[Jandek] Easthampton Saturday
Michael.Goldman at CH2M.com
Michael.Goldman at CH2M.com
Sun Oct 2 18:33:40 PDT 2011
The Easthampton show on Saturday night was an interesting contrast to the Cleveland show. In Cleveland he made a nod to the Delta blues, while in Easthampton he made a definite attempt at the western swing in the vein of Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills. The band consisted of a drummer, a fiddle, a banjo, a pedal steel and the Rep on fretless bass. For much of the night he was joined onstage by a female vocalist apparently named Betsy. She has a fine voice in the Patsy Cline tradition.
The venue was a nice older room that seemed like a ballet studio more than a performance space and was filled to capacity. Nice to see such a good turnout. And the audience stayed for the entire performance.
The set opened with an instrumental that can best be described as goofy. It sounded as if the cast of The Country Bear Jamboree at Disney World had dropped acid. All of the players were soloing at the same time and the Rep sat on the edge of the stage playing the bass with a slide. The opener was funny and a lot of fun. Things got a little shaky from there; the sound was a little off, mainly because the steel player was overpowering everyone else. The next three numbers seemed a bit hampered mainly for this reason. Not only could you not hear anybody else well enough, the steel player never stopped soloing. A few times Betsy or the Rep stepped to the mike only to have to wait until the steel player ended a phrase. He had chops for sure but he way overplayed and didn’t seem to grasp the idea that there were other musicians up there. A number would start and he’d wail away until it stopped. I was starting to worry that this was going to derail the entire evening. Around the fifth song, he started calming down or maybe got tired or his amp blew a tube but the sound was drastically improved and I could hear things like the fiddle, the banjo and the vocals. In other words, I could hear the rest of the band and it was right about time too, I was tempted to take off one of my boots throw it at the steel players head. With the improved mix, the material took an upswing for the rest of the set. The entire band seemed to sense it too. The grooves deepened and Betsy and the Rep filled up more space with singing and the fiddle man stepped out a bit more. The drummer did a great job holding things down even though he employed a light touch with brushes, mallets and batta sticks instead of the typical drum sticks. The man on banjo also had some serious chops even though most of the night it was tough to hear him. His delicate picking and the fiddle kept things on even tonal centers. The second half of the night was as good as anything I have seen the Rep do. Interesting how the Ft Worth show had almost identical instrumentation but a completely different feel and direction.
The melodies were strong and once the band caught its groove they played in the C&W genre in a surprisingly traditional and tonal manner. There were a few lovely waltzes that the Rep and Betsy sang in harmony and a few that Betsy sang the lead. The Rep actually smiled at her a few times and nodded approval at the band. The lyrics seemed traditional to the genre as well, he mentioned driving the truck to town, taking his girl to a dance and asking her father for her hand in marriage. One comical line was something along the lines of “you weren’t expecting the cowboy to wear glasses”. Betsy had the most poetic lines of the night in a waltz toward the end of the set “Sister Sun hangs from the moon and says it’s nice out here with all the stars”. On this number the Rep accompanied her on harmonica. The band played a straightforward rocker at the end and it was obvious by this point that they had hit their stride, the Rep was rocking back and forth and bending at the knees and howling lyrics of existential dread.
It’s true that no one is going to confuse the Rep for Jaco Pastorius or the like but he has definite control over the bass and in his hands it’s an expressive and propulsive instrument. I had hoped that the steel player would adventure into the atmospheric side of the instrument similar to the playing of Susan Alcorn or Chas Smith but he never did. Busy nonstop, single lines are what this guy does. It’s all he apparently ever does. Ever.
Even with its misfires towards the beginning, it was a great set. It will definitely stand out in the live catalogue. An aside, Fugazi’s, Guy Picciotto, was in attendance and I had the pleasure of having a chat with him and talking about DC in the days of The Rites of Spring and Fugazi gigs (I lived there then and attended these shows). Tough to imagine a nicer fellow.
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