Monday, September 3, 2007

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: 11th Street Bar - 9PM, 8/14/07

The 11th Street Bar (between Aves A & B on 11th) is one of those dying-breed Manhattan locals which you walk by two or three times in each direction before you realize you've walked by it two or three times already. The bushes on either side of the entrance give it the feeling that it's been set back from the rest of the buildings on the street; it has a couple of park benches for smokers, it doesn't have a glaring neon sign, in fact it doesn't have any signs at all except for the beer signs that declare it has a liquor license. Inside, it's set up like the bar version of James West's two-car train: the first car is the bar, with tables on the right and the bar on your left as you walk in, and the second car is the sitting room/music room, which opens up into a rectangle with tables and chairs. It also has the coolest speaker system I've ever seen, period:

It looks like the backboard to a portable basketball net, but it's actually the Bose L1 Model 1 speaker system, featuring what Bose calls "the unique Cylindrical Radiator® loudspeaker." Guitar World says that the "… sound radiates and fills the room in a way far more natural than a typical loudspeaker . . . it's a real breakthrough in amplified sound . . ." And they're not lying. This speaker makes the brick-walled back room of a local Irish bar sound better than half the music venues in Manhattan. No lie. (And God knows it's universes better than the rat's-nest sound board at Pete's Candy Store.) This weird looking thing that looks like the Sentinel from 2001 makes what turns out to be a magical evening even more special. Because yes, this is the best night of music these three guys have given us so far.

Maybe it's the day off, maybe it's the atmosphere, maybe it's the musical equivalent of a bad technical rehearsal (Pete's) leading to a great opening (tonight). It does feel like an opening. The crowd is relaxed, the mood is casual, and the guys are obviously having fun playing with each other and listening to each other.

During one of the tunings, Matt tells the Pirates of the Caribbean version of a joke I heard 20 years ago about Lord Nelson, the punch line of which is "Ensign? Bring me my brown pants." In Matt's version it's "Arrrrr -- bring me my brown pants." As he tells it, I'm trying not to laugh at the set-up, because I know exactly where it's going. Chris meanwhile does the song he wrote for his fiancee MC, the one he's going to sing at is wedding, and he mentions that she's in the audience. Everybody starts looking around, but luckily MC went to the bar so she's not sitting audience right at the table where she used to be, she's behind everybody else, and those of us who see her refrain from pointing her out. And Mike, as he talks to the crowd and puts everybody at their ease, sings the praises of one of Matt's new songs, the one Mike can't get out of his head, the one I think of as The great Lost Bodeans Song, Tall Trees," which Matt ends up doing after Mike requests it.

Matt has two different styles, one for when he's playing solo and one for when he's playing with El Torpedo. "Tall Trees" has such a solo feel to it that I can't imagine what the band is going to do with it when they sink their musical teeth in it, but then I could say that about most of the full-band songs Matt's been doing solo. Subtle tempo changes and intimate vocals turn them into something completely different. You almost never hear the timber wolf howl that Matt does when he's fronting the group; but when you do hear it in his solo performances, the effect is electric.

It's one of those nights where you don't want anyone to look at their watch or their cellphone to see what time it is, because when that happens, Time is actually going to intrude on what could go on forever, like a home-team rally with two outs at the bottom of the ninth: nothing but hit after hit, score after score, and the potential to go on forever.

Tonight, instead of the Neil Young song they usually do together, the one I recognize the second it starts and forget the name of the minute it's over, they do a cover of Lodi by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and it's fantastic.

And then it ends, long after anybody thought it would. And Matt puts his hat on, and Mike starts to put his guitar away, and Chris is smiling at his fiancee, and then everyone in the audience starts asking for an encore. Since Matt has to do at least one song a night wearing some kind of hat, this works out fine for him. The guys confer a little, and after some back and forth from the audience (Nicole: "Handle Me With Care!" Matt: "Damn, I don't have the lyrics on this guitar.") they wind up doing "The Weight" and it is just joyous, it's good enough to make me laugh with delight.

It's nights like this that remind me how lucky we are to live in these days of modern times. We are so spoiled by having music at our fingertips, and we forget how hearing a frozen recording of a single performance or a compiled production cannot ever compare to the charge of the impromptu, the energy of the improvisation, the joy of the back and forth that a great live performance gives you, if you're lucky enough to be there. Tonight all of us were lucky. Tonight all of us were there.

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