Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open Mic, Monday, October 13, 2008

Last night for a while I was sitting next to a couple from Australia who perform as The Late Night Sound and were in town for just a couple of weeks. Unfortunately I didn't get to stick around to hear them play, (but I'm listening to some songs on their Myspace page now and it's nice stuff--kind of an updated mid-sixties sound.) But the point is, after chatting with them about the Open Mic before the evening really started it kind of enabled me for a moment to look back at how it was to experience the Open Mic for the first time. While the quality was all over the place last night, there certainly was a lot of quirky energy and it brought back some of that excitement of sitting there watching person after person get up and put themselves out there with all the gusto and heart they had. 

On top of that, the night kicked off with this whole political vibe. Several of the first ten or so acts did songs that were political in nature. I guess because there is so much politics in the air now anyway, the cluster of topical material stood out, but it did seem like a bit of a theme to the evening. More on that later.

Ben K. kicked things off by describing his new post-natal attitude toward mice. He said that until recently he'd sworn off glue traps because they caused a lot of suffering. He and his wife used other less harsh methods. But now that he's a dad and mice have been spotted in the kitchen where his daughter's bottles are prepared, etc., he's all about the glue traps again. "Fuck the Mice" was Ben's battle cry for the evening.

Ben started things off with a Crabs on Banjo song that he and Brian Speaker performed together. They sang  "Post Office Pizza Party," which Brian chimed in on using the mic from the sound booth. I still haven't made it to a Crabs on Banjo set unfortunately, but the song was a lot of fun.

Starting things off with the regular list was "Old Hat," which consisted of Dibs, Dan Fishback,and  Preston, although some of the other members weren't there last night. They are playing tonight (Tuesday, 10/14) as part of Dibs's residency at Sidewalk. They started off with a piece that kind of reminded me of the song "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea," which my dad used to sing us on long car trips. It seemed as if they started with a word (the first word was "Peter") and then evolved the song by going back to the beginning and adding on additional words each time. Maybe it was a group songwriting thing where each member picked up on what the previous one had done. After somehow winding it's way to the topic of fish tacos the song ended up as a parody of the Beach Boys tune Kocomo. Their second song was something about the Hunter's Moon and that ended up as a sing a long. 

Next up was Des Picard, visiting from Chicago, who started the whole run of political songs. He had a song about voting...only takes 15 minutes every four years,...and one about "every inch of my freedom." Not sure I appreciated the visual on that one. In any event, I was distracted by the big sticker with his web address that he had on the front of his guitar. 

He was followed by Sfu-ma-to (I think that's who it was), who also launched into some political material. Sfu-ma-to tried to squeeze in some extra songs beyond the two-song limit and Ben wavered on cutting him off as he played song three. 

Sam Grossman from the Wowz played a couple tunes solo in order to promote the trio's upcoming cd release party this Saturday. I'm so used to seeing the Wowz together with all their harmonies and accompaniment, that it was unusual seeing Sam performing their material on his own. I like the vibe of the Wowz a lot, though. Should be a good show on Saturday with Soft Black, Joe Crow Ryan, Turner Cody and others.

Steve White, a visiting British guy was next. Sang about the USA. I guess it was a view of America from the point of view of an English guy...."wanna play CBGBs before I die" and we (Americans) "drink Budweiser and they call it beer." There was a bit more to it than that. The song was not explicity political, but still in the topical vein that defined the evening to this point. His next song was about money.

Next up was John Murdoch, a comedian whose set I mostly missed while downstairs, but I did return in time to see the power go out on him. He continued with his material through the darkness and without amplification, which I appreciated. In general I wish that amplification was less of a factor at Sidewalk. Maybe it's necessary with all the noise from the bar and kitchen, but it would be nice to have an All Acoustic night or something.

Torn Curtain was next. I can't really say what it was that I liked about this guy's stuff, but it was powerful and poetic. I will have to hear him some more. He sang a song called something like "Politician's Eyes" but it really wasn't about topical politics. It had a broader concept to it but I'll admit that I need to hear the song again to fully absorb it. Same with the following song, which also had some lovely qualities to it called "Winter Light."

A duo called Fred and Matt performed next. Interesting in that they were very polished, very rehearsed. Nice harmonies. They reminded me a bit of Loggins and Messina. One of their songs featured an extensive mouth trumpet solo.

The Fools played and got off to a bit of a rough beginning with false starts on two songs. They ended up skipping those and choosing two other songs. I thought I was familiar with most of their material but I don't think I recognized the two they ended up playing. I truly love the Fools. Their material is so real and heartfelt and beautifully expressed.

Hanna Fairchild played the Columbus Day Blues.

I headed out to stretch my legs a bit at this point and so missed a few acts. I came back to hear Chloe, singing a song in a comic vein that seemed to have a lot to do with her attraction to a gay male friend, with a lot of creative descriptions of his preferred sexual activity.

Debe Dalton sang "Missed Opportunities." Beautiful as usual.

Annie Folk (not sure if I got that name right)--anyway it was a guy--could have been Eddie Folk--sang a song called "Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars." It was interesting. This was his first time at Sidewalk so he will undoubtedly grow smoother, but his song had some interesting ideas, including silently mouthing the refrain at the end.

Andrew Duncan pulled together a group of his pals....Isaac, Ariel, and Torn Curtain who backed him up. Arial really adds a lot on guitar in just about any situation. 

I didn't catch his name, but a blonde, dreadlocked accordion player did a song about how "love's a tricky thing," and the "birds and bunnies, flowers sing your name." There was something utterly charismatic about this guy even though he was a bit nervous and his song called to mind a scene from a Disney movie (even if it was mildly tongue in cheek). Ben offered him a show right away. 

Noni from Israel turned back to political/topical material with a song about the situation in the Middle East.

About political songs....I definitely understand the urge to deal with current events in song and to express outrage over the political climate. However, I somehow find that it can be more effective to wind political thought more subtly into songs that deal with a range of human experience. I guess what I'm trying to say is that directly political songs can seem either like preaching to the choir or lecturing. It seems as if a goal should be to explore political and cultural issues through views that delve more into human soulfullness. In other words, how does the climate of our culture and society affect our human relationships, our feelings about ourselves? Ideally dealing with these questions of humanity can reflect the nature of our political climate better than talking directly about what is on CNN.

As always I wished I could have stayed around a bit more. I saw that Monica from Norway who I liked a lot last week was signed up to play....but not till number 40! So, till next time.


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