Saturday, October 17, 2009
Dar Williams @ The Iron Horse, October 16th, 2009
After a brief, but rather disconcerting episode of "lost my keys," Annie and I left for the Iron Horse at around 6:00 last night, arriving to a packed house. As she and I discussed on the way there, we hadn't been listening to Dar much over the past few years. Me, I hadn't seen her since Falcon Ridge '08 and, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I associate Dar with outdoor performances. I'm not sure when the last time was that I saw Dar play indoors; maybe never. But she pops up at most of the folk festivals I've attended. It was a bit odd seeing her at the Iron Horse, cozy and warm though the environment is. I kept wanting to hear her make remarks about the mountains and how beautiful we all looked on our blankets.
Anyhow, Dar hit the stage at around quarter past 7:00, maybe a bit later, wandering through the room and up to the stage with her musical sidekick (whose name I forget), as the lights dimmed and a smattering of applause turned into a warm ovation. The memories that I just described overwhelmed me at that point and, I have to admit, I was only half paying attention during the first song. But then, after talking about her emotionally disturbed past, which coincided with her stay in Northampton, she played "Spring Street," and I found myself getting into things.
A Dar Williams performance feels like kicking back in someone's living room, listening to stories that, in a strange way, blend into the songs themselves. I associated her stage presence with her musical sound in a way that I don't with a lot of other performers. That is all for the best, since I don't know her songs all that well. That said, I recognized more of what I heard than I thought I would. I remembered hearing "The Buzzer" the last time I saw her; she described this song as an effort to write a commercial love song that took a left turn when she got distracted by thinking about the Milgram obedience experiments. She also played "The Easy Way" from her newest album, and she closed her set with "Midnight Radio," written by her old friend Stephen Trask (who co-wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch). I actually loved that song: a simple, quiet, passionate expression of love for the women rockers of the radio who make you feel less alone. One of the more touching moments of the evening for me.
Dar told lots of stories, about life in NYC, about self-grown food, about her time in NoHo, about her newly adopted daughter, and about children in general (before playing "The One Who Knows," a lovely song about raising children and letting them go out into the world). In between stories, she played songs from every period of her career. No songs from Cry Cry Cry, which was too bad, but her performance of "If I Wrote You" hit the spot. And her accompanyist shone on "As Cool as I Am," playing the opening instrumental passage on the piano, leading into the opening verse, with Dar strumming gently at first before really leaning into the refrain; another great moment.
We were distracted a bit midway through the show, when I realized Annie was in a bit of pain. Turns out she'd leaned back a bit in her seat and touched an exposed pipe, burning herself. During "Calling the Moon," she had to get a glass of ice to apply to her burn. The waitress was horrified; so was the manager, who gave us a free dinner and offered a pair of free tickets for a subsequent show to Annie. I can't believe that the staff at the Iron Horse hadn't known or done anything about a dangerously exposed pipe, but that was their story.
For her encore, she played "The Babysitter's Here," a song that always seems to work when she performs it in concert. When I hear the recording of it, it's just a good song on a good album. Last night, when the narrator tries to understand, I teared up.
Erin McKeown plays the Iron Horse tonight, but I'm skipping out. Next weekend, I'll try to catch The Nields with Lucy Wainwright Roche. And, not long after that, Tracy Grammer is playing with Brooks Williams up in Shutesbury, a pairing that fills me with happiness at the thought of it. Speaking of filling up with happiness, that's what Chris Smither's newest album does. I can't believe I wrote an entire blog entry about Richard Shindell's and Jack Hardy's newest albums when the Smither album was sitting on my desk, unplayed. Like most of Smither's albums, it blows most everything else out of the water. I'm in the midst of writing about it, and it's been a pleasure to do so.