Saturday, March 25, 2006

Silver Jews | Middle East | Mar 19th

There are certain things in life that I've always accepted as fact regardless of whether they are true absolutes...I'm never going to be the centerfielder for the Yankees, Preki is going to shoot with his left foot, Yo La Tengo is going to close their main set with "Blue Line Swinger" or "I Heard You Looking", I'm never going to be a millionaire, etc. I just accept things like this and move on.

Well, a few months ago, I included "I'll never see the Silver Jews play live" on that list. However, after last Sunday night I could erase that one from the board...and erase it with vigor. I had seen the Joos blow through an hour plus set and promise to come back for more.

I was meeting a my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and friend in Cambridge for dinner and the show. So, I made the trek down solo as I battled all of the weekend skiers heading home to Boston. It wasn't too bad though because I made the trip in a breezy 2 hours and 40 minutes. By the way, it's amazing how few VT plates you see on I-89 on late Sunday afternoons in the winter.

After meeting my friends, we grabbed some dinner at Central Kitchen. Good food and the mussels were pretty friggin' fantastic. Plus, it was right across the street from Middle East which made it very convenient. After dinner, I said goodbye to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and headed down to the Miracle of Science Bar with my friend for a few pre-show beers. The idea of the bar is that it's set up as a school science lab. MIT is right down the street...Get it! Actually, it was a good spot to have a beer before seeing Mr. Berman

We managed to make it into Middle East about halfway through Ketman's set. Apparently, the band's bass player is the brother of David Berman's wife, Cassie. Regarding their music, let me put it this way...without the nepotism, Ketman wouldn't have gotten a whiff of an opening slot at a sold out show at Middle East. They're some sort of metal-inspired mush-mouth indie rock trio.

Since Ketman wasn't doing anything for me, I took the opportunity to step out for a second. Thankfully, when I came back they were gone. So, my friend and I took a moment to check out the merchandise table. That's where I found former Pavement drummer Steve West hanging out. He looked just like he did during the Pavement years. So, I asked him if he was Steve West, thank him for a lot of great music and asked him if he was playing drums tonight. He said he was just doing sound for the tour. I never knew Westie was a sound guy but, considering Berman's situation, it's probably best that he packs the tour with as many friends as possible.

By the way, Pavement's other former drummer/moogist, Bob Nastanovich, was the MC for the evening (along with a comedian). Nastanovich also looked like he hadn't aged a day since Pavement broke up. Good to see so they won't look so akward when Pavement eventually gets around to a reunion tour. Bob even snuck on stage and reprised his wild back-up vocals role for Berman during the main set closer "There Is a Place".

I forgot the name of the comedian who assisted Bob with the MC duties. However, he was largely lame. His best line was saying that CNN's Christiana Amanpour looks like an amalgamation of all The Rolling Stones.

New Radiant Storm Kings took the stage next. I haven't listened to these guys since 1996's August Revital. They still sounded good but since their sound isn't wildly different than a lot of indie rock bands, they are probably a lot more enjoyable if you are familiar with their songs. Nothing compellingly ground-breaking but good well-built tunes from a tight band.

Sometime during NRSK's set, I saw David Berman pop out of the side door with a guitar case slung over his shoulder like he had just arrived. Considering all of the demons he's battled over the years, I was happy to actually see him at the show. When you never thought you'd see a guy play live and then learn that he's been battling addictions and depression, you are never 100% certain that you are going to hear him perform until you actually see him in the club.

A short while later, Berman took the stage with a five piece band including his wife Cassie on bass. The crowd cheered mightily like a long lost friend had just entered the room. It had a much more personal welcome to it than the usual band appearence.

Berman had a music stand to the side of him with lyrics sheets. As he explained, he needs the stand since his memory isn't very good any more and his eyesight is poor. The post-show review in the Boston Globe said the music stand placed a barrier between Berman and the audience. However, that is friggin' simplistic and idiotic. The fact is that, as my friend pointed out, it made him appear vulnerable which has always been an underlying theme to his music. It immediately gave you the sense that you wanted to root for the guy to have a good show and slay his demons.

His set touched each album except for the obscure Arizona and Dime Reef Map records. I can never remember all of the songs from a show (particularly a week later) but he knocked out, "Trains Across the Sea", "Black and Brown Blues", "Random Rules", "Smith & Jones Forever", "Buckingham Rabbit", "Horseleg Swatsika", "Pet Politics", "Punks In the Beerlight", "Animal Shapes", "There Is a Place" and "How Can I Love You (If You Won't Lie Down)". Berman also stepped off the stage for a moment while Cassie sang, "The Poor, The Fair, And the Good".

Berman's voice was it's usual deep monotone self which sounded great to a Joos' fan's ears. The band was nothing spectactular but did a good job with the tunes. Besides the music, the fun part of the show was watching Berman grow in confidence throughout the night. Initially, he seemed a bit timid on stage but as the crowd's applause grew with each song, Berman seemed to realize he could do "this touring thing". About halfway through the set, he said, "I'm sorry it took me so long to get here. I had a few things I had to deal with before I could do this." Then later, he said that he knows he can do this now and plans on being back again next year. By the end of the show, he was a full-fledged rock star as he pulled his band back onto stage for a surprising second encore. Guitarist Peyton Pinkerton even seemed surprised as he shrugged his shoulders trying to figure out what was going on. People who feel intimidated on stage don't improvise or extend the lenghts of their shows. So, I took the second encore as a good sign for Berman.

They finally finished around 12:15am with a cover of a T.G. Sheppard song. As much as I wanted to hear more and more songs, I knew I had a long drive home (pulled into the driveway at 3am) and felt confident that I would see Berman in concert again.

UPDATE: Here's the link to that hideous Boston Globe review I mentioned. The guy was obviously unaware of Silver Jews and Berman's history before he was asked to review the show.

To complain about his voice is silly. It sounded just like it did on all of his albums. Any person interested in attending one of his shows would already be familiar and at peace with his voice.

I mentioned earlier about his mistaken take on Berman's music stand.

He also questions how many fans in the sold out show would see him next year if he returned, as promised. Did the reviewer not hear the constantly applause and screaming? Did he really get the impression that people weren't enjoying the show?

It just seemed like the day before the show, the music editor asked some guy who is used to reviewing Aerosmith shows to go check out some band he had never heard of before. The guy spent a half-hour with Google doing his prep work and then headed down to Cambridge. Thankfully, I don't think many indie fans are reading the Boston Globe for music guidance these days. Too many better options for indie fans.


chad said...

Great review! I believe that the joos are gong to be playing at the pitchfork festival in July. It will be interesting to see how he does at such a big show.

Flatlander said...

Thanks. How was the Chicago show?

I agree. Playing a festival type show is the next step for the guy. If he can do that then we'll be seeing him for a long time. Watch him become the new Dylan and tour constantly for the rest of his life.

Pete said...

A beautiful recap. Thanks for helping me re-live the night. I don't think Marc Hirsh of the Globe had any idea what he was reviewing. At least he got it right that the crowd (who did know what they were watching) loved it. Sucks to be him, I guess.