Sunday, May 06, 2007

Shook It Like to Make It Break

Saturday night I got to coin the phrase "you come for the Gillian Welch and David Rawlings but you stay for the Bright Eyes" after a concert featuring said artists at the Arlington--which Connor Oberst insisting on calling "your Mexican villa"--here in Santa Barbara. Yes, a band named Oakley Hall opened the bill, but mostly they just proved there's a greater difference between tasteful and tasty than a tiny clutch of letters. OK, they also proved something much more personal, namely that I know Amy even better than I think. While the group's female lead singer Rachel Cox (they do the male-female vocal thing, but it's an in-unison approach, not a sneak up and attack like John Doe and Exene, or a heavenly harmony like Welch and Rawlings, for that matter) awkwardly shimmied about on one song I thought, "Amy's going to think she's goofy," and sure enough, post-show she said more or less that about Cox's dancing without any prompting. So while Oakley Hall was so-so musically, they did help make my marriage stronger. (They can even use that line on their website, if they want, if they can keep it from crashing my IE like it did a bit ago--watch trying to download those songs!)

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, on the other hand, were spectacular. It's easy to want to joke that it sounded as if they performed some new songs but it's hard to tell as they sounded like their old songs that sound like someone else's old songs--they aspire to a timless music that erases any concerns about whether Berklee-educated musicians can play the Appalachia way. And hell and brimstone rained from the thesaurus and musical clocks slid slow and the songs ran into songs and echoed like lost tunes and archaic words like revelator rang and rhymed and they even saved emancipator for a whole ‘nother cut (which they ddin't perform Saturday). Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ hominy in the harmony soothes me, like a 78 of a dream of the country of the country, like James Agee with an arch-top Epiphone and sweetly clipped pipes. That a pretty preoccupied pre-twenty-year-old in front of us couldn't bother to raise her head from her text-messaging (and I am jealous my thumbs aren't that dexterous) only means you have to grow into some things, like death and country music. Both will be there when she's ready; both'll be there if she's never ready.

For a still twentysomething, Connor Oberst has a sense of the mortal coil, too, as befits someone who opens a show with "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" the opening track of his new CD Cassadaga. No matter his musings, which are at turns philosophical, poetic, political, borderline prolix, at least live he brings the musical oomph to power through, what with a mini-six-piece orchestra of strings and horns, another guitarist (who also played pedal steel), a bassist, a keyboardist/trumpet player, a drummer, and a percussionist/drummer, many of whom joined along in vocals, for that seems important to the Bright Eyes world view--we shall all sing together, or we shall all be silent and screwed separately. Certainly no one could claim he didn't get his money's worth, as the songs got clever fuller treatments compared to their recorded versions, everyone was fun to watch in their white outfit variations (although the violin player with the big hair needs to dump the hairband that makes him look like John McEnroe), and the backstage projections made me feel it was Bright Eyes and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable at times.

For his encores Oberst brought Welch and Rawlings back out and they ran through a perfect culmination of a live music event, making recorded music by both of them many times better. First just the trio performed Oberst's "Lua," which suddenly seemed full and lovely and not the puny-ish thing it is on I'm Wide Awake It's Morning when it's just Oberst alone (more proof that singing together really is a good thing--and it was clear they rehearsed, and as an audience-member, I appreciate that effort). Then most of the band came out and they made Welch's "Look at Miss Ohio" the stomper it always should have been with that great chorus line "she says I want to do right but not right now" really getting underlined with a couple drummers pounding it out. Finally, everyone kicked into "Road to Joy," in which Oberst gives the Bright Eyeball to Beethoven and the finger to anyone who gets in his way; needless to say, ending a concert with the lines: "I could have been a famous singer/If I had someone else's voice./But failure's always sounded better,/let's fuck it up boys, make some noise" leading into an all-out, feedback-fueled freak-out is a kind of statement. It's also a total blast as a way to head on out into a night.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Smitty said...

I can't say I have heard of any of these bands and I always thought my own musical tastes were pretty diverse (DON'T look at my Friday Random 10 as any indication at all...).

They got web sites so's I can sample some of the music?

6:01 AM  
Blogger George said...

Bright Eyes

Gillian Welch

Oakley Hall

10:17 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

As much as I enjoy the work of Gillian Welch and Conor Oberst (in his various manifestations), I think I enjoyed your review even more. Here's to more weird dancing!

1:07 PM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks, Marty, for the compliment and the approval of my terpsichore.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

"All Female A Cappella with balls."

No, really:

http://people.bu.edu/terps/

2:40 PM  
Anonymous jqb said...

I missed it, sigh, but at least I have my Gillian Welsh "The Revelator Collection" DVD signed by her own lovely hand, having seen her at Humboldt State where, believe me, no one in the redwood-hugging audience was text messaging -- they were having enough trouble staying contained until the end of each song to show their wild and well-deserved appreciation.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, on the other hand, were spectacular.

Don't know much Gillian (Oh Brother Soundtrack and a bit else), but what I know I like a lot. A LOT. This must've been a great show, even though I know little-to-nothing of Bright Eyes.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As well as this show, just caught gillian & dave at coachella (?!), performing slightly outside their demographic. They made no concessions to hip, came out in matching 'nudie' suits, ripping up 'jackson', and taking no prisoners. Every time i've seen them has been special in some way, and the Bright Eyes slot was no exception.
1)Can anyone confirm if that really was Janet Weiss (ex Sleater Kinney) drumming? sure looked it.
2) got some alright pictures from said Coachella set if anyone would like...flip me an email: waj1@mac.com
Connor held his own...all in all a great '$ value' show.
cheers...waj

11:23 PM  
Blogger George said...

Looked like Weiss to me, too, and she does play on the album. If it was, then she's been in town twice in a couple of months, first with Stephen Malkmus and now with Bright Eyes. Lucky us.

I hate when folks don't announce their band.

12:10 AM  

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