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James Yorkston + Sam Prekop

(4 Jun 2005: Mercury Lounge — New York)


James Yorkston


The girl is gone, skipped the country to sort out family affairs. And so, it’s two young bucks—that’s me and my esteemed associate editor—wild about town.


How shall I shame the gods of fidelity? Will it be an art opening? A backyard BBQ? A folk performance? Ah dear reader, in the throes of hedonistic debauchery we recklessly indulge in each.


And so, fresh on the heels of a mundane display of painted rocks and badly shaped pottery—please don’t tell my girlfriend I was there; she’d kill me if she knew I was looking at other people’s pottery—we shift venues, proudly chugging the one beer we can afford. PAAAARRRTYYYY! The club is buzzing with anticipation, an anticipation that doesn’t quite match my own. The show is sold out, and I’m confused:


“James Yorkston can sell out the Mercury Lounge?”


“No, Sam Prekop from the Sea and Cake can sell out the Mercury Lounge.”


“Sam Prekop from the Sea and Cake can sell out the Mercury Lounge?”


I guess it pays to look at posters rather than press releases. In any case, my man James, a masterful minister of downtempo acoustic folkery is playing middle slot behind what I fear will be a rather ho-hum headliner—Prekop’s no painted rock, that’s for sure.


But I guess it could be worse, much worse. The last time I saw Yorkston he played a basement cafe while two other shows blared above: the performance directly over us was a skinhead ska/punk affair; boots beat the floor above and loudly shook our ceiling. Hardly the ideal environment to absorb slowly-pumped harmonium. I’ll happily take Yorkston any place where “Oi! Oi! Oi!” isn’t seeping through the ceiling.


Troubadour that he is, Yorkston emerges alone, an acoustic guitar in hand. He’s full-bodied with wide features. A bald spot has crept across his pate, slow and subtle, since last we met. I’d harbored a small hope that he’d bring some buddies, or backing band the Athletes, along to flesh out his compositions as on the records, with the simple though lush adornments of organ and bells. No matter, Yorkston lays into his set, fingering a soft, blues melody, quietly speaking/singing the words, and all is forgotten.


The sound is the Americana of the Old World, a deeper tradition than just that of the United States, but still filtered through and reactive to it. Yorkston’s full-bodied folk was discovered and championed by the late John Peel after he received an unsolicited demo. A part of the loosely affiliated the Fence Collective, comprised of the equally interesting Pip Dylan, Lone Pigeon, and King Creosote among others, Yorkston creates sprawling melodic fields using a fairly minimalist approach. The result is something neither wholly Scottish nor particularly American. The songs’ plodding, airy melodies are perfect for sleepy Sunday afternoons or for introspective laments on the night your love leaves town.


Yorkston’s voice rambles roughly through the words, half-singing and half-speaking. It’s an affected voice, one flawed but deeply endearing. He runs through a number of slow numbers from his recent Domino release Just Beyond the River before breaking for some commentary.


“I’d like to slow it down a bit and play a softer one,” he says with a cheeky grin.


Very funny. The following renditions of “Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel” and “St. Patrick” both from Yorkston’s stunning debut Moving Up Country are undeniable highlights for those that feel he may have hit his peak on his first go round rather than his second.


While Yorkston’s lyrics are quaint and charming, they do sometimes border on the indulgent and somewhat cheesy. Still, the rewards far outweigh the shame of singing along with Yorkston’s stunning delivery. His guitar, given more room in the live set, rings loudly as he quickly fingers the notes, subtlety dropping in dissonant tones like a young John Fahey. The crowd stands silent, rapt.


Having held the full club in quiet reverie for nearly an hour, Yorkston brings his set to a close, smiling widely as he leaves the stage. Without the usual breakdown time, he is soon replaced by Sam Prekop and his backing band.


There’s a tingling in my jaw; something is slightly askew. I’ve never much cared for the Sea and Cake’s jammy brand of rock and something about the crowd that has gathered sets me off. This is a detestable sentiment, I know, but I feel it nonetheless. The band begins to play a funky rock rhythm and Prekop is off and running with his smooth pop-rock croon. I’m reaching for an association but as I watch the band’s bassist caught in a pulsing, body rocking, funky head bob an unfair comparison to Phil Collins is all I can muster. While melodically incorrect, the presentation strikes me as similarly smooth and serious. And similarly boring.


In a fit of critical pretentiousness, we skirt the whole affair. The truth is that I miss my girlfriend and while Yorkston’s set may have eased or at least ornamented my doldrums there’s something more I need to both cement my wild-man status and to ease the pain of separation: a slice of pizza. PAAAARRRTYYYY!!

Andrew Phillips is an entertainment writer/editor living in Brooklyn, New York. He recently left his post as Managing Editor for the Daily Washington Law Reporter, a small legal periodical in the District of Columbia to pursue his fortune in the big(er) city.


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