STRANGEFOLK ROCKS NORTHAMPTON | MASS

STRANGEFOLK
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 than that!

“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?

John Chase
JamBase | Northeast
Go see live music!

http://www.strangefolk.com

[Published on: 5/2/02]

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