lay down a level stage
Saturday, March 5 2005
As a very small part of my remuneration for the 14 hours I spent diagnosing and fixing the computer network at our favorite radio station, one of the DJs gave me two tickets for tonight's show at Club Helsinki in nearby Great Barrington, Massachussetts. For some reason Gretchen thought the show would be for a fresh new Irish rock band (we were even jestfully singing "...in the name of love, once more in the name of love!"), but the artist tonight turned out to be Michæl Powers, "the new face of blues." Now I've never had much fondness for the blues or its direct rock and roll descendants, but a live show has a special magic that (except in the case of the Subdudes) can usually result in my experiencing a certain amount of excitement.
So we drove to the cute little town of Great Barrington, parked on the main drag, and walked around to look at the shops. In Great Barrington there are several places where one can buy furniture and decorative accents, and we went into a number of these. An unusually large fraction of the goods at one such store were actually rather tasteful.
We walked the whole length of the downtown to its eastern end, which (over the course of three or four storefronts) went from hip and new to old and run-down. The last store on the eastern end was abandoned.
Heading back into the center of town, we went into a little diner for coffee and fries and talked for awhile about writing, getting published, and schadenfreude. Gretchen is a writer and does occasionally get published. As for me, I never even try to get published, and Gretchen wonders if perhaps I fear rejection. She also wonders if the reason she doesn't write longer prose pieces stems from a similar fear.
Eventually we went into Club Helsinki, an unusually small space equipped with a tiny stage. The walls were painted black and decorated with a wide variety of lamps and broken mirror accents. We were unfashionably early, the first non-employees there. It turned out that the radio station for which I'd done the work hadn't actually called ahead or sent any notice that we were to be given free admission, but it didn't matter; Club Helsinki let us in anyway on our good word and the mention of the station's call letters.
We had prime seats at a tiny little table near the stage. The food was what you'd expect for a club named after the Finnish capital: Scandinavian by way of Eastern European. It was good for what it was, but I can nevertheless understand why I'd never heard of this cuisine before. If you don't eat fish or sausage, you can't hope for the meal to be salvaged, by (say) pasta or intense flavors. For Gretchen, a bigger problem was eggplant, an ingredient that went unmentioned in the description of her main dish.
As for Michæl Powers, he was an impressive guitar virtuoso. For him "the blues" was a launching pad for a style that ranged rather widely, up to and including the less tonal work of Jimi Hendrix. It seemed he was able to coax just about any sound from his guitar. Everything he played took the form of some kind of guitar solo, though these were full of chords, sounds resembling violin double-stops, and well-cultivated versions of the noises that a guitar often makes accidentally in lesser hands. There was nothing special about MP's vocals, but it hardly mattered because they were mixed so low.
The show made for a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but I felt a little bad for the two other guys in the band. They weren't called upon to do much more than lay down a level stage for Powers to work his magic upon. The bass player was the one white guy in the band and Gretchen caught him doing the white man's overbite at least once.
After awhile the small bit of floor in front of the stage was full of people dancing (or, in one case, spasmodically gesticulating). For some reason none of these people spilled into the part of the floor directly in front of us. As I said, we had the best seats in the house.
It was good stuff, but we'd had our fill by the break, so that was when we left.
I was little drunk from something like five Sierra Nevadas and a Jack on the Rocks but I'd also taken pseudoephedrine, so I was wide-eyed and fairly frisky. At the one gas station in downtown Great Barrington I experienced difficulty getting the gas pump to do its part in the filling of our car's gas tank, and one of the employees kept telling me to do various things incomprehensibly through the intercom. Finally she came out while I was in the midst of swearing at the damn thing. Gretchen told me to settle down and the employee shot me a look that I read as, "Why do you have to be such an asshole?" I immediately understood what she meant and experienced remorse. In an instant my behavior had changed completely from obnoxious drunkenness to pleasant reasonableness. I wondered later if this employee had ever seen a customer change his personality so quickly and I decided that she probably hadn't; after all I'd never seen anyone change their personality so quickly myself.
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