Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Two Nashville Nights

A week ago, I witnessed the Rolling Stones own a stadium for two hours. Twenty-four hours later, I watched three bands play their hearts out for a crowd smaller than the line for one of LP Field's bathrooms during the Stones show.

The dichotomy, and those two very different days of musical performances, was one of the coolest dadgum things I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a while.

The Stones are one of only a few bands that have the right to be in the debate of Best Rock Band Ever. They're my mom's age, yet they strutted, plucked, played and sweated (a lot) for the crowd gathered in the middle of Nashville, and the sticky heat couldn't kill the awe of the audience.

Several people around us and in following days claimed it was the best concert they'd ever seen. Respectfully, they haven't seen enough concerts. I can only claim it was the best concert I've ever seen put on by people whose first hit came out more than half a century ago. But when you're witnessing a group of people do what they are best known for, even if they're only doing it at 60 percent of their prime abilities, you're still witnessing a moment of history. Even if you only saw Michael Jordan playing with the Wizards at the end of his career, you'll never forget it.

We in that audience joined a club whose membership will not continue to grow much longer. More than a few people including myself used the words "bucket list moment" to describe their experience.

The next night, I held up a wall, with the help of a 25oz Yuengling draft, and let the unknown music from Lightning 100's "Music On Tap" event at midtown's Tin Roof wash over my ears.

Blue Mother Tupelo, a husband and wife duo that could be fairly described as "raucous Americana," opened up the evening. After their set, Ricky and Micol Davis were friendly as could be. When I told Micol their sound reminded me of Shovels & Rope, she thanked me but added, "We've been doing this a couple decades more'n them." You could feel the tiny bit of frustration behind her words, and having now listened to their most recent CD, Only Sunshine, I don't blame her. Their sound is, song for song, every bit as compelling and potent as Shovels & Rope. There are times on their CD when I'd swear Patty Griffin has made a guest appearance, but it's Micol. The lady can belt 'em out.

Who knows why one band sticks and another keeps seeking that upsurge? I'm just grateful they're still out there hammering away at it after 20 years.

They were followed by McNary, another not-easily-categorized musician whose voice carries no small amount of '90s indie rock vibe. While his set was decidedly less bombastic than Blue Mother Tupelo, it carried a different kind of intensity. He, too, was super cool and polite in conversation after his set. When I spoke of my interest in seeing more acts like him and fewer acts that had the glossy sheen of the well-handled aspiring modern country music star, he was kind enough to write down places I should check out. His 7-song EP, While We Are Waking, is riveting.

My 2-hour Friday car ride gave me a chance to plow through both CDs twice over. I'm listening to them again as I write this, and every listen reaffirms my initial impressions.

Neither of these acts (or the third) will be the next Rolling Stones. They're never gonna be the main event at LP Field. I didn't get the impression such an endpoint is what they have in mind. In fact, what made my Thursday night experience the perfect denouement to the Stones was seeing the Street Fighting Men (and Women) of the Digital Music Era.

Some might believe it's a stretch to call music a calling, but I don't know why. It continues to be the most effective and efficient way to connect people to one another. They're in it for something decidedly different than simple fame or glory. Part of me believes they're in the music biz only because they can't not be, their hearts and minds won't let them escape. Imprisoned and or liberated by their drive to make music.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Having seen the Stones last month as well as 10 years ago and 20 years ago and many times on video, I'd argue they were well ahead of 60% of their prime. The context and newness of the songs might not be there anymore, but their actual performance was absolutely top notch and I'd say better than the previous two times. Having never seen them live in the 60s and 70s, I still think there's a good chance that as a performance this was better. First of all, the technology for video screens and amplification is much much better and second you can bet that Keith and Ronnie were in better shape and more sober than an at any time in those decades. And in some ways maybe those guys appreciate what they are doing now at bit more. Sure, Street Fighting Man or Midnight Rambler or Gimme Shelter doesn't have the same sense of actual danger or political relevance, but as stadium performers, they might still be the Best Rock and Roll Band Ever.