Pearl Street Nightclub | Northampton, MA | 04.28.02
Sunday afternoon, 4pm
Do I take the three-hour drive to catch the last show of Strangefolk's Spring
Tour, or do I do the responsible thing and stay home to get a good night's
sleep for work on Monday?
Back in my college days, I'd done my fair share of blowing off things like
classes, work and other hindrances to see Strangefolk... but now I'm
getting older and I should probably start being a bit more responsible.
True, but it IS the last show of the tour, so I'll probably miss something
spectacular. No, no - I should skip it. But the last few shows were
unbelievable, they're SO at the top of their game right now. Don't even
think about it, you've got to be at work at 8:30am. Yeah, but they're
taking May off so it'll be at least another month until my next show. Stop
it, you're going to work tomorrow, damnit! But it's STRANGEFOLK!! Yes,
it is, but it's Strangefolk on a SUNDAY NIGHT. And your point is... ???
Ah screw it, you only live once!
I left Burlington, VT at 4:40 and arrived in Northampton, MA at 7:30.
I made the trip solo, but it didn't really matter -- I know this crowd and I
know the intensity of their addiction matches mine, there wasn't a doubt in
my mind that I would run into 10 or more people I knew once I got there.
Sure enough, I walked through the door and found three friends right off the
bat. Shortly thereafter, five more arrived, and then another four, six more walked in and they were followed by and a couple hundred other nameless familiar faces. I smiled to myself as I recognized 18 people who I know made a trek that took them between 2-3 or even 4 hours on a Sunday night, just like I did - RIGHT ON!!! It's all about priorities. ;o)
After a decent but mediocre set from a local band, the crowd was primed and
ready for the boys to take the stage. The lights dimmed and 5 shadowy
figures made their way to their instruments amid a flurry of whoops, hollers
and cheers. Jon, Patchen, Erik, Don and Luke nodded and smiled their
hellos, took up their instruments (or sat down behind them) and addressed
the crowd in gratitude for having made it out on such a cold and rainy
Sunday evening. Immediately the show from the TLA in Philly a few weeks ago
sprang to mind as I had been listening to those discs on the way down. That
show was on a Monday night and the crowd had received a similar gesture of
gratitude at the start - going by the sheer volume of their response, I was
impressed to think so many attended a show on such an unlikely day, though
not at all surprised.
Luke Smith started off the night with a familiar beat that could have either
been "Electric Avenue" (one of their more energetic covers) or "Anchor." A
quick analysis of the tempo told me it was too slow to be the former and
before the thought was finished, the rest of the band joined to confirm that
it was indeed the latter. Since it's debut at last year's Garden of Eden
Festival, this tune has quickly become one of their most popular and not
just for the intense jams that come out of it. Anchor's lyrics are both
simple and poignant in outlining the apprehensions and fears of stumbling
out of a safe and secure situation into the great unknown. I've always
found this quality to be one of Strangefolk's most appealing - 9 times out
of 10 you can find some piece of your own life story hidden among the verses
of their songs.
“All the Same” was next, and the crowd erupted in recognition as soon as the
first chord pierced the smoky and in certain dark pockets, fragrant air.
This one is a classic, if you've seen a Strangefolk show or two, you've
probably heard it. Anodyne followed, another relatively new one with a
quirky, unique sound that's quickly earned a place in my favorites list. I
heard a story about this song from a good friend of the band's. Apparently
at some point during the Far and Wide Tour with The Big Wu, all the guys
from the Wu played this song acoustic on their tour bus while Jon (Trafton,
Strangefolk's guitarist and this song's singer) sang along. It was one of
those unique moments that you wish you'd been there for - a perfect
snapshot in time showing just how well these two bands got along and
respected each other as fellow musicians.
I got chills when I heard the opening arpeggios of “Float,” a song that
Patchen brought to the fold when he joined Strangefolk almost two years ago.
I love this song, somewhat rare though it may be, there's just something
to it that makes you sit up and take notice; the intricate guitar work and
lilting melody spelled out by the lyrics are just captivating. When this
tune reaches it's passionate peak, it immediately dips into a valley that
could go ANYWHERE. Tonight it danced around the room, touching on a pattern
and then abandoning it, skating across the top of a familiar chord
progression, only to leave it again and then finally launching headfirst
into “Lucy Down” - a two month-old monster that's well on its way to becoming
Strangefolk's next epic jam tune. As Ron "Big Woolly Mammoth" Crowell noted
in his TLA review that ran not long ago, this song has an instantaneous
appeal to it. There are several changes in tone, mood and texture that
culminate in a serious groove that appears out of nowhere and works it's way
through your skin, flesh and bones until it grabs hold of your soul and
makes you move whether you want to or not!
“Open Road” - I heard a few fans yelling for this one, it was nice to hear as
it had been some time since I'd seen one live. “To the Moon or Bust,” another
new song that debuted on the Far and Wide Tour last month. This one's
catchy as hell in it's beckoning plea to hop on the proverbial bus. “Take It
Easy On Me,” an unlikely suspect if ever I heard one. Take It Easy's got a
down and dirty, gritty groove that makes you feel as though you're doing
some evil deed in dancing to it. Clever lyrics immediately grab your
attention: "This is not a song about you or me... I don't want to talk about
it, let me be". This tune could very easily be one of those 5 minute songs
that is thrown in there to give you a breather, but it's anything but. Once
they start workin' it, it's inTENSE! Words can't possibly even begin to
describe where this song goes when it takes off, so I won't try. Just
consider yourself lucky if you're ever at a Strangefolk show and you hear
those opening lyrics.
“Fallin'” was next, though I didn't know it right away because I'd never heard
it before. Another that saw it’s live debut just a few weeks ago. It's been
up in Jon's Room on strangefolk.com as a rough demo, and Patchen had
mentioned it in his little corner of the band's site, using the curious
description of "Groovegrass (patent pending)". No lie, "Groovegrass" fits
the bill perfectly. Fallin' has that finger pick-y, bluegrassy sound to it,
but it's punctuated with slinky bass lines and tasteful, funky keyboard
fills. Very cool tune, I can't wait to hear it again. Shift My Step
followed, a classic from the band's first album, Lore. Unfortunately, it's
not played very often and as a result, tonight Erik forgot the opening
lyrics! He struggled with the same line, repeating it over and over while
he and the rest of the band laughed and the fans cheered. It was an obvious
flub, but I'm glad it happened because it really brought to light just how
comfortable and secure the band and their fans are that they can
collectively laugh at a mistake like this.
If you're a Beatles fan, “Neighbor” is going to grab your attention, no doubt
about it. This is a great song, and going by what I witnessed last night,
it just got a whole lot better! Don Scott is Strangefolk's newest member,
having joined the band on keyboards last fall. The first few shows I saw
with him, I had a hard time picking him out of the mix, but that could have
been on purpose as he was still playing by ear and learning the songs as he
went along. Now with a full tour under his belt, he's really coming into
his own. If someone had put this version of Neighbor as a filler on a disc
and I wasn't familiar with this band, I would've thought that Bruce Hornsby
was sitting in with them. Not so much because he sounds like Bruce, but
because his fills are so perfectly placed with rich and tasteful melodies
that flutter and dance in, around and through the spine of the song. I
didn't realize Neighbor was missing anything until I heard the version I
heard last night, now I don't want to hear it without Don's contributions.
Like Float, Neighbor has a bridge that goes from the highest peak into an
immediate valley and what comes out of that valley could be absolutely
anything under the sun. What came out last night was a little vocal jam
that gradually morphed into semi-coherent lyrics that sounded all too
familiar. Once Patchen's voice got a bit louder, it wasn't hard to hear "So
if you wake up with the sunrise...". I immediately grabbed my setlist to
write down an asterisk for a “What Is and What Should Never Be” tease -- a
first as far as I knew. Much to my surprise though, the entire band slipped
right into that smooth, jazzy Zeppelin classic, calling for an arrow after
Neighbor and not an asterisk. Just when you'd expect them to bring it back
to Neighbor, they launched into a brand new jam with a totally different
flavor, to which Patchen ad-libbed some Sympathy for the Devil lyrics: "Tell
me baby... now what's my name?!?" while Erik and Jon joined in with the
obligatory "Hoo Hoo"s to back him up. Again the crowd erupted and danced
all the harder, bringing them just where the band wanted them before
launching back into Neighbor for the wrap up. It doesn't get much better
“Round” was a great cool down song, not really one of those sit down and take
a break types because it's just as upbeat and danceable as any of their high
energy songs, but it starts off at a comfortably moderate dancing pace and
then picks up at the bridge. I was smiling ear to ear when they started
this one because I'd forgotten all about it - it was a nice surprise. “Grip”
followed, THIS was the relax/cigarette song. I like the sentiment behind
it, as Erik told us at Eden last year where it was first played, it was
dedicated to the fans as a Thank You for sticking by them through their
first year without Reid, but it is, nonetheless, virtually undanceable to
me. “Life After Wartime” was the show closer, a worthy tribute to the Talking
Heads with ivory-tickler extraordinaire Don Scott on vocals.
When Strangefolk played their first handful of gigs with their new lineup
almost 2 years ago, CSNY's Carry On made an appearance in their rotation of
cover songs. The harmonies were perfect, the jams were intense and the
lyrics just spoke volumes... but then just a few months later, it
disappeared. Thankfully, it's begun to reappear in recent
setlists, and I couldn't be happier! Last night they decided to whip it out
for the encore, and going by the crowd's reaction, it was a wise choice.
They put all they had left into it, no holds were barred and it just
ROCKED!! It may sound clichéd to put it that way, but it's the most
accurate description. As an added treat, they threw in a catchy,
crowd-pleasing number, “Gets You Movin',” to wrap up the night and send the
exhausted crowd on their way home.
Monday morning, 5am
After braving a snow storm in the mountains and dodging a cop who I KNOW
wanted to pull me over but couldn't find a reason to, I was ready for bed.
Luckily I've got this monster head cold working in my favor, so I called in
for a half day at work and went in at noon. My boss took one look at me and
said to just take care of billing and then go home. In at noon and out at
2? Hell yeah!
I just love it when things seem to work out for the best, don't you?
JamBase | Northeast
Go see live music!