There have been few shows I’ve seen that have quite a way of taking me to the space between consciousness and dreamscape, but this performance was born in that space, thrived there and took a dual life in both worlds. Strange enough, after witnessing it, I find myself also in that space, unable to retreat to the full waking world or sleeping one.
The lineup began with John Houx (pronounced “who”, which first led me to believe he was the love child of one of the roadies from The Whos’ farewell tour). His first song, “Born in 1984” was the catalyst for my night. This set things into perspective with John. My older brother was born in ‘84 – two short years ahead of me – and when he left, it was for the army. Instead John does so for the Big Apple, scrubbing his old songs and opening a new journal.
We went to high school in the same timespan for crying out loud! He felt like my equal, my contemporary, my kin. He set himself apart from most folk fingerpickers behind the mic, in his beat up fedora jacket, smiling at me, gave a flash of the cover of Nashville skyline. His pink complexion and green guitar made a subtle contrast on stage, and the things he sung were here/now and songs of the present times. He felt like Bob Dylan on stage, or the silly comic nature of early Arlo Guthrie, but there was something in his content that kept him here, the references to computers, cell phones, or current events, just present American culture as a whole, made him feel like the voice of my generation, not an earlier era.
Next “Bird, Bird, Bird” turned the archetypes up a notch. It was like watching the dove set free in the peace rally in DC in the 60s, or a flock of ravens on an electric wire. The next song he played was a comic tune about quitting tobacco, “what am I going to do to keep my head, fingers, and mouth busy? Gunna have to get a bigger bed.” Felt like “Bob Dylan’s Blues.” Made us all crack up, the imminent jester on stage.
Closing with “Won’t Be A-finding Her There” gave the feeling of a Johnny Cash ballad (pre-June Carter), but sung in the spirit of Woody Guthrie with a slide on his finger. I went out for a cig and was awake enough to meet him. He felt more like a traveling painter than a contemporary musician in person. After a few words and an empty beer, it was time to introduce the second act.
I got to see John again, singing backup in low moans and playing the gu zheng (try saying that five times fast), a king od string lap instrument you can bend strings for vibrato. He played to the leading lady Larkin Grimm along with Paran Amirinazari plucking, swooping, and caressing a violin. Paran had amazing posture with her instrument, comfortable and confident in it’s embrace, like a dancer in the arms of Patrick Swayze. Her blue Japanese cut dress and dark lengthy hair, standing on her tip toes to reach the mic was the second nod to the visual aesthetic of the evening. And her high tenor melodic bow work captured Larkin Grimm’s Pulsing notes delivered in a strange land.
Upon first seeing Larkin in the parking lot, I felt I was the stranger in that land. There seeing her walk up in a green knee length dress with a very nouveau-styled collar and a Nina Simone wide smile, I knew this could not be any girl from in or around St. Augustine. I was right…kind of. She originated in Georgia, but lives in NYC. Our second encounter was separated by a stage. Her guitar moaned like the middle pages of a Pablo Neruda poem.
A disc jockey from Chile raved her at the merch table as much as I did. I don’t know what tuning she used, but I get distinct impression even the machine – actually, something more organic, covered in moss with a honey lacquer – was strung with backwards high and low strands, made of hair and bonsai trees mushed through a Play-Doh noodle maker. Her voice seemed far away, but was in front of me. Her lows were like Nico, and her highs were an interstellar Joanna Newsom soaring through space on a golden coffee spoon. She dedicated “How to Catch a Lizard” to her sister with an anecdote about catching blue tailed scanks and wearing them as earrings. She loved to talk between songs, but it wasn’t like the self-indulgent rattling you hear from some live bands.
I felt like we were out front, sharing a cigarette and the 16 inches of height between her and I didn’t separate us at all. John Houx provided his low baritone in a groaning flux that pointed at the soft whine from Paran’s violin. Meanwhile Larkin took turns, highs, lows, tenors, and falsettos with both of them. If those notes were having an orgy on stage, they would both be making love directly with Larkin’s voice. This was a hung over wet dream on mushrooms, expressed through three voices, each carrying a stringed pillow. By the end of their set I had to sit down but was urged to share a few words outside with the musicians where Larkin was selling kisses on the cheek, Cds and screen printed underwear bearing an illustration of Kali the Destroyer. My rest would have to wait until the headliner,
Vetiver put me in a chair in the back, fully content not to watch but rather listen to the sounds of live music (any vinyl collector knows a record is only a close second to the blending tide of notes in a live performance). They offered me the serenity of “Been So Long.” It felt like being in a recliner on a sunny day with a neck massage. In fact I was getting one at the time, enhancing the entire experience. The bum-bum of the bass sent me elsewhere, to a grassy field with the Appalachians in the distance.
Otto Hauser was the kind of drummer who was in utero in a tom-tom and gives the telling of his birth through a drum kit every night on stage. Andy Cabic’s vocals spread throughout the room like a wandering benevolent ghost, putting left out coffee cups in the sink, closing drafty windows. Andy shared with guitarist Sanders Tripp a musical infancy in the shadows and sunlight of the mountains off the eastern seaboard in Greensboro, North Carolina. In cue with their tunes like “Wishing Well” and a cover of “Blue Driver,” originally by Michael Hurley, the girls danced. It was reminiscent of an old Jerry Lee Lewis show in a small Memphis club.
Kudos to Sanders for ripping some good licks on “Wishing Well” and talking with me after the show. Even dancing there felt surreal and comforting in the midst of their sounds. I never felt truly awake. It was the bass notes of hymen and the piano keys and back-up vocals of Otto’s cousin whose name escapes me, which helped me keep my feet to give a proper retelling of the event.
Vetiver’s new album, Tight Knit, has only been on the market for four weeks. If you are reading this, immediately go to your local record store, get the vinyl (or if your broke, call your local record station and request one of their songs continuously, until the station is forced to by it themselves), and lean back in a recliner with a neck massage to properly take in the warm lulling notes of this band.
The show had no more than seventy to eighty attendees and if you didn’t have the ability to be whisked away to a dream state by these artists, make it up to yourself by ordering one of their albums online, vinyl if possible. I said my goodbyes to Larkin, John, and Paran, hoping to see them in NYC someday. If they ever play again in the southeast, call me and we can carpool. It would teleport you to a place where gas prices and long car rides were no inhibitor. As for Vetiver, their next album and subsequent tour won’t be for another few years. Sorry readers if you missed it, dream or waking state, every narrative has a few left behind.~