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While I Was Away


I didn’t spend the whole of the two weeks that I was offline locked up in my office editing/cutting my book. A boy has to live, after all. Or, a boy has to see live music …

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On Thursday December 4, we took a trip to the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock for the double bill of Mercury Rev and Dean and Britta. Mercury Rev are locals, of a sort. They ended their last American tour at the Bearsville, almost exactly three years ago, and chose to start their new one here too. Interestingly, they brought their own PA with them, which notched the volume up many many many decibels. In fact, it had us pinned against the back walls for most of the show: about an hour and a quarter of gloriously uninterrupted bombastic psychedelic rock, opening with the new Snowflake Midnight album’s “Snowflake In A Hot World,” closing with its “Senses on Fire,” and included several highlights from The Secret Migration, Deserter’s Songs and All is Dream, plus a stunningly original reworking of Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime” in there as well. (Curiously, this was the second time I heard the song played live in a month: David Byrne included it in his solo set at Albany’s The Egg.) Attendance, even allowing for all the variables that come into play where we live, was absolutely pitiful, but Jonathan, Carlos Anthony and Grasshopper (and company) took it perfectly well in stride, relishing the opportunity to play their music in such a beautiful venue. We greatly appreciated having them here.

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We also appreciate that they brought in Dean and Britta as opening act, especially as I’ve been on such a massive post-Luna kick of late. I fell in love with the Tell Me Do You Miss Me DVD that documented Luna’s farewell tour, and from there, went on to Dean Wareham’s marvelously dry autobiography, Black Postcards; between these two forms of media, I think you can learn much about what makes a rock band tick – and why they break up – and all in the highly literate manner you would expect of a band like Luna. Since Luna’s demise, Wareham and partner Britta Phillips have continued pecking away at the margins of indie rock, and they benefited at the Bearsville from the crystalline clarity of the PA.

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Backed by a 21-year old drummer and a Rhodes-playing keyboardist, they offered up a 45-minute show that matched Luna at its best for subtle ingenuity. The major difference would be Dean and Britta’s comparative reliance on cover versions; other than their own “Words You Used To Say,” I made note only of Buffy Saint-Marie’s “Moonshot,” Lee Hazelwood’s “You Turned My Head Around” – with Phillips’ floor-clearing screams – and that old Luna chestnut, New Order’s “Ceremony.” img_0126.jpgThe set list included a finale of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” which also dates back to Luna days; unfortunately, they didn’t have time to play it. Dean and Britta’s performance was one of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen this year.

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Attendance may have been an issue at the Bearsville, but there were no such worries about turn-out two nights later for Ray Davies at the Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie. This was my first time at this venue, but surely not my last. As with UPAC in Kingston, the Bardavon is a glorious old theater of sensible size (I would figure less than a thousand people in all), with great sight lines, a fine sound and a good membership policy that helps bring in international names such as Davies. (It also has a bar that sells Millbrook’s wines for $4. You can’t go wrong.) My host for the night, Jimmy M., has already posted a report over at the iJamming! pub and there’s not too much for me to add. I can confirm that Davies was in wonderfully jovial mood, relishing his “Storytellers” persona, and even if he relied too often on the crowd sing along, it seemed to be from a folk singer’s sense of community than any great act of showmanship or ego. The set was long and varied, including “Father Christmas” for the season and what Ray claimed to be a first EVER live performance of Village Green’s “Starstruck,” which at least gave the night an air of exclusivity. There were but a smattering of songs from his two solo albums, including “Working Man’s Café,” and “The Gateway (Lonesome Train),” and of course the set was book-ended and otherwise pock-marked by one Kinks classic after another, from opening trio “I Need You,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” and “Dead End Street” to the ramped-up finale of “All Day and All of the Night,” “You Really Got Me” and “Lola,” the last two with opening act Locksley as back-up. (Through the rest of the show, he was accompanied only by guitarist Bill Shanley, who took some of the burden away from t his being a “solo” show without stealing the spotlight or turning it into an electric gig.) My personal highlight, somewhere in the middle of all that – apart from the Poughkeepsie singalong of the very cockney “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” – was the rendition of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” accompanied by the announcement that that’s how he still feels, even after all these years. Ray’s a treasure, we all know that, and his two-man show, especially in these intimate surroundings, is also an absolute pleasure.

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… And you know how many great songs the man has written by the fact that it wasn’t until after I left the venue that I realized he had’t even played “Waterloo Sunset.” Imagine him trying to get away with that in England….

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