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Local Boy Does Good
By Erik Hage

Brian Bassett

Lark 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 Street.

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.

“Juliet”—one 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.

The Same Boy He Used to Be

Steve Winwood

The 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 school night!

—Paul Rapp


He Was Dancing in a New Scotland Bar

photo:Joe Putrock

At 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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