Archive | June, 2010

Greg Brown gets drunk on the moment

29 Jun

Greg Brown

Greg Brown’s been known to drink too much before a set. So the audience wasn’t sure what they were going to get at Freight & Salvage last Thursday when he and Beau, his lanky backing guitarist, first sat down to play, swaying like bodies underwater. The first four songs were played like that, with Beau, a besuited scarecrow with a bobble head, slowly sinking closer to the floor, and Greg, hunched over his guitar and singing in a voice slurred and so deep the front row nearly fell in.

Though this and Greg’s heartfelt intersong patter was enough to keep us entertained, it could be said that during this first fifth of their set the two musicians weren’t playing together, just next to each other. It all fell into place on “Fat Boy Blues” a comic wail about getting a belly that had Greg moaning as his lover, “Baby, I don’t know if you’ve gotten bigger in places, or smaller in others.” From that song forward, frail thin Beau and fat boy Greg were like Jack Sprat and his wife, busy licking the platter clean with their two guitars. We were all in the same boat for the rest of the night, riding a rolling river of a set that splashed equal parts laughter and tears.

Good news, all: Greg Brown drank just enough.

It’s hard to figure out what Mr Brown does that makes his songs as powerful as they are in person. The power isn’t in his words, though he writes well—but he mumbles, shuffles, and wavers through notes and words.  Power isn’t in his playing of the guitar; he plays hot as the sun sometimes, loose nail casual others, but it’s just part of the wash and doesn’t grab you on its own merits. Power isn’t in his singing—he doesn’t try to hold a note in a pretty way.

No his power comes from the whole, not the part. It’s not the singing or the playing, it’s the energy behind them. Mr Brown feels each note, lyric, strum, and moment. Sometimes his voice revs and sputters like an old Cadillac trying to get up to speed, and it’s that struggle, that push behind the note that gets you. Sunburned, thick-necked and wearing a panama hat and sunglasses indoors at 9PM, Greg plays a song just as it is in that imperfect moment, with Beau twanging along beside him, hanging in the air like someone hung his suit jacket in the closet without taking him out of it first.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

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Resistance or Sometimes it feels better to do nothing

22 Jun

The week before last I was in retreat, working on my solo show (which is the main reason I’ve neglected to post here.) It was heavenly: I spent 9 hours/day working directly on the show, and the rest of the time relaxing by watching performers I admire. Spending so much concentrated time on my creative work was a gift.

Then this past week happened. As the Greek poets might say, it sucked donkey balls.

I knew it was going to be a let down, as I’d only have 2-3 hour/day to work on the show, but in the end I didn’t even manage that. A combination of work, classes, and travel, slowed me down mightily and I’ve fallen behind where I want to be.

And here’s the insidious thing: Now that I have the time to the work, I don’t want to. Even though (or especially because?) I have a class tonight in which the teacher is expecting to see progress and I want to make a good impression.

Fortunately, I’ve been around the creative block long enough to recognize this as Resistance. The idea of facing my failure to work on the show and the challenge of picking up where I left off (which seems like eons ago) is unpleasant. Worse still is facing my let-down expectations. Whenever I think about getting up on my feet, working a character or story, I immediately get a foghorn blast of “You’re nowhere near where you should be, you complete and comprehensive failure!” or some equally pleasant variation.

I’d rather do something else, like watch the World Cup, or read other blogs, or gouge out my eyes then actually doing the hard work of getting started again and accepting the piece and my progress as it is. But fortunately, I know the best solution in this situation is to take my cue from Nike and just do it. To get up, take action, and let it suck.

So that’s what I’m off to do. But I don’t like it.