A transfiguration weekend of rock.
Here's a shot of the audience at my Saturday night concert, held at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Medford, WI. Initially I was gonna play it solo, but when I heard that the pre-show buzz around town was really buzzin', I invited my skilled rhythm section to join me: John Kerns (bass, lap steel) and Troy Alexander (drums) drove over from the Twin Cities and made me sound lovely and rocking, as they always do. It was a great evening, and I was thrilled to see those 165 people in the crowd.
My childhood pal Peter Warmanen is Pastor at the church there, and he's been a huge supporter of me and my music since I was a teenage rockstar-wannabe. In fact, he was telling me that he is one of the few folks on earth (maybe 75 or so) who owns my VERY first available recording, a 1989-era cassette single of my high school "class song," as well as the B-side "No More Walls"! Anyway, Pete is a fine guitar player and vocalizer, so he joined the band on a few tunes...it was fun to have a ferocious double-guitar attack.
In this photo you can see, tilted up towards me, John Kerns' Fender Vibro-lux amp that I'm using for my electric guitar. That thing sounded SO great...all night long I was reminded of John Hiatt's excellent song "Memphis in the Meantime" where he sings "right now I need a Telecaster through a Vibro-lux turned up to 10." Amen, Mr. Hiatt. What a sound!
Here is a rough approximation of our Saturday night set-list (I changed the order all around, and can't quite remember how we did it), with some comments:
NARTHEX: I love to play this one every time, although most audiences seem indifferent.
WORKIN' MY COMMITTEE: particularly rocking version, I must say
CHURCH DIRECTORY: Kerns and Troy really make this one sizzle...we play it heavy and laid-back...not exactly slow, just that nice stomp tempo.
LIFT EV'RY VOICE AND SING: the African-American national anthem, with absolutely chilling lyrics, and soaring melody. First time I tried it with a rock band, and it really worked!
ASHES: I've been neglecting this one lately, but man, it it felt good to play it
GLORY IN THE HIGHEST: guest musician Pete on acoustic guitar
HEY HEY SAMUEL: Pete on guitar again, on what might have been the most awesome and fantastic performance of this song so far.
COLD, BUT I DON'T MIND: this one was so beautiful when we played it in December that I wanted to do it again, but this time it didn't really work for me. Wrong crowd/venue for it.
BRIGHT FUNERAL: I got knocked out of the zone at this point in the show for some reason...Kerns played nice lap steel but I sang the 2nd verse first, and the 1st verse second and got so messed up I didn't know what was going on. Sorry! Oh well, we faked it, and it was okay.
WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN: Did this one 'cause it was a Mardi Gras concert, and I wanted to have some kind of New Orleans vibe. Kerns tore it up on lap steel...very fun.
NO MORE WALLS: considering this is the first song I ever wrote by myself (back in 11th grade) I still like to play it, and it really smokes with a full band. Kerns and Troy always request that we play it, and having Pete on acoustic guitar and harmony vox was a huge plus. I got to try it on electric guitar, which is very rare...I found myself duplicating the sweet guitar solo that Mark Balletto plays on the "Best of the 20th Century" recorded version of this song.
Got up on Sunday morning to play the Heartland Liturgy with the folks at St. Paul's. Highlights included guitar versions of the crazy seasonal hymns "O Wondrous Type O Vision Fair" (I've recorded this one with its other set of lyrics "Oh Love How Deep") as well as my current favorite "Oh Morning Star How Fair and Bright." It was also quite nice to play my arrangement of "The Great Thanksgiving/Holy Holy Holy" with Pete singing the leader's part, and me singing with the congregation. Ah, nerdy fun with liturgical music! Thanks to the folks at St. Paul's in Medford, WI for having me as your musical guest and for utilizing my music!
Drove home to Minnesota in the afternoon while listening to This is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw. What a record! What chord changes! What snakey melodies and riffy guitar parts!
After dropping Dawn, Paavo, and Svea off at home, I quickly zipped down to Burnsville, MN to perform at a concert in support of The Amazing Change, a movement to end slavery around the world. The event featured multiple bands including Lutheran folk-legend Handt Hanson, acoustic songwriters Paul Dean and Heatherlyn, brother duo Swen & Dean, acoustic-pop band Fuller Still, and me with my band. I got to wrap up the concert with a few songs. We played:
ASHES: three days 'til the imposition
LIFT EV'RY VOICE AND SING: full band again, second night in a row, and equally powerful
I WANT JESUS TO WALK WITH ME: like I said tonight, "if this song could talk, oh the tales it could tell..."
NO MORE WALLS: this old tune surfaces again, with special guest Fuller Still players Justin Rimbo on acoustic guitar and Gail Brecht on piano
The tone of the evening was pretty serious, due to the cause we were focused on, but the music was nice and varied. Occasionally I'll play at an event with Swen, and it's always a bit surreal because I remember so vividly seeing him perform when I was a high school kid. Little did I know back then that 20 years later we'd be singing "Amazing Grace" together in Burnsville, MN on a cold Sunday night.
I have a strange yet wonderful and satisfying music career. I discovered a bit of career encouragement tonight: it's an interview with legendary rock producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, as well as the Jayhawks, and Kansas!). Here's a couple quotes from Ezrin:
"The days of hit records are over,"" he said. "It’s about being something real. . . people need to change their goals in order to survive as entertainers....
Sometimes the weirdness of my music career causes me to second-guess the whole thing...it's just missing the glamour and hip-factor that drives so much of showbiz. But when I read what Ezrin says (he should know, for Pete's sake), and when I see Britney Spears with a shaved head I am reminded that glamour and fame and hipness do not a happy person make. Maybe Bob Ezrin should produce the next Britney Spears record. Now THAT would be something to hear!