Sunday, March 27, 2011

Randy Newman
Convocation Hall
Toronto, ON

It's been almost 5 years since we last sat down for songs and stories with Randy Newman. I figured that it would be much the same songs with the possible addition of his recent Oscar winning We Belong Together. On that note...I was wrong. No pandering to the masses. The recent Oscar winner was nowhere to be heard. Got 7 different songs so it was mixed up pretty good. The big surprise was that I went to see a singer-songwriter and a piano recital broke out. Last time I saw this show I was totally focussed on the songs. Tonight it was the piano that shone through.

Convocation Hall, a unique venue that serves as a lecture hall most of the time, was less than 2/3 filled, about 800 in the audience if you count two for everyone over 250 lbs. and subtract one for all the short people. A shame really. In I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It) Randy talks of the plight of new acts trying to break into the concert circuit when old guys in walkers are still doing shows. Add to that the difficulty of seeing lots of shows when the dinosaurs doing arena concerts are asking upwards of $200 per seat. Randy's audience is being targeted by the likes of Leonard Cohen, ($250), Neil Young ($200+), Paul Simon ($180) and all the other industry darlings that can still by hyped to fill a field. (Not to disparage the quality of the shows those artists are doing, it's just that they've lost touch with their bohemian roots to say the least.)

Good comedy from the stage as well. The great line about boys; "A friend of mine, he lives close to here, had 3 boys and then a daughter. He says if he had had the girl first he would have thought the boys were retarded...girls don't eat much mud..." Observations about the music industry; "...I didn't work for Josef Stalin, I worked for guys like Josef Stalin..." And a self-awareness that a superb catalogue and wealth of talent does not necessarily fill the seats; "Thanks for coming should have brought some fucking friends..." The latter said in a humurous, not bitchy, way.

On a side note, between sets I had the priviledge of talking to our former provincial NDP Premier, currently second in command of the Federal Liberal Party, Bob Rae. I canvassed for Bob in the Broadview-Greenwood riding back in the '70's before his silk-stocking socialist phase. My dad cut his hair from the time he was in university, living around the corner, through to his stint as Premier and my dad's retirement. He should be leading the Liberals, and I predict he'll be our next Liberal Prime Minister, unfortunately that means we'll have to endure 5 years of Stephen Harper.

Set 1

T01 It's Money That I Love
T02 *Laugh and Be Happy
T03 Living Without You
T04 Short People
T05 Birmingham
T06 Marie
T07 Talk - composer of the century
T08 Girls In My Life Pt.1
T09 Talk - 4 boys and a daughter
T10 The World Isn't Fair
T11 Leave Your Hat On
T12 I Miss You
T13 Great Nations of Europe
T14 Harps and Angels
T15 Talk and Training
T16 I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)
T17 You've Got A Friend In Me
T18 Political Science

Set 2

T01 Last Night I Had A Dream
T02 *Yellow Man
T03 In Germany Before the War
T04 Baltimore
T05 My Life Is Good
T06 Emotional Girl
T07 Land of Dreams
T08 Louisiana (1927)
T09 *Rollin'
T10 Talk - Albanian Wedding Song
T11 *Wedding in Cherokee County
T12 Mama Told Me Not To Come
T13 Guilty
T14 I Love LA
T15 *Bad News From Home
T16 Losing You
T17 Red Bandana
T18 *Burn On
T19 Feels Like Home
T20 audience
T21 *Lonely At The Top
T22 I Think It's Gonna Rain
*not played in 2006

not played in 2011

In Defence of My Country
Sail Away
Dixie Flyer
Shame Shame Shame

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Lucinda Williams
Levon Helm's Ramble on the Road
Massey Hall
Toronto ON

While it may appear the billing on this post is backwards, if you were there, you would concur. For the second time running the best part of the Ramble was the superb quality of the support act. Steve Earle made the show in Woodstock last fall and Lucinda shone last night.

I have to confess I've never given Lucinda Williams too much thought. In theory I saw her perform live once; she opened for Bob Dylan in New Orleans back in the spring of 2003. I was three days into a three day bender and didn't even know Dylan had a saxophonist onstage with him until the next day. Suffice it to say I have no independent recollection of the opening set. Lots of my Dylan friends have a concurrent interest in her but that wasn't enough to convince me to dedicate the time and effort to discover and unravel another artist, especially one well into her career. More recently, at various CR Avery shows, I hear a nightly testament to her songwriting skills before the performance of Bus To Baton Rouge. Still not enough to get me to the record store, (if I could find a record store, anyone know where they went?). My bad.

When her name came up on this bill, giving me an excuse to see my 5th Ramble, I figured that was my cue. My good.

The show was heavy on more recent material; 4 songs from the new release and only one prior to 1998, out of a generous 14 song opening set. Every song was well done. Her voice is truly unique, a southern drawl that makes it so country with a hint of Buddy Holly's hiccup and Rick Danko's plaintive wail.
Some songs were terrific; Tears of Joy, Drunken Angel, Blue and Essence. Hard and honest stories.

She had a funky Cate Blanchett-doing-Bob Dylan-through Lucinda thing going on. A new spikey 'do. A perpetual smile. She was a little Chaplinesque too, at times wandering about, not aimlessly, but mischieviously. The audience was warm and she was humble in her appreciation. I know she's got an edge to her, you can hear it in her voice, but in 2011 she seems well within her own skin.

A couple songs were absolutely superb.

First the wonderfully simple and simply wonderful, Born To Be Loved. It's indescribable how subtely this tune works it's magic. Each verse contains two 'observations in the negative', samples of things that shouldn't happen to anyone, a bill of human rights in a mirror. Those two lines are followed by the repeated positive declaration found in the title. The juxtaposition of the oppressive reality of the first two lines against the emotionally naked assertion in the repeated closing couplet just hits an emotional button.

Because there's no sound attached to this blog, (it's verboten to post Recordings Of Independent Origins that have anything to do with the Ramble)I've taken the liberty of transcribing this tome, totally from memory, having heard it only, no wait, I bought the CD.

When reading just imagine Rick Danko's vocals on It Makes No Difference...that's how it sounded.

You weren't born to be abandoned
And you weren't born to be forsaken
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to be mistreated
And you weren't born to be misguided
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to be a slave
And you weren't born to be displaced
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to be abused
And you weren't born to lose
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to suffer
And you weren't born for nothing
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

The other song that knocked my socks off was the oldest of the night as Lucinda goes back to 1988 for a cut from her self-titled third album to play Changed the Locks. This is another well crafted song that doesn't follow the normal chorus-verse-chorus format but morphs into an emotion. You don't know why it works, it just works. It's the bridge, I think. The catalogue of defensive manoeuvers followed by the reasons they are necessary...absolutely heartwrenching. The progression from the mundane (locks) to the impossible (name of the town) is just exquisite.

I changed the lock on my front door so you can't see me anymore
And you can't come inside my house, and you can't lie down on my couch
I changed the lock on my front door

I changed the number on my phone so you can't call me up at home
And you can't say those things to me that make me fall down on my knees
I changed the number on my phone

I changed the kind of car I drive so you can't see me when I go by
And you can't chase me up the street, and you can't knock me off of my feet
I changed the kind of car I drive

I changed the kind of clothes I wear so you can't see me anywhere
And you can't spot me in a crowd, and you can't call my name out loud
I changed the kind of clothes I wear

I changed the tracks underneath the train so you can't find me again
And you can't trace my path, and you can't hear my laugh
I changed the tracks underneath the train

[harmonica solo]

I changed the name of this town so you can't follow me down
And you can't touch me like before, and you can't make me want you more
I changed the name of this town

I changed the lock on my front door, I changed the number on my phone
I changed the kind of car I drive, I changed the kind of clothes I wear

I changed the tracks underneath the train, I changed the name of this town
I changed the name of this town
I changed the name of this town

I don't want to minimize the quality of the rest of the show but these two songs are going to take awhile to absorb. And she wasn't done yet, as she'll appear again later in the evening to provide the highlight in the second set.

Lucinda Williams - vocals, guitar
Val McCallum - guitar
David Sutton - bass
Butch Norton - Drums

T01 Tears of Joy (from Little Honey, 2008)
T02 Can't Let Go (Randy Weeks)(from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998)
T03 Well Well Well (from Little Honey, 2008)

T04 Drunken Angel (from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998)
T05 Born To Be Loved (from Blessed, 2011)
T06 Blue (from Essence, 2001)
T07 Concrete and Barbed Wire (from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998)
T08 Convince Me (from Blessed, 2011)
T09 Seeing Black (from Blessed, 2011)
T10 Essence (from Essence, 2001)

T11 band intro
T12 Honey Bee (from Little Honey, 2008)
T13 Changed the Locks (from Lucinda Williams, 1988)
T14 encore break
T15 Blessed (from Blessed, 2011)
T16 Joy (from Live at the Fillmore, 2005)

The thing about Levon Helm don't get near enough Levon. If you haven't seen the Ramble yet you should get on your horse and make your way to Woodstock. Seeing this hootenany in Levon's barn is an experience that transcends the evenings agenda. When he goes on the road he isn't shy about bringing quality artists with him but it's not quite the same thing. In fact the buyer should beware. This is not a Band revue, though homage is paid to that part of Levon's career. If you think you're gonna hear hit after hit, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down or Up On Cripple Creek...well, it ain't gonna happen. The center piece of Levon's performance is Ophelia, and it's almost worth the price of admission. (As an aside, Up on Cripple Creek would have been an appropriate song tonight as Lucinda hails from Lake Charles, Louisiana.)He lends some harmonies to a few of the other songs, shares the lead on Dylan's Blind Willie McTell with Larry Campbell and takes a verse or two of The Weight, but other than that it's his mandolin, drums, cheer-leading and sense of bon-vivant that carries the show, not nostalgic renditions of Top 40 hits...and that may not be a bad thing.

It really should be billed as "Ramble on the Road: A Hootenany of American Music, featuring Levon Helm and many special guests." That's not to disparage Levon. This stuff wouldn't be available without him, it's a joy to share his love of this music.

Levon Helm drums, mandolin, vocals
Larry Campbell guitars, vocals
Brian Mitchell keyboards, vocals
Teresa Williams vocals
Amy Helm vocals
Clark Gaydon Trombone
Jay Collins Sax
Stephen Bernstein Trumpet
Eric Lawrence Sax
Howard Johnson Tuba
Byron Isaacs Bass
Jimmy Wieder Guitar
Justin Drums
Disc 1

T01 Intro (John Donabie)
T02 The Shape I'm In (Brian Mitchell vox)
T03 A Whole Lot of Reasons(?)(girls vox)
T04 Little Lost Sheep(?) (girls vox)
T05 Opheilia (Levon vox)
T06 Cyprus Grove (Larry vox)
T07 Ain't That Good News (girls vox, Sam Cooke)
T08 Bourgeois Blues (Brian Mitchell vox, Leadbelly)
T09 Crescent City(Lucinda Williams vox)
T10 Evangeline (Lucinda Williams vox)

Disc 2

T01 Deep Elum Blues (Larry Campbell vox)
T02 All On A Mardi Gras Day (ensemble
T03 Blind Willie McTell (Larry and Levon, vox)
T04 ?Come Home (CW Gatlin vox)
T05 Goin' To Acapulco (Byron Isaacs vox)
T06 Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (girls vox)
T07 some somnambulant hymn type song (girls vox)
T08 When I Go Away
T09 Band Intro
T10 The Weight (ensemble)
T11 encore break
T12 I Shall Be Released (ensemble)