Michael Glabicki, Planet 505, Syracuse, N.Y.- 12/14
"Glabicki? Who's that?"
The guy shifted his weight and slid from the bar stool until he planted his feet in the solid wood floor of Planet 505 in Syracuse, N.Y. He moved toward Glabicki, the thick cigarette smoke trailing from his hand like chemicals falling from a crop-dusting airplane. The other hand, his left, clutched the sweating bottle of Budweiser. It was Mark's sixth beer in two hours, but the alcohol did not hamper his curiosity.
On stage, the musician wailed away. The song had just begun and already the pain poured out. He whined and hammered the chords of his acoustic; his tall, thin frame contorted under the hurt of his own words.
At 7 p.m. there was no audience. Glabicki sang for an empty room until Mark walked in to the stage area from the bar.
Glabicki didn't notice the man. His eyes were shut tight. He poured his vocals into the microphone, then snapped back his tangled black mane and howled: "Women, they got all my money."
"It's not my kind of music," Mark said loud enough for Glabicki to hear over his music.
And the pain along with the music stopped.
"What's this, a country town?" Glabicki shot back in good humor.
"Hell yeah," Mark shouted, laughing. "You know any good country?"
"I know a lot of Neil Young. You know Powderfinger?' It's one of my favorites," Glabicki said, measuring out the opening riff and stanza to Young's tune exactly, until Mark interrupted again.
"Shania Twain?" Mark appealed.
"Yeah she's a great songwriter, that one," Glabicki answered with a mouthful of sarcasm.
And so began the evening for Michael Glabicki, best known as the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Rusted Root, the platinum-selling band from Pittsburgh, Penn., who made a name for themselves in 1994 with the smash-hit album, "When I Woke." The album's most successful single, "Send Me On My Way," displayed the band's soul equal parts world beat and improvisational acoustic rock to music fans still ringing in the ears from the powerful grunge crunch of bands like Nirvana.
Instead of the distorted guitars and angst-driven lyrics of grunge, Rusted Root offered guttural percussion, afrobeats, and a sensuous spontaneity in songwriting and performance then attached to acts like Santana and Sly Stone. The fresh 2002 release, "Welcome to My Party," embraced the return of singer, guitarist and percussionist Jenn Wertz after her departure in 1995 to form Lovechild and Isabella. The album fuses Indian, Latin and African rhythms with rock, blues and the occasional electronic nuance to add depth to the group's palette, but in splotches. Both festive and furtively soul wrenching, "Welcome" forces a bold step through improvisational roots rock into crafty dance numbers and soulful heaviness.
But here was Glabicki, away from all that, practicing freshly written songs five hours before his solo performance. Just chatting it up with regulars at 505.
After a pull from his own Budweiser, Glabicki began to feel his way around one of these new songs, "Animals Love Touch." He said the song's ending needed a lot of work, so he hammered something out right there. Fifteen minutes later he set down the guitar and said, "No one will know I messed that up if I do. It's new!"
He paced around in front the stage and joked about wanting to find a strip club in the area. Then: "I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat at that Mexican place across the street."
Mark returned to his seat at the bar, where he became absorbed in Emeril Lagasse's cooking show, "Emeril Live."
Out on Westcott Street, only about a mile away from Syracuse University's 18,000 students, Glabicki sighed his humidified breath into the cold, pouring rain and disappeared into the intimate confines of the eatery.
He returned to 505 at 9:30 p.m. to inspect the crowd's progress. Not much in the way of progress: The fans had multiplied from four to nine.
He was obviously disheartened. His high cheekbones, chiseled jaw, and laugh-lines etched deep around his mouth statuesque all remained motionless. He turned suddenly in his smart red shirt and brown, furry jacket, and barged out the front door of 505, disappearing behind the side of the building into the freezing rain.
He didn't return for another hour, when local newcomer Joe Driscoll (www.joedriscoll.net) was setting up for his opening performance. The crowd, now somewhere around 30-plus people, was growing by the minute. Glabicki rushed himself, completely unnoticed, through the bar to a performer's lounge behind the stage.
Driscoll played for an hour, mixing organic hip-hop and beat box with flourishes of reggae, rock and blues, pounded-out percussively on his acoustic. He finished the set by thanking Glabicki for having him on the opening bill, and then shared a pathetic, bizarre Hunter S. Thompson-esque anecdote about his first Rusted Root concert.
Close to midnight, Glabicki walked to a black curtain separating the backstage area from the crowd and peaked out at the 100 or so fans now fighting for position around the stage.
A few girls shrieked after spotting his characteristic shaggy head of hair and dark, ethnic features, prompting Glabicki to return backstage for a few more minutes of peace and quiet.
He took the stage promptly at midnight, pulling the strap of his capoed acoustic around his shoulders, saying, "I'm gonna play some new songs for ya here."
His voice was throttled down a few notches for the opener, a folksy tune that aroused images of corruption in darkness: "If there's a crime on your block, you don't need to call the cops." He purred the lines, restraining his vibrato and woops until the next song, "Welcome to My Party," the title track from Rusted Root's latest album. He sang it with rage, in a melodic, screaming crescendo that departed from the album's celebratory version.
Glabicki joked more than once about that night's performance going straight to record, referring to his frustrating efforts to produce his first solo album.
Taken as a whole, the new songs performed this Friday night demonstrated a shift in the focus of his songwriting. The lyrics permeated melancholy themes of failed relationships and misunderstood love.
The evening's third tune moved manically from references to Jack Kerouac's poetry to Glabicki's own romantic attempts to capture a love eternally in song. Midway through the song, he unfurled a passionate, driving guitar jam until his voice trailed off to a whisper at the close: "Lovely…always."
Glabicki's search for something unattainable trudged onward with "Hands are Law," sung entirely with his eyes closed to the audience as if the musician knew "she" wouldn't be there, in the theatre, if he dared to look.
What is perhaps the most ambitious song of his new set came next. Probably entitled, "Juice," it incorporated a style of plucky guitar playing, ala Dave Matthews, with the story of a femme fatale. "You're a sexual dynamo. I'm gonna kick the gutter until I get the juice. And we'll sing the devil's lullaby…"
"Blue Diamonds" worked well in this stripped down arena, away from the beefed-up, Middle Eastern accents clouding its impact on "Welcome to My Party." However, "Visions," another freshly penned track for the solo trek, floundered among its confusing, nonsensical lyrical content: "Creatures…their destruction is misplaced. ...We're gonna make it through this drunken door someday."
The crowd sang back and played perfect harmony to Glabicki on the favorite, "Send Me on My Way." Glabicki, seized by his inner beast to create those dissonant, tribal woops, buzzed his lips and thundered through a muted-guitar jam. Spent and sweating, he stumbled a bit and slurred to the crowd, "You guys rock. You rock!"
The ballad, "Baby I Would Love to Get in Your Way," followed the torrent of joy in the crowd, suppressing the dance with this love-letter put to music.
"I don't have that many songs tonight," Glabicki remarked, hoisting and sipping from two Budweisers. "That's why I'm drinking two drinks."
Untrue. Glabicki had plenty of arrows in that acoustic quiver strapped to his body just not too many happy licks for the enchanted, now sitting, audience.
"Thunder," a tune Rusted Root has performed in live venues recently, compelled the crowd to remain seated but not for it's lack of quality. It's a beautiful, complex and morose ballad about lovers coming undone in the face of commitment. In a shrill scream that bled pain, Glabicki let loose: "I'm ready to love without upholding you. I never said I loved you, I only paved the way."
Always attentive and playful, the fans needed a shot in the arm, something alive and withdrawn from the musician's tales of woe and loss. Sensing a wane, Glabicki geared up for the hoe-down of "Rain," yelling, "This is just like the old days. This is great!"
The blues-inflected, "Women Got My Money," followed with a twang and swagger and bravado from Glabicki, and the singer couldn't resist a barb at the song's close: "That one goes out to Christina, if she's here tonight."
He chuckled and finished the set strong with "Shattered" from the 1998 release, "Remember." His guitar, perhaps begging to be left alone following the stirring jam of that raucous closer, got the gentle treatment with the encore, "Beautiful People."
Drenched in perspiration but remarkably energized after an hour-and-forty-five-minute set, Glabicki sat at 505's bar, dragged on his cigarette his cheeks tight and his chin sharp as a knife took a few mouthfuls of beer, and got friendly with the fans. He sat there for a while, drinking and smoking and talking and laughing.
The girls made their boyfriends wait while they said hello and goodbye. The boys made their girlfriends wait while they had a beer with the rock star. And Glabicki…he just waited…for something.