3.20.2010, ftw/oak cliff
the rumors of snow started in the afternoon and the morning forecast had predicted precipitation and temps in the 30s, so i left it to my sweetie to decide whether she wanted to drive to oak cliff to see our friends josh alan friedman and mark growden open the kessler theater. she's in the last stages of prepping her presentation to the texas speech and hearing association's annual convention (she'll stand and deliver this thursday), but wanted to take the night off to hear some tunes and see some friends, so off we went -- with a stop in irving to see her best friend laurie (who's doing our taxes) and her husband, rabbi frank (a music appreciator whom i'd told that josh alan was _right up his alley_).
i've been to the kessler three times in the past month (tommy atkins benefit, HIO videotaping, and last night), and each time, it's come a little further along. last time the stage was up (removable to clear the space for the dance studio that operates in the big room during the week); this time, the bar was open (on a cash-only, sign certifying you're 21 basis), dj mr. rid was spinning vinyl, and the space was tricked out with james bland's great photos of the last 30 years of dallas music (my sweetie's fave was one of the rueffer brothers back in spot daze).
jeff liles, booker/scribe/spoken word artist extraordinaire, introduced me to some oak cliff folk like carlos salas, who owns the cliff notes bookstore in the "x+" arts district; the sweet science filmmaker chris howell; and mighty fine art gallery owner steve cruz. there's some really nice stuff happening in the cliff. (i also finally got to meet cindy chaffin, whom i've known for years online, in the flesh, and saw anne bothwell from kera's arts blog, who once interviewed me for a job at the dallas daily that i didn't get.)
dallas slam poet jason carney led off the card. i'll admit to having an extremely ambivalent attitude towards spoken word performance, possibly dating back to when i used to moonlight at borders and we couldn't play music in the music store during open mic poetry night, or perhaps to when stoogeaphilia used to play the "new" black dog tavern (r.i.p.) on nights when the slam poets did their thing, and we had to make sure not to talk too loud, or clink glasses while they were declaiming. i particularly liked it when a poet would get up and flow verse about writing and flowing verse -- sort of their equivalent of rock bands writing songs about playing in rock bands, i suppose.
there's nothing precious or self-aggrandizing about jason carney's performance, though. he's appeared on national tv (def poetry), but since i never watch tv, this was my first exposure to his work. he tells truths about all kinds of human relations, sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet, always honest. i fucking wept when i heard his poem "southern heritage," which is how, in my dotage, i respond to people who really get it right.
the evening, which liles billed as "black saturday," was in part to celebrate my friend josh alan friedman's finally finding a real publisher for his "autobiographical novel" black cracker, his account of his experiences as the only white kid in the last segregated school on lawn guyland in the '60s. i read it in manuscript back in 2008 and am delighted to see it rescued from the kindle ghetto. josh's tale is surrealistic in the same way that catch-22 is surrealistic, which is to say in the same way that only real life can be.
josh played a set of material drawn from his albums blacks and jews, the worst!, and famous and poor, showcasing his killer "atomic acoustic guitar" technique. i particularly dig the rhythmic guitar-slapping things he does that remind me of corey harris when i saw him at caravan of dreams but really go all the way back to charlie patton, but i also know his dark secret: underneath, he's really a lawn guyland rock guy; scratch down a couple of layers below his robert johnson and you'll find leslie west. (he encored with "you've got to hide your love away," which i initially mistook for eddie vedder from the men's latrine.) his version of "jeff's boogie" remains a fave, as does the nyc vignette "harlem time."
it was a pleasure seeing mark growden break the seal on dallas, in the company of some other folks (billy wilson, carl and tina pack) that used to see him when he played the wreck room, our late, lamented playground in ftw. never were a performer and a venue better suited for each other than mark and the kessler. the dallas folk might have heard his music played on kxt, but nothing could have prepared them for his live performance, which is sonically striking ("we have a marketing problem: i play banjo and accordion"), profoundly emotive, and undeniably sexy. (the pair of stylishly turned out older dallas ladies sitting in front of us cut out after mark sang leonard cohen's "i'm your man," i'm convinced because they were about to lose their shit.)
it was interesting to hear how the structure of mark's set has changed since he played three shows in the fort a couple of months back, but he still intermingles songs from the new album, saint judas -- including faves at mi casa "coyote" and "faith in my pocket" -- with others he'll be recording with his "banjo band" in tucson in a couple of weeks. the crowd ate it up, gazing at the performer in rapt amazement, even allowing themselves to be cajoled into singing along when mark went off-mic and stepped down from the stage to sing the climactic "the gates/take me to the water." i'll bet the place is packed when he comes back in six months.
kudos to liles, production manager paul quigg, and kessler developer edwin cabiniss for making this event happen. we woulda hung around afterward but it was starting to snow during the show, so we beat it back to the fort, where it actually stopped snowing just as we hit the city limits. sigh. a great night at the kessler, with many more to come...