Photo by Bill Olive / Click here for a slideshow
Under the circumstances, the sight was painfully familiar: a crowd of people in a parking lot, waiting. But instead of water, ice or MREs, this group desperately needed some kind of shared experience that didn’t involve clearing debris or scavenging for supplies - in short, music (really, really good music). David Berman, singer and songwriter for the Silver Jews, stepped outside the door at Walter’s on Washington and thanked everyone for being patient. “We’re almost ready,” he said.
The gig had been moved from its scheduled booking at the Orange Show due to power outage at the folk-art monument, but if you ask me, that’s crap. I happen to know the Orange Show has had power all week. Come on, people. If you didn’t want the extra headache of putting on a show while the staff deals with personal losses, just say it; we all understand.
The move to Walter’s might have been for the best, though. The place was packed; the Orange Show couldn’t have accommodated that crowd. The concert started promptly at 7 p.m. - Walter’s graciously allowed the Silver Jews to go on as a separate event before the Queers show scheduled for 10 p.m.
The general mood was shellshock. Tragedy seemed to envelop the evening, but only for a while. After the solo opener James Jackson Toth, the Jews didn’t waste time and jumped into “What Is Not But Could Be If” off their recent album Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. The band had been wearing vaguely Western-style suits on this tour, a choice that gave the proceedings, as guitarist Peyton Pinkerton told me, a “Vegas vibe.”
But there would be no suits tonight. “It’s casual Thursday,” he said. It was definitely the right choice. When Berman sang, “So how do we get out of this, family shadows all of this,” dressed in jeans and a green “Grand Old Golf & Games” T-shirt, it landed poignantly; he looked familiar (maybe even a little white trash). A suit would’ve been alienating.
From there, it all seemed like a glorious blur. If the band sounds this good now, then fans living in tour stops down the line shouldn’t miss out. Berman strode around the stage with confidence; you wouldn’t know he’s still getting used to playing live. At times, he looked so loose that he might slump to the floor had he not been leaning on the mic stand. Berman’s wife Cassie, elegant and statuesque on bass, provided lovely vocals, the perfect counterpoint to Berman’s sing/speak growl.
Pinkerton and William Tyler crafted delicate and lush cascades on guitar - the arrangement on “Trains Across the Sea,” off the Jews’ 1994 debut album Starlite Walker, was breathtaking. On album, that song has a kind of shambolic, stream-of-conscious, inward feel (“Half-hours on Earth / What are they worth / I don’t know”), but Pinkerton and Tyler, with help from Tony Crow on keys, gave Berman an ocean of sound to float upon. It was ‘90s solipsism on an epic scale, and I mean that in a good way.
Other highlights included “Smith & Jones Forever" - the audience cheered at the line, “I got two tickets to a midnight execution / We’ll hitchhike our way from Odessa to Houston.” David and Cassie shared a sweet moment during the duet “We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing.”
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An echo effect was employed occasionally, and most hilariously on the rousing closer “Punks in the Beerlight,” when Berman shouted “Toulouse-Lautrec! Trec! Trec!” But mostly it was 18 beautiful songs, at a time when we could all use just a few seconds of beauty. – Troy Schulze
What Is Not But Could Be If Dallas Slow Education Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer Smith & Jones Forever Tennessee San Francisco B.C. Random Rules I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You My Pillow Is the Threshold Inside The Golden Days of Missing You K-Hole Horseleg Swastikas Wild Kindness Strange Victory / Strange Defeat Trains Across The Sea We Could Be Looking For the Same Thing Punks in the Beerlight