Sunday, April 27, 2008

Concert Report: John Prine @ Capitol Center for the Arts

Hey, look at that - we saw a concert at a venue other than the Tupelo Music Hall! Patti and I went up to Concord on Friday night to see John Prine at the beautifully restored Capitol Center for the Arts.

John Prine, April 25, 2008

While perhaps not as widely known as he should be, John Prine has somewhere around 20 albums under his belt, dating back to his self-titled debut album in 1971, which happens to be number 458 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. He has won two Grammy awards - in 1991 for The Missing Years, and in 2006 for Fair and Square, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. Of all this, though, I suspect John is most well known for writing "Angel from Montgomery", which has become a signature piece for Bonnie Raitt. Prine's deceptively simple lyrics somehow make each and every song almost instantly familiar, telling stories of depth and complexity with simple phrases and nothing extraneous; "Angel" is no exception:

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that's grown old
If dreams were lightning thunder was desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

John's two-hour set opened with three up-tempo old favorites, "Spanish Pipedream" (also known as "Blow Up Your TV"), "Picture Show", and "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore". John was accompanied by a bass player (Dave Jacques, I think - playing both stand up and electric bass) and a guitar player (Jason Wilber, I think - playing both electric guitar and mandolin), and the three of them cranked the energy level for these three songs, instantly getting the audience enthused. "Flag Decal", a sarcastic commentary on patriotism and war, is just as relevant today as it was in 1971:

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said...

"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."

The next three songs slowed the pace down. First up was "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness", which Nanci Griffith did a beautiful cover of on her Other Voices, Other Rooms album. Next up was "Souvenirs", dedicated to the memory of Steve Goodman (they co-wrote it), and then "Far From Me."
And so the set went, mixing the pace every few songs. John played five songs solo in the middle of the set, including "That's The Way The World Goes 'Round" with its now obligatory "happy enchilada" story before the final chorus. See, the chorus of this happy little ditty goes:

That's the way that the world goes 'round.
You're up one day and the next you're down.
It's half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown.
That's the way that the world goes 'round.

But John tells a wonderful mistaken lyrics story in which a fan once asked him to sing the song about the enchilada. John replied that maybe she had him confused with another songwriter, "perhaps Jimmy Buffet, he writes songs about food!" But the fan insisted it was John's song. "You know, the song about the happy enchilada":

That's the way that the world goes 'round.
You're up one day and the next you're down.
It's a happy enchilada and you think you're gonna drown.
That's the way that the world goes 'round.

John's solo portion ended with the band returning during "Sam Stone." As with "Flag Decal", this heart-wrenching story of the tragic effects of war on returning veterans is as relevant today as it was in 1971:

Sam Stone came home,
To his wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knee.
But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don't stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

"Sam Stone" has been called "the best Dylan song Dylan never wrote", and Dylan actually showed up unannounced at the Bottom Line in 1972 and backed John on harmonica on the song. Johnny Cash also covered "Sam Stone", although Johnny changed "Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose" to "Daddy must have hurt a lot back then, I suppose".

After "Sam Stone" John switched from acoustic to an electric guitar and the band ripped through the Carter Family's "Bear Creek", "That's Alright By Me", and "She Is My Everything", the latter written for his (third) wife:

She is my everything
From her suntanned shoulders
Down to the freckles
On her wedding ring
Her feet are so warm
They could melt the snow
In the early Spring
She is my everything

After all that electric energy, it was time to bring the pace down with perhaps the saddest song of all, "Hello In There":

Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."

For the encore, we got both "Illegal Smile" (with big audience sing along on the chorus) and "Paradise." I remember John once telling a story in which bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, after hearing John sing "Paradise", remarked that it sounded like a song which he himself had written but had forgotten all about. John says that was the best compliment he had ever received about one on his songs.

When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.

And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

We had a full two hours of Prine, and the audience was with him every step of the way. The opening act was Chris Knight, who I had never heard of before but who clearly had a few fans in the audience. His 30 minute set was well received. He's got a gravel voice full of Tennessee drawl, but his songs sounded a little too much straight country for my taste.

The set list...

Spanish Pipedream (aka Blow Up Your TV)
Picture Show
Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Far From Me
Please Don't Bury Me
Fish And Whistle
The Glory Of True Love
Crazy As A Loon
Angel From Montgomery

You Got Gold
Blue Umbrella
Dear Abby
That's the Way that the World Goes 'Round
Mexican Home

Band returns:
Sam Stone
Bear Creek
That's Alright By Me
She Is My Everything
Hello In There
Lake Marie

Illegal Smile

Opening act, Chris Knight:
Enough Rope
Old Man
To Get Back Home
River Road
Encore: It Ain't Easy Being Me

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Concert Report: Patty Larkin @ Tupelo Music Hall

Imagine that - Patti and I were back at the Tupelo Music Hall on Saturday night, April 19. We feel very fortunate to live just two miles from the venue.

Every time I see Patty Larkin I am reminded anew just how good she is on guitar. She has some serious guitar chops, and is easily head and shoulders above most singer-songwriters. Was she always that good on guitar? I've seen her numerous times in the past twenty years, and her guitar skills don't stand out in my memory from the first couple of times I saw her. But sometime over the past ten years, wow.

No opening act, so Patty played two sets. The first was about 50 minutes, and the second around 45 minutes. As with the last several times I've seen her, she played both a 6-string acoustic, and an electric Fender Strat (full details here).

One new technical addition to her repertoire (at least since I last saw her) is the use of sampling loops with the electric guitar, which she used on several of the songs from her latest album (Watch The Sky), including on "Beautiful", "Traveling Alone", and the encore "Phone Message". The latter song is a wild piece that she started on the Fender, sampled, and then switched instruments to a bouzouki. On "Dear Heart" she sampled, and then started playing the Fender with a fiddle bow; I've seen all sorts of innovative guitar players (RIP Michael Hedges), but I don't recall ever seeing that before. (Or am I just being dense?)

The show was a good mix of her newer material and our old familiar favorites (on acoustic guitar, unless otherwise noted):

Set 1:
Open Arms (Don't Explain)
The Book I'm Not Reading
Cover Me
Hand Full of Water
Italian Shoes
Wolf at the Door
Dear Heart (electric)
Beautiful (electric)

Set 2:
Johnny Was a Pyro
I Told Him That My Dog Wouldn't Run
Island of Time
Who Holds Your Hand
Walking in My Sleep (electric)
Traveling Alone (electric)
Might As Well Dance
Encore: Phone Message

Friday, April 18, 2008

Concert Report: Dar Williams @ Tupelo Music Hall

Patti and I were back at Tupelo on Wednesday night for another sold out show - this time for the beautiful soprano voice and lyrics of Dar Williams.

Behold, a real ticket stub:
Dar Williams ticket stub

We normally don't have ticket stubs for Tupelo shows, as they normally just track reservations by name. But we happened to purchase these tix when we were at a show earlier this year, and received honest to goodness printed tickets.

Amazingly enough, this was the first time Dar has played in Londonderry. How can that be? I'm mystified that Dar had never been booked by Meredith to play at the Muse (the venue's name prior to being Tupelo). She indicated that she clearly new of the venue and its wonderful reputation, as one would expect. After all, pretty much all of her contemporaries have played there - including Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, Vance Gilbert, and Shawn Colvin.

Patti and I had not seen Dar since the Cry Cry Cry tour she did with Richard and Lucy way back in 1999 and 2000. Yow, that was a long time ago. And we haven't seen her solo since before that.
There wasn't an opening act, and Dar played a single set that lasted about an hour and a half long. For most of the set she was accompanied on piano and harmony vocals by Laura Meyer Atkin (at least that's what I think her name is). The accompaniment was nicely subtle, just helping to fill out the sound.

Her set was a mixture of mostly older songs with just a few new numbers. An early highlight for me was "The Babysitter's Here", done slowly and poignantly, yet with its little undercurrent of humor. "Spring Street" was introduced with yet another take on the four seasons in New England: Winter, Mud, Road Construction, and Tourists. A new song, "Buzzer" appears to have been influenced by the Milgram obedience experiments.

I was surprised that not many in the audience seemed to know of her cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb", which she put out on her 2005 album. Scott, on the soundboard, introduced a little spacy reverb to her vocals, which caught her by surprise.

Another new song, "It's All I Need To Know" was written for her husband. I hope this shows up on an upcoming album, as it was simply beautiful and heartfelt.

The set list:

Fishing In The Morning
The Babysitter's Here
Spring Street
The Business of Things
Book of Love
If I Wrote You
After All
The Ocean
It's All I Need To Know
The Mercy Of The Fallen
When I Was A Boy
Encore: We Learned The Sea

Monday, April 14, 2008

This Thursday - April NH UPA Meeting!

I'm excited about this month's NH UPA meeting. We're going to try a discussion session on three short papers. I've organized these types of reading and discussion sessions among colleagues at work before, but have never tried it with a group who might not know each other well. I'm helping Mike Hawley moderate the discussions, and am eager to see if people like the format.

About a month ago or so Mike put out a vote for choosing the articles, and the three winners are:

For an extra bonus, this month's meeting is at Fat Belly's Grill & Bar in Portsmouth, NH. I've never been there before, but what could be better than meeting some new people, discussing Schrage, Buxton, and Nielsen, and having a beer and maybe a burger? (Don't answer that.)

Join us? Networking starts at 6pm, and the meeting starts at 7pm. It is, of course, open to the public, although it is polite to RSVP to

Oh, and please read the articles ahead of time! We want you to come prepared to discuss them with us, and ask that everyone jot down at least one discussion point about each article -- it could be a question, or an observation, or an insight, or just about anything. Oh, and one more thing -- we want to keep it positive. Let's look for the value in what the authors' wrote.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Ride For Paul

Most people who know me know that I identify myself as a runner when it comes to exercise. But every spring I put in enough bicycle "seat time" training to participate in the 100-kilometer Ride the Vineyard bike ride to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This year's ride is on Saturday, May 3, 2008.

I ride for my friend Paul, and for thousands like him who are fighting MS every day of their lives. Imagine unpredictably having blurred vision, or losing your sense of balance, your ability to use your hands to grip everyday objects, or your ability to walk. Or worse. Paul has taught me what true courage is, and how to face adversity head on and with high spirits and thankfulness for every day. He is my inspiration, and I think of him often during long runs and bike rides.

The funds I raise will be used by the National MS Society to support research as well as programs to help address the needs of people living with MS, which remains an incurable disease today. If you read my blog, would you please consider sponsoring me via a tax-deductible donation? My goal this year is to raise $1500, and you can help by donating via my pledge page. Any amount will help. Thanks!

Paul and me at the Cape Code Canal, June 2004
Paul and me at the Cape Code Canal, June 2004

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Office Prank Par Excellence

Today, of course, is Aprils Fools' Day. This office prank actually happened last week, it was close enough in time to qualify...

My friend and colleague Chris came back from his extended vacation (aka sabbatical) to find his office had been appropriated by the shipping department for a packing peanuts storage facility:

Peanuts Office

I have nothing but admiration for the intrepid perpetrators of this most excellent office prank. The photo above hardly does it justice. DIY instructions and more photos on Instructables. Since then it has been slowly making its way across the internets. It made today's Popular Mechanics Top 5 April Fools' Day Office Pranks list, as well as #7 on LifeHacker's Top 10 Harmless Geek Pranks.


Update: OMG, Chris' office made today's NPR Talk of the Nation! Rock star territory! :-)