tavern
Set I - The Sadies
(Very rough set list because I don't know the names of all of the songs. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But its hard to concentrate on the show, drink beer, and keep a detailed set list all at the same time. I clearly need more practice.)
- Lay Down Your Arms - Stories Often Told (2002)
- First Inquisition, Pt. 4 - New Seasons (2007)
- Anna Leigh - New Seasons
- Higher Power - Pure Diamond Gold (1999) (Note: every time I see The Sadies, the audience always breaks out the wacky tobaccy during this song. No wonder Dallas referred to the crowd as "Delightful Crazy Bastards." I love Canadians.)
- What's Left Behind - New Seasons
- The Trial - New Seasons
- The Story's Often Told - Stories Often Told
- The 400 - Tales of the Rat Fink (2006)
- Ridge Runner Reel - Tremendous Efforts (2001)
- Tiger Tiger - Stories Often Told
Buy: Pure Diamond Gold (1999)
Buy: New Seasons (2007)
Buy: Tales of the Rat Fink Soundtrack (2006)
(Totally unrelated note: This is the soundtrack to the documentary on custom car legend Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, which was very coincidentally on cable (Bravo) the same night as the Horseshoe gig. The Sadies scored the film with original instrumentals and surf rock, and all of the songs on the album are named after clubs and bars where they have performed. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that The 400 is in Minneapolis, MN.)
Roughly 15 minutes after the first set, John Doe joined our heroes for a little hootenanny. "Warning, there will be country and western music tonight," he said. "Stage dive at your own risk." Unlike an X show from Doe's past, there was no stage diving here, but a lot of country wallowing and heartache taken mostly from the new Country Club album. Now this is what I hoped Country Club would sound like. High energy, soulful country. The Good brothers continued singing backup, but this time mixed up the instrumentation with Travis switching between fiddle and a couple of electric guitars, and Dallas swapping between two different electrics.
I was standing about six people deep from the stage, slightly to the left and closer to Travis. He had some bad-ass guitar solos. There were some guitar geeks in front of me with their mouths hitting the floor. I don't know anything about playing guitar, but Travis did some technique where he makes his electric sound a bit like pedal steel. The geeks in front of me said, "wow, that is really hard to do." Then they shook their heads and gawked in awe some more. And the Good bros got to sing lead on a few tracks that didn't make the Country Club cut. Travis sang the Jimmy Martin bluegrass standard "Free Born Man" while Dallas sang something slightly faster than the speed of sound (see track 11 on the set list). The audience was treated to a few songs from Doe's past, "The New World" from his days with X, and an amazing version of The Knitters "Call of the Wreckin' Ball." These tracks fit in perfectly with the country and/or western theme of the second set. Despite the potential for crying into one's beer due to the heartbreaking lyrics of many of the songs, it turned into a uplifting night of music from a punk legend and a fireball backing band.
Set II - John Doe & The Sadies
(mostly from Country Club except where noted)
- I Still Miss Someone
- It Just Dawned on Me
- Help Me Make it Through the Night
- Free Born Man - (Jimmy Martin Cover)
- A Fool Such as I
- Husbands and Wives
- The Losing Kind - John Doe, Black Snake Moan Soundtrack (2007)
- 'Til I Get it Right
- Stop the World and Let Me Off
- Take These Chains from My Heart
- Note: I have no idea happened here. Doe said, "Dallas, can you sing us a pretty one?" Then there was two minutes and thirty seconds of country spaz-rock. At the end Doe said, "That was pretty. Pretty fucking fast!" Holy crap.
- The Cold Hard Facts of Life
- Night Life
- Workin' Man's Blues (Merle Haggard Cover)
- The New World - X, More Fun In the New World (1983)
- Are the Good Times Really Over for Good
- Sudbury Nickel
- There Stands the Glass (Webb Pierce Cover)
- Call of the Wreckin' Ball - The Knitters, Poor Little Critter on the Road (1985)
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Note: I suck and I don't have any Tom Russell albums, so I peppered this post with other noted tracks. I just received an Amazon gift certificate, and guess what I am spending it on?
It's been six years since my brother Knut and I saw Tom Russell play a intimate set at Kafe K in Porsgrunn. That was back in 2003, and Tom had just released Modern Art (2003). Knut and I showed up with a friend of ours, we brought most of our records, and a stolen copy of Tom's novel Blood Sport for him to sign. Tom was playing with Andrew Hardin back then, and before the show we ran into them on street. We shook hands and talked, and I think Tom was surprised to meet such young fans. Tom put on a great show for us, he sang our requests, talked to us, signed all our records and the out of print copy of Blood Sport, witch I lifted from my high school library. Porsgrunn is nothing but a dirty little factory town in Telemark, but I have such fond memories from that November night back in 2003. That show is really special to me. Since then, I've missed a few chances to see Tom perform, so this time I got my tickets early.
Knut couldn't go. He had to stay home for different reasons, and that made this experience a little less fun. But, my good friend and band mate Frode didn't hesitate when I asked him to join me. At 09:30 am we boarded the train bound for Oslo at the Arendal train station. The shady Arendal train station made me realize how much I hate that town. I went to school there, and I work there, but I could never live there. I was glad to leave. The best way to prepare for a Tom Russell concert is by riding the rails. The conductor waved the flag, and we where out of there. I was thinking about Woody Guthrie in Tom Russell's song "Woodrow" as the train picked up speed and left that suffocating small town behind.
"Oh, the trains leave every morning, some go east and some go west
And the clacking of the iron is the sound you love the best."
This wasn't our great escape from railroad bulls or the Coney Island girl's. No, Frode and I were running from our day jobs, and our conformist lives. Two days off from work, two days away.
It took about 15 minutes to get out of Arendal. There is something funny about seeing your home pass by you from a train, or any kind of transportation really. Tom T. Hall knew it. "I Flew Over Our House Last Night." So, while looking at the farms and the open fields of Froland, my home, and driving through the deep dark woods of Vegårshei and Gjerstand and watching the green piny hills of Telemark open up before us, Frode and I discussed everything. It had been too long since last we talked. The daily grind will do that to you. You'll have to make time for friendship. We talked about our Martin guitars, we talked about folk/blues, literature, movies and off course our high hopes for the night's concert.
I Flew Over Our House Last Night.mp3
Buy: Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher (1995 Box Set)
Frode's knowledge of old history and politics amazes me. He is a classically trained guitar player. And he can pick up a guitar and play anything from old Irish laments, to British and American folk, to blues tunes. He is an expert on the British folk revival, and his heroes include Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones, Davy Graham, and John Renbourn, who we are seeing in Oslo this summer at Herr Nilsen, with another great guitar picker named Stephen Grossman. It took us about three and a half hours to get into Oslo, who before 1878 was named Kristiania. A town I both love and hate. Henrik Ibsen and Knut Hamsun both lived there. Hamsun wrote his novel Sult (Hunger)there. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson referred to Oslo as "the City of Tigers," "Tigerstaden." I like the renaming better, "Tiggerstaden," "The City of Beggars."
We took a taxi to Rosenkrantzgate and checked into the hotel. The hotel, Bondeheimen, opened back in 1913, is an old place. Knut Hamsun stayed there, Sigrid Undset too. We got a drink from the mini bar, left our bags at the hotel and hit the town. First we located Herr Nilsen. I'd never been there before. It is a medium sized blues club with a bar and a stage. We checked our watches and decided that we had at least five hours to kill before show time. We went outside and found a nearby restaurant. Frode had read about this place called "New Orleans Restaurant." It was in walking distance off both Boneheimen and Herr Nilsen. We decided to go for it.
We went in, sat down and let the beautiful waitress take our order. I ordered chicken gumbo for starters and the catfish with sweet mashed potatoes for my main course. It was perfect. They even played Guy Clark over the stereo. We had the place to ourselves for most of the time, but then at the end a busload of old tourists poured in and we didn't see our beautiful waitress again. Too bad.
When we had finished our meal we went prowling the book stores. I love Oslo for it's book stores and record shops. And I love the music halls too. It's the cultural center of Norway. We spent over an hour in one book store. We decided to go back to the hotel to get another drink and relax before the show.
The show was set to start at 21:00, we walked in around seven. We got ourselves a couple of Heinekens and found front row seats. It took about twenty minutes for the place to crawl with people. It was a good thing we came early. I had brought a few records for Tom to sign. Knut gave me his Tonight We Ride EP before I left and told me to get Tom to sign it. I also had my camera with me, but as it turned out, it's batteries were running low. Shit. I only got to take a few pictures.
We sat there for an hour, talking. I told Frode about the time in Porsgrunn when Tom walked up to us pointing his fingers at us like they were 45s and asked us if we "were looking for trouble." Off course Frode had heard this all before. I also told him how Tom wrote about Knut and I in his blog (Tom Russell's Blog). And said that meeting us was his highlight of that particular tour. I told him how Tom stood on stage, threatening to "come out there" if the drunks at the bar wouldn't shut up. He towered over us that night, saying stuff like, "Don't make me come back there you bastards! I'm the toughest guy in this joint. Me and Charles Bukowski!" I couldn't wait for the show to start. Our conversation was interrupted by an American. Carl, or Crazy Carl. He wanted to talk to us, mostly about his life. We had nothing better to do so we listened.
We drank some more beer and waited. The PA system played "Lay, Lady Lay." I was wondering if Tom would remember me. I didn't want to look like the fan boy in front of the stage who knew all the words to all his songs, because I'm getting to old for that. But I'm still that kid. I still obsess over Tom's song. I obsess over music in general. If there's a back story to a song, I want to know it. If there's a name of a town or a person in a song and I don't recognize it, I look it up. I'm still that 18-year-old fan boy I was back in 2003, and I couldn't wait to see Tom again.
Lay Lady Lay.mp3
Buy: Nashville Skyline (1969, reissued 2004)
Michael Martin walked on stage. He got his Martin and tuned it up. The lights didn't dim, Dylan didn't stop singing. It was still twenty minutes before Tom would walk on stage. Crazy Carl called Michael "Andrew." I turns out Crazy Carl didn't know that Tom had a new guitar player. Martin walked up to us, I asked him when the new Russell album would come out and if he played on it. He said it would be out in September, and "no", he "didn't play on it." "Tom wants to do something different on this album," he told us. He is working with Calexico, and he is recording at Wavelab studios in Tucson, Arizona. Frode and Michael talked about guitars for a bit, and I asked if I could take his picture.
Then Tom came out, he walked onstage wearing his hat, a big coat, and brown cowboy boots. He looked like a sophisticated wild man wearing those black and red framed glasses. Tom had to walk past me to get on stage. He looked right at me, and extended his hand. We shook. Frode smiled from ear to ear. I did too. Tom got up on stage, grabbed his beat up black Collings guitar and went to work. He towered over us again.
"Hello Oslo, it's good to be back. I want to start off with a little Leonard Cohen." Then he went right into "Tower of Song."
"I asked Hank Williams how lonely does it get." Tom knows his place. Watching him perform is something really special. His presence does not go unnoticed. It's the same presence my dad talked about when he talked about seeing Johnny Cash live. I'd felt it before,while watching Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Billy Joe Shaver perform.
Tower of Song.mp3
Buy: I'm Your Man (1988)
Tom didn't waste any time, he went right into "The Pugilist At 59" followed by "Ash Wednesday," both lifted from Love and Fear (2006).
He told us he wanted to do a cover, he wanted to sing a song by Townes Van Zandt. The crowd cheered. "Townes still owes me a hundred dollars," Tom said with a grin. Michael Martin pulled out the mandolin for this song and it was beautiful. Tom wanted us to sing along with the chorus, I couldn't help myself, so I sang along with the whole thing.
Tom wanted to play some new songs, and he sang "Guadeloupe." Tom closed his eyes and sang the last verse, and while doing so, left me in the dark hiding my tears.
"Here I am your ragged disbeliever
Old doubting Thomas drowns in tears
As I watched your church sink through the earth
Like a heart worn down through fear."
Gretchen Peters just recorded it on her new album One To The Heart, One To The Head (2009). I didn't connect with Tom's album Love And Fear that much, but I loved Hotwalker: Charles Bukowski & A Ballad for Gone (2005). I think Tom's forthcoming studio album Blood and Candlesmoke (to be released on September 22, 2009) will be a great return to form.
Tom thanked us in his frail Norwegian, "Tusen Takk." He used to live in Oslo. He and Andrew Hardin used to play all night sets in old beer cellars in Oslo back in the 80s, they used to run up and down Karl Johans gate to sober up before the gigs. Tom told us that the town had cleaned up since then. And that we were less wild and rugged.
"Drink more beer you bastards!"
Then he did another new one called "Nina Simone." I wanted to cry. I did. Then he played "Who's Gonna Build Your Wall," we all sang along. Tom said that back in the U.S. a lot of people didn't like the song. And that David Letterman didn't want him to sing that last verse about "White men in golf shirts, with cellphones in their ears."
"I sang it anyway," Tom said with a huge "eat shit and die" grin. We all cheered.
The sing along was great. The audience was having a blast, though some people kept yelling for older songs, and Tom seemed to want to play new stuff. He did "East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam," a new one about his year as a teacher in Africa. Tom talks about this song in his blog, and he told us almost the same story:
"I went to Nigeria, and came of age in the market places and bars of Ibadan, while the U.S. was landing a man on the moon. I was carving wood and musical dreams. It was a world of mosquito nets and oil burning motorbikes and cook fires and Ibeji carvings. And guns. It all went down… East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam."
He played a few more songs, "Stealing Electricity" and "Tonight We Ride," then took a break. He walked off stage. And his wife Nadine who had been watching the show from behind the bar came out and started selling T-shirts, CD's and books. I wanted to buy the new Tom Russell & Ian Tyson DVD but she only brought two copies and I didn't get there fast enough. I picked up the last copy she had of Tom's book Tough Company: A collection of letters from Charles Bukowski (2008). I also bought a Tom Russell Band Live CD, called Lost Angels of Lyon, Live: 1989 Lyon, France (out of print).
I talked to some really nice people. I talked to two wonderful girls. A mother and a daughter who were both huge Tom Russell fans. The daughter was only seventeen years old, and she had been listening to Tom since forever. She knew all the songs, and she wanted Tom to play "Blue Wing." Tom walked back on stage, and the first song he sang was "Blue Wing." We all sang along together. I didn't bother to return for my beer and my seat. I was standing in front. I yelled out for "Woodrow." Tom played it. He talked about Woody teaching Ramblin' Jack Elliot to play guitar, and how Ramblin' Jack (who was the best man at Tom's wedding) would stay up all night at Woody's place at Mermaid Avenue. They'd drink and play some guitar. And Woody would stagger off to bed while the kids got up and got ready for school. I sang along to the song. I thanked Tom when it was over.
Tom was in a great mood, and he joked with the audience. He kept calling us "you bastards!" He asked for a Redbull, "it's illegal here, right?" The bartender said, "it's legal now!" "Fuck it then! I was backstage doing meth for twenty minutes," Tom said in his "macho voice."
"You bastards better not try something, or I'll kick some ass up here!"
He wanted to play "Grapevine," but he couldn't remember it. Instead he took a request and played "Spanish Burgundy." Tom didn't forget anything else though. He played the new song "Santa Ana Wind" inspired by Joan Didion. He played "Walking On The Moon" and everybody sang along. Tom and Martin almost burned the house down with "Out in California," and let us cool down with another song he wrote with Dave Alvin called "California Snow."
He played a few more new songs and ended the show with "Gallo Del Cielo" and "Halley's Comet." He rocked the place. It was spectacular, people stomped their feet, clapped along, yelled the lyrics back at him and Crazy Carl was up on stage doing some fucking fire trick with some flammable paper that you can buy at magic shops (he showed us before the show) that he used to do back in his DJ days. It was crazy.
I went up to Tom right after the show. He looked at me and smiled, "Where is your brother? And which one are you again?" I told him I was Jan, and he told me it was great to see me again. I said that Knut had given me something for him to sign. I took out the limited edition of the Tonight We Ride EP, and Tom said, "Wow, you guys." He signed it, and told me to give my best regards to Knut and that he hoped Knut could come next time.
"I'm coming back next year," he said. I told him we'd be there. He singed my Bukowski book, and I showed him my camera and said, "I'd love to get a picture." He reached down his hand and said "get up here, you bastard!" He pulled me on the stage and put his arms around me. He told his wife, "This is Jan, he has a twin brother, they know ALL my songs." She smiled. And Tom shook my hand again and told me to come out next time.
I wanted to stay. I wanted to ask him about Bukowski, Dave Van Ronk, about Cormac McCarthy, Peckinpah, Dylan, film noir, Edward Abbey. But there wasn't time. More CD's to sign, more people to talk to. Maybe next time. I was happy, Tom remember me. That was enough for now. I didn't want to impose.
I found Frode, who had spent a lot of time trying to get away from Crazy Carl, but with no luck. He enjoyed the show, but got a little distracted by Crazy Carl, the ex-DJ turned magician. We said goodbye to some of the fans, I met the mother and daughter outside. We talked for a few minutes. Everybody was pleased. We could have talked for hours and maybe waited for Tom outside. We could have painted the town, but Frode and I talked our way back to the hotel. It was hot as hell, April 30 had turned into May 1st, International Workers Day. Everybody was drunk. A farm kid and a suburban kid seeking shelter. Keeping to the shadows, I kept thinking about Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, I was on guard. I could feel it. The tiger's were out tonight.