Two years ago I was in Dallas and ended up stranded due to snow, sleeping on the airport floor with the cowboys, cowgirls and other interstate interients. So it was with a sense of contented anticipation when I escaped the sprawling airport’s tentacles. Arriving in Austin it was uplifting to hear a Lucinda Williams track seeping from the airport P.A. system rather the moozak or the chatter of competing flight calls. The last time I had an enduring impression of an airport was several years ago in New Orleans where a portable bar dispensed cocktails as you waited for your bags…for many that may have been the last thing they remembered. Anchoring my 36 hours in town was a pilgrimage to catch John Prine in concert. For the first time I’d secured the tickets through Twitter… a good thing as it turned out, sitting in row 5, centre in the three level auditorium.
Opening for Mr Prine was Jim Lauderdale who got a toes the twitching and tapping with his Bluegrass tinged jangle. A major Nashville songwriting talent, he has filled his cowboy boots with the proceeds of songs like Twang which is the title track from the latest George Strait album. I especially enjoyed “King of Broken Hearts” which he wrote as a tribute to George Jones. Jones hasn’t recorded it yet but Strait has. Talked to him after his set and he has played Tamworth as wants to play Bluesfest. As I took my seat for the main event I noted that unlike earlier in the week there was not a beret in sight, just lots of beards and denim. Then in a sign that I had spent too much time in planes in the past week I then went through the motions of fumbling for a seatbelt. It wasn’t required for this trip. Prine walked out to a returning hero’s welcome, thunderous applause and whistles before he had the chance to spin one of his yarns. Part of his story is surviving throat cancer so a husky quality to his voice comes from physical suffering. While his eyes sparkle, yours start to glisten as he sketches portraits of loneliness, ageing and quiet despair. What makes all this palatable is his wistful wit, distinctive phrasing and elegance of delivery. That is way Dylan rates him one of the best.
Maybe it’s time to buy a beret. You know the kind Samuel Jackson made cool.
I would have been very much in sartorial step at last night’s Richard Thompson gig. “RT “ wears one and so too do many of his tall bald fans. I watched the raindrops cling to beret flannel of several retired professor types as we waited to enter the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.
While I’ve dabbled with RT for quite some time but it was only after seeing his son Teddy live in Bangalow, of all places, that I set about tackling his considerable back catalogue. Volumes of muscular folk is what I discovered. Guitar licks crafted with precision and intensity…. dark lyrics worthy of late night whiskey and brooding. I’ve secured most of his LP’s now… vinyl collectors get very excited about original copies of “Bright Light’s Tonight” & “Shoot Out the Lights”.
The first half of his show we were treated to a complete run-through of an album he’s yet to record. So now instead of plundering the past I have an RT album that doesn’t exist rattling around my head. While he also played an hour or so of classics with his full band, including violin and brass, it’s the new songs that haunt me this morning. I want to hear “Stumble On” again, along with “Brother Slips Away” and “Haul it in”… but I’ll have to be patient and wait for several months before I slip the wax from the jacket and hear this bout of songwriting brilliance again. Waiting is rare in this downloadable age.
It’s worth the wait. By then it will be summer and a case of bugger the beret, pass the beach hat and Balvenie.
Watching Elvis Costello solo the other night I found myself not being inflicted with any condition other than sustained bliss. Much is written about his songwriting prowess, but he is also a master of the cover. He rolled out George Jones (Roses), Van (Jackie Wilson Said), Bruce (Brilliant Disguise), Charles Aznavour (She) even his take on Ron Sexsmith’s version EC (Everyday I Write the Book).
This was my fourth visit to Elvisdom, each trip being radically different, from angry young man pumping it up, Garage Band Rocker, New Orleans sideman to Dylan tinged Song & Dance Man. “Alison” sounded sweet at all.
But who cared what he and his guitar played next? With such a deep and diverse back catalogue to call upon and his ability to reinvent songs best go with the flow for 130 odd minutes.
Elvis & Me…
1980 Sweetwaters… Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
2003 Tokyo… Elvis Costello and the Imposters.
2006 Cape Cod… Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint.