Before I write anything else, I’d like to note that Maria and I have updated the recording of Kids we posted online, as the old one was… of lesser quality. The link is here.
This past Tuesday (12.14.10), I played at the MeadowLark Open Stage in downtown Denver, after wrapping recording on a rather harried night Monday afternoon. Funnily enough, my voice decided to feel alright on the last two days – perhaps I’d gotten accustomed to the dog fur? Regardless, what you can all expect from me is an EP of seven originals and a live album of nineteen covers. They’ll come out… Soon™ (Blizzard). If you didn’t get that you’re not as geeky as I am. That’s not hard. If you did, let me know, eh? I just arrived home in Gainesville for the holidays, so I’m leaving the mixing in the very capable hands of Maria.
Back to the MeadowLark. I’m an extremely awkward person in Bars and Cafes and such – especially when I know no one. This didn’t change when I walked in. I basically wandered about looking lost till I found out where the sign up sheet was from another loner looking type named Paul. No one’d signed up before him and I wasn’t eager to do so myself – I ended up fifth in the list and tried to settle down for my turn. While we waited for the organizers to set up mics and things I whiled away the time with a drawing of Paul.
He later told me he moved often intentionally, since he knew I was drawing him. Cheeky bastard. After his three song set – soft muted vocals murmured directly into the mic and big strumming patterns on his guitar, no eye contact with the audience – in short your general singer/songwriter type deal – great guitar playing in chord choice, bad sense of balance and cheesy lyrics, I wandered over to his seat admit that I indeed drew him, earlier. This sparked a little conversation with him and a couple who’d joined the table, so I joined happily and voila. Allies!
Next up the fabulous, soulful Teresa Storch originally hailing from Boston, MA stole the stage. After my set I’d find out she’d been a professional busker there for a number of years. She’d offer me wonderful advice on booking gigs and the like – recommending me to plant myself in more cafes than bars. I agreed. Her three song set consisted of two originals sandwiching a Patti Griffin cover. Her guitar playing flew naturally with strange funky chords. Her voice never seemed strained – deep and rich and cheerfully painful. She’d smile at the audience, look some of us in the eye… I was captivated. There’s just something about female singer/songwriters that males like myself can never approach. Some certain magic and confidence to them.
A small mousy Indian-American man followed her with a truly painful set of songs from his upcoming demo, the release party of which he pitched at the beginning. He’d set up his pickup all wrong such that a sharp high pitched squeak emitted from the speakers with each upstroke. He also had a habit of swaying out in time to his music perpendicularly to the guitar, closer and farther from the mic so that he’d blow it out when he sang close and be inaudible on the opposite end of the pendulum. The sound was so awful that Paul, Mary, Jacob and I took our leave for a “smoke break” midway through the second song.
He was followed by Minneapolis-based A Night in the Box. They intimidated me greatly. I’m almost never very nervous for being on stage, but the bigness of their sound and hugeness of their energy level and professionalism put me off. They played acoustically right up off the stage in the area between that and the bar, walking around and engaging the audience to clap and the like. I didn’t find them very talented musically, but what they lacked there they more than made up for in energy level. The lead singer’s voice was completely blown (or rather, he couldn’t sing nearly as high as he attempted to) but you forgave that because of how hard he was trying and how much bounce and life the band gave. Four people – a violinist, a banjo player/drummer/tambourine-man, a mandolin player/harmonica player and, and the lead singer/guitarist. They sang six songs per an agreement with the establishment, as they were to headline a show the next night. Playing mostly traditional bluegrass music that utilizes the same melody and chords and relies on shouting and participation and density of sound, they owned the crowd. At the end, the lead singer stood on a chair belting at the top of his lungs while the others stomped in time and sang a capella style on the stage behind.
I quivered on the way up to the stage for my set. I’d chosen From Dawn to Busk, Squirrel Song and Stamsund for my turn. A distinctly lower energy, simpler sound type deal. I framed it a short explication of my journey. I engaged the audience by looking at them, speaking to them despite my nervousness… but at the end of the night I don’t think they really dug me. They cheered after my first song, but after that they started talking a lot amongst themselves. By the last song I felt crushed. Stamsund is a song that’s so important to me. It’s my best. Interactions like this are the reason it’s so hard for me to sing my own songs on the street. That feeling that you’re giving something of yourself – something bare and real and no one’s listening, no one cares. Like a Jook Songs performance where people laugh at your sadness or disregard your triumphs. Something of a rejection of me.
Perhaps people needed to talk after remaining silent for A Night in a Box’s long set. Perhaps – and this I noticed to be true after I sat back and listened – I only noticed the high level of conversation for my own set, since others dealt with high noise levels, too, and I noticed so well because I spoke between my songs – a time of low volume from me that couldn’t cover up the chatting. To compound the rejection, however, the duo, MiracleMan, that followed me met with large applause and cheers for their “songs.” A thin Thom Yorke doppelganger played head down, hair in the eyes muttering Ramstein esque nonsense babble into a mic while a Dresden Doll type girl banged nonsensically at the drums – replacing finesse with sheer force – and screamed ear piercing atonal shit into her mic. Then they switched and the girl wore a guitar she didnt play while screaming into the upright mic while the guy banged even harder on the drums to no apparent rhythm. It felt like a personal insult.
Apologies for the quality. This should just give a sense.
I stayed for two more performances so as to hear my new friends Mary and Jacob as Cobary Jam. Micah, he singer before them seemed a copy of Glen Hansard – beard and propensity to sing low verses and high, loud passionate choruses, svelte, good natured. Then Cobary Jam. I’m glad I ended the night with that note. They were positively excellent, matching each other very well with a wonderful combined sound that convinced me once again that I’m half of a duo waiting for my other half. The other half that can sing while I write and do backup harmonies – that can strum while I finger pick or solo on the violin. Where are you?
Before my walk through sketchy downtown Denver back to the bus stop, Night in a Box asked me for advice busking downtown, which I happily provided. I suppose I am something of an expert on the vocation, now.
Song of the Day: From Dawn to Busk – Terrence Ho