Tuesday, May 22, 2012

let it live

I’ll be short and sweet.
I was at the Birchmere on Friday for Justin Townes Earle and Tristen – after walking the Delray neighborhood for dinner and wine. It was solo date; it happens. Yes, I said wine. I did manage a pitcher of Shiner for the show.
My view on opening acts is well known, perhaps unfair, perhaps not. I have discovered two of my favorite bands via the opening act protocol: The Tarbox Ramblers (opening for Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men), and Erin McKeown (opening for the Be Good Tanyas).  In the grand scheme it’s a small percentage of success, but credit where credit is due.
Tristen ranks right up there on my list. I was a bit tentative at first, like some of her songs, but she brought me around quickly. Apropos of the last paragraph, she reminds me of a combination of Erin McKeown and Martha Berner. It’s not a perfect analogy, but close. The thing about her live songs is that she never leaves you hanging when you don’t want to be hanging. I’m a well-documented pop whore, and there are endless performances and songs that never get to the top of the hill; they sort of dick around the plateau and get stuck at altitude. Tristen can start out a slow motor, like my favorite song, Inaction, and suddenly deliver the goods while she ramps up to the peak in a very cool combination of orchestra, pop, and (sometime) growling.  That song process and performance style is a recurring theme for her and the band and it was enticing. I grabbed her CD, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, between sets and it’s been well worth the price through a weekend of cooking and music.
Justin Townes Earle more than met my expectations. I first saw him with his dad and aunt in London in 2001 at the Beyond Nashville Festival. I’m pretty sure that when he came out at 19 he did about four songs before surrendering the stage to Stacey, and eventually, Steve. They all came back and did a few songs together at the end – and I’m almost sure he did this song which is still one of my all-time favorites, and ended up on the Just An American Boy CD a few years later. I know, a long story. Eleven years, an EP, and four full-length CDs have passed and his talent is in full bloom. His newest CD, Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, is as good as it gets. At 10 songs and just over 30 minutes it’s short, tight, and sweet; his roll through almost every song from it, combined with the rest of his catalog, during his 100 minute set was a thing of beauty. The highlight? His acoustic blast through Lightin’ Hopkins’ I Been Burning Bad Gasoline.  I won’t ever claim to know what from what, but I’ve seen hundreds of shows in my life and I have little doubt the JTE is one of the best guitar players ever. Jesus.  His four-piece band was perfect, his storytelling was engaging, his singing is solid gold, and he had the crowd full of musical joy. Hearing him roll through all the songs I love so much was a treat. If you ain’t on the JTE bandwagon, you're missing one of the great artists rolling around America. Get to it.
Here’s a great recording from a live show in 2010:
And because I can; unless I’m mistaken that’s Bryn Davies playing bass. Man, I love her – saw her playing with Patty Griffin a few years ago:

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