Saturday, May 1, 2010

Uplands Breakdown Review Blast From The Past

This is my review of the 2006 Uplands Breakdown, which originally appeared on the Snock e-list back in 2006:

My solo set caught me by surpise, as I hadn't known I was opening until just the same moment I was lifting the fork to my lunch. It went okay and the people seemed to like it, I was fine with it, but my real deal participation came later that night, when Michael ... See MoreHurwitz had a regular gig at the Beartree. He played a really good first set with his pedal steel player and bass player, both of whom are very good -- the steel player plays none of the standard steel licks you come to expect but has his own approach -- and he had the people up and dancing, a great pleasure for me to see, because people don't seem to do that anymore where I live. They sit or stand around on the dancefloor looking at the band, mostly. At the Beartree that night, they were really dancing, doing real dance steps -- two steps and others. The Aimless Drifters were slaying, with some real western blues, the real deal, and I was hanging at the bar with new friends, who were also enjoying themselves muchly.

Michael Hurwitz called me up to do a set after a while, so I began by playing with the steel player (I wish I could remember these guys' names but I can't -- maybe Dave Lightbourne'll pipe in with them when he sees the snock list) and first The Stop And Listen Boys' bass player and then The Aimless Drifters' bass player later on in the set. We got 'em dancin' good again with a couple of country standards -- "Honky Tonk Heroes Like Me" and "Take Me Back To Tulsa" -- rocked up energywise, the way I like to play country, and we were off ... I dropped a couple of mine and two of Jeffrey's into the mix -- and we were also joined by a great trombone player who's appeared on the scene out there (who's also a tenor banjo player) and a Laramie cat named Billy, friend of Dave Lightbourne, on accordion -- but mostly I stuck to an amped-up list of country classics. We burned it up pretty good, all told, but the great pleasure for me was to play for a dancing crowd that was out for some unapologetic good times at the Beartree. Did my heart good to see people dancing and carrying on like that. I spent most of my youth in the west but hadn't been out there at all in many years, except for California, which is west but I've never really thought of it as a "western" state, if you get my drift. Kind of like Florida and the South. I was remembering why I'd spent most of my time out there while hanging out and playing in Laramie and Centennial.

The Beartree is a great treat of a tavern, as well -- with welcoming people and also featuring good, decent grub on a menu that will take care of any but the most macropsychotic, and nuff of it, too, when your plate arrives -- and the little town of Centennial kind of reminds me, and Elwood, too, of Silver City, NV, which was a Rounders/Clamtones hq in the late 70s, early 80s. Elwood told me back in May, when the Sensitivos were Sensitizing in Vermont, "You ought to come out to Wyoming, man. You'd dig it." He was right. I hope to make it an annual gig if they'll have me. I had a great time, made some new friends, heard some great music.

Elwood played with his friend Josephine Foster behind him, adding harmonies and the occasional sparse guitar and percussive activities. What can I say in a Hurley review that hasn't already been said thousands of times? Sensitivo or not, I've always said that the best way to hear Elwood is when he's playing solo. He'd altered his set list some since May, with for me the most memorable change being the addition of the rock-and-roll "slow dance" song from long ago, "Don't Say, No, It's The End Of The World (It Ended When You Said Good-bye"), which Elwood plays and sings beautifully. Other favorites for me were "Steel Guitar Elwood," "Way Out West," "Snockando" (I love that one), "New River Blues" (really love that one -- a starkly beautiful Elwood, right there), "Rockin' Desdemona," "The Rattlesnake Song," and "El Dorado."

I missed nearly all of Spot's set, unfortunately, because I was getting a headache from the cigarette smoke in the tavern -- I'm not moralistic about it, having smoked Camels for 23 years, but 14 years on without one, I get a savage headache after a while -- so I took a walk around the tiny ville of Centennial (population "about 75," elevation 8100 feet) -- so I can't report on that one.

The Stop And Listen Boys, I think, are a really great thing to hear. I was impressed long ago, in Portland, when I first encountered Dave Lightbourne, when he was playing, with Fritz Richmond and others, in The Metropolitan Jug Band, but I think The Stop And Listen Boys are just as good and Dave's lost nothing in all the years since we were friends in Portland, which is many years, now. I hadn't seen him since '80 or '81 and when I arrived at his place the night before the Breakdown, the Stop and Listens were getting with it bigtime in his apartment -- next thing I knew, hardly even a hello having been said, Dave was handing me his old Gibson and there we were getting with "Diddy Wa Diddy" jug band style without a jug but nobody missed it. What's a better way to say hello to an old pal you've not seen in a quarter century? Ain't nothing says howdy like handing over a guitar for you to join a session well underway -- they'd been playing for five hours when I got there, Dave told me later. Anyways, they really got with it, too, at the Breakdown. Like the preview says, that music is the earliest roots of rock and roll, custom made for dancing, and the Stop and Listens know how to put the real propulsion into that kind of music the way not many do today. It was a real joy to hear and again, to watch people dance to it. It's a dancing kind, up there in Centennial, and bless 'em for it. They hadn't played together in more than a year, Dave said, but you'd not have known it, as they got with it from the first downbeat to last. They were to record all day the next day, Sunday, at Carducci's joint in Ft Collins.

Amy Annelle of The Places, with whom Elwood and Josephine were transmigrating, finished the Breakdown proper with perhaps the curiouser set of the day, as the most of us, even with originals thrown in along with those of friends (except Woodbill of course who occupies his own space and time) occupy a more classic space hovering to and fro betwixt country, the blues, jugband and rock-and-roll. Some call what she plays "psych-folk" which I think is just a bullshit term of the like music writers seem to indefinitely create through time. Amy has a haunting style to her originals that has some punk-descended aggressional elements propulsed by a more casual use of volume than you'd likely encounter in my, or our, well, geezer realms (though we were all cowpunks when cowpunks weren't cool....) It made for an interesting contrast. She has her own vocal style and songs, uses far from traditional tunings (which she's also very fast at changing, a delight for any audience, as no one likes to hear people spending much stagetime tuning their instruments), and has a lot to say. I think I was as caught by surprise as anyone else there, for the contrast with the rest of our sets. I know hers got the most people talking about her music and music in general afterwards.

But I much liked her set more the next night, in Denver, where she played, followed by Elwood, followed by me -- for one because I'd heard her once the day before and so could listen again to listen for what I'd missed the first time around (lotta lyrics, for instance -- I'd been sitting too close to a speaker at Breakdown and the volume had me ... See Morefocussed more on her guitar) and for two it was a very small place -- a boutique aimed mostly at a certain section of postpunk young womandom -- so more intimate and easier to catch her subtleties, which were much more present and evident in the smaller space, at lower amplitudes. I was very impressed with her set in Denver and would recommend that folks keep an eye out for name -- she's a road warrior so you'll likely have a chance to hear her one of these days. She also has a new record coming out soon as The Places -- "Music For Creeps." It's also for keeps. Saturday night at the Breakdown I hadn't known quite what to think about her approach but on Sunday in the more intimate clime -- and where she was the main draw so her crowd -- I got much further tuned in to her wavelength and was able to hear the unity of song and guitar in the many alternate tunings, and also could better hear her lyrics. She has an impressive way of her own that's not like anyone else who comes to mind. She has a knock-down version of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" in which between verses she's added a chord progression I believe goes to an F minor (going from memory of sound, here) that I still can't exactly place, and she hadn't known when I asked her, but I think comes from yet another "slow dance" from long ago rock and roll. I'll remember what song it was one of these days. Interesting that she hit upon the progression without foreknowledge of the song my damaged memory banks have yet to recall, and more interesting to have placed it inside a Hank song that's so intimately familiar to everybody, giving the song a fresh new feel, which I have to say few can do. (I'm one of them, I have to say, ahem.....)

Well, that's my little rundown of the Uplands Breakdown, which is a grand time, well worth traveling for, that I hope very much to make a regular stop in future, and that lots of others do, too.

And if you're driving north to get there someday, by all means drive the Highway of Death (Rt 287) north from Ft Collins to Laramie, to get there -- 67 miles of high plains and Rocky foothills, no town or even settlement along the way -- mustangs off to the sides -- I saw a couple of golden eagles and other raptors -- and allow yourself also a night before in Laramie to catch some music and check the local scene, along with the old-time buildings still intact in the downtown section -- which you can't see just driving through on the main drag, and which, like Dave's place, leans right up against the railroad tracks, where you can often get to hear the lonesome wail again, and the pounding of steel on steel tracks -- sounds that have disappeared altogether from my regular hill haunts of northern Vermont.

And don't forget to bring a guitar or other instrument, as you'll be invited to play 'bout guaranteed.

Awreety awrigty then,

Onward and forward but never straight!


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