Monday, October 12, 2009

A Psychedelic Presence Shining in the Park

In the chill of an early October morning, dark except for the glow of streetlights and their reflections on the low-hanging clouds spitting rain above, a vehicle navigates its way through the desolate streets. Its headlights peel back the night before it, as it passes a hedgerow on one side and a burnt out lamp on the other. Suddenly (as is always the case) a small brown rabbit leaps from the hedge, looking to make it safely to the other side of the street. It swiftly penetrates the cone of light before the vehicle, and, in that moment, frightened and naturally skittish, it realizes that the large black tires of the vehicle are about to crush it. In a split second, it redirects its course just enough to avoid being pancaked, but its back leg has been caught. The momentum of the wheel spins the rabbit up and over, around at a blink-of-an-eye speed. It lands flat on its chest and rolls away from the car. It hops, at first, back toward the hedge, then, realizing that is not its intended destination, it again turns abruptly and zigzags across the street. Safely in the grass, it surveys the damage: a broken leg, broken ribs, probably some internal damage. The prognosis is not good.

Is the moral of this story that we should stay committed to our intentions, even if it means getting crushed under the balding treads of fate? After all, the rabbit’s end is the same—perhaps quicker under the tire than panting in the grass. Or is the moral that we should look both ways before we cross? Is it that speed kills, or that a five pound rabbit has little chance to survive an encounter with a 1000 pound vehicle?

Whatever the metaphor, Matt Bauer might not only see it for what it is, but he’d most likely turn it into an atmospheric song for voice and free time banjo.

Opening for Jolie Holland last night at the Waiting room, Bauer and banjo (or guitar) lulled the audience into attentiveness with an achingly earnest voice and minimalist fingering that sketched metaphor after metaphor involving buffalo, horse, fox, and mouse, alike. Joined for three numbers by Holland and her musical partner Grey Gerston, Bauer’s fleshed out compositions were no less starkly beautiful. And Holland got into the animal act by regaling the small crowd with an amusing joke about two whales sitting in a bar.

Bauer finished his set solo, then thanked the crowd for listening. Unlike many openers, he’d captured the attention of the crowd for his entire set (except for the sloppily drunk quartet in the corner who had lost the ability to modulate their voices at all); this may have been a function of his imposingly shaved head or his fiercely long beard, but, most likely, it was his heartfelt songs, his dancing cascades (or soporific drones) of notes , and his Bonnie Prince Billy-like ability to tell a story of rending from which we can not turn our ears.

After a brief pause for Gerston to tune a few instruments and stock the stage with water and wine, the headliner took the stage—just she and her musical mate—to play a languid and low-key set. The musicians had driven themselves from Denver, where they played the night before, and they looked a bit road weary, but the endearingly partisan crowd was full of encouragement. The set list, about an hour-long, included “Littlest Birds,” “Goodbye California,” “Old-fashioned Morphine,” “Alley Flowers,” and a few others, old and new. In addition, Holland played a cover of David Dondero’s “Real Tina Turner,” and a pair from Michael Hurley (one of which Gerston took the vocal lead on).

While Grey Gerston moved easily from solid-body to hollow-body to bass guitars, Holland was doing the same, as she occasionally laid her beautiful flat black Epiphone down to scratch beautifully on a uniquely-shaped fiddle. The instrumental variation aside, the key instrument to the evening was Holland’s voice, a slurry, sultry, trembling trademark that sounds less like it comes from her lungs than directly from her heart. And last night, despite the bone- and road-weariness, Holland’s voice sounded flawless. She has a sweet gift.

As well, she seems a sweet human being. In between songs, as she tuned her guitar, Holland mentioned that last time she was through town someone had given her a bracelet. “Kim?” she asked to the crowd. There, two rows back, Kim raised her hand. Holland was still wearing the bracelet. And, as can happen at some shows, this sweet exchange stayed a constant.

As Holland stumbled twice through the beginning bars of “The Future,” a song she clearly doesn’t play often live (and is played originally on piano—not guitar), but was, she said, “A request,” the crowd was at its most snuggly sweet. Holland apologized, only to be greeted from a shout from the crowd.

“That’s okay—just more show for us!”

Holland finished up her set and thanked the crowd for being “so freaking sweet.” After whale jokes, smoked-honey-dripping melodies, and earnest musical gaffes, the crowd had the same to say about her.

1 comment:

La Fashionista said...

It sounds like this was a soulful, excellent show. Good to hear about it!

Anon AMVB