Photos by Kris Ex
It's impossibly hard to talk about Citizen Cope. His allure is rooted to his ability to remain a closed cipher. His music - old-timey folk, modern-day blues and gully street tales full of the uncounted and forgotten - is at once about nothing and everything; allegory open to interpretation, signifiers without harsh answers, blank slates of dismal stories told through a stoner's observation.
Not that there's any evidence that Cope likes to toke. But then there's nothing that explicitly indicates him as the kind of guy who read ingredients in the aisles at Whole Foods, doesn't fly any place he can easily drive and does his own laundry to find inspiration in the rinse cycle. But you kinda figure he does all that, too.
That's because while his songs decry specificity, they exude substance. 2002's "Contact" seems prescient: "You've got them crooked politicians/ Eating up the treasury and taking our cash/ To spend on the prisons while the youth they fast." And when he strummed his guitar this weekend at the Verizon Wireless Theatre and croaked out lines from "D'Artagnan's Theme"--"I've been dealin'/ And I've been healin'/ And I been dealin' a crooked game/ Thievin' pirates/ I'm a thievin' pirate/ Out of gold that they stole from the Queen" - you just knew he's voting Obama. Or McCain.
And even if he doesn't vote, you know he has a damned good reason for his choice. Or lack thereof.
Cope doesn't help the ambiguity. During this solo acoustic show (he was helped by some sort of beatbox the size of a video game console, and would speak silently to a rear-stage mic, which presumably communicated orders to his sound people) he rarely talked to the crowd, opening up only near the end of his set, which included an encore of his most recognizable numbers and a few works in progress.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Throughout the night, he let the crowd control the conversation, leaving girls cat-calling him by his government name ("Clarence!') and guys feeling secure enough to say, "You are so cool!" There was even a bit of back-and-forth about the tentative name of a new song.
Sipping tea - at least it's assumed that was tea; organic, GMO-free and Fair Trade - Cope humbly clasped his hands and let his weathered voice, an instrument that sounds like it's too old for his vessel and strains beautifully through the incompatibility, run through songs that were both protest and paean. There was a couch that he never used though he flirted with the idea ("I guess I should use the couch"); likewise with a chair, thought the chair got no such recognition.
His music seems if it's pulled and translated from another dimension, a world of unknown language and big symbols. And when he sang, he closed his eyes, faded and leaned back as if going back to that dimension for guidance. Or maybe he was just trying to recall his grocery list.
You can never really tell. And it works better that way. - Kris Ex