Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Are You A Culture Maker?

It was called a pre-birthday show even though the day is a month from today.

And just to be clear, it only became that once the subject of May come up and I said I liked to spend much of it in an extended birthday celebration.

And if anything was going to kick off a birthday celebration appropriately for me, it was with live music at my neighborhood record store.

Upstairs in the loft at Steady Sounds and ready to play was Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird.

We waited until we had critical mass - as many audience members as band members.

People continued to trickle in as JV&SB played what has become the most beautifully full-sounding Americana being played in these parts.

Josh's cello and clarinet plus Paul's horn add such aural richness to the guitar, accordion and voice talents of Jonathan and Antonia (deep blue dress and grooviest 60s belt ever)

Before they'd begun playing, they'd asked for requests and I'd jokingly said "happy songs" knowing full well there's no such thing with JV&SB.

If I'd been honest and not smart-mouthed, I'd have asked for "Match Made in Heaven" because of the heartfelt romantic lyrics and Antonia's vox saw.

There is no one I know of in this town who can bend her voice to that sound like she can.  It's truly a thing of beauty.

And they played it without me even asking.

At the end of their set, Jonathan said, "Happy Pre-Birthday" and a friend leaned over and whispered, "Happy birthday 2013."

Never leave for next year what you can do today.

Let me just reiterate: at no point was tonight about my birthday, which is a solid month away.

Following them was Ed Askew, considered an acid folk legend and former recluse who apparently had two brilliant albums and then disappeared.

But even while out of the public eye, he kept making music. He's finally been rediscovered and reissued and is back on tour, luckily for us.

He looked like an old hippie, he sounded exactly like a 60s-era folksinger (intonation, vocal stylings, subject matter) and he was a character.

You know a guy is real when he loosens his belt before a show. That's all I'm saying.

Making self-deprecating age jokes in between songs, he seemed to be genuinely getting into performing.

He had an array of mouth harps and played them skillfully; I sneaked glances of Jonathan watching him play.

It might have even been a grasshopper moment.

Most interesting of all for me was hearing songs from his early albums written in the late 60s and early 70s  with lots of eye references, lots of ship imagery, lots of joints.

So here were young man lyrics (often my favorite kind for their angst and impassioned qualities) coming out of an old man's face and body.

But his words.

It was a fascinating dichotomy.

After his set accompanied on banjo and keyboard by two bandmates, he took questions from the audience about the arc of his career.

I have to admire someone still so compelled to write and record as much music as he does.

But it was definitely like being transported to another time and place when music was very different (a time when all the girls had belts as cool as Antonia's).

For the second time in three days, I could have imagined snapping my fingers in applause.

And then for something completely different to close out our loft show, we heard Pull My Daisy, an electronic noise project duo with video.

With a piano score composed by the banjo player and him occasionally playing banjo live, tonight's experience was called "Midnight Suggestion" and was an improvised score to an improvised video.

The way I see it, if my pre-birthday kickoff involves one of my favorite local bands, an acid folk legend and electronica on a Monday night, it's looking to be a pretty groovy birthday season.

Practically a match made in heaven.


  1. Loved this... perfect for my morning coffee and a banana cake slice.

    You're good kiddo.