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No Worse For Wear
By Erik Hage

Guy Clark
The Egg, March 6

Perhaps one of the more enduring (and, at times, grating) clichés is that of the Texas troubadour—that denim-shirted blend of masculinity with hints of self-destruction, pugilism, and the saving grace of a poetic heart. Guy Clark’s good friend Townes Van Zandt rode the myth to the grave, writing some pretty amazing songs along the way, while Clark’s protégé (and onetime bass player) Steve Earle still trumpets a little too hard and proudly about his road to hell and back again via crack and heroin. (More often than not these guys end up living in graduated ranch houses in Nashville’s West End.)

But Clark himself is somewhat of a lion in the road where that myth is concerned. Emerging in the early ’70s, he certainly helped carve out the prototype, but there’s always been something delicate and refined about Clark (unlike the glass-blown fragility of Van Zandt, which teetered dangerously and threatened to shatter at any moment). Clark has written tunes for the manliest of men—Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, the Highwaymen—but there’s a surprising degree of craftsmanship and gentility in his approach.

Clark builds guitars in a woodshop in his basement, and his favorite metaphors (e.g. “Boats to Build”) involve woodworking. And it’s that kind of practicality and workmanship that Clark and longtime collaborator Verlon Thompson brought to the Egg last Sunday night. Clark—ungainly tall, in pressed jeans and snowy, feathered hair—was admittedly in rough shape.

His burlap rasp was particularly roadworn, sometimes reducing him to fits of coughing, and his guitar picking, which isn’t exactly deft on best days, seemed particularly plodding this time out. “Burn it up, Guy!” he sarcastically egged himself on during one particularly shaky fret-run, keeping the audience in stitches. At another point, he cracked that he needed to tune his guitar if he was going to trade some more “hot licks” with Thompson (who actually happens to be a nimble player).

But these things are simply implements, and Clark, eye on the horizon, steadily and simply built his stories, gradually pulling the audience into his sphere. Clark’s songs don’t hang on memorable hooks, and don’t have the brilliantly fractured poeticism of Van Zandt’s, but they scrutinize the small details of ordinary living in such a light that they become enchanting.

“Stuff That Works” is the quintessential Clark tune, and it came off particularly profound. There’s a sing-songy simplicity to the tune, both lyrically and melodically: “I got an ol’ blue shirt and it suits me just fine/I like the way it feels, so I wear it all the time/I got an old guitar, it won’t ever stay in tune/I like the way it sounds in a dark and empty room.”

But it seemed even more poignant when delivered in Clark’s cracked, ragged tones, with him standing there tall and knock-kneed, eyes scrunched shut and plugging away as if the song just occurred to him. A serendipitous moment came mid-tune, when the 63-year-old Clark disintegrated into a helpless coughing spasm. Verlon Thompson leaped at the mic to take over right around the passage that goes: “I got a pretty good friend who’s seen me at my worst/He can’t tell if I’m a blessing or a curse/But he always shows up when the chips are down.” The room erupted in a collective moment of realization.

Despite the vocal breakdown (and besides the triptych of “Sis Draper” tunes) it was the most stirring moment of the night. In fact, the whole absorbing night seemed to hang on the lesson from “Stuff That Works”: It seems well-built songs, much like Clark’s metaphorical boats, can carry you through the roughest of patches.

Broken Record

Fatman Scoop, DJ Biz
Northern Lights, March 5

“Right now this shit looks like a high school dance,” complained Fatman Scoop as he surveyed the Northern Lights crowd before his set on Saturday night. “This isn’t how I do it,” the husky DJ announced before ordering staff to turn the lights down and admonishing the crowd to move closer to the DJ booth. He even threatened to pair men and women up as dance partners if the scene on the dance floor didn’t sufficiently heat up. In a live setting, Fatman Scoop is more of a club cheerleader than DJ, leaving the turntable manipulation to DJs Riz and Sizzahandz of the Crooklyn Clan. Instead, the yellow T-shirted Scoop introduced hiphop tracks, rapped occasional lines and hyped the crowd with his booming decrees: “Put your hands up!” and “Ooh, single ladies, I can’t hear y’all, make noise!”

Fatman Scoop (his real name is Isaac Freeman III) has a number of facets to his career: The former Tommy Boy record executive has produced several major club hits with the Crooklyn Clan, including “Be Faithful,” a fire-starting party track that samples from Black Sheep, the Beatnuts, Jay-Z and Faith Evans and features Scoop’s gruff vocal entreaties. Scoop also hosts a popular nightly show at New York City’s Hot 97 radio station, which was in the news last week for a shooting incident that took place outside the station involving associates of 50 Cent and the Game. Although the rappers collaborated on the Game’s critically acclaimed debut album The Documentary, the two are now said to be feuding over comments made by 50 Cent while on the air at Hot 97.

Scoop made no mention of the incident. “We’re going to start off with a real fire joint,” he announced, introducing the Game’s “How We Do” as the first track of his set, which didn’t get underway until after 1 AM. (DJ Biz of Albany’s Jamz 96.3 aptly warmed up the crowd in the hours prior.)

As a performer, Scoop isn’t quite a rapper or a DJ; his style is more akin to the early Jamaican sound system MCs who toasted over records to engage the crowd and animate the vinyl being played. Toward the end of the night, Scoop’s set took a reggae turn, moving from mournful reggae classic “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” into a chopped-up mix of Beenie Man’s two recent hits: “Dude” and “King of the Dancehall.” The Crooklyn Clan DJs favored a quick mixing style that transitioned rapidly from one snippet of song to the next, hitting old-school references as well as new, from the Notorious B.I.G. to Snoop Dogg’s current hit, “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” With the fast transitions, however, the crowd seemed to lose focus for a time, barely getting into the groove of a track before the DJs moved on to the next.

We never heard “Be Faithful,” but the show ended prematurely, so perhaps it was coming. After Scoop pulled some women from the crowd to shake it onstage during the Ying Yang Twins’ “Salt Shaker,” a booty-off that ended poorly with scattered boos from the crowd and visible annoyance from Scoop, the club abruptly shut off the sound from the stage, leaving the performers looking pissed and the crowd confused. Turns out the soundman was adhering to Clifton Park’s 3 AM sound ordinance. Who knew there was such a thing?

—Kirsten Ferguson

Overheard:“If you have to go through that to get a dance, you’re a lame motherfucker.”

—a woman at the bar at Northern Lights as Fatman Scoop was threatening to pair up people in the audience to fill the dance floor.

Rock, Downsized

Don’t judge them by their size—the members of Mini Band may play tiny instruments, but they make a plenty big ruckus on their latest release, Man, You Know Your Shit’s All Fucked When You’re Trapped Inside a Box. The West Chester, Penn., goofballs, who have been compared to left-of-the-dial acts like the Minutemen and Deerhoof, took the Fuze Box stage on Monday (March 7).

 

 

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