We first went to see Richard Shindell play ... oh, it must have been 15 years ago. He was playing again at Club Passim for three nights in a row; he lives in Argentina and when he comes around on tour it's an event. We weren’t going to pay the steep price this time, but we wanted to take Andrew out for his birthday and as it turned out the last night of his stand, Thursday March 20th, was a great choice. As it happened, this was the first day of Spring and also the International Day of Happiness.
Richard had been on ConcertWindow the night before and the two gigs really became one thing in my mind. He played exactly the same set of songs on the two nights, except that he added Reunion Hill the second night.
Richard was accompanied by Mark Schulman, his long-time guitarist, and Joe Bonadio on percussion, who was excellent, especially on tabla. It was quite a departure from Shindell's normal act in that his set was over half brand-new songs (he says they'll do a record soon), in that his arrangements were darker and funkier with the adventurous percussion, and in that he played mostly electric. He had 4 guitars, 3 shiny electrics and an old acoustic (on which he did Your Guitar, a new song about buying Stephen Bruton's guitar). Their one set was two hours long ... quite a deal for a folk artist.
The new songs were excellent; I loved Deer On the Parkway, Stray Cow Blues, and basically all of them. He sprinkled in some of his classics like Next Best Western, There Goes Mavis (brilliant stuff on electric), Get Up Clara, Kenworth Of My Dreams, and Are You Happy Now. He did a great cover of the traditional I Know You Rider, and encored with one of the greatest blues tunes of all time, Robert Johnson's Love In Vain.
Uncharacteristically, Richard forgot the words to Kenworth and it turned into quite a train wreck (he had gotten them all right on Wednesday), and he stumbled over the second-to-last verse of Happy Now on Thursday, which he'd totally blown the night before and crashed and burned on. Oh well, he's almost as old as I am! :) I think most people in the place could have cued him if he'd looked up. And at one point Bonadio hit a sour "clack!" on one of his instruments and Shindell gave him quite the withering look. Whatever, it was all in good humor and the set as a whole was excellent and thrilling.
His new arrangements are great. He did the spaciest, funkiest Transit you could imagine (not to mention Mavis, again), which was possibly better on Thursday than on Wednesday. As with other great singers I've seen, it was such a delight to actually sit there as quiet as a church mouse and hear him sing those lines that I'd heard many times before but were still riveting. He sang to us about the nun changing a tire and how most of the world is unaware of their need to be cleansed, and the small distances between our sins and what *can* cleanse us ... great stuff.
He also did the funkiest Are You Happy Now that could be imagined. The great thing about Shindell is that his modern folk songs are really just a small distance away from the roots of American music. He turned Happy Now into the rock-blues rave you always knew it could be, and he did Kenworth like the Springsteen/Dylan-inspired country-blues anthem it is. And he sure gave Love In Vain the Jagger-inspired, pissed-off-at-the-world snarl we all could relate to. Great show!
After the encore we trundled up to the stage where Mark Schulman was cleaning up the cords and amps, and had a very nice talk with him. He referred to Richard being a delight to play with because of his high standards, and how he can give his accompanists the laser-beam look when they make a mistake, like Bonadio had. I recalled to him how Schulman had given Shindell the laser-beam look himself when Richard couldn't get his electric in tune at one point on Wednesday, and Mark was tickled to remember that. He told us that in his mind it's harder and more important to work on tuning electrics, as opposed to acoustic guitars, which are more forgiving in performance. Richard had tried something new and it had its glitches, but in all it was another great evening of music.