Music


So it finally happened. Ron Hawkins live again. And, oh yes, every single one of my absurdly unobtainable expectations was met. The show rocked.

Hawkins Acoustic

The first half of the show featured Hawkins performing a range of songs from previous albums including the Low and Rusty Nails tunes in a solo acoustic format. He was later joined by Rusty Nails dummer Mark Hansen and bassist Dylan Parker* and together they performed much of the material released on Hawkins’ new album Chemical Sounds including the song “Anonymous,” which Hawkins introduced as a song about leaving behind a fingerprint on the world as a trace of your presence. Maybe that’s a good analogy for life, because what else is it that we try to do with every friend we make, every person we love, everything we say, write, create? The fact that so few of us will actually be remembed only adds to the poignancy of our acts.

Hawkins5

I like the material on Chemical Sounds. As with most of his more recent albums, it includes a combination of rock songs and ballads which somehow manages to let him be thoughful (even sentimental–I uncharacteristically love the song to his daughter because it comes straight from the heart) and fun at the same time. One of the reasons I think that I gravitate toward Hawkins so much is that I self-centeredly think that we are at the same place in life. It’s a good place to be–past the heady rebel yell days of youth, newly aware of our own limitations and limited time here. But maybe that makes it a scary place to be too because we are–well, I am–at a crossroads.

As Hawkins explained in an interview with Niagara Gazette reporter Kevin Purdy prior to the show, the name of the album is a tribute to the Toronto recording studio where the album was made which has since been demolished to make room for new condominiums. The album itself was a solo effort since other band members could not take the time off work necessary to complete the studio work. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s an acoustic release, because Hawkins laid down all the tracks necessary to achieve the rock band sound he’s best known for. (I’m sparing you all the starry-eyed genius compliments running through my head, but those of you who know me will recognize the tone of an adolescent schoolgirl crush anyways.)

Amp
Hawkins’ Amp

Thanks, Stan, for the awesome photos.

*And, thank you queen_of_google for pointing out my misidentification of bassist Dylan Parker!

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Chemical Sounds (album cover)

Poor Ron Hawkins, no mere mortal has ever had to achieve such absurdly over the top expectations. Even though he’s never let me down before, it may not be possible for any human being to live up to my uber hyped-up anticipation of his upcoming concert. It’s just that it has been so long since I’ve seen him live; it’s just that he’s on my list; it’s just that, well, he’s Ron Hawkins.

You may recollect from a previous post that I was first introducted to RH about thirteen years ago when I first started dating my husband. Back then music made me nervous. What was good? What did I like? Now I see listening to new music a little more like tasting the local brew at an English pub. Diversity is good. Homegrown is good. Not perfect is good. (I’m a believer in flaws; believing in them seems to be a better philosophy than despising yourself for being less than perfect.) So by those standards, Ron Hawkins is a god, although, by those standards we are all pretty much gods. Hmmm. Not sure what to make of that.

Still not convinced? Completely lost? Welcome to the inner workings of my mind. It’s a rather confusing place to live. And for those of you who know me personally, this ought to explain the near-constant befuddled look on my face. I’m going in circles here. I’ll try to focus. Ron Hawkins. Song lyrics. I’ve included some of my favorites below. Hopefully these will clarify what I’ve been unable to say.

The Secret of My Excess (album cover)

from “Butterfly” off of The Secret of My Excess

I’ll give you a secret
that I know you’ll never keep
you give me the killing floor
and I’ll promise not to leap
’cause deep inside our skulls
there is a nest of small cocoons
you’ll wake one night in a cockroach sweat
underneath an insect moon
shakin’ like a butterfly
shakin’ like a butterfly
shakin’ like a butterfly… stuck through
shakin’ like a butterfly
shakin’ like a butterfly
shakin’ like a butterfly… it’s true… so true

Even though it’s downright creepy, I like the image of a butterfly stuck through because I think it explains our fagility and vulnerability as humans. At times each of us acts as though we live in isolation from the rest of the world (in a cocoon), but inevitably our actions have broader implications, whether it be the wife who cheats on her husband or the woman who gets and abortion (as Hawkins explores in the first two verses of the song). And while Hawkins develops this image, he simultaneously suggests that there are two cocoons on the verge of rupture, the second one within each of us that leads to the a tumultuous change of self. Maybe it is more precise to say that the rending of the cocoons in our brains leads to the eruption of events outside our beings. Finally, his choice to represent this figuratively as a butterfly impaled with a pin is interesting because it seems to suggest that the metamorphosis is beautiful but risky too. And all of that from one song. Including his most recent album, he has written 95 of those. Do you begin to understand my obsession now?

In case you are curious, here’s the concert information. Saturday, November 3, The Tralf, doors open at 7 PM, show at 8 PM. Tickets on sale at the door and through Ticketmaster.

Hawkins’ most recent album is called Chemical Sounds and is only available from Victimless Capitalism, though I assume he will also have copies for sale at the show.

Sources: The album covers and song lyrics can all be found on Hawkins’ website.

You’ve never heard of punk bluegrass before? Well, me either until I heard the Avett Brothers play Saturday night at the Town Ballroom. They are primarily a bluegrass band, but their songs reflect a punk influence. And I’m laughing as I write this because I never would have expected to come across such a group, but there they were up on stage in downtown Buffalo. You don’t believe me? Well, check out their performance on Conan O’Brien below and tell me what you think!

Here’s the lowdown on the show. The band consists of four members, all of whom contribute vocals. The Avett brothers play banjo and acoustic guitar primarily, though both play drums and electric guitar also. The other two band members play cello and sting bass, and the bassist also plays bass guitar. You could have told me as much and without seeing them I would have already been impressed because 1. I love the diversity, and 2. how many bands can boast a cellist? That’s seriously cool. The band has no drummer per se, instead the Avett’s play bass drum and cymbals with their feet while they are playing lead banjo/guitar! They also happen to be the two lead singers. Watching them do all this at once boggled my mind.

The title of the post refers to something that Scotty Avett said during one of their many pauses midstream as either he or his brother momentarily stopped to tune their instruments, which pretty much reflects the spirit of the show and maybe the band in general. They played with such ferocity that one or the other of them broke a string more or less every song, which meant frequent swapping out of instruments. But this did nothing to slow them down because they had backups on hand and were adept at improvising midstream while wiggling out of one guitar strap into another. It truly was a sight to behold.

Finally, thank you WordPress and Mike Loranty because Stan tells it, it’s thanks to this blog and my one regular reader (other than Stan, who doesn’t have a choice) that we first heard mention of this band. That’s enough reason for me to keep writing because I had an awesome time at the show and it completely made up for the disaster of a night at the Matt Good concert the previous night.

Matt Good

Friday night was supposed to be the kick-off of a great weekend, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be the great start I imagined it would be. We had tickets to see Matthew Good, one of my husband’s favorite musicians. What’s so great about Matt Good? I honestly don’t know. I generally respect my husband’s musical tastes, so I’ve been trying to get into Matt Good ever since Stan first introduced him to me, but without much luck. Everything he plays is in a minor key and Stan claims that his lyrics are interesting, but I can’t get past his whiny voice enough to actually hear them.

So, this Friday we went to see Matt Good live at Club Infinity. And I’m a sucker for live music, so I figured this would push me over onto the Matt Good fan club side of things. Only, things didn’t turn out that way. First, I was exhausted. I had a really long week for a bunch of reasons that are too boring to go into, but suffice it to say that I hate PowerGrade. Second, there was no AC at Club Infinity. I don’t know if it was broken or off or what, but it was about a hundred degrees in there. Third, the audience sucked. One of the reasons I love live music so much is the positive vibe you always get from the audience. Only this time it wasn’t there this time. Who knows, maybe it was the lack of air, but this crowd was drunk and surly, like a frat party gone bad. Finally, the show was acoustic. Now this might have been nice if there had been some place to sit, but no, every last chair and table in the club had vanished to the land of we don’t want any lawsuits, so we were standing around in the makeshift sauna trying to groove on all these songs written with the chronically depressed in mind. Like I said, not so good. We left early. (In poor Mr. Good’s defense, virtually none of this was his fault.)

Sources: the picture of Matt Good comes from the WordPress blog, Vast Open Space.

It rained and I took refuge in a porta-potty and then it stopped and then Elvis Costello went on and it rained again, and I had to forego the porta-potty because I wasn’t going to miss any of the show. He rocked. I decided not to poke around and find out how old he was, because I decided that it just didn’t matter, but he did mention that he hadn’t played in Buffalo for thirty years, which is pretty dang impressive. He hasn’t lost his touch and for the incredibly low price of $30 a ticket, seeing him live (even in the rain) felt like getting away with murder. The show featured Elvis on vocals and lead guitar and Allen Toussaint on piano and a bunch of other funky instruments. Since I’ve never seen him in concert before, I had nothing to compare this show to, but friends who have seen him a number of times said this pared down session was the best they’d seen.

Elvis Costello

Costello was the feature artist of the annual fundraiser for the Albright-Knox, Rockin’ at the Knox. But we also heard the Canadian indie band Feist for the first time and were so impressed with lead singer Leslie Feist, we went home and downloaded songs off of iTunes to check them out further.

Feist

One of the funnier aspects of the concert, at least for me, was the audience. In retrospect, it should have come as no surprise that Costello playing at a fundraiser for an art museum would attract a bunch of boomers, but I didn’t think much about it beforehand and was pretty taken aback to see men in khakis and button-downs and women in dresses and heels walking around the parking lot! Maybe I’m in denial, but that doesn’t just doesn’t jibe with my picture of the alternative music scene, no matter which generation is buying the albums!

This week is Jackdaw and The Dropkick Murphys at the Square, Matt Good in October and Hawkins in November. It’s shaping up to be a fine autumn in Buffalo!

Sources: The picture of Elvis in concert at Joe’s Pub in NYC is taken off his official website and the picture of Feist comes from an mp3 blog created by Brian Lum, Bows + Arrows.

John Butler Trio

I know the Lafayette Square concert series is called something different these days, but I like the old name and I’m sticking with it. Regardless of what it’s called however, it is one of the best things about living in Buffalo in the summer. Right from its infancy it had the makings of a lasting event. You now know my obsession with all things Ron Hawkins; the Lowest of the Low was a frequent performer in those early days. As the series has grown, it has expanded to pull in bigger names and more diverse bands. This past week was no exception, as the John ButlerJohn Butler Trio (visiting all the way from Australia!) put on an absolutely kickin’ show. Not familiar with their music, I listened to a few of their most recent releases on iTunes and then texted my friend Patti with this description: eclectic rock reggae bluegrass band. She hadn’t heard of them either, but told me later she was sold at eclectic. They didn’t disappoint! Patti and I were both impressed with the ease with which they worked a crowd that was largely ignorant of their music, and then profusely thanked the audience and crew at the end of the performance–not something you see every day but should! That connection is something that’s probably underappreciated by many artists and audiences alike. Without the right chemistry between performer and artist, the show has little hope for success, regardless of the quality of the music.

Other great shows this summer include the Violent Femmes, Joan Osborne, and Sam Roberts. If you haven’t been down to the Square, you are missing out!!

The picture of the John Butler Trio at top of this post is taken from a Danish website, www.rockpalast.de and the picture of John Butler at the bottom is from an article published in The State News, the Michigan State newspaper.

Ron Hawkins

I’m not a numbers girl, so I can’t cite the exact date but it must have been about thirteen years ago that my husband Stan and his best friend Tom first introduced me to the Canadian band, The Lowest of The Low. I think my ear for music is halfway decent (doesn’t everyone), but it always takes me a little time to warm up to a new band. Falling in love with the Lowest of the Low was never really an option however. Happily, it didn’t really take much persuasion on their part, which is mainly testimony to the lyrical genius of the band’s frontman and guitarist, Ron Hawkins. The first song I remember learning was “Bleed a Little While Tonight” off their album Shakespeare My Butt… (With a title like that, what’s an English major not to love?) Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten much of a Hawkins fix lately because he has turned his creative genius toward the visual arts and I can’t afford his paintings, but he is scheduled to play a show November 3 at The Tralf. It’s three months off and already I can’t wait.

The picture is taken from Ron Hawkins’ website: www.ronhawkins.com