Last night, an average Tuesday in Denver, I got to see a dazzlingly terrific show from Nada Surf at the Bluebird Theater, followed by a surprise open mic with Leon Bridges at the Goosetown Tavern across the street on Colfax.
Not my least favorite Tuesday.
Nada Surf is a power pop band that a lot of people squint a little when you mention the name, cock their heads and then sing a line of the song “Popular,” which folks remember from the summer of 1996. People should definitely know that Nada Surf has continued to write and create deeply wonderful music in the years since, getting a hundred times better than that (kitsch, fun) song.
[Lucky was a favorite of 2008 and still remains super high on my list of tremendous albums]
Their strengths lie in gorgeous harmonies and really intelligent songwriting, much of which plumbs the complicated depths of grown-up life, but through a power pop filter that I find super satisfying. (read my old interview with Matthew Caws here)
After a set that ran the gamut of old songs and new (we got “Blonde on Blonde” in honor of Dylan’s birthday, did a sweet two-step sway to “Inside of Love,” and man oh man that closing rendition of “See These Bones,” which just builds and builds to perfect glory) — here’s how we ended the show, all singing along together blissfully, before my phone ran out of memory (shakes fist):
Blizzard of ’77 final encore
Sweaty and fully sated from the glow of Nada Surf, my friend and I meandered across the street for some last drinks. As we nursed our glasses, a friend at the end of the bar stood up and said he was heading to Goosetown Tavern next door: “Leon Bridges is playing open mic.”
I nodded–and then did a double-take: “wait, what did you say?!”
Leon is in town to play the gorgeous historic Paramount Theater tomorrow night (it appears to be sold out), but last night as we walked in to a not-crowded bar, he was just sitting at the bar with his band waiting for their chance to go on for the regular Tuesday night open mic.
After his (on fire!) opener Solo Woods played a three-song set, Leon took the tiny stage with his saxophonist and drummer. He played one song solo acoustic, two songs with the band (“Better Man” and “Lisa Sawyer,” which he said was about his mama), and then, following the enthusiastic cheers that filled our small back room (duh), he came back up for a solo encore of a new song.
I chatted with Leon for a while, he is very affable and kind; the whole thing was low key and awesome. The musicians seemed to be enjoying it as much as we all did, just playing songs for the fun of it for the fifty or so people who happened to be in the bar.
Better Man 1
Better Man 2
Lisa Sawyer (about his mama, which I never knew)
All in all: an A+ five star Tuesday, would do again.
This has been a rough, frigid, silent weekend in Colorado Springs, you guys.
There’s a sadness hovering in me and around me, temporarily pushing me under fuzzy blankets inside secure houses for protection against the glaring bleak evil that exploded Friday just a few minutes from my house, at a place that has always been a source of wonderful, empathetic care for me.
The music of Kevin Large, who plays under the name Widower, has been a delicate balm that I’ve been playing on repeat these last few days as the snow falls. I’m appreciative for that beauty.
Kevin writes literary songs that are often laced with a lovely uncertainty, an earnestness that he tries to convey using just the right string of alliterative language (“telltale tequila tears in a taxicab” is still one of my favorites). There’s no artifice with him, only thoughtful contemplation and a shining heart. So, it’s just what I needed this weekend.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #35: WIDOWER
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
June 15, 2014
Almost, Always, All Yours
I have always loved the sweet loss in this song, the sense of being so damn close and trying so hard but still overshooting it, or undershooting–missing what we were hoping for, in any case.
It stopped me cold the first time I heard it, during the grey winter weeks I spent listening to his Fool Moon album over and over again in rainy Portland, on buses and trudging through puddles in the streets during a grad school residency. I wrote: there’s this gorgeous hesitancy woven through this record, and nowhere do I hear it more than in the final song ‘Almost, Always, All Yours’ — because really — when are we ever completely anyone’s?
Your Copy of Catcher In The Rye
This is a new song from Kevin’s new Dark Blue EP, just released last month. I love the deep exhalation that Kevin lets out into that echoey church before he starts singing. Here we go. I hear this as a song about a breakup, a re-dividing into two the stuff that was just ours, but more than that, about a kind of silent, steely fear:
when the fire in your heart’s just another false alarm
and you feel you’re fading away and the focus is lost
it’s all my fault
it’s a stiff, it’s a still-life, it’s framed and hanging in the hallway
always there when I close my eyes
and I may be paraphrasing, but it frightens me at night
like a taxidermied sparrow’s wing, sparkling in the light
Exit For Eden
The second new song Kevin played– missing the exit for Eden and keeping on going towards whatever the new reality is that rests ahead. Every room’s got a view, if you just open up your eyes. Video here.
Other than maybe the Cyndi Lauper cover, this is one of the last artists I would have thought that I’d hear covered in the chapel. And yet Kevin manages to take a pogoing youth anthem from 1997 and distill all the sadness right up to the top, turning this into something wistful.
Oh Catherine, My Catherine
The intricacy of this melody has always been mesmerizing to me, and in addition to the telltale tequila tears in a taxicab lyric I mentioned earlier, this one also has some lovely turns like “my long-stemmed loneliness your beck and call / we were roadside roses, we were record rainfall.” Wonderful. Video here.
[Recorded on the gorgeous Blue Microphones. Audio wizardry, recording, and mixing time donated by the Bourgal brothers at Blank Tape Records, as always, and video and photography from the supreme Kevin Ihle. Thanks for being part of creating these special sessions.]
I feel a change in the weather
I feel a change in me…
A decade ago today, I sat at my kitchen table on my pink Dell laptop in my new hometown of suburban Colorado Springs and I started writing a new blogspot called “I Am Fuel, You Are Friends,” named after a favorite Pearl Jam song. I never thought more than a handful of people would read it, but I had things I wanted to say that were withering in the silence of my kitchen.
And so I decided to write. For me, for music, for you, even though I didn’t know you yet.
Days are getting shorter
and the birds begin to leave
Even me, yes yes y’all
who has been so long alone
I’m headed home
It’s ten years (and almost ten million pageviews?!) later, and I am so far now from where I was then. You’ve all been the best part of that long road, hands down. These last few weeks as the leaves change in Colorado, I’ve been listening to a lot of the new Josh Ritter album, Sermon On The Rocks. The parts of life that were withering ten years ago are growing in golden and full. The lyrics throughout this post are from his perfect song of homecoming, which has become my anthem in this season.
Lift the valley from the floor honey
little town into the sky
they’ll say that it’s a miracle
and you’ll know damn well they’re right…
Yesterday morning as the sun rose, I was driving along under golden branches that line my street and listening to Josh Ritter sing about his homecoming. I realized that this has been a sweet season for me of coming somewhat unexpectedly to a home within myself. I know Josh has been through similarly rough seas in the last few years, and this record is one where we both sing along to the idea of seeing land, of finding home.
I realized with a start that this is what I wished for a decade ago when I named this blog, even though I didn’t know it yet: Will myself to find a home, a home within myself; we will find a way. All of a sudden, I realized I’d found it — and I’d found it in the gratitude, in refusing to abandon wonder.
Nights are getting colder now
the air is getting crisp
I first tasted the universe on a night like this
So, I’m writing this from a different kitchen table, in a different house, and I am aware of how full it is to bursting. Full with the sound of clocks ticking from different rooms tracking the avalanche of a gift of moments. I hear the coffee pot whooshing quietly and the baseboard heaters gently clinking as they fill my house with warmth, with comfort. This morning I sat in the glowing dawn and stroked the still-soft cheek of my twelve year old son who is getting bigger every minute, I realized the overwhelming sweetness of living every moment as if it is the last time you get to do it. I wondered what the last time was that I picked him up and held him in my arms before he got too big.
I feel a change in the weather; I feel a change in me.
I also want tell you about how this has been a year of reconciliation for me, because I think it’s important to suture up hurts from old wounds and letting them heal. In March I was in Buenos Aires to visit a university program there and I found myself in the company of a wonderful human named Fede who has been reading this blog since back in 2006–almost the very beginning. He first found me through a Google search on Pearl Jam lyrics, and after almost a decade of following my meanderings from a different continent, he welcomed me to his city as more of a longtime friend than a tourist.
As we walked around that vibrant, gorgeous city of Buenos Aires that expansive Saturday, we kept talking about Pearl Jam, each knowing all the same details before the other person even finished the beginning of the sentence. We mused about specific live renditions of songs, the precise date of our first times seeing the band (11/4/95 and 10/25/2005, respectively) and what the first song they played at that show was, Ten Club Christmas singles album art, and the relative merits of their different drummers. We both remembered what Stone and Jeff were wearing in that picture Rolling Stone published during the Department of Justice hearings over Ticketmaster (pink button-down, backwards hat, dopey looks).
Drive east of Eden
’til we’d start to feel the west
we were never far from nowhere
you could see it from the edge…
Maybe it was just the liminality inherent in travel, but that was a wide-open day of different perspective for me. We sat at a cafe by the river and the conversation drifted towards the topic of anger in the world in general. “I don’t believe in anger anymore,” Fede mused in his soft voice. “I don’t know the point of it.”
I confess, you guys: I’ve been darkly angry and hurt for years about the falling out I had with Pearl Jam (or more accurately their management). It’s been years of letting a little sharp hard pebble of being wronged sit in my gut and burrow in and fester. At the time that all happened, I felt justified in my indignation because I really believed that fan enthusiasm was valuable and inherently good, and mine felt rejected — sealed with a legal cease and desist order. And that stunk. I felt small and maltreated in some other substantial areas of my life too at that point, and so the whole Pearl Jam debacle just got tangled up in the stinging sandstorm.
But I started thinking about Fede’s comments about anger as we walked, and the futility of it all, especially as we get older. As both of us ate helado and glowed to talk about the songs that we have both flowered up towards for so long, I remembered all the reasons why I loved Pearl Jam in the first place, the fervent and pure sentiments that made me want to name this blog after their song lyrics. They have played a huge role in my life, in my formation, in my musical raison d’être. And so in one very specific moment this spring, walking down a narrow Buenos Aires street, I decided to reconcile with Pearl Jam. I’ve carried that pebble of indignation around long enough, I don’t even recognize it anymore.
Fede and I made plans for me to find a copy of Cameron Crowe’s PJ20 documentary once I got back to Colorado (since I hadn’t seen it), and to watch together on FaceTime with a bottle of red wine each. As we watched the documentary, all my synapses blissed out. I was reminded of who I had been. I sang all the words, and remembered songs I hadn’t thought of in years. It may have been the entire bottle of Argentinian Malbec in me, but towards the end I cried.
The reconciliation, the homecoming, felt really good.
I’m winding up new posts on this blog (after we share the last couple of wonderful chapel sessions) and I don’t want to go out with jagged edges; I don’t want to go out with any part small and bitter. I’ve found more connection and open-hearted joy and insight through the process of writing this blog for the last ten years than I ever could have imagined. I found my voice here (in a million important ways), and I feel profoundly fortunate to have gotten to share music that I love with you. We’ve been illuminated together, I hope — stars against the dark of cynicism.
Fuel/Friends gave me the means, and now the amends have been made. The fiery gyre that I felt chewing up my insides a decade ago, as my big, bright thoughts about music fell silent into the abyss, has ceased– and been replaced by a flourishing community of flesh-and-blood people that I tend to talk to more with my voice these days instead of my keystrokes. I may write every now and then in the future, but I feel like the time when I needed it is more distant every day, and I’m turning inward, coming home to myself.
Would you leave me a comment if you have a story about your engagement with Fuel/Friends from these last ten years that I don’t know? Writing into the ether is liberating and lovely, and also often anonymous. Some of my most worthwhile moments of the last decade have been connecting with all the beautiful individual humans who have listened and read along all these years.
I want to say thank you for — igniting things that matter along with me, for collectively recognizing the beauty and magic in music all around us, and for being friends.
It’s OK (Dead Moon cover) – Pearl Jam
“Sing loud ’cause it’s outside / sing loud ’cause you’re still alive.”
Virginia Beach, August 3, 2000
The air is getting colder now
the nights are getting crisp
I first tasted the universe on a night like this
Stay tuned for information about the final Fuel/Friends Chapel Session recording, which you are all invited to, and the Fuel/Friends Last Waltz concert that night — bringing together as many chapel session alums as want to make the journey out to Colorado. Spring 2016. Let’s do this right.
Forty years ago, Bruce Springsteen released Born To Run. It took me thirty more years or so to discover the album for myself, and I came to love it first through hearing stripped-down versions of the songs that I grew up saturated with as radio hits. When I think about my earliest experiences with songs that I first dismissed, I’m reminded of the wonderful Josh Ritter lyrics: “Radio waves are coming miles and miles, bringing only empty boats / whatever feeling they had when they sailed somehow slipped out between the notes.” Because Springsteen’s songs and videos were everywhere when I was a kid, singing about things I hadn’t felt yet, I dismissed them as someone else’s songs from someone else’s more bombastic narrative and not mine.
And then maybe ten years ago, I accidentally (yup) downloaded this kismet-laced acoustic version of “Born To Run” that for the first time in my life made me stop and really listen, really hear all of the beautiful dusty sadness in the song that I’d always missed. That cracked open his entire oeuvre for me; you can hear the heart of the song so much better when it’s stripped down to its aching ribs.
I don’t care what you think you think about Springsteen;
YOU MUST LISTEN:
Eight years ago as part of a series for WXPN in Philly, I posted one of my favorite (young, hungry) live recordings from Springsteen, the iconic Main Point show from 1975, along with Jon Landau’s equally epic piece of music writing about the show, Growing Young With Rock and Roll, which starts with the lines:
“It’s four in the morning and raining. I’m 27 today, feeling old, listening to my records, and remembering that things were diffferent a decade ago.”
Here is a re-up of that show, from right around the time that Born To Run was being recorded (including an early version of what would become “Thunder Road,” with one of the starkest, prettiest bridges I’ve heard in that song). It’s a show that my friend Bruce Warren of WXPN, who was there, calls “one of [Springsteen's] greatest shows ever,” and I concur.
It’s one of the truest I’ve heard, still.
“Tonight’s busting open and I’m alive.”
After the very first performance of Nathaniel Rateliff with the fiery soul-saving Night Sweats in 2013, I knew that I had just witnessed something electric and exceptional that struck a chord in me and everyone else in attendance that night at the Bluebird.
“My cheeks flushed all red, my friend Andrew and I just kept looking at each other with jaws dropped. As those horns wailed, the piercing songwriter troubadour (and chapel session alum) was reborn as a writhing, kicking soul singer with a seven-piece band behind him. As I surveyed the room, there was a similar look of pure joy on everyone’s faces, as Nathaniel yowled and yelled like a man possessed.”
I can’t seem to embed it, but if you already watched it, watch it again.
I happened to be in NYC that night and got to watch it from a bar with the band, all of us singing along and clapping our hands with an assortment of friends and strangers – but even if I had been at home in my living room, I would’ve been singing along all the same. You can’t help it.
I’ve been listening to the debut album Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (due out tomorrow August 21, on the inimitable Stax Records imprint) pretty much non-stop this summer, as anyone who has come over to my place for a BBQ or a taken a mini-roadtrip with me can attest. After listening so much to all the demo versions of many of these songs since 2013, I was wondering how the full album would capture the raw joy and terrific energy of their live show. I think they did it, guys, through working with the wonderful producer Richard Swift (The Shins, Damien Jurado), and leaving a lot of space for fiery joy on the record. The album feels the way that first performance felt, and I think that’s why people responded to the Tonight Show appearance as they did. It is irresistible.
Michael Hann at The Guardian nailed it in his terrific long piece on the band: “For now though, this is the stuff that’s reminding me how much joy music can offer. These are the shows at which I’m feeling unselfconscious and ready to cut loose. These are the shows played by people who sound like they’re making music because it’s bursting out of them. And sometimes that, rather than something that confronts the desperate heart of modern life, is what the soul craves.”
Hey, PSSSST Denver! You have two very special chances to see Nathaniel Rateliff in small South Broadway venues, to celebrate the release of this terrific album!
Both shows will benefit Denver’s Youth On Record music center, and since these are pretty small venues, the tickets will sell out quickly. They go on-sale in a few hours here on Nathaniel’s website.
Saturday, August 29 – come dance with me and Nathaniel (it’s all in the hips) at the Belly Up in Aspen.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats are in the middle of a massive tour all around the U.S. and Europe, from now until almost the end of 2015. Chances are good that they’ll be somewhere near you; chances are great that you will be flush-cheeked ecstatic if you go.
The inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in Wisconsin this past weekend was one of my favorite music festivals I have ever been to. I went because of the absolutely ridiculous lineup, hand-curated by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National), and was floored by the community spirit, constant collaboration of musicians I love, and air of joy that permeated the festival.
I was dancing too hard to get any good photo or video, but they were tremendously good live, all their songs taking on new color and sounding somehow even better than on the album– especially when they were joined by the No BS! Brass Band, who delightfully showed up on stage and in the crowd at all the most wonderful times during the festival.
It also made me so happy to see Justin Vernon standing sidestage for most of their set, singing along and thumping on his chest; that’s one of the best feelings to see something you’ve booked and worked to make happen finally set off rolling:
After traversing the lush green forest path between stage areas (happily), I arrived to hear a completely reworked version of “I Am Not Waiting Anymore,” a deep deep favorite of mine. Even re-envisioned as a faster, more rollicking alt-countrified tune, it still gets deep in my gut every time–the word structure, the evocation. The songs they played off Marigolden, the new record, were also incredible in the live setting. Chris writes songs that are so real and honest, in the lyrical content, in the potency of delivery. They’re unflinching, and I like that.
Okay, so — new to me, because I’ve been slow on the uptake lately: Sylvan Essoholy shit completely blew my hair back (not literally because it was ten thousand degrees + humid and my hair was a giant damp frizzball of drippy sweat, even moreso dancing under the tent for their set).
Amelia Meath of Mountain Man (and also one of the busier guest performers of the festival, singing also with Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook) and Nick Sanborn of Megafaun make rich, haunting, shimmery confections of eminently danceable music together. AND AMELIA MOVES LIKE THIS, while wearing (not pictured) 4-inch platform shoes and singing like a complete badass:
I fell in love. I bought the full album immediately and am praying for enough hot summer lazy days left to listen to it on nonstop repeat.
(also check out the super cool Song Exploder podcast about the roots and guts and words of this song, which made me like them even more)
They delivered a set that was even more tightly furious and darkly melodic than I’d seen in a while from them. Matt seemed especially electrified, as he paced and screamed (and they performed both “Abel” and “Mr. November”?!), and then leapt into a crowd that I feared might actually consume him during “Terrible Love” (I confess to a hearty clasping of his arm when the eddy of the sweaty crowd shoved him into my orbit).
Also, because of the massive group of friends assembled as co-performers on the bill of the weekend, the set contained some pretty incredible guests.
YOU GUYS JUSTIN VERNON SANG ON “SLOW SHOW”:
(even though Matt had to publicly chastise him for wearing shorts; this is a classy band, man!)
Sufjan came out for several songs; here singing “Afraid of Everyone” with Matt:
After severe weather sirens going off at 2:30am in the UW-Eau Claire dorms that this California girl had zero idea how to deal with (google!), after surviving and not being washed away, Saturday morning crested crisp and full of the promise of another whole day of wonderful performances. The sound of Phil Cook wafting through the air made me stop my foraging for food and book it across the field immediately to begin dancing with a troupe of barely-clad college dudes (“vodka for breakfast, guys, amirite??” – my friend Michelle) for a wildly fun set that left me looking up all the music I could find from this talented gent. He also played with Hiss Golden Messenger, and is also in Megafaun. It’s all a big circle of goodness, and I definitely intend to troll around in his catalog.
The performance of this song at the festival was a beast:
After having the honor of LNZNDRF (“Lanzendorf”) playing at my college in the spring with a special chapel rehearsal that I am working to bring you a glimpse of, I was really excited to see this experimental band play again. With core members Ben Lanz (The National, Sufjan Stevens, Beirut) and the Devendorf brothers (Scott and Bryan, from The National), they were joined this weekend by Josh Kaufman (a musician who plays with Yellowbirds and Josh Ritter) and trumpeter Kyle Resnick of The National.
Together they created this otherworldy miasma of sounds that played off each other to build and dissipate under the little tent space where they played their surprise show. Watching their intuitive knowledge of each other as musicians is a joy, as they weave each performance together freshly – with no traditional setlist of songs, just a scaffolding of new sound creations, insistent and expansive.
PHOX premiered a spirited and imaginative short film at the fest, ostensibly about their mad dash to get to the festival in time in a zigzag across Wisconsin, punctuated by genies and dastardly lumberjacks, but really maybe about Monica’s quest to find her voice and learning to not look inside a bottle (ahem). After a midnight screening on the lawn Friday, they repeated the showing immediately before their Saturday late afternoon set.
Perhaps augmented by the film but also just by the fact that this band is fucking magical (and I’ve crowed it since the first time I heard their dulcet earworm creations), they received one of the warmest and loudest home-state welcomes from the crowd of any band I saw all weekend. I was hoping they’d play “No Lion,” the cover from the chapel session we recorded, but instead and even better, the culmination of their spirited set was a new a capella creation that was jawdropping. My heart swells for these kids. Everything about them just keeps getting better.
Two other memorable punctuations of the weekend included a crowd singalong with Vermont songwriter Sam Amidon conducting us enthusiastically in traditional melodies (listen) complete with sheet music, and Field Report’s Chris Porterfield joining in as he walked by:
…and a whimsical “Forever Love” matinee show with original compositions by Bryce and Aaron Dessner on a special woodland stage with elaborate set. This festival was crafted to be punctuated by little moments of delight and surprise. It made it feel so much fresher and more intimate, more honest (?) than a lot of other large festivals I’ve gone to. Even though it had 22,000 attendees, it felt closer in spirit to something like the Doe Bay Fest / Timber Music Fests of the Pacific Northwest that I’ve had the joy of being a part of. I think that’s really saying something about Justin and Aaron’s design for this happening.
I had some strong ruminations during Bon Iver’s closing set (pictured here with The Staves on backing vocals and S. Carey as one of two (!!) drummers):
As introduction, there was an exceedingly genuine, heart-swelling speech given before Bon Iver’s set by festival narrator Michael Perry (a music writer from Eau Claire, and man who Justin later said was one of the most important friendships of his life). He said:
“If you hold yourselves still and silent now, you can feel that river, runnin’ behind you, running through the night, running through all time.
It’s good to have music near a river. There’s this idea of baptism, of absolution, no matter what you believe.
Better yet, it’s good to have music at a place where two rivers come together–a confluence. For what are we but a confluence? A confluence that lives and breathes, a confluence of dream and song, a confluence of 22,000 beating hearts.
And so here we are, cradled by a river in a sanctuary of song: craving consecration, exaltation. On bended knee, seeking benediction.”
With that, Justin launched seamlessly into the first live performance of his song “Heavenly Father,” and closing vespers, so to speak, began. And it felt like benediction indeed.
I kept thinking all weekend that I was glad to be in a crowd where there were blatant hearts on actual sleeves everywhere. I saw so many Justin Vernon words permanently inscribed in flesh. More than just a gathering of the converted, a festival of the fanboys and fangirls, I was surprised that I was pretty deeply moved at (for instance) the lanky, athletic-looking dude standing behind me in the breakfast line with “and i told you to be patient and i told you to be fine and i told you to be balanced and i told you to be kind” in a block of text over his heart. We’ve heard that line a thousand times so as for it to become rote, but it wasn’t rote when it was written — it was true and that is truth, and it struck me as such. I found myself remembering the deep beauty in wholehearted loving, in full-faced believing.
As we sang along to the same words I sang back in 2009 in an afternoon set under San Francisco cypress trees, I thought about what might have been lost, what’s changed and what hasn’t. This weekend was one of fragmenting for me back into little pieces, so that I could examine and regrow some of the connective tissues and remember why it is we see and participate in live music, why we believe. In between the two new songs that Justin closed the Bon Iver set with, he tried to put into words what the festival and the weekend meant to him, as he visibly batted at tears in his eyes with a flick of his fingers. “I think what we give each other and what we can believe in each other, I think that’s how we can become …greater.” I love him for still shoving his heart out there, for still standing there bald-facedly being true and unflinching, believing in himself and music and us, all around him.
The first thing I loved about Justin Vernon the first time I heard him and saw him live was a purity, and this festival seemed to capture that pure spirit–that urgent reaching for a real connection. I can think of very few better things to strive for in this life and in the songs we sing and the music we embrace.
To quote my wonderful friend and accomplice at the fest, Michelle, I am going to be hungeauxver for weeks, I think. And I couldn’t be more deeply happy.
The Chippewa river, running through all time, and cradling all 22,000 of us.
Back on a good day in 2008, I sat under a hot tent in Golden Gate Park at the Outside Lands festival and talked with burgeoning talent Grace Potter; she was fiery and fascinating and we walked away having articulated that we totally could’ve been friends if we lived in the same place. In that interview she said things like, “Of course it is fun being a woman, and I’m glad to be a woman. But what I’m most fascinated by is a woman artist who can speak realistically, from her soul, and not be bullshitting.” Amen.
So, if we want to talk about speaking from her soul and owning her element in the extreme — ho-ly shit, I have rarely been so (oddly) proud of someone I barely met (but really was impressed with) than I was watching this recent concert video.
I’ve been pinging around a couple European countries for these last few weeks that I’d never been to before, across five borders and three currencies and at least five languages, with plenty of time to think. Trains are good for thinking, aren’t they? I’d missed the steady mechanical whoosh and the panorama of a thousand possible lives rolling outside the window.
The night I got home, I discovered this song from Ireland’s Villagers. Play count says I listened 22 times.
Not only does every lyric, every hard sentiment of this song sound like something I’ve thought (or wish I had the poeticism and clarity to think) in the last week–the video might be in the running for one of my favorite Blogotheque Take-Away Shows (which is a competitive landscape). This video is the perfect vehicle, the way it starts so sweetly and a bit restrained, pausing in the doorway of the simple empty chapel, and then a raising voice as Conor O’Brien moves into the reverberating center.
When you feel that fullness, you just know. I recognize the fondness behind his eyes as he sings about these memories. There are so many things reverberating in me, too, when I listen to this perfect summation of a song, but I’m weary of laying myself bare, or trying to do it without giving away too much.
So I’ll just beg you to listen. Maybe 22 times, if it grabs you too.
So you thank me for my hard work
but you’ve had it up to there
’cause this shouldn’t be hard work
but I’ll fight to care if you’d care to fight
Thank you for your hard work
but I’ve had it up to here
’cause this shouldn’t be hard work
least not the kind that makes us half a person, half a monster
stuck together in this hot scary summer
Remember kissing on the cobblestones in the heat of the night
and all the pretty young homophobes looking out for a fight
We got good at pretending, then pretending got us good
we’ve always been up against it but now it’s sad to see
we’re up against each other
in this hot scary summer
Ohh I live inside you and you live in me
and I live inside you and you live in me
Nothing’s gonna change that dear nothing’s gonna change that dear
not even being apart
we travelled right to the heart
of this hot scary summer
Oh, where do I start with this one? Gregory Alan Isakov has grown over the last decade from a soft-spoken friend that I would see playing his winsome, warm songs at dozens of small shows, into one of Colorado’s genuine state treasures. I have a collection of little cardboard-sleeved, hand-stamped EPs and early recordings from Gregory (“all songs written by me and recorded to 8-track on a thursday morning in my room, Boulder, CO“) dating back to 2003.
Now’s he’s at Red Rocks with the symphony, having his most recent (magnificent and charming) music video debuted by NPR’s Bob Boilen, with Rolling Stone calling him the “Best Subtle Storm.” Perfect.
One thing I have always loved about Gregory and his music since the first time I heard it is the hint of sly joy that underlies everything he seems to sing. I almost feel like I can feel a shy, candescent smile just waiting at the corner of his lips.
He writes rambling songs that really stab at a certain heart of foolish beauty that exists all the time in the world around us, but that I am often too hurried to see, much less to give it the attention it deserves. He weaves words together into perceptive lyrics that I can’t get enough of, songs that skiffle and flicker as they grow slowly.
In this session, Gregory and his band performed three songs from their latest (2013) album The Weatherman, and one stunningly jaw-dropping cover of one of my favorite songs ever written. So, you know. That was alright.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #34:
GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV January 9, 2014
Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
Suitcase Full Of Sparks
This song speaks directly to the always-gnawing wanderlust that sometimes hides under the ashes in me, but that is always ready to be stoked by this wide, wild world around us. It makes me want to do nothing more than head off onto a roadtrip — anywhere that promises campfires, or even better, an ocean. Gregory’s wanderings here are trying to find their way to someone, but I find the song works just as well for me if we think that the someone we are rambling everywhere trying to find is ourselves.
A song for mostly-misremembered Roman saints, and also for banjo-plucking dancing around in the pouring rain. Also notable in this song is the great delight I get from such an old-timey sounding folk song that contains the line “while the girls in the glass, they’re just throwing me shade.” Aw, poor Gregory.
the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful…
JESUS. Here’s to that.
The Trapeze Swinger (Iron & Wine)
Welp. I sat in stunned silence when Gregory suggested this song as his cover. The original is one of my top five songs ever — this baffling, beautiful, confused, peaceful elegy that feels like it never started and will never end. I wrote about this song once five years ago; I might have been a little drunk when I wrote it, but I said (and I still believe):
I remember a book from when I was about ten years old, something like A Wrinkle In Time or one of those fascinating imaginative visions of other worlds and things unseen. My brain stretches hard to recall a passage about tapping into a current of singing that existed outside of normal time, these pulsing jetstreams of melody and poetry and all the human longing – timeless and universal. Always there. Not always heard.
When I listen to “The Trapeze Swinger” by Iron & Wine, that’s the closest I can come to expressing its perfection. It sounds like waking from a dream on your front porch in the late afternoon in springtime — or maybe not waking at all, but being suspended. Somewhere where, for once, you can hear the currents. “Please remember me, happily, by the rosebush laughing, with bruises on my chin….” the song begins, all golden beauty and purplish contusions from the first lines.
Gregory does 100% justice to the original, in the noble hesitation, in the smiles around the edges of his voice, and with the gorgeous golden guitar solo in the middle. Man, oh man.
Also, just announced: Fuel/Friends is pleased to be presenting Gregory’s March 1 Colorado Springs show at Stargazers Theater! Ticket info here.
[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle, who nearly died a thousand deaths of joy photographing this session. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]
I have always said that Alex Dezen, of the beloved Brooklyn band The Damnwells, has a romantic voice.
I don’t mean that in the way we picture Valentine’s Day cards or the airbrushed bodices on paperback romance novellas. By “romantic” I am alluding to the artistic movement that wished to remove us all back to nature, to crack through the dust on our Mannerist hearts. I hear the febrile brushstrokes of light and lightning in a Turner landscape, or the kind of voice that can carry one off to war, or the high plains, or to sea.
Strong words: yep. But this is an exceptionally strong and expressive voice. One listen to these chapel sessions will introduce you, perhaps, to a voice that does the same for you. After so many years of being a fan of his songs, it was a genuine delight to have his voice fill and echo in that chapel space.
He gave us two of his newer solo songs, an old (gorgeous) gospel-tinged Damnwells tune, and a cover from one of my favorite soul artists of all time. If you want to hear more, Alex has put out a series of four intimate (Bedhead) EPs this past year, and all are worth delving deeply into. The fifth Damnwells LP is due in April 2015 on Rock Ridge Music.
FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION #33:
ALEX DEZEN (of The Damnwells) Shove Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO
November 22, 2013
The cover art of Dezen’s four recent acoustic EPs show him sleeping peacefully under different bedspreads, face showing no discontent. But this song sounds like the complicated bad dreams that leave us tangled up in sheets, unsure how to find our way out.
God, I love this song.
I love the whole record it comes from, 2006′s Air Stereo. I tell you guys every now and then that this is a sleeper record you might have missed, but it is never too late. As fully-fleshed out as this song sounds even with just Alex’s voice and a guitar in a chapel, the album version has shimmering, resonant Memphis horns and backing vocals (that I add here every time I listen to this chapel version).
I can’t think of a better song for a classically romantic voice to wail on than this one. This is the second time someone has said, “I was thinking of covering Otis Redding?” in my chapel, and the second time I have blissfully said “OKAY.”
[Audio recording and production by my beloved Bourgal brothers of Blank Tape Records, and photography/video by the fabulous Kevin Ihle. Thanks to Blue Microphones for the terrific consideration in giving us some sweet mics to capture this magic.]
Name: Heather Browne Location: Colorado, originally by way of California Giving context to the torrent since 2005.
"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel." —Hunter S. Thompson
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