Colin Meloy @ Variety Playhouse

What is it about Variety Playhouse? It’s right there. It’s a terrifically relaxed venue. Yet I almost never go. Except last night I did.

There was a time—not a long time, but a time—when I was bothered by the little scraps of light from cell phones and digital cameras held up from the standing room in front of the stage. It made me think of jack-necks with microphones and two-bit mini-disc devices held together with electrical tape, secretly recording shows back in Chicago. These weren’t keepsake bootlegs or peer-to-peer consolation prizes for folks who couldn’t make the show, back then. They were like clandestine surveillance experts looking for secret messages in the lyrics and, failing to find them, selling off the harmless recordings under the table. These guys were resellers, smuggling in mics and smuggling out contraband—bootleggers of the old-school variety, more Capone than Robin Hood.

But lately, and last night especially, the little glowing windows of cell-phone cameras and the occasional flutter-pop of a digital-camera flash seemed thankful, even mildly apologetic. “Excuse me,” they’d say, “but I just wanted to hang on to that moment, take it home, and put it on my blog.” Sort of sweet. At the same time, these flashes cast huge shadows of the lone balladeers—Laura Gibson, first, and Colin Meloy, later—up onto the curtains behind them, fleeting posters in tribute to Johnny Cash.

Instead of selling these plucked and preserved moments, these people give them away, peer-to-peer, on forums and Flickr and blogs. They’re sharing in something, rather than reselling it to someone. These moments get worn like badges, slipped into your dossier like a newspaper clipping. “On April 10th, subject attended Colin Meloy show in Atlanta. It was cool.” It doesn’t take away from the moment, it expands it. It doesn’t take away from the artist, it promotes him. It catches and releases.

Colin Meloy was on the third stop of his solo tour, singing a mix of his Decemberists’ songs, traditional folk tunes, Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” (with opener Laura Gibson), and a preview of what sounded like a new Decemberists mega-ballad—long and folkloric and supernatural. A good show.

I’d never heard the opening act before, but she—the aforementioned Laura Gibson (careful, that’s a MySpace link, which ordinarily I wouldn’t do to you)—was a delight. Sheepish and nervous and honest, she was the kind of performer you wanted to applaud not out of etiquette but because you wanted them to get through to her. If it was an act she did to summon applause, she had it down. I bought into it. Much to my surprise, when I asked some folks after the show who she sounded like, they said the same thing I’d thought early on, but I assumed I was wrong, ’cause I don’t know from music. They said she sounded a little like Bjork, which is what I’d thought—early Bjork, before she got completely atonal and started scolding all the time. Bjork when she was sweet and uncertain, and wanted you to believe in her. (Is that just me?)

And there was a moment, during Laura Gibson’s act, when the audience realized they liked her a lot, and wanted to capture a handful of her performance as it traveled from the stage out through them like hallucinogenic butterflies. I watched it from the balcony: From one end of the standing crowd to the other, cell phones twinkled on like stars in the crowd. It was a good show.

1 Comment so far

  1. Maura (minarets) on April 11th, 2008 @ 11:22 am

    Good show. Loved Laura Gibson.

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