Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Once Upon a Blue Thing or Two

My friend Marty over at Senses Working had a student who dubbed a certain genre of tunes "sad bastard" music. If you don't instantly know what that means, it goes something like this--that lonely guy on stage, who sort of physically looks like John Goodman and Tom Waits' love child, will lead into one song by saying, "Here's one that's more uplifting" that features the chorus: "So I waited by the phone to hear it ring." The phone doesn't ring, and at most concerts that would be damn sad. But in this case it isn't, as no one dies. That's sad bastard in a sad nutshell.

Welcome to the musical world of Damien Jurado, who came to Santa Barbara to play to a large yet intimate crowd at Muddy Waters. Jurado is easily sad bastard's poster child, his songs full of loss and losers, death and dying. Closing the show he admitted his nine-year-old doesn't like his music as it's too depressing for him, except for his early, atypical "Trampoline" (but even there a kid breaks his neck, the joyous kicker being the other kids think he deserved it). So Juardo joked he would record a children's album entitled My Parents Aren't Married--He Isn't My Dad.

There is certainly a power to his ways, of course. His tenor warbles his song's emotions without overdoing it, and then there's knowing he's a tale-maker and not an auto-bio babbler. He appeals to whatever still lives in us that loves story-telling, and the music is just one more tug at our need for narrative as melody is a story too, of course. Still, it can get a bit samey, a bit too intense, and seem almost parodic--to reach for a comparison few will understand (sorry, I'm just wired that way), Jurado is sort of like imagining Neno from Ed's Redeeming Qualities decided to sing his sad sack songs for reals.

It is fascinating to note most of the audience were in their early 20s (Jurado has to be a decade more than that), and didn't fit the stereotype of the miserable and morose (barely any black eyeshadow could be seen). So what do they get from a tear-inducing troubadour? Perhaps he connects with their post-adolescent sense of put-upon-ness, elevating their meager misery to something more, something musical. If nothing else, it's good to see so many young 'uns hoping to get past the sliced and diced world of twits and twitters that's usually offered them. Jurado's acoustic folk isn't blues but blue, and that that can hold folks rapt has to be a good sign.

Here he is on the current tour doing "Letters and Drawings," the previously mentioned upbeat song, and bagging on Jimmy Buffet, which makes him even better.

His national opening act was Laura Gibson, who turned out to be the real find. It might be easy to call her a sad bastardess, simply because her tunes are quiet and her stage-patter even moreso--she'll never win an assertive contest. But the songs are cleverer than that, seemingly of no time, to the point that one of her band-members played saw. Yes, saw, the unplugged theremin that is still useful enough to cut you a window for escape or a coffin for burying. Many of Gibson's songs are death obsessed, but her voice is so light and declarative, so at ease with its observations, sounding like some mix of Feist, Madeleine Peyroux, and Devon Sproule, that you just go along for the ride, even if it's past the cemetery.

To hear some of her latest CD, check out this link.



Blogger Marty said...

I hope it turned out to be a good decision. I'm liking that Laura Gibson a lot. Thanks. Apprropriately, the wv is mopessa.

11:57 AM  
Blogger ahab said...

Well, I'm glad you saw Jurado, even if you don't like him as much as I do. Music is an awful lot about what you bring to it, of course, so in all honesty I'd trust Marty's take on any sad bastard over your bubbly one, George.

Jurado (both man and music) seems to be a bit darker on this tour than he seemed to us when we first saw him a couple of years ago. At least that's how he seemed in DC a few months ago. He's gained weight too, and seemed dour. Maybe kids do that to you.

Laura Gibson appears on one of those Loose compilations, you may recall. I like her a lot.

1:07 PM  
Blogger ahab said...

"bubbly" = ball-busting

I'd do an emoticon but I don't have it in me as I listen to the wonderful second half of Caught in the Trees.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

didn't that "sad bastard music" line come from Jack Black in "High Fidelity"?

7:28 AM  
Blogger George said...

It might, Chris (I'm thinking from the scene when he makes them turn off B&S's "Seymour Stein"). But perhaps that means the term actually comes from Nick Hornby? How like a student to quote without proper documentation.

9:25 AM  

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