2012-2013 has been a pretty amazing time for live music. So amazing, in fact, that I feel it deserves a recap. I haven’t performed live since December but I’ve been fortunate to see five musicians I truly admire. In chronological order: Mount Eerie, Jeff Mangum, Jaymay, Jad Fair, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. A lot of J names, I know, and I don’t know how that came about. What are the odds? Well, if I still lived in Las Vegas I might be able to tell you.
Mount Eerie, The Microphones
Back in October I saw Mount Eerie perform at The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix, AZ and after the show I got to sit with the band and talk with Phil Elverum. Phil was nice and soft-spoken, unaffected by my sad attempt at controlling my fanboyness. I got into The Microphones – a former incarnation of Mount Eerie – around the fall of 2001; they recorded exclusively on reel-to-reel tape, a practice that Mount Eerie still follows, and it suits both the sound and the atmosphere of their music. At the time, I was still recording on four-track cassette tape, some of which would end up on the “bonus songs!” section of the maybe by this time next year / today is boring double disc. Ever since hearing the first song on The Glow Pt. 2 I’ve thought about that sound, the texture, during every recording session I’ve had. I’ve made at least a few obvious attempts to duplicate it, but in general it made me think about how much, or how little, you can add to a song and the organic nature of that process.
Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel
Although I thought I’d never be able to say this, I saw Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel perform live; he played two shows in one night and I went to both. Neutral Milk Hotel recorded various songs, an EP and two albums; one of them, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, is probably one of the greatest albums ever (ever). Surreal, thought-provoking, beautiful, inspiring, tragic and epic. Years ago Jeff retreated from the spotlight and it seemed like he would never tour again until recently; he still didn’t really talk to anyone and snuck onto (and then off) the stage. Still, seeing him and hearing his unique piercing voice, singing songs that sound like the strangest dreams, waving and half-bowing appreciatively (and shyly) was quite the experience. I’m not one of those crying-at-shows people, but I came close a couple times.
For our first concert as Austin residents, we went to see Jaymay at Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque. Jaymay is absolutely one of my favorite musicians. If you only have two minutes listen to “Long Walk To Never,” but if you have ten minutes listen to “You’d Rather Run” from Autumn Fallin’. She writes and sings with honesty and sincerity, her stories unfolding in minutes with all the quality of a great book or movie, with songs that sound like they have to be true, because the humor, the heartbreak, the love is all right there in front of you. Anyway, her performance was amazing. I talked to her before the show, helped adjust the microphone stand and even got a shout-out. She was as nice as can be.
Jad Fair, Half Japanese
During my first trip to Waterloo Records as an Austin resident, I noticed a plainly printed letter-size flier announcing that Jad Fair would be performing the next day. Jad Fair! The Jad Fair! Okay, not a household name, but a founding member of Half Japanese, a band I love and a band that helped further inspire me to express myself, even if I had to make some noise or sing not-perfectly to do it. To a certain extent I owe a lot of my noisier feedback-ridden recordings to the Velvet Underground, but I think Half Japanese helped me consider the possibility of making noise for people, not necessarily at them.
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
It seems many places in Austin are legendary, and The Cactus Cafe is one of those places. Townes Van Zandt used to play there, and in my opinion any room he set foot in is legendary. Carrie and I saw folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott play there; it’s a small room, accommodating around 150 people (guessing). I’ve seen some video footage of Ramblin’ Jack, most memorably in Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara, and I’ve heard a fair amount of his live recordings, but seeing this short cowboy walk into the room like he was just some guy – that was something. Well, first some kid pushed past him to get into the room, and the ignorance of that action made me want to grab the kid and sing “Diamond Joe” in his face. (I say kid, but he might’ve been in his early or mid twenties. Shhh.) Ramblin’ Jack lived up to his nickname and spent much of his set telling funny stories. He talked about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, offering hilariously accurate impressions of both of them. A cowboy poet friend of his recited a couple poems while Jack took a break and got coffee. I also got coffee, primarily so I could say I shared a pot of coffee with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.