i have seen you in various stages

24Aug09
My love for Grimey’s New and Preloved Music knows no bounds. In the midst of the Great Broken Car Saga of last week, I wandered in the record store on 8th Ave South to attempt some music therapy. I left with The Weakerthans’ Reunion Tour LP and The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife LP, which, for various reasons, is probably the most signifant musical purchase of my life.

But I also left with the knowledge that Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers were going to be doing a free, in-store performance at Grimey’s on Sunday afternoon prior to their show at 3rd & Lindsley that same night.

If there was ever a reason to love the sound of a banjo, Great Lake Swimmers are it. Their music is so charming and autumnal that it’s impossible not to love them. Libby had introduced them to me several years ago with “Moving Pictures, Silent Films” and though I adored the song, I never did go after the rest of their music. Then this past May, when Libby came down for a visit, she brought their latest album, Lost Channels along with her. We played it on the way to dinner and I liked it so much that I uploaded it and played it for most of the rest of the weekend.

I showed up around 2:30 yesterday for their 3:00 set and already there was a small crowd gathered. We hung about the store while the band pushed the racks of records apart and set up their instruments in a tiny space lit by strands of christmas lights. They cracked open beers and did a sound check while the in-store stereo screamed with the band, Death. And then Tony Dekker quietly, and unassumingly walked to the middle of the floor and started playing “Moving Pictures” while the rest of the quartet milled around.

The contrast between those first few lonely chords and the raucous noise of Death was stark and much appreciated. The song was beautiful, and, if it’s possible, Tony Dekker’s voice is even more haunting heard live than it is on the album. The rest of the band joined him, and they moved into “Your Rocky Spine,” with its tinkling banjo and quirky lyrics. I’d never heard that one before, but as I listened, I was finally able to see what Libby had been going on about ever since she’d introduced me to them. It was a song to give me chills, with its lines like, “I traced my finger along your trails / And your body was the map, I was lost in it.”

Their afternoon set was short, punctuated by the banjoist making jokes about drinking beer in the afternoon and throwing in some funky effects with his pedal. It was small and intimate and stripped down to the essentials of what good live music should be: a microphone, a guitar, and some really amazing lyrics. They asked the audience for suggestions for their closing song and someone behind me yelled for “Various Stages,” another song I was unfamiliar with.

I can now say that I’m no longer unfamiliar with it. It’s possibly the most touching song I’ve ever heard, and when it was over, I immediately wanted to hear it again and again and again. The band hung around to chat a little and sign some posters, and after telling them how great they sounded, I rushed home to download their entire discography from iTunes.

I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to their earlier releases, preparing for their show at 3rd & Lindsley. They, along with the Old 97’s frontman, Rhett Miller, were playing Nashville Sunday Night, Lightning 100’s weekly live music broadcast tradition. Instead of standing between bins of discount CDs, this time, I had a front-row seat at the bar. They played several tracks from their new album, and I think Tony may have had a little stage fright because whenever he took a break to talk to the crowd, he would stumble on his words and repeat himself. But he was so endearing and his Canadian accent was so disarming that we all let it slide.

They played another really great set with plenty of banjo. (A few photos from both gigs are up here.) I kept thinking that their upright bassist looks a lot like what I imagine Harry Potter would look like at 40 years old: round glasses, curly black hair graying just a bit, and a button down flannel to go along. They closed the show with “I Am Part of a Large Family” and said how proud they were to be playing in Nashville.

After they broke down their instruments, Rhett Miller picked up his guitar and started playing. I’m not particularly interested in his music, but he was funny and he’s obviously very talented. I listened to him for a little while, then decided to call it a night.

But not before I had something of an epiphany: I really don’t hate Nashville. As a matter of fact, I’m actually kind of starting to like it here. Who would have thought?

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3 Responses to “i have seen you in various stages”

  1. 1 katrina

    I think I would love Nashville. But I don’t think I could get any work done because I would only want to visit shows.

  2. 2 libby

    while i was playing around with various tattoo ideas in my head this summer, one of my ideas (and you can ask brian this because i voiced the idea to him while we were in maine and he, of course, said it was a ridiculous and stupid idea) was to get the lyrics to your rocky spine tattooed all over me in a long swirly line around my body starting on one arm and going across my body and down to one thigh. what do you think? haha.

  3. Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past. ~Jack London


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