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January 02, 2005

Concert Fiend

Every so often I mention to my mother how glad I am she introduced me to music, because I always get this blank skeptical look that instantly fades into that careful Retired Teacher Blankface gaze that says she ain’t buying a damn word I say.

The funniest part of it is, it’s 100% true. She just didn’t notice it at the time. She taught fourth and fifth grade in elementary school, mostly, and the music part (at least as far as she knew) came in from her playing piano or the organ, at various church functions.

She knew I listened to the radio a lot throughout my teens, and that I collected a few vinyl records, but what escaped her was the other part, me growing up as she played again and again her own favorites. Mantovani, Lawrence Welk, Ferrante and Teischer, and a handful of the very best Broadway cast recordings of the late 1950s through mid-1960s. Grand, funny stuff, like this or this. Soaring, timeless songs by what history still regards as the definitive performers, like this, this, or this.

Throughout it all, music from the radio. Dave Van Ronk’s nightly concerts (or so it seemed) over WBZ Boston. Motown, over CKLW, the Windsor powerhouse station heard all up and down the East Coast. Music over WJR Detroit, everything from Tennessee Ernie Ford to Johnny Horton to Patsy Cline and Bobby Darin and Old Blue Eyes himself, the Chairman of the Board.

I slid into the folk scene by way of Ian and Sylvia Tyson, then Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and finally went straight for the main vein, brash young Bob Dylan himself, from the first album through what became about the first third of his stunning output. Over the years I bought about 300 to 400 albums (some of them as many as three times, counting CDs), and I kept listening, to what was new, what was good, and — all too late — what was live.

Silly me. I’d grown so used to albums that I just accepted the premise that the LP or CD represents the definitive version of any given song. You might have ten versions of something before you found the one you personally thought best, but at least each performer had done their very best with their version, and that (I thought!) was that.

The few live concerts I’d attended were actually disappontments, for the most part. Either I was too far from the stage, the audio was too this or too that — the list dragged on. But then after I got married to She Who Must be Obeyed, that happily changed for the better.

We started out by accepting an offhand invitation to drop in to Rusty’s Jazz Café, in Toledo. A guy I knew who was working at Port Royal Tobacconists mentioned he was “in a band” there, and we’d never been to a jazz club before, so we set aside a Sunday night and went down there.

Bam. Baseball bat across the forehead time, particularly after the Bob Rex Trio launched into my personal gold standard jazz tune, “Summertime.” Just a small grand piano, a stand-up bass, and the drums. The guy who’d invited us was Bob Rex, and he’d had various people as part of that Trio playing there for what was then going into its twentieth year.

We wound up going there nearly every week for a year, getting to know Bob, keyboardist Mark Keiswetter, and bassist Clifford Murphy (who owns his own jazz club in Toledo but on his one night off would hop across town to play at Rusty’s). I rediscovered my love for fine bass-playing, and virtuoso piano. And of course those classics, songs from America’s finest composers, all compacted into four or five terrific hours and served at a distance of six to ten feet away.

Work schedules changed and SWMBO then got Tuesday and Wednesday off for a while. We got to know other performers at Rusty’s. Guitarists. Conga players. Singers. More bassists and drummers and piano-pounders. Saxophones and flugelhorns and trombones as well. Black, white, sighted or blind, it didn’t matter — just the music. Applause during songs, saluting individual performers, or after songs, for the entire group. Getting drawn into the groove and happy to be trapped there, an emotional free-flight that invariably left us feeling high when we left, buzzed on the true American art form now loved round the world.

That led us to trying our luck with our venues, notably The Ark in Ann Arbor. Performers including Todd Snider, Jesse Cook, Saffire (The Uppity Blueswomen), John McCutcheon, and Little Feat.

But the wildest one was just this last month, after I’d more or less stopped posting at my last site but hadn’t gotten this one running yet.

Bob Rex had told me about a gig he had in Monroe (which I missed), and I wanted to make it up to him, so SWMBO and I went down to Toledo to pick up pipe tobacco for me, and perhaps find Bob, who was there.

Apologies offered, apologies accepted. And he was playing the following day at about 5 p.m., as part of a music series organized by the Monroe County Tourism Bureau, at one of the local malls. Sure, we’d be there. Hey, drive an hour to Toledo, drive an hour to Monroe, what's the difference? But then I overheard a quiet guy in his 50s who was standing in Port Royale, mentioning he was in town to perform, and I asked him who he was.

Eric Tingstad, of Tingstad and Rumbel. Exquisitely fine guitar and oboe, ocarina, and English horn duets, and a source of many great hours of listening delight throughout the mid-80s, when I was in my New Age mode. I literally dragged him over to meet my bride. Found out where he was playing — the following night, at Lourdes College in suburban Toledo. And then I knew we were in trouble, because I’d already promised Bob we’d be there in Monroe, an hour away from Toledo.

Oh, it was “doable,” as the old saying goes. Just so tight that it was nearly waterproof.

Off to Monroe, and then walk around a jammed mall in the Christmas rush, trying to find the right venue among what I suppose were several in that building. An hour of jazz, people passing by on all sides, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. By the time you have invested hours in Christmas shopping, you are going to welcome something other than just pure Christmas music. They learned that one about a third of the way into the set, launching into a latin-flavored song that drew their best applause.

Bob kinda-sorta knew we’d have to leave early, and we did, and then off down I-75 (that dreaded road I have come to hate due to trying to find Amtrak). Roaming around looking for Lourdes. Finally finding it, going in and asking if any tickets were left — and getting Row 2 in an ampitheatre about 90% filled, with only minutes to go before the show.

Finding our seats. Trying to get comfortable despite some perfume-drenched hag only two seats away, who was killing me one nostril at a time. And then the news that Eric and Nancy were actually the warm-up act for a pianist I had never heard of, David Lanz, and if we wanted to hear the rest of their set we’d have to hear him as well.

Oh well. In for a penny, in for a pound. A truly delicious set by Eric and Nancy (a true maestro in her own right with a surprisingly small and versatile series of ocarinas). What wound up being many of their best songs, off American Acoustic. (Buy this. It is splendid. And after you are addicted, buy more.)

And then David Lanz, in a neon purple tuxedo coat and Joker-baggy trousers, and an endless Yuppie stream of unfunny pseudo-sophisticate crap which utterly wrecked the effect of his Grammy-nominated (and excellent) piano performance. David, your act needs work on the patter. But everyone who buys your Romantic CD should find you were in fact well worth the money. Oh yeah — lose the coat.

All things I wanted to write about, but I wasn’t sure if I would get my archives transferred from the old site, and was reluctant to write about and then lose only a few days later. But I can tell you: two concerts in one day and in two cities is something even I am not crazy enough to try again soon.


Posted by Weaselteeth at January 2, 2005 06:25 AM