Saturday, January 13, 2007

Seeing Live Music. Slim Cessna: Solo at 31st Street Pub.

Last night I did something I haven't been in the practice of doing much lately- I went out to see some live music. There once was a time when I frequently enjoyed going out to shows. But I guess I've gotten a bit cranky as I've aged. The thought of standing in some cramped space, getting my ears rung by a bad mix of guitar rock just isn't that alluring anymore. I have some great memories and it's mostly satisfying enough to simply remember the great shows I caught in my twenties.

I got to see Pavement in 1992 at the William Pitt Union. Gary Young was still the drummer, and he made a big production out of trying to do drunk handstands on his kit. The band had to stop and set the tempo for each song beforehand. I don't think I'll ever see that type of loose, shambling glory again.

The Jesus Lizard show at the Oakland Beehive around the same time was also revelatory. David Yow was in the prime of his drunkenness, and he performed the entire set without shoes. He deep-throated the mic, and stage-dived... howling aroung the impediment in his throat while being passed from hand-to-hand in the audience. At one point he got so worked up that he pounced on the security guy, who was unfortunately running around on the steamy stage dressed merely in a pair of tighty-whities, and began to simulate sex on top of him. Yow was certainly sick.

I was lucky to see Iggy Pop outside PNC Park shortly after it was built. It was part of some alternative tour that had piggy-backed on the success of Lollapallooza. Iggy had sprained his arm during the previous night's show in Cleveland by stage-diving into a stunned crowd that failed to catch him. He jumped around stage so wildly that he shimmied right out of that sling, and had to have a roadie tape his flailing arm to his sweaty torso with duct tape. And that didn't slow him down for the rest of the show either. His manic intensity was unparalleled- which was especially amazing because he was already in his fifties.

And speaking of Lollapaloozas, I certainly saw my share of quality acts at those travelling shows. P-Funk was as loopy and obsessively retarded as I could have imagined. The Beastie Boys were a highlight. I caught bands like the Flaming Lips and Girls vs. Boys on the second stage. And I was at the Ministry show that so possessed the audience that a full-fledged riot broke out. Raving fans upset a pizza cart and started throwing the dough and tomato sauce at security. People were lighting fires and tearing clumps of sod out of the ground, hurling it at the stage. That particular episode made regional news.

The year before last I discovered Slim Cesna's Auto Club. My friend's band was opening, and he called and suggested I come out. I responded with skepticism, telling him I had lost interest in live music. He said I should just trust him and see the show anyway. I'm glad I gave in, because the Auto Club's modern day backwoods-revivalism blew me away. Slim and sideman Munly bring the word to the good people with a punk rock aesthetic and apocalyptic Americana. They are the most consistent and energetic performers that I have seen in recent years- essential and not-to-be-missed.

I also vividly remember seeing standout Yo La Tengo, Ween, Nashville Pussy, Southern Culture on the Skids, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Boss Hogg, My Morning Jacket, and Don Cabballero shows. So I guess when it comes down to it, I just have been spoiled. Standing at the 31st Street Pub last night, and availing myself of the cheap beer special, I couldn't help but feel jaded. Although I have great amounts of respect for any musicians who have the courage and determination to get an act together and take it onstage, I can't help feeling that the concept of "performance" is beyond many groups.

It's not enough to go out and hear bands play their songs in the same way they've recorded them on their albums. Why should I make an effort to go to see a band if they are going to come out and go through the motions without ever really connecting with the audience? It's cheaper and more convenient just to stay home and listen to the music in the comfort and privacy of my home. I want an experience. I don't want to watch people with their backs to me, or their heads down... in contemplation of their hands. Do something. Even if you have to engage the crown in some sort of between-song banter- I came out to be entertained. If I choose to see a band, I already know that they can play their instruments. I want more than that.

That's why I was satisfied when I saw Slim Cessna's solo act last night. The singer-songwriter schtick is especially difficult to make interesting or dynamic. Cessna pulled it off with theatrics and genuine feeling. He got off his seat and addressed the crowd directly, even jumping off the stage at one point and getting in people's faces. It was as if he was calling every spectator out. Sure... his set was heavy on Auto Club standards that I have come to know word-for-word. But he made them somehow more personal by performing them by himself. He accompanied himself via laptop... with backing tracks. This is an approach that could have easily become suspect without Slim's sincerity and professionalism. He truly understands that people came to a "show", not a recital. And people responded to him, in a way I haven't ever seen at a solo performance.


Blogger Dagrims said...

Does he ever come to the southeast? If he ever makes it to Central Florida, I'll definitely check him out.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I'll definitely let you know if I hear anything.

9:51 PM  

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