Dateline: Louisville, KY, 6/21/14
It wasn't the most awesome concert experience I've been to, although one of the opening bands blew me away with their precision and professionalism. The first band, sad to say, was a throwaway, a power trio of dirty hippies dressed like Pigpen, (think dirty cowboy hats, greasy jeans, and flannels) playing raunchy psychedelia...not much to report there, but they did have nice guitars, as compared to me (a shitty ol’ Gretsch with electrical problems, a borrowed Telecaster and a borrowed Breedlove C350) but sounded only slightly better then when Matt Atkins and I play.
Except between acts I saw and briefly met the man, Sean Lennon. I’d read and seen his interviews, and never really knowing his music, invested a lot of preconcert time listening to his new album, Midnight Sun, and two previous albums, La Carotte Bleue and Friendly Fire. His latest albums are with his well-practiced band, The GOASTT. He was a nice guy. Obviously exhausted but kind, graceful, honest. That’s what I got for the handshake and my mild intrustion into Mr. Lennnon’s life as a working musician.
As usual for these types of venues, there was lots of strong beer and the legendary Zanzabar Pizza... Hot out on the patio, broiling inside with all the human traffic: die hard Beatles fans, lots of indie rockers, barflies, frat boys, and jocks from UL. Tattoos galore. A typical midwestern local music venue: you can find these types of bars all the way fron Lexington to Dayton: a small stage, a long bar, in a sketchy neighborhood. I guess what might bother Lennon bothered me. All the Beatle fans expecting the second coming. I wanted to be amused and actually learn from this dude, his music, his way of playing.
In the middle of things, The most amazing band by far was the Richie White Orchestra, fronted by Cesar Padilla, with some help from Lydia Lunch. Hard, punky, prog, driving and loud and mesmerizing. Great songs like "Marlboro County" and "I Be Michael"...the best "local band" I've seen in ages. I don't wanna talk the band up too much here, but check them out on Facebook if you wish. I also met Cesar during the break and he was puro superpadre tambien.
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When The GOASTT went on stage in a quiet and breathless moment, they started into their new album without as much as blink...Lennon's and Muhl's vocal work and the sheer drive of the band pushed the audience right up to the sonic wall, producing near replicas from the album, Midnight Sun. The space was small and crowded and noisy with not the best sound, yet they rocked it. There were small jokes in between, a contest to identify an old Patsy Cline song, and weird asides to Paul Getty--the subject of of the band's most interesting and sardonic songs. I was wishing he'd do more from La Carotte Bleue, such as "2012," or early stuff from Friendly Fire, at least to cut back on the heavy intellectual psychedelics he offered. I left with admiration, and was stunned by the energy of the band and their tight sound, but I had some hard questions: Why was the Richie White Orchestra so f'n good? Why is any local music scene so rich with veritable unknowns? I remembered I’d be playing in late July in a “jam band” that did full live renditions of THE LAST WALTZ. As a poet, I’ve read for five for 500. Swirling in my brain, the importance of Lennon’s work in the light of the singer/songwriter movement that took from American poetry its punch and its relevance. Shit. I’d die to have that kind of talent as a lyricist. What I really wanted to do. What is the strength and depth of Lennon's oeuvre? Is it "all too much?" After listening to his early sentimental work, on Friendly Fire, can I find a balance between that and his new heavy, driving, symbolic, allegoric and metaphoric psychedelic explorations of our culture?
I have to admit I like sentimentality and insist that my students risk it in the stories and poems they write. Sure it can be overdone and become maudlin or cloying. But the brief exposure of the human soul, the artist's soul, is worth it. I briefly felt that when I shook Mr. Lennon's hand. I hear it in his songs, and sensed that, when he was on stage, even in that small hot tight venue, for all the genius of his songs, the deep and clever lyrics, the chord progressions so affirmative and revelatory. I know there are some things any son cannot deny his father. As undeniable as when my father's 84 year old sister says I walk, talk, act, and look just like my long lost father.
As Bob Seger said, the songs reach you at the end of evening, there in the hotel room, and you replay what you saw in your head until you sleep. Dayton's a long way home and your travel has just begun. The GOASTT cd? It sits in a stack with all your faves on the back seat while the Replacements drive you home.