Friday, June 08, 2007

“Keep Playing!”
“Thanks Mom!”

So began the Jerome Wincek show last night playing with Nathaniel Custer (nylon string guitar) and Eric Hess (Upright Bass) as Buck, Chuck, and Chet at Seneca’s Brother Bean Coffeehouse. The three had taken the stage fashionably late (although not Guns & Roses late which was too bad, because I had my riot pants on) and had played a brief number when the call for more came.

Sadly, that was the liveliest the crowd was all night. I had expected a smallish crowd for a Thursday night show, but there was actually a pretty full house. It was just a very quiet full house. Which really is too bad. Wincek’s strength has always been his lyrics. He’s quiet and soft spoken in person, but his lyrics reveal a love of puns, wordplay and, as he put it at one point last night creating songs that are both, “weird and silly”. Looking around me though, there were a lot of deadly serious faces, as if they were playing to a room of scholars parsing every word, instead a of a group of all ages listening to songs that involved, beer, muskrats, and puns galore.

That’s not to say that this was a Raffi concert. It wasn’t. Wincek’s talents also include handling stories of domestic abuse and small town ennui. It’s just that the songs never feel overbearing. You aren’t crushed into submission by a Wincek song. It’s there – if you want to go away with it that’s cool. If not, it’ll wait.

Wincek’s lyrics shine the brightest when he lets his wit and love of wordplay to play against the message of the narrative like in “Barry the Hatchet” – the story of a young man (Barry) who commits some mayhem with a hatchet given to him by his mother as a birthday present.

By 7:25, the guys had started to settle in a bit, but there was still hesitancy in the performance. Additionally, because the music often shared a similar style and with Wincek providing all the vocals, there needed to be some cleanser between courses. A little more patter, or one of the other players stepping forward to take lead vocals or a song of their own (A point driven home when Wincek broke a string and Custer stepped in with a nice finger picking number that, unfortunately, just sort of petered out, after Wincek had restrung.)

Even with the sound issues, there were some standout numbers. Unlike Astral Road, Wincek’s album where a lot of the music came from, here the banjo and mandolin parts were transposed to guitar, and while it still sounded good, I sorely missed those non-traditional traditional sounds. “The Giver” featured Wincek’s best guitar work of the night (from Wincek) while Nate’s best work came in “Where the Muskrat” -- as the pace sped up he was doing some yeoman work on the fretboard.

Wincek nodded to his past as well by playing “So Long” from his time spent with the now defunct Big Jack Earl, featuring a nice bass solo from Hess (who, at least last night, bore a striking resemblance to Smashmouth singer Steve Harwell).

No Americana –roots-No Depression-alt country or whatever the heck you want to call it is complete without an old-timey cover and Wincek and the guys did a great cover of “Careless Love”, which, with Wincek’s meditative singing posture with his eyes closed (which, by the way, makes it pretty darn difficult to get a good photo) immediately made think of another chronicler of depressed Americanness, Robert Lowell and his poem “Skunk Hour”:

Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill--
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
I myself am hell,
nobody's here--

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air--
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

Normally, Wincek has a just-plain-folks persona about him. Write dozens of songs, record multiple albums, set up a singer-songwriter festival and play out almost weekly? Aw shucks, ma’am, anybody could do it. It’s definitely a stance that usually brings the audience into his fold. Last night though, too often, that turned into self-depreciation,. It was only the third time the three had played out together, the distortion box caused sound problems, and Wincek found himself making light hearted apologies throughout the night. (Where we were, really, really close to the stage, there weren’t really any acoustical problems. I mean, I could quibble that Wincek’s guitar was too fuzzy, but that’s personal preference, not tech problems. However, at the back of Brother Bean, Wincek’s vocals were a little thick – the more amplification needed , the worse it sounded.) Ironically, what he didn’t realize is that even with the issues, he’s still a better showman, artist, and inspiration than 90% of the other regional acts who Lou Reed-like spend more time trying to convince you of their greatness than playing music.

As the Buck, Chuck and, Chet continue to play together, they’re going to tighten up and lose some of the nervousness. That’ll be good thing because it’s the only piece missing from the puzzle. “Love is a Martyr” provided a glimpse of what these three guys are capable of once they are settled into a show with the bass providing a resonant backbone with the more angry or nervous vibe added by the guitar work. They’ve got great songs, musical chops, and good personalities. They’re well worth seeing, well worth making a drive to see, and well worth buying on CD.

Jerome Wincek and Nate Hess play next June, 22 2007 at Billie's Wine and Vodka Bar (16 west 10th street, Erie, Pennsylvania) from 9 pm -1am

Jim Teifer plays Brother Bean this Saturday from 7-9 pm. No cover.

Can anyone confirm or deny the June 13th telefonics Transit Garden show in Oil City? The mainstream media is now listing Rex Mitchell as the performing artist and the telefonics aren’t returning emails, but are still listing the show on their site.

I know this is strange, but, anyone know a local (~60 miles from Franklin) cheesemaker?

The NYTimes reviews the American Folk Art Museums, “The Great Cover-Up: American Rugs on Beds, Tables and Floors”

It contains the work of dozens of great artists who were also women and usually anonymous, or “unidentified” as labels put it these days. (The makers of 13 works are identified; even in the unlikely event that half of the remaining 50 or so who aren’t are men, that adds up to three dozen women.)

I miss Franklin’s Shakespeare in the Park.

Newmen play a free show at tonight’s Hydetown Festival

Cellofourte a group of, yep cellists, beat 11 local rock bands in the Pittsburgh finals of a worldwide "battle of the bands" competition for unsigned groups.

Hey, PostGazette! Nice way to rip off Overheard in Pittsburgh! Wouldn’t it have been easier just to hire Chris for the day?

The New York art dealers Alberto Magnan and Dara Metz have rescued a Keith Haring mural from the Boys’ Club of New York

Erie’s Roadhouse Theatre is holding auditions this weekend on Saturday June 9th from 2:30 - 4:00 pm

Needed for Bug, 2 women: age range 30 - 50, three men: [1] age range 25 - 35, [2]age range 30 - 50.

For Red Light Winter, 1 woman age range 20 -30. Two men age range 25 - 35.

Have a 30 second monologue prepared. Roadhouse Theatre 145 West 11th Street, Erie. (814) 459.8215 for more info.

Pete Green has a new album. No, not that Pete Greene
Download Pete Green - Everything's Dead Pretty When It Snows


justin said...

nice post on the wincek show. even though i wasn't there, i have some experience with his performances and wish i could have been.
by the way, we were playing a wedding last summer and met a nice lady who made local goat cheese. she couldn't sell it, because it wasn't pasteurized, but she could sell you the jar that it was in, if you get my drift...
i could make some phone calls. good cheese, though.

Chris Griswold said...

I had no idea about the P-G article until you posted. Maybe they would be interested in licensing content from me.

Dittman said...

Chris - I thought that was one of the cheapest things I had seen in a long time.