Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Multitudes @ Paradise Rock Club

I grew up in a neighborhood across a huge apple orchard from the street where Anders Parker was raised. There was a pond on that orchard where pickup games of hockey were played in the winter. Hockey wasn't my sport—I could never really skate very well—but I heard Anders was a pretty good goalie. He was of Swedish descent, after all. Many years later, Anders was one of a rotating cast of drummers who played in bands fronted by one of my best high school friends.

Said high school friend has gone on to earn relative fame in our hometown due to an SEC scandal, while Anders has enjoyed a modestly successful career as an Americana singer-songwriter.

I have several friends who get considerable credit for nudging my music-listening habits away from the mainstream, but if I had to name one pivotal moment it would be the time (circa 1994) Anders gave a cassette tape of Uncle Tupelo's No Depression to me and Skip, my roommate at the time. I listened to that tape over and over again driving a rental car around South Bend, Indiana while on a business trip, and the music perfectly fit the setting and the mood I was in at the time. Uncle Tupelo (and its spawn, Son Volt and Wilco) and The Jayhawks were the bands that kicked off my love affair with alt-country in the mid-to-late '90s, which in turn influenced me to branch out to other independent music as well.

I've seen Anders play live dozens of times over the years. I've even seen him (with and without his former band, Varnaline) open for and play with Uncle Tupelo co-founder and Son Volt front-man Jay Farrar a number of times. There was also a nice little impromptu performance at my wedding. But, there was something about Friday night's show at Boston's Paradise Rock Club that really felt as though Anders' career has reached a level it had previously never seen.

Touring with Farrar, Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Will Johnson (Centro-Matic) in support of New Multitudes, an album of lost lyrics from the Woody Guthrie archives these four accomplished songwriters added music to, they performed a two-hour set in front of a sold out and extremely enthusiastic crowd.

James (or Yim Yames as he is credited on the album) was clearly the crowd's favorite—as My Morning Jacket appears to have crossed over to modest mainstream success—with Farrar a close second. But, the lesser-known and criminally under-rated (a term I usually reserve for baseball Hall of Fame discussions) Parker and Johnson were also well-received.

If you happened to stumble into this show without any prior knowledge of its theme, you would have been hard-pressed to identify that the songs were derived from Guthrie's work, except for the actual Guthrie tunes that played as the performers entered and exited the stage. This, of course, is meant as a compliment to all parties involved, including Woody himself. That his lyrics and his visions are so timeless is a testament to the endurance of his life's work.

Or, in the words of this professional reviewer, "this band kicked ass." (Also, be sure to check out that link for some great photos of the show, because all of mine suck.)

The band made the interesting decision to run through the album's 12 songs in the exact order in which they appear on record. In other instances, I might be a bit critical of this idea, but it got me to thinking. If that's the sequence the artists feel works on record, why wouldn't the same order work just as well live? Besides, if a band only has one album, they're probably going to play most, if not all, of it anyway.

Still, the lack of any suspense can potentially make a performance a little less interesting for the audience. But, this was more than made up for by the band's second set, which was technically a nine-song encore.

For the first four songs, each songwriter played one solo acoustic number, including Farrar's rendition of my favorite Uncle Tupelo song, "Still Be Around." The next round of four consisted of full-band versions of one of each artist's originals, with the highlight being Parker's "Tell it to the Dust."

The show concluded with a legitimate (well, sort of) cover of a Guthrie original, "Pastures of Plenty," which basically turned into a feedback-inducing 15-minute wank-fest.

All in all, it was a tremendous show in support of one of my favorite albums of this young year. Which reminds me, I'm long overdue for the first Frequent Spins of 2012.

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