Monday, November 9, 2009

Chris Smither @ The Iron Horse, November 7th, 2009

As promised, I attended the Chris Smither show this past weekend. He was performing with the band that he recorded his latest album with: the guitarist "Goody" Goodrich and the drummer, Zak Trojano. I'm still not 100% sold on his non-solo performances. Something about the foot-tapping gets lost with a drummer accenting the beat. Nevertheless, I could hardly have been disappointed, and I wasn't.

I arrived at the Iron Horse at around 6:20, accompanied by the beautiful and talented Dani Carriveau, and we had a dinner of burgers and fries. The Iron Horse does fries pretty well, but I'll pass on the burgers from now on.

The opening act was a woman named Caroline Herring, who records for Signature Sounds. She performed a series of covers, including "Long Black Veil," "C C Rider," and Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," along with an original song that, Dani and I agreed at the time, was the best thing she played. An enjoyable performance, if nothing special.

After a 20 minute break, the man himself came onstage. For the first time in all the Iron Horse shows I've seen, there was someone on stage to do the introduction: Jim Olsen, from Signature Sounds. He announced that this was now a hometown gig for Chris; he's moved to the Valley. What great news!

The show began the same way that his shows have been beginning for years now: "Open Up," from Leave the Light On. It's a song that hits the spot, every time I hear it. From there, he moved back in time a bit for "Link of Chain" and then to a more recent one, "Lola," which is a favorite. And from there, he took us through more than half of his new album, along with older tunes like "Drive You Home Again" and "Help Me Now" and stuff from his most recent couple of albums, including "Train Home," "Never Needed It More," "Origin of Species," and, to close his set, "Leave the Light On." He didn't do any of the Bob Dylan material that he's been fond of lately, but he did do Dave Carter's "Crocodile Man." I hope that, one day, he'll tap his back catalog of songs from the early 1970s. Every once in a while, he'll play the song that kept food on his table for years, "Love You Like a Man," but I crave "Homunculus," "Don't It Drag On," and "Every Mother's Son." Maybe next time.

The audience was consistently appreciative. Certain lines in songs yielded applause: "I'm not evil / I'm just bad," "If I drive you to distraction / I will drive you home again," and about half the verses of "Origin of Species" and of "Surprise, Surprise" from the new album, a song that looks like it'll be an audience favorite before long. Goody Goodrich's guitar accompaniment was simple and tasteful, and the audience let him know it. And Smither was a gracious host, telling variations on stories I'd heard him tell before--about how his mother disliked "Lola," about his wanting to write songs for and about his father, about his adopted daughter--and some new stories--about his wife wanting him to write a "bad boy" song for her, about the inspiration for a song from the new album ("Call Yourself" was a reaction to watching Sunday morning religiously themed self-help programs), and about the dilemmas of writing and performing topical material, like "Surprise, Surprise." Smither's speaking voice is warm and comforting, and I don't think he gets the credit he deserves for being able to match a warm, deep baritone with lyrics that are cold-eyed and shot through with experience. I've always loved hearing him perform "Drive You Home Again," a song that is, in a sense, about warmth without actually being warm. The same goes for one of his greatest covers, which he did not perform the other night: Rolly Salley's "Killing the Blues." Listen to a recording of either of them, and tell me if you know what I mean.

Much to my surprise, one of the high points was the encore. He did a song which I haven't heard him perform live in years, "Statesboro Blues," and he really used his voice on that one, roaring the words like he'd been made to do so. Beyond that, some of the new material sounded great, especially "Surprise, Surprise" and "Don't Call Me Stranger" and "I Don't Know." There really weren't any dull moments for me. Every time I see this guy, I am amazed anew, and I've seen him perform live maybe 10 times or so. He is one of the grandmasters, and I'm sure I'll return for more.

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