Seeing Where the Night Takes Me: Strangefolk at the State Theater
Strangefolk @ The State Theatre – Portland, ME 9/22/01
"You do this ALL THE TIME... why? By now you know how much it pisses me off, do you do it specifically for that reason?! Christ, I swear you do!"
I turned my head to stare out the passenger window of the car, not because I didn't want Gerry to see that I was hurt by what he just said, but because I knew he'd get even more ripshit if he saw me smiling. Contrary to his assumption that I make conscious efforts to piss him off with every chance I get, I simply had faith in the same belief that always carried me through any situation where making certain minor plans had gotten lost in the shuffle – everything would work out in the end. It always had before and I had no reason to believe today would prove to be the exception, especially considering how inconsequential the issue at hand was: I'd failed to find out which hotel all our friends would be staying in before we arrived in Portland, ME for that night's show. To me, this wasn't a big deal as I'd spent the past 5 years telling whoever asked what I was doing after the show that I was going to "see where the night takes me". It was perfectly normal to not have a plan in place at the beginning of the night. For Gerry though, the man of a thousand plans who considered it blasphemy to not have your ticket in hand several weeks before the show, my lack of preparation for road trips was an on-going point of contention.
"This is just great… so what do we do now, doors aren't for another 2 hours". At least he wasn't yelling any more.
"Just go to the same place we stayed at last time.." I said calmly.
"You really think that's where everyone's going to be after how nasty security was to us?" The tone in his voice was insultingly doubtful, but my instincts told me that sticking with the same hotel was the right thing to do. To tell you the truth, I'd be disappointed if it were anywhere different, simply because I'd developed a sort of sentimental attachment to the place. The very first time I'd ever ventured outside of my home town of Boston to see Strangefolk was in Portland, ME They were playing at Granny Killiam's in February of 1997 back when I was a wide-eyed college student, amazed at my own adventurousness to travel several hours to see my new favorite band play. Some friends and I randomly chose this hotel that night, and it just stuck whenever we'd go to Portland from that day forward. It would be a shame to disrupt such a long-standing tradition just because some of the other hotel patrons had some trouble sleeping through our boisterousness the last time we were there.
"Yes, despite what a pain it was, I think it's probably the way to go."
"Fine…" He grumbled something under his breath about paying to park only to have to move again once we found out where everyone was going to be, but I ignored it.
We left the car and headed for the lobby. He handed me the cell phone number of a friend of ours who knew where everyone was staying, suggesting that I call him so we could get settled as soon as possible. I stuck it in my back pocket and continued on to the front desk, ignoring the turn that would take me to the pay phone. I heard Gerry sigh in exasperation as he saw I was once again abandoning concrete plans to head for the wild card option. I approached the desk and inquired to see if the same friend whose number he'd just handed me had checked in yet… and indeed he had. I wanted to turn and flash Gerry a defiant smile, but I thought it best to be humble while he was still feeling those waves of annoyance that my "go with the flow" attitude had triumphed once again, flying in the face of his doubts.
I asked him to go get our bags from the car while I made our reservation. He nodded solemnly and turned back to the doors. I smiled to myself as "Have a Little Faith in Me" began playing in my head.
"Kind of a small crowd tonight, huh?"
Marc had a point. The last time Strangefolk played here, the 1500 capacity theatre was sold out. Tonight it seemed to be only a little over half full.
"Yeah, but last time they had all those curiosity seekers working in their favor. It's too bad that so many of them saw only a show or 2 and dismissed the new line up without giving them a chance". I shrugged and Marc nodded.
Things hadn't been the same since Reid left the band. A lot of people left with him, which was sad to see. What puzzles me the most is why they abandoned the remaining band members completely after the split, was there a law passed that said you can only go see Reid perform solo (on the rare occasions when his grad school schedule permits) OR Strangefolk when they tour nationally over the majority of the year? I've seen both, and while it was bittersweet in the beginning on both counts, I've learned that it's all incredible music… just take it for whatever it does for you and be happy with it. Leave your politics and self-imposed loyalties at home, just go dance! If seeing Jon and Patchen (Reid's "replacement") play with Reid at his solo gig in Burlington last August didn't prove that there's no need to choose one or the other, that there really and truly is no animosity among band members, former or present, then I don't know what will.
"Do you think they lost THAT many people because of Reid?" Marc looked at me concerned, and I could understand why. It was a slap in the face that the State wasn't selling out the 2nd time around with the new line up, especially considering how mind-blowing their 6th annual Garden of Eden festival over Labor Day weekend had been.
"No, I don't think it's all just because of Reid… it's bigger than that. I think it's because a lot of people came in to check out the new lineup and walked away feeling like the Strangefolk they knew was lost and gone forever. Yes, Reid being gone is a big part of why they felt that way… but I don't think they were looking at the big picture."
"That makes sense. I had that feeling at first, but then once you stick around and see that there's so much more than just what Reid had to offer. He was a big part for a long time, but now that he's gone you don't have that front man in the spotlight thing. Now it's more about the band as a whole…not to mention that now it's obvious where the other guys's strengths were. The harmonies are better, the jams are longer and more intense, and I swear Erik, Jon and Luke have gotten better as individual musicians because of Patchen and Scott… aargh, what's WRONG with people that they're not here?!!" Marc looked as frustrated as I felt looking out at the crowd that was significantly smaller than the last time they were in this same place.
"I know, it sucks that so many people have this preconceived notion that the only way Strangefolk could be an awesome band was with Reid. That's like saying Paul McCartney had no talent without John Lennon by his side, ya know? It's Reidiculous.."
"No shit!" Marc laughed and then fell silent. I could see the gears turning in his head.
"So do you think the people who left with Reid will be back, I mean… do you think they'll ever give them a chance again?" It was a question I'd pondered a few times already.
"Tough to say. I mean, they've got to take into account that they'd seen the new line up while still feeling the sting from losing the old, not to mention that the guys had only just begun playing together and were nowhere near reaching the heights we're beginning to see now. Some fans (like us) heard the potential there and stuck around to see it blossom, some either just didn't hear it or couldn't because all they could hear was an alien voice singing songs they loved with the old voice. Hopefully they'll let Reid go and let the new lineup in."
"Yeah, but what if they don't?" Marc looked worried, as though the thought had entered his mind that Strangefolk's fan base would never reach the numbers it saw just before last year's Eden when Reid played his final show.
"Look at it this way: if you had never seen Strangefolk with Reid and randomly stumbled upon them now, would you be into them?" I smiled, knowing that he saw my point. He laughed and smiled sheepishly.
"Okay, yeah, I guess that was kind of a dumb question. There's no way they're not making new fans with every show they play. It's definitely way more of a challenge to convince old fans that a new incarnation is worth sticking around for than it is to gain new ones who don't know what it used to be… and they've already pulled that off by the thousands. What was it at Eden, 3,000 this year?"
"Yeah, right around there…"
Just then the crowd roared, we looked down into the show area to see that the band was taking the stage – this was no time to be milling around the lobby at the Strangers Helping Strangers table, people watching as we were. I motioned for Marc to go head down. A minute later I joined him by the lightboard where Gerry was helping a friend with a last-minute patch into his DAT.
They kicked the night off with an old classic, Lines & Circles. Anyone who'd ever seen or heard Strangefolk is probably familiar with it, as it's one of those songs that everyone seems to like instantaneously. It had been elevated to the status of "the quintessential Strangefolk tune" back in the day because of it's vast popularity, but in the past year it's become an anthem: "People come and people go, winds that howl and winds that blow and you… gotta let it go". The crowd exploded before the first chord had finished echoing through the theatre. Maine is without a doubt my favorite place to see Strangefolk, the energy is always through the roof. I don't know if it's because Jon and Erik are both from Augusta, or if there's just something inherently Maine-ish about their sound, but it seems to seep into the brains of the people here the same way Phish's sound found it's first home in the college students of Burlington, VT.
Who I Am was a surprise, it's one of those songs that I never think about hearing until they bust it out. There's nothing particularly memorable about it, well, at least not until they begin to jam it out. Sometimes it can go for a few minutes, sometimes it can take all night! Tonight was moderate, long enough to have some meat to it, but short enough to keep you from getting bored. See Too followed, another one that I had all but forgotten about. This one had a pretty decent spot in the regular rotation for a long time, but it seems to have fallen into the cracks lately. Marc flashed me a smile as he'd mentioned wanting to hear this one earlier in the night. I do love the harmonies on it, always a quality I considered to be one of Strangefolk's best. The segue into Lost My Way would have been completely unexpected if Gerry hadn't told me it was coming, as he'd seen the setlist from the lightboard before I got there… nice transition anyway. Rubberband was up next, and from the crowd's reaction, they've been doing their trading homework. This tune debuted not long ago, one of the songs added to the roster after Patchen and Scott came aboard. It's got a great sound to it – playful and catchy… until they launch into that monster bridge, immersed in power chords and intensity.
When the next song began, I didn't recognize it right away as it was one of the brand new ones, hot off the presses from Eden just 3 weeks before. As soon as Scott started going to town on those ivories, I recognized it as Water. I like the sound of this song a lot, Scott takes the spotlight right away, which makes for a great intro. The melody line of the verses gels perfectly with the rest of the song, and the lyrics could be great too… but I haven't heard them enough to know what they are yet. The chorus, however, I don't particularly care for: "Water, water… I'll never waste another drop". Doesn't work for me at all, sounds like a 5th grade science project title. The rest of the tune is extremely well done and sounds great though, so I can't put it on my shit list just for a lacking chorus. I may laugh every time they do the refrain, but I enjoy the rest of it.
New Glock II closed the first set. Gerry once asked me what the deal was with that song, was there a New Glock 1? As I heard it, back in the day Erik (Glockler, or "Glock" as he's known most) had written 2 songs… neither had titles when they began playing them, so they appeared on the setlists as "New Glock" and "New Glock 2". Eventually the first one went on to be called Sad, the other was just never named. I'm not sure if this story is 100% fact, but it's what I heard, so take it for whatever it's worth to you.
"Hey Stranger… how're you doin'?" I looked up from rummaging around in the SHS box to see a familiar face looming above me.
"There you guys are!" It was Steve and his girlfriend Jada, my most dedicated and dependable donors. They run a head shop up in Augusta, ME and ever since Strangers Helping Strangers began back in Feb. of 99, they've been right there will bags upon bags of canned goods at every one of our events they could make it to.
"You guys ROCK!! Have I told you that lately?" I gave a nod to the bags that had magically appeared next to the table while I had been talking to Gerry by his gear before the show. Marc told me it had been from Steve and Jada, as if I hadn't guessed when I saw the exorbitant amount.
"Well, ya know… it's just our way of giving back to the community that's been so good to us". We exchanged hugs and some thoughts on the first set.
"Hey," I said "You told a guy named Steven Schwartz to come by and drop off some cans tonight? He won the raffle". I was psyched that someone they'd sent my way won the show I'd spun for that night's prize.
"No shit?!? That's awesome! He's a great guy. He was in the shop one day, telling me about how he was going to a Tool concert with his son… he wants to be able to do something with him, just the 2 of them, ya know?" Steve was smiling from ear to ear as he spoke, he loves to talk almost as much as Gerry does.
"Well, I put Strangefolk on in the store and he asked who they were, thought they were great… I told him about the show this weekend. The next day he went out and got tickets for him and his wife. Tonight's his first show ever and now he won the raffle… that's so awesome! I love turning people on to these guys. I guarantee you he'll be at the next show, probably with his son in tow!" He was so excited, and I could understand why. I love getting people involved in this band and the community that's sprung up around them. As Elton John once so eloquently put it, "I think the lord for the people I have found"... I definitely do and it's a great feeling to pull new fans into the mix because you know you've just changed their lives forever when you do.
Set II began with one of those moments that you're glad you were there for. Luke began tapping out a simple beat on the kit. Not a few seconds went by before he was joined by each band member in succession, leading into a completely unplanned jam as an intro for the smokin'-est Like You Anyway I have ever heard in the 5 years that I've been seeing this band. I wasn't the only person in that theatre standing in awe at what I was hearing… there never was before, nor do I think there ever will be again a version like the one played that night. If you weren't there, words simply will not do it justice if I were to try and explain it. Suffice it to say that this very jam is half the reason why I'm writing this review right now. These boys aren't getting nearly the amount of attention they deserve. If this review gets just one person interested enough to check out a Strangefolk show, then I'll feel as though I did my good deed for the day.
Like You was quickly followed by one of the Eden debuts that ranks in my Top 5 of favorites as far as the new ones go: Wind Won't Blow. It starts off sounding like it's going to be somewhat mellow, but then Erik rips right into the vocals, backed by a matching change in the mood of the music that switches from calm to calamity in an instant. I love it. As is the case with another favorite ""Glock tune" of mine (First Time), this tune's strength lies in a slow, methodical build from a bare bones bass line into an all out, all-inclusive jam brimming with all the passion and fire that is Strangefolk. This song is going to be a classic, I can hear it already.
The next song had all the Widespread Panic fans in the audience out of their seats, Porch Song illustrated the overall vibe – "havin'a good tiiiiime here today". Grip followed, another Eden debut working it's way into the rotation. Although it was written for and dedicated to the fans who stuck around through this, their most trying year, there is something very poignant and relevant in the lyrics that makes it work on so many levels now: "Everything will be alright, you must remember this… don't hold the world too tight in your grip". Coupled with the American flag that's serving as the backdrop to every show on this tour, the parallel was too powerful to go unnoticed.
Yet another brand, spanking new Eden debut followed – Anodyne. Love this tune, everything about it is A-OK in my book. Keyboard fans will fall in love with this one as quickly as they will with Water, Scotts quirky sound throughout just makes this tune shine. Being an English major, I tend to lock onto lyrics that do something for me, and this one definitely has em… "what's good for you… (Scott's keys)... is the right thing… to do". I like that a lot, I'm a big fan of following the beat of your own drummer.
"There is beauty here… When the sky is clear, I look at the stars at night…. They shine just like me, but no one else can see this luminosity of mine…"
Escalator. I can't not smile when they play this. Patchen's lyrics always struck me as being very fitting of the situation he found himself in when he joined Strangefolk (regardless of whatever the actual inspiration behind the writing of this song was). People were bound to compare him to his predecessor, and that wasn't fair… he wasn't Reid, and for all the things that he IS, I'm grateful that he's the one who won out over the hundreds who auditioned for the privilege of being where he is now. Of course, as with all good things, it came with a harsh price in the beginning. He's definitely proven himself though, despite all the biting critical remarks he had to weather from those who only saw who he wasn't and not who he is.
"Ya know, ya know I CAN'T HELP IT, I CAN'T HELP IT… this is just the way I am…I CAN'T HELP IT, I CAN'T HELP IIIT...please have pity on this MAAAAAN..."
Great song. I remember this was one of the first "Patchen" tunes that started roping in people who had previously been on the fence. One of the things that had appealed to the masses about Reid was his ability to bear his soul on stage through both lyrics and stage presence. He's not the only one who can do it though, you just have to adjust to seeing it done in a different way, with different lyrics. It doesn't hurt to have a rippin' guitar solo coming from the same man who can wail into the mic with every thing he's got too, Patchen's above-par guitar skills were a welcomed surprise and a perfect addition to the band, in my humble opinion.
In Deep was next on the list. This one's made some huge strides since it's debut last winter. The last time I noticed such a drastic change in a song was with Stout Hearted after they'd recorded their last album. Once they polish it up in the studio, it becomes very obvious on stage. I like that they don't tell you what songs will be on a new album ahead of time, it's fun to try and guess which ones will be on it by how improved they become… but then again, it's also easy to get fooled. Some of these songs that I'm seeing big improvements in were debuted after they were finished recording. I'm not surprised though, they've done nothing but get better and better at an exponential rate over this past year, cohesively as an entire band as well as individual musicians.
"Hey, Mark… head down to the floor, we'll watch the camera for you".
Gerry was talking to our buddy who was manning a video camera for Strangefolk's audio/visual guru and co-web master. He knew what was coming up and that if there was any tune Mark should be on the dance floor for, it was the one coming up. Mark flashed us a school boy grin and disappeared into the crowd, just in time for the opening "BAAAAAOOOOOW" chord to Shakedown Street. I've never seen walkways fill up so fast as everyone in the theatre streamed down from their seats and the balcony area to dance to this one. Some may say that no one should cover the Dead, as if it's sacrilegious or something, but if they had been there that night and saw the smiles on all those faces and how into it everyone was… they might have to make an exception for my boys' rendition of this classic. The segue into Dancin' in the Streets was smooth as silk, and again, I had to smile to myself as Patchen wailed out "Are you ready for a brand new beat?!?!". I was born ready, baby… bring it on!!!!
They left for the encore and everyone in our little section was getting pretty damn pumped for the "Mary Jane's Last Dance" that was written on the setlist, but then I checked my watch and saw that we might be disappointed. Sure enough, they returned to the stage and threw us a bone with …As, the world's shortest and weakest encore. It sucked to have the energy go from such a peak with the Shakedown->Dancin'->Shakedown like that, but when the venue says you gotta go at a certain time, sacrifices have to be made.
"Holy shit, that Like You Anyway was INTENSE!!! ... and that Shakedown, what did your counter say again, Gerry? 15 minutes? DAMN!! I've never heard them sound anything like they just did…WOW... I mean, I… WOW!! I think that was the best Strangefolk show I've EVER seen!" Gerry and I had to laugh.
"Marc, you do realize that you say that after every show you see?" Gerry smiled and clapped him on the back as we loaded up the last of that night's donations into his pick up truck. Since Marc lives in Portland (and he's my right hand man as far as SHS goes), he was going to make the drop-off the next day at the Preble Street Resource Center in the downtown area. It had been a great night, as Maine shows always are for Strangers Helping Strangers: 392 non-perishables, mostly courtesy of our long-time supporters, Steve and Jada.
"Yeah, I know… but you have to admit that they do get better with every show". Marc gave Gerry a look, challenging him to argue with the point.
"Okay, yeah, I guess you've got a point there. Tonight was better than last night, and last night was better than Eden… yeah, I guess you're right." Gerry laughed and then turned to me to take the SHS box off my hands, taking over his self-proclaimed duty as being "the boyfriend who just carries the heavy shit".
"Ready to head back to the hotel, hon?" He smiled and winked at me, a sure sign that he had gotten over the early evening's bitchiness over where we'd be staying.
"Yup, but put that down first… we have to say our good byes".
After a good 10 minutes of hugs and wishes for safe travels to all our friends who weren't staying in town that night, we headed back to the hotel.
"I think we just witnessed an epic show… that's one people will be talking about for a long time, don't ya think?" Gerry smiled at me as he hoisted the SHS box up onto one shoulder and took my hand.
"Most definitely, there's no way I can argue with that." I smiled back and made a motion offering to carry his taping gear to make his load lighter, which he refused.
"So… what did you think about the size of the crowd?" he asked with a tone of genuine concern in his voice.
"It sucked. There should have been way more people there… especially for a Maine show." I was disappointed, it should have sold out.
"Think it'll be the trend?"
"Could be for this tour since they're still not even a year old with the newer incarnation, but it won't be long before they're right back where they belong."
"You sound so confident… do you have a crystal ball or something that I don't know about?" He chuckled and nudged me off balance as we walked.
"No, I just know that good things happen to good people. Everything will work out for them in the end… you wait and see."
The 2nd half of Strangefolk’s national fall tour kicks off on Oct. 24 at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood, CO (check www.strangefolk.com for the full tour schedule). Their new CD, Open Road, was just released and is now available at the web site as well as at all live shows.