Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Walking out on Grant Hart

In the spirit of Irreversible and Memento, I'm going to write my review of this evenings festivities with the sequences in reverse order, mostly just for the hell of it.

I have turned for home and am fiddling in my pocket for my keys, walking past St. Andrew's. I am thinking to myself about the differences between walking out of a show and leaving before it is finished. I left the Nomeansno gig last week before it was finished -- it was just too much, I was "full," their performance had exceeded my capacity to consume. Walking out is a different matter; it implies censure, disdain, rejection. I walked out on Jon Spencer, last year -- the only other show I've walked out on since I returned from Japan in 2002. His professionalism, however much energy he devoted to it, was simply not the same as watching a musician who genuinely cared about what he was playing, was genuinely trying to communicate something to his audience. It took me about three songs before I'd had enough. What does it mean about me, I wonder, that I stayed longer for Grant Hart -- who showed no trace of professionalism whatsoever, who seemed indifferent and bored, for the most part, during his set at the Lamplighter tonight? ... I suppose a lack of professionalism can at least seem an authentic expression of something, can be a deliberate artistic choice. And anyhow, this is sort of supposed to be punk rock, isn't it? I mount the steps to my apartment, kind of wishing I'd gone to see the Gossip tonight instead (ironically, the band that opened for said Jon Spencer show), who were at Richards on Richards, opening for some other band I'd never heard of...

Cycling back thru time... There's a whooshing noise and the camera goes funny... Descending from the dark sky to see a street scene. I am walking down Granville Street. I am eating a slice of pepperoni pizza and idly peeking into the noisy clubs that line the road, observing the dressed-to-get-fucked youth as they smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk. I dodge a few homeless en route, formulating ideas to myself about how I will express my reactions to the Grant Hart show on my blog. I imagine a first paragraph that goes something like this: "If I hadn't had a friend who ended up getting into heroin, leading to the eventual dissolution of our friendship, would I have stayed longer for the show tonight? If I hadn't started to feel like maybe just maybe the whole evening was about keeping someone who once belonged to a cool band in drugs, would I have been more accepting?" Then I worry: what if Hart is not in fact a junkie? Perhaps I should keep my prejudices in check. I mean, I gather his falling out with Bob Mould had to do with his heroin use, but that was a long time ago. It's not exactly fair. Maybe he's just lazy and bored and broke and it's better than working at Starbucks. I should begin my "review" somewhere else, I tell myself. Why not on the act of walking out of shows itself, and what it implies?

Spinning, spinning...

There's a skinny homeless junkie on the street as I leave the Lamplighter, and though what he says is an incomprehensible mumble, there's no mistaking the wide open eyes and the outstretched hand. I say "No, man, I can't" and he says "God bless you anyhow" and I carry on; I can vaguely hear "Pink Turns to Blue" in the background. I'm wondering if his going on as a unaccompanied musician, just Grant Hart and his guitar, had something to do with not having to split the take with a drummer and bassist. And yet, how big a take could that take possibly be, with two opening acts and $12 at the door, with a crowd of around 50?

Why would Barry have been so impressed by Hart the other night in Victoria, I wonder? Was it a very different night? Somehow the only thing I could see hooking anyone into the performance I'd just seen was the desire to bask in an icon's aura, which, in me, is fairly low... But Barry seemed genuinely impressed, described it as a sort of conversion experience. I wonder why...?

Rewinding the tape: I am sitting on a barstool at the back, scribbling a few notes in my notebook: about how about three songs in, Hart said, "Got any requests," and in response to a shout of "Hare Krsna," said that that was basically just Bo Diddley, overproduced; to demonstrate, he did the Bo Diddley riff on his guitar, chanted the chorus a bit, and then said, "but that's about all of that that you're going to get out of me tonight" and shrugged. About how he stopped midsong when people started clapping along to "It's Not Funny Anymore," deadpanning "Oh please! You weren't at the rehearsal and you're not in the union," resuming sans clapping, fans silent. About his take on the Pogues "Pair of Brown Eyes," with new lyrics about being "On the Main," which, you guessed it, rhymed with vein. About how at one point some smartass shouted out, "It's not funny anymore," probably a request for the song of the same name, but eliciting from Hart the even more smartassy reply, "Yeah, but I gotta do something to make a living."

Another bit of apparent cynicism: Hart played "Terms of Psychic Warfare," to a somewhat enthusiastic response; someone shouted "Play it again!" -- so Hart did, going through the first verse and chorus before remarking "well, that's about 30 percent of it." I think it was at about this point that I started to make my way to the back of the club.

Speed search in reverse as I walk backwards through the sparse crowd, past the pool tables, to a space up by the stage, where I'm now squatting to scribble notes for lyrics for a more recent Hart song that I think are quite beautiful. He almost seems to feel it, he almost makes me believe him. "You are the reflection of the moon on the water... but you're not the moon. You are the shadow of the light of the fire... but you're not the light..." I wonder which of his post-Du albums that I've ignored this song might be off of? It's a good one. I kind of like the line about being an "admiral of the air" in another song...

...And now we see me watching the evening's featured performer as he takes the stage. Huge, disturbingly milky eyes and a too-direct stare; a bit of a belly; beautiful hair; sandals. Plugging in and beginning with "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill," his guitar ultra loud, to make up for the absence of a backing band, I suppose -- sounding a bit like those solo Billy Bragg albums with lots of echo or reverb or whatever, but a bit more caustic... Stopping the song midway through to tell a light guy who leapt up that he wanted the lights off -- just a single blue gel on him through the night. Watching someone who looked a bit like Jade Blade from the Dishrags walk by, and watching Randy Rampage (last seen by me singing "No Fun" at the Vancouver Complication reunion gig) giving Hart a high five, before moving out of range of the speakers...

The music sucking back into the speakers, the singer backing off the stage, the crowd in front of the stage thinning out, walking backwards towards the bar... Press play: me standing in anticipation, talking with Barry of the Doers, whose basswork I really liked, about the SST roster, the influence of Mike Watt, and how excited we all are for the Winks, soon to tour Australia. Barry made the point that, near the end of Husker Du's career, he felt he had to choose between Mould and Hart, knowing that they hated each other, and (back then) he'd chosen Mould. I opined that tho' Hart was always the more conventional songwriter, he'd stayed consistent, putting out good songs right to the end, where Bob got kind of tediously sanctimonious and pretentious, I thought... Barry seemed to acknowledge Hart's conventionalism, saying he figured that Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones were his biggest influences, but then told me about how, after seeing Hart play to about 20 people last night in Victoria, he'd decided Mould and Hart were on equal footing... Hart suddenly walking up to us and shouting over the canned music to Barry, "Have you seen the light guy?"

...Drinking my fourth pint of beer for the evening, looking for a place to put the glass...

My third beer just finished, I'm approaching a fellow old punk who I'd met earlier on the bus, Adam, at the front of the stage, as the Doers load out, and we're both clearly excited about the fact that soon Grant Hart will take the stage. Adam tells me he's set to interview him afterwards. He'd told me earlier how much he loved everything Husker Du ever did. For me, it was mostly just Zen Arcade, I tell him, an essential album from my adolescence. How it helped me survive. We're both excited about what's to come, in any event. Tho' I have my worries, which I keep to myself.

A step back from that and I'm in the men's room, pissing, and with apologies to the May Kings, the first band of the evening, I think that's where we'll leave me, since I need to pee again now, as I type, and it provides just enough of a feeling of pattern -- a concert experienced and reviewed in the space between urinations -- that I can tell myself I've come to a fitting end for the night. Really, I'm more concerned for getting up to work in the morning.

At least it was only a $12 show.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I've seen Grant Hart solo twice in the last 5 years. Both shows were pretty much, no bullshitting straight ahead sets with minimal inter song banter or audience interaction. He played nearly every request put forth including multiple Husker Du tracks. There were no audience confrontation or half songs. Both shows he hung out before and after the shows and talked to the admittedly few fans that were there. He was fairly aloof yet supringly approachable and forthright.

By the way that song with lyrics regarding the moon is an unreleased original that isn't on any of his albums.

ammacinn said...

It's possible I've been unfair to him. I worry whenever I write something negative about an artist. Aloof yet approachable seems a good description; but to me, he just didn't really seem to want to be there. Maybe it was an off night, tho'.