Sometimes when I’m sharing the hip lingo with bright young people, at one of my marathon, monthly coffeehouse concerts; or when I’m just out and about, enjoying life in Seattle, and I find myself visiting with 20-to-30-somethings, I will drop the name of some ultra-cool indie band, and then say how much I admire the band. The young person(s) will be surprised that I’ve not only heard of the band, but I can usually name some of the members, share some insider info regarding their lives, discuss their latest album….
Of course, when that happens, they immediately have to initiate a search for another band to worship, because I’ve just made that one totally unhip. Such is life.
But, I can see the confusion and wonderment in their eyes. — Like how does this octogenarian or whatever it’s called, know who that band is?
Over the years, I’ve done this with Rilo Kiley (and later Jenny Lewis, its genius founder); Arcade Fire; the Avett brothers; the Decemberists – a virtual who’s who of great indie bands.– And my secret? Shhhh. Promise not to tell?
I watch Austin City Limits! Well, that is, I watch it when it’s not interrupted by a pledge drive. — Nothing like getting ready to sit down to an hour of the Foo fighters, and instead you get Fat Fighters, with Dr. So and So.
But when it’s on, not preempted by “Jelly Belly-Grain Brain”, I catch some pretty good bands. Being a musician, I couldn’t close my ears to good music if I tried. I simply have a natural-born proclivity to constantly, continually, seek out new sounds. And when I’ve heard one I like, my curiosity kicks in, I jump on the internet, or grab my backlog of Rolling Stone magazines, and start researching the bands. Because bands are made up of people. And people are who I’m interested in.
Knowing a little something about a performer can enhance and even influence the enjoyment of their music. I’ve heard performers whose music initially turned me off. Maybe they sounded too derivative. Too noisy. Too loud. (Too noisy and too loud are not the same thing.) Too country. Not country enough. — Whatever. But subsequently, I learn something about the performer. Maybe the person has gone through some hardship. Maybe they’ve done something amazing that I don’t know about. Maybe they have a connection to one of my favorite artists. And suddenly I find myself listening to their music with new ears. And I ask myself, “Wow, why didn’t I like this the first time I heard it? — It’s great”.
A good example of this phenomenon would be young Mr. Jack White. Or not so young Mr. White. He’s certainly been around the block, at this point. And more power to him. But after I learned about the man, about how he practically eats music, I began to actually listen to him; and I found a lot to like. I truly enjoyed a movie he was spotlighted in, the 2008 documentary, “It Might Get Loud”. Speaking of movies, he made some pretty good music for the movie “Cold Mountain” (get the soundtrack CD!).
One of my musical crushes over the past few years has been a band I definitely heard first on Austin City Limits. The Alabama Shakes. Since seeing them on ASL, I’ve begun to keep track of them. I’ve read-up on them; I’ve managed to catch them on television. They gave a killer performance on Saturday Night Live in February, 2013 (see below). I’ve watched them give a short concert on YouTube. I know a bit about them. (I found out recently that they played Bumbershoot a few years ago, and I missed them! I’ve never seen them in person, but I sure want to.)
Anyway, they’re a fine young band, who have more-than earned my stamp of approval. A recent Rolling Stone article featured them due to the release of their brand new album, “Sound And Colors”, saying, “their day jobs are far in the rear view mirror”. Yes, a lot of indie band members have day jobs. In these times, young people, including musicians, need a lot more money to get by on than what my generation needed. When I was 24, my rent was $60/month!
I mentioned that I play concerts at coffeehouses. Well, any chance I get, I do. Gigs are rather few and far between for an old folksinger. However, I remember an evening when I had a gig at my absolute favorite place to play, Black Coffee Coop on Capitol Hill. — I played 21 shows in 21 months, until they went on hiatus, seeking to relocate, and ultimately disappeared. I played there on my 64th birthday, because I absolutely had to have a place to sing the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” on number 64. I also played there on my 65th, because, well, (free advice, kiddies) you’ve got to do something big on that birthday.
Since the overpriced dive I lived in at the Hacienda Apartments was fairly close to Black Coffee Coop, I normally used the bus (actually a trolley), to get there. And when I was fortunate, a certain middle-aged, friendly gentleman would be at the wheel of the trolley. Since I did a Black Coffee concert the first Saturday of each month, I saw that particular driver, Ralph, well — once a month. Even though we saw each other infrequently, we started to get to know each other over the months. – I was easy to recognize; because I was the old beatnik guy getting on the bus with a huge guitar case, bag and music stand. — The old guy who liked to talk.
I’m not one of those performers who needs 100% quiet before I go on stage. I certainly wouldn’t be taking the bus if that was the case…. I’ve worked with those kinds of performers, and they’re a drag. No, talking keeps me from getting nervous; and you could say, it gets me warmed up for my performance.
So Ralph and I became accustomed to having quick, animated conversations about music. We had to talk fast, because it was a short ride between The Hacienda and the coffeehouse. I remember one conversation we had: Ralph brought up the subject of young bands. He said, “Randy, there are so few good young bands. I can’t think of any. And, I wish there were some. Because we need to keep the good music going.”
I said, “Ralph, I know a really good young band. They’re called the Alabama Shakes. Their female vocalist, Brittany Howard, is incredible. She’s a little bit like Janis Joplin; but she’s definitely got her own thing. I saw them on Austin City Limits a while back, and they blew my mind. Really! They blew my mind”. Ralph said, “Oh yeah! ACL is a pretty good place to hear new bands. It used to be all country, but not anymore.” (Not any more, indeed. It’s way into indie music, and has been for quite a few years.) — It was soon time for me to disembark, to go play my three hours of folk music for the great young people at Black Coffee. So I thanked Ralph for the ride, and he thanked me for telling him about Alabama Shakes.
Well, for reasons unknown to me, when the trolley’s double doors opened on my next trip to Black Coffee, I was greeted by a different driver; one I didn’t know. However, for my March 2, 2013 gig, Ralph was back behind the wheel. We hadn’t seen each other for two months, so we were rightfully glad to see each other. But Ralph seemed extra glad to see me. He said, “Sit down!”, and pointed to the nearest seat. “I’ve been waiting to see you, Randy! I’ve been dying to tell you a story. The coolest, craziest thing happened.”
“The very next day after I saw you, my buddy called and said he had an extra ticket to a show at the Paramount, because his other friend had to pull out at the last minute. The show was that night. He wanted to know if I’d like to go. He said, ‘I’ll give you the ticket. We’ll have a great time.’ I asked him who was playing. He said, ‘This great young band called the Alabama Shakes’. I just started laughing, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to go! This dude on the bus was raving about them yesterday.’ So Randy, I went. And — they blew my mind!”
The Alabama shakes are becoming so popular, you may see headlines like this one I found on the ole interweb: “From Small Town Bar Band To Titans Of Rock”.
Here they are on Saturday Night Live, circa February, 2013, performing “Hold On”:
Here is a preview of that Alabama Shakes’ March 3, 2013 concert, penned by the great Seattle writer, Charles R. Cross: http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/alabama-shakes-rattle-and-roll/
Here is Jake Greene’s review of the show: http://potholesinmyblog.com/concert-review-alabama-shakes-michael-kiwanuka-at-the-paramount-in-seattle-3313/
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