San Francisco is a music town. There are so many people that make their living in different facets of the Biz that I’m sure my experiences pale next to someone, who is gigging or working in the Industry in SF, but I’ve been very lucky and fortunate as a rock and roller as far as that goes.
In the last few years I’ve stopped going to shows. I don’t have the spunk it takes to see the shows I really want to see, and more importantly, stay either up for the nine o’clock start, which means my band, the one I came for, doesn’t take the stage until eleven. Then I have to do my best to make it till the end of the show. Not to mention when I go to shows now, I look like I’m there to pick up my kid.
I couldn’t imagine doing what I did for Springsteen when he played Winterland in ‘78. My roommates and I got in line around ten pm the night before for the general admission show. If I remember correct, it was a four hour show that Bruce put on that long night. By the time he finished his third encore, we were so tired, exhausted and drenched with sweat; we wanted Bruce to leave. I would see him another thirty times around the Bay Area from that humble beginning. There was that night at the Old Waldorf when he surprised us at the Gary Bonds concert by walking from the back of the room on the tabletops to join Mr. U.S. Bonds on the tiny Waldorf stage. Speaking of the Waldorf, I was there for young not-yet-raspy Tom Waits gig when his ex, a totally smashed chick named Rickie Lee Jones, heckled from the back for the whole show. Speaking of Tom Waits...There were his shows at the Great American when a stripper from next door would come over and join Tom on stage, bumping and grinding to the syncopated unusual rhythms of Mr. Waits, his drummer and tuba player. Speaking of Rickie Lee Jones...There was her five-night run at the Warfield where she was doing a performance piece that played only here and New York. One of the best shows I ever attended in terms of honesty and true feelings. We had all come a long way from the Old Waldorf.
And the list goes on...The night Jeff Beck and I hung out at the Cliff Hotel with B. Wyman, C. Watts, M. Maldaur, J.Cocker, J.Page, and did I mention me?
That was then and this is now. Unless it’s jazz and the show is early, it just isn’t fun for me anymore. I had told the girlfriend that the only way I can see a show now is if I’m backstage and have a nice spot. And if you know anything about being backstage; that’s a drag too because if you’re not the star or his friends or family and everyone’s looking at you, like why are you here?
I’m very uncomfortable at shows now. I need a barcalounger and remote for me to be really at ease.
I never thought I was ever going to have a good time again. Boy Howdy, I was wrong.
I wish I could be like Jon Landau and say I’ve discovered the future of Rock and Roll. How fucking cool would it to be to find an undiscovered act before anyone else knew how cool this person was, and how good their music is. I’m a little too late to that train...
You know what? Let me explain...
I went to the coolest thing that I have ever done in weeks. I went to my first house concert. The name implies exactly what it is. A full fledge real concert at someone’s home. The girlfriend and I were lucky enough to be on a short list for these kinds of things, so we got an invite and had to be quick with the RSVP or we’d be SOL.
I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a house concert? How bad could it be?
There had to be about seventy people or so attending, or should I say, sitting around on the couches and folding chairs around our host’s living room. It was almost too intimate, if that was possible.
The opening act was Megan Slankard. I knew a little about Megan from our host, the lovely and talented radio personality and playwright, Peter Finch, (Hi Alice, you’re part of this too) whose plays I seen with Megan in them. But seeing her solo was a whole ‘nother thang. She was great. It would be unfair to label her with all the artists that I thought she was like, but I’m going to try. Because that’s what critics do, I think. And that’s why critics are intrinsically bad. They can only review, not project.
But opinions are opinions, so here I go...
She has that Ingrid Michaelson sexy SF charm, mixed with the driving guitar playing of Anne Wilson, and throw in the wit of Rickie Lee and the hush whispering come-ons of Jewel in the morning, not a fair description by any means because she is who she is, but you weren’t there. Okay how about this...she was fun.
Being the first one up, Megan spoke of the unusual intimacy created by playing in someone’s living room opposed to a stage with thousands of people out there in the darkness. Not to go all Avatar on you, but she saw us as we saw her. She saw us. That kind of closeness only builds support for the performer on the stage. You just want her to do well.
She must have done about eight songs, performing a little over forty-five minutes or so. I didn’t time her act. The closeness allowed for a lot of banter with the audience. One of the conversations I think Megan had was, “Has anyone tried these chocolates? Are they any good?” There was a candy tray in front of the tiny space set up for the performers. After eating one, she said they were indeed tasty. Then when Megan finished her next song, she said she was worried for the whole song that some of the candy got caught in her teeth, and she was going to spray the room with tiny chocolate bubbles when she hit the big notes. It was very vulnerable, real, and cute. It was a house concert.
Megan had to leave; she had another concert in Napa that day.
One of the reason I attended the show was the name itself; House Concert. As my many readers know, (the ten of you, up from two, mind you!) I am slightly agoraphobic. This is only comes into play when leaving the house. I can’t. Or don’t want to. I don’t know but it is another one of the reasons I don’t see many shows. But a house concert! That’s kind of like going to a hotel for a night. Just a change of venue is what I tell myself and my therapist.
When the girlfriend and I first arrived and took our seats all the way back in the third to last row, there were seven rows total, I was surprised at the amount of women attending. My first thought was, “Oh fuck, this is going to be a Lillith Faire.” I was thinking I picked a bad day to shave my legs.
The women were like most of the demographics of the moment, from mid-thirties to my age, old. I thought for sure someone was going to produce a zither or dulcimer at the very least and do a little Appalachian jig until the headliner came on. I knew very little of the headliner, except for his incredible cover of Bruce’s ‘Thunder Road,’ that someone streamed to me.
Oh yeah, I also had heard the headliner before when he came into KFOG performing for the morning show, and there was some radio play, but I didn’t really have a clue who he really was.
Ladies, and I mean Ladies...Ladies and Gentlemen, I saw the greatest performer last Saturday afternoon that I’ve seen in years, really years, and his name is Matt Nathanson.
I know many people here in the Bay Area and actually, all over the globe, know who Matt is, (I now call him by his first name cause we’re buddies now, I have the signed CD to prove it!) but it was my first time to take in the Matty magic.
Where to start? Okay the women...When Matt started the candy dishes and trays were replaced by women’s bodies who took the opportunity to be as close to Matt as possible. That’s reason the room was so double-x heavy. Matt is a hottie. I mean I’m no homo, but Matt’s cool.
His first words were, “I live a couple of blocks from here...” I mean, how cool is that? The headliner actually comes from our ‘hood.
I really took copious notes when Megan was on. She was magnetic and captivating. It was like watching a young performer bloom. I thought about what awaits her and what a great career she’s going to have.
Today as I look at my notes for Matt, it just says his name. Matt Nathanson and a blank page.
I know what I was thinking though, I didn’t want to review Matt’s show; it’s not that kind of show. Matt is an entertainer. His songs are great. I could say he’s like Dave Mathews, John Mayer or someone else like Bruce or a Tom Petty with his craft and skills, but truly, to me, Matt was...a joy? Can I say that? Too gay? His songs were great but it is the banter, the stories he tells between numbers that makes his shows different. I could tell by the liner notes on the live CD I bought. The album notes that he wrote himself start with, “I’m always asked, when you are going to put out a live CD? You’re so great live.” That is so true. If I just heard one of Matt’s seven CDs, I might be intrigued by the wordsmith and fine guitar playing, but seeing him live, in a living room. Definitely one of the top five shows ever.
He played for like an hour and half, I don’t know, time went fast. He spun story after story. He talked about what it is like for him to be a fan of Rock and Roll, and music means to him. He was obsessed in a goofy, comical way with Justin Bieber and cleverly weaved Justin Bieber callbacks threw out the performance. We kind of wrote a song together collectively about the eventual dropping of Justin’s gonads. You had to be there to get it.
I recognized much more of his songs once he started with his hits. He played his guitar with wild abandonment and a glued on focus that rocked the room and made his fingers bleed. Really.
I heard he plays a twelve string but the space only allowed for one guitar, a brassy, twangy six-string. He did have a roadie for his guitar, or else it was a buddy that took it out to the car for him after the show. Is that a dickie thing to write?
His wife was due to delivery their first baby at literally any moment and Matt was ecstatic. But he couldn’t have been nicer staying and signing everyone’s CDs and dare I say some skin too.
We spoke when he signed my CDs. I was kind of surprised that I didn’t notice his nose ring before. But that again, I was eighteen feet away from the “stage.” Can’t see everything.
I told my buddy Matty that I could never really see him again in a bigger venue now after having experienced him in Peter and Alice’s living room. Matt said, no problem, from this moment on, he’s going to reserve a space on stage at every one of his shows for me and the girlfriend, even the out of town ones, he said, in the odd chance we show up in Pittsburg one night.
I kind of believe him. He’s that cool.
If you ever have the chance, see him. Even if there’s going to be more than a hundred people at his next show, it is worth it.
I saw the next level of rock and roll, the Mod Troubadour, and his name is Matt Nathanson.