Scott got several of us motivated to go hear Lee Ranaldo and Steve Gunn at the Armory in Somerville on Tuesday night, 1/10. I'd never seen either play, though of course I'd heard of Ranaldo. Besides being 3 days younger than me, he's always been known as one of the best guitarists around.
And we'd never been to the Armory, though we'd been tempted by other events in their Arts At the Armory series over the past few years. They were playing that night with Meg Baird opening, and we waffled a bit, but then got tickets. Why not, this should be great!
And it was great. I was delayed at work (ho hum, we got acquired by D&B), but finally hit the road and amazingly got to deepest darkest Somerville in time to meet Sarah at Highland Kitchen and have a quick dinner before the show. It was one of those suddenly warm, rainy, and sloppy early Winter nights in the Boston area where the snow turns to slush and everything is damp or just plain wet.
We made it the few blocks up to the Armory (where I'd parked), and our friends were just then arriving after their walk from Davis! Hilarity ensued, we got beers and nice seats in the middle, though Meg had already started her set. Only heard a few songs from Meg, but she was wonderful when I got the chance to sit down and listen to her. A classical voice, songs featuring subtle intonations, and a lovely sounding guitar (no electric guitars from any of the three last night).
The Armory impressed me right away. It's a surprisingly big space (with two bars) and could easily seat a lot more people than the two hundred or so who crammed into their shitty plastic chairs that night, especially if they opened the balcony area. They also could fit three or four youth basketball games if they tried. If you took away the curtained-off green rooms, it's a very large rectangle a few city houses wide and deep, and is just as high, way up to a complicated ceiling with exposed insulation and ventilation. The sound in there was fantastic and all three performers rocked it.
Ranaldo was in the back thumbing his phone during Baird's set and came on soon thereafter with a rack of four very similar guitars (one of which was obviously his favorite but had an E-string that went out of tune regularly). His style involves playing on the drama of the sound he's making and he started off well by shaking a few chimes and getting some droning sounds melding around. But then his main guitar switch fucked up on him and he had to crawl on all fours to get it right. Hey, maybe that was part of the drama!?!
But anyway, he rebounded soon, cranked up the volume, and blew our minds. His technique was fascinating, including playing bar chords with his thumb. I loved his voice and many of his originals (he's recently put out a new record and concentrated on that) featured neat word puzzles and twists. But the sonic tapestry he wove was the best part of his set, sometimes getting alarmingly close to runaway feedback or guitar angst, but always veering back into his control.
The funniest thing about the night was the crowd in the Armory. It was like an early Joan Baez concert in there or something. Everyone was as quiet as a church mouse during the songs, and there was a loud but short round of polite applause after every number. When you whispered during a song you were invariably met with "hushes" from the surrounding rows (though most people were on both ends of this). I let out a "woohoo" after a particularly good song and several others showed some psych too, but it was mostly a coffee-house kind of crowd.
Lee was fantastic and then Steve Gunn came on, another excellent solo guitarist. As Tristan said after a few songs, it would have helped to have been high for his set. Not that he was bad at all ... he was excellent. But his pace was at times a little slow for later in the evening, and you had to stay with his songs for them to develop. The careful listener was rewarded though and you soon found your consciousness going up and down with his baroque stylings. Great stuff!
Well, that was it. No encores for any of the three and little stage chatter. This was the start of their "tour" and I think it likely the three of them will vary the format of their set as they go along.
Gave our three friends a ride back to Alewife so they didn't have to navigate the sloppy slush and rain, and still made it back home in plenty of time for bed.