Boy Does Good
Street Book Shop, Oct. 15
On Saturday night, local singer-songwriter Brian Bassett chose
one of the more pleasant, less conventional and intimate venues
in the area for an opportunity to record a live CD and DVD.
Bassett, walled in by tiers of books (and flanked by a few
decorative candles), laid out his two-album canon of sharp,
hook-filled tunes before an appreciative crowd of 30 to 40
people while the Lark Street Book Shop played the perfect,
genial hosts for the event—with patrons contentedly sipping
at cups of Chardonnay and munching on cheese and (now-in-season)
candy corn while October winds tossed stray leaves down Lark
On album, Bassett likes to couch his songcraft in rich walls
of guitars and full-on production. But he has also experienced
a parallel development as a solo, acoustic strummer of note
over the past couple of years; Saturday night’s performance
was testament to the strength of that development.
The triple focus of recording gear, video camera and an audience
of family and friends seemed to have Bassett a little on edge;
his in-between-song banter (eyes averted, nervously scratching
at himself) seemed a little tighter and terser than he might
have wanted it to be. But the songs worked surprisingly well
in the quieter medium; Bassett has been accused (often by
me) of being a songwriter of grand gestures, of being a writer
in search of a big arena. Nevertheless, he made his broad
rock intentions work in the quieter mode.
of the hookiest, most grandly produced tunes from his most
recent album (and a song that has had a nice run on WEQX)—found
new life with just the wooden Martin and Bassett’s pipes bolstering
it. It was also a brave song to open with, as its histrionics
are something that one would typically build to. (Technically,
it wasn’t the first tune: Bassett “warmed up” with a strong,
moving rendition of the Elvis Costello classic “Blame It on
Cain,” a nice fit for his style.) He followed that up with
“NYC,” a highlight from his first album.
Other standout tracks included the lyrically deft “Whispered
Hit Parade” and the closing, upbeat workout “Damage Control,”
which he took on as a request after fobbing up the lyrics
and bailing out on the other intended closing number. All
in all, it was a strong night of music for Bassett—and the
Lark Street Book Shop proved itself a top-notch, comfortable
and well-suited venue for the occasion. Catch the shop’s acoustic
series if you can.
Same Boy He Used to Be
Egg, Oct. 11
One of the odder facets of rock music is the graying of its
superstars. We all talk about it—a lapsed rock icon shows
up on TV or walks out on stage and we all whisper to one another
about how much he or she has wrinkled, lost hair/teeth, put
on serious poundage, etc. We laugh sadly, as we see our reflection
in the often- freakshow carnage brought on by time and excess
and complicated living.
So what’s the deal with Steve Winwood? The guy appears to
have stopped aging around 1981. I don’t know how he looked
up close, but from my seat he easily could have passed as
the happy, successful son of almost any of the members of
the audience. And he’s 57.
This was a spectacular, unhurried (nearly three hours!) show.
Winwood and his facile four-piece band tinkered with the songs,
culled largely from the Traffic songbook, but never at the
expense of the essence of the sometimes oblique, challenging
songs. The ending coda to “Glad,” a Booker-T-ish instrumental
trifle, was easily twice as long as the song itself, and about
three times more exciting. “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,”
perhaps the greatest FM DJ pee-break song ever, clocked in
at 15 delicious minutes. If Winwood liked what was going on
(and he was beaming throughout the show, so I think he did),
he’d just sit on a groove ’till he had a real good reason
to leave it. This kind of attitude is rarely found outside
the jam-band circuit these days, and it’s a device that can
be disastrous in the wrong hands. With these guys it was revelatory.
The show centered on Winwood’s remarkable voice and the B-3
organ. In a time when we are endlessly assaulted with digital
mimicry, it was a privilege to be warmed by real sound, familiar,
challenging, and true. He cheated a couple high notes, and
the graceful “Can’t Find My Way Home” was transposed down
a few keys, but it didn’t really matter; he’s a masterful
singer. There was no bass player—Winwood supplied the bass
lines with his foot pedals, and he was so good at it that
only rarely did the lack of punch mar a song’s intensity or
drive. He also came out front a few times—his soaring, Claptonesque
guitar solo at the end of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” was arena- worthy,
and brought the big, comfortable crowd to their feet.
The encore was the bookends of his hitmaking period, “Higher
Love,” which was Afro-grooved up to replace the insidious
synth heavy arrangement of the original. This got the girls
dancing. Then into a sprightly shadow of “Gimme Some Lovin’,”
which got everybody else up off their asses. At 11:15 on a
Was Dancing in a New Scotland Bar
Valentine’s on Saturday, Jonathan Richman played a set drawing
heavily on his idiosyncratic forays into world pop—the Italian
songs, the Spanish songs, the French songs, all were well-represented.
Perhaps craving a bit more of the “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian
Bar”-style Richman, the audience clamored for an encore and
received an earnest and wrenching a capela ode to Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Richman’s was preceded by a hushed and lovely set by Vic Chesnutt.