I decided to go to the show in the first place because I wanted to hear A Dog Paloma. That was reason enough to go for me. Although I'd seen the lo-fi flyer on the bulletin board at the bookstore, I was too preoccupied with a week of speeding tickets, tow truck bills and other bad news and didn't pay much attention to who else was playing. Not yet anyway. I just knew that Joe Sampson and Nathaniel Rateliff could be counted on to counteract the crummy and melancholy October days that had gripped on tight. And they did make my week better. Joe and Nathaniel are great to hear on their own…but together…chalk it up to chemistry or creative competitiveness but either way they sound beautiful. I like Joe's songs and am glad to sit and listen anytime he sings them. The Wheel finished off the set solo delivering a single song with energy and intensity that probably was as loud as it got all night. And it was great.
Next up was Karl Blau. Watching Blau perform was like hanging in the kitchen while the best cook you know makes your dinner. He'd start out by making a vocal beat or backing sound and with the click of a pedal it'd be looping then he'd play over that and then add another sound or line and layer that on top and before you knew it you were surrounded with an array of sounds like a beautiful and tasty plate of food in front of you. Sometimes seeing how things are put together takes away from the magic of it, but Blau's approach was like a super cool sleight of hand…you thought you saw everything he was doing but near the end of a song, you're looking at him up there with his brilliant red guitar and you realize that there's so much more going on than the pieces you saw put together. I don't think I'm easily impressed, but this was one of the coolest performances I've ever witnessed. Low key, and it still blew you away. He makes a subscriber cd called KELP! monthly and I'll bet that stuff is like having Christmas twelve times a year.
Finally up walks Calvin Johnson, just him and his acoustic classical guitar. He stands there and looks at everyone. Patient as a mountain. I'm sorta thinking, like the forgetful dork that I can be…hmm Calvin Johnson…that name is so familiar. But it wouldn't be until the next day that it would all come back to me, and after being reminded by a friend. Um, K Records, Beat Happening, oh shit! If you don't know what I'm talking about, well, that's cool…you can just google that stuff and catch up. Or better yet ask your favorite indie rock music fanatic to fill you in. These guys live for that sort of talk. But back to the night. Calvin Johnson began to play and like a tremorous bass note filling a chapel Johnson's deep rumbling vocals filled the air and people got quiet and listened. He alternated between the mellow, sedate and the more rock n roll side of things. At times his voice reminded me of falling asleep in church, lots of hymnal tones and references, although not like things you might find in the psalm book. Songs about St. Peter and about busting holes in the wall of heaven to pull his girl on through had a dream like quality to them. And then the more up-tempo songs like Rabbit Blood would rattle me wide awake. All goodness. Love songs and all. You know the stuff. And if you weren't there, I hope this little description gets you outta the house next time a show looks interesting to you, but you are preoccupied and tired. Get out there. Your week will be better for it.