[12 June 2006]
I’m writing to thank you for your show at the Living Room. I’m one of the folks who chatted with you briefly after the show. Let me apologize for being a little shy, a little scatterbrained, and more than a little blown away.
See, you confounded my expectations. I expected a show more along the lines of your 1999 Live at Yoshi’s recording—something lyrical, gentle, and at the same time very intense. I expected those elements, maybe mixed with extended explorations of your more recent, more jazz-folkish, Tzadik releases. I was a little embarrassed that I hadn’t bought your newest release, 12 Songs, prior to the show. You see, I’m a fan of yours, and thought I knew what to expect on that casual Wednesday night in the East Village.
But I didn’t expect what I saw—you singing. Singing new songs and some old standards that I knew in my head, like “Trouble in Mind”, “Remember the Goodtimes”, and “Salty Dog”. I didn’t know you could sing. I’ve always heard an underpinning of folk music in your instrumental compositions, but this show’s songs resonated in my head like some dashing hybridization of the genres I most love. My ears cling to jazz, especially the jazz violin, but I also love a driving fiddle, old-time music, and those traditional songs that shape (and have been shaped by) decades. When you tore into the Carter Family’s “Single Girl, Married Girl” midway through the set, I heard an interpretation which dissolved the boundaries between a “violin” and a “fiddle.” And I heard an old song that was fully in the now.
I couldn’t have predicted that such insanely great things could happen on a Wednesday night. Maybe I don’t visit NYC often enough. Or perhaps the greatness emerged from your ensemble’s casual elegance. Casual, like the way you invited your talented friend Carrie Rodriguez from the audience to sing harmony, and even handed her your violin to play, smack-dab in the middle of “Salty Dog.” Elegant, like the way that you gave the band space to play for the first few songs, when I really wanted to hear you play more… but that’s a wish made irrelevant by my respect for your respect for your bandmates. Overall, I was appreciative of the fact that you all played as if you were in your living room, an assemblage of friends making music for each other. I get the feeling that you do this often, and that I’ve missed many great performances.
I’m also shocked that there were only 30-odd people in the audience, all keeping casual distance from the stage. Mid-show, I was wishing my friends were filling the empty chairs around me. Maybe I just wanted the Living Room to be full, to be witnessed by many, because I couldn’t believe how well the sound fit together. I was distracted by the seeming impossibility of it—drummer Jim White from the Dirty Three, casually leaning against the back wall, enjoying himself in this setting with wide-armed brushwork. I unfortunately missed the name of your keyboardist, who, though slouched over some swampy and stimulating solos, was no musical slouch. To your right was Tony Scherr, whom I know best from his bass work with Bill Frisell, here playing gritty, angular, and hyperkinetic guitar. He was singing, too—trading leads and harmony with you throughout the show. Scherr offered an eyes-closed version of Gillian Welch’s “Whiskey Girl” on a beautiful green 12-string electric guitar that, you said, he built!? That song, his guitar and guitar work, the band’s cohesion in service of these songs—did I mention my awe? Though I missed Bill Frisell sitting in with you the prior Wednesday, there was honestly little color he could have added to this night’s glowing performance.
Introducing myself after the show, I couldn’t help but first exclaim “man, you should record with these guys.” So I was delighted when you replied “well, I am.” Thankfully, maybe my friends will get to hear you and your friends, after all.
I hadn’t planned on writing to you, and hadn’t planned on making public my appreciation. But I also hadn’t planned on witnessing such a magical night of music. And for that, as I said in the beginning, I’m just writing to say thanks. Thanks for surprising me, as the best of artists do.
P.S. I really dig your brown polyester suit!