Monday, September 29, 2008

How Much Fun is a Lot More Fun? Not Much Fun at All: Silver Jews @ the WOW Hall

Before I tell you about the show, a couple of notes about my depressing life.

I haven't been in a relationship since my wife left me last December, though not for lack of trying. I've gone on dates with maybe a half-dozen women this year and none of them have worked out. I've failed at this with the sort of focus and determination usually only seen in success. One woman canceled on my twice and then left for Europe. One went out with me once and then told me she wasn't interested. Another went out with me twice and then laid out the "just be friends" rap. And so on.

So I was looking forward to this show when I woke up this morning. Not just because the Silver Jews are a recent favorite of mine (I burned copies of the bulk of their work from the local college radio station during a stint their this summer), but because I asked a girl from a book club I'm in to go with me and she said yes. However, this morning she sent me an email saying she was feeling ill and probably wouldn't be going. I waited until a few hours before the show before deciding to find someone else to go with me (going to concerts alone is remarkably depressing activity) but all of my friends either had other plans or couldn't be reached or were entirely disinterested. I even asked the girl who said she just wanted to be friends, but she turned out to be in Portland for the week.

So I trudged off alone and decided to just try and enjoy myself. I sold my extra ticket at the door to someone waiting in line and headed inside. While waiting for the show to start, I met a cute young blond lady who was asking folks if they were registered to vote. I made small talk with her for a few minutes. She said she would probably be staying for the show and might have a beer in the bar downstairs. I said I would be happy to buy her one and would be down in the bar during the opening act. She said she would be happy to join me and would come down once the music started. I figured things were looking up for me for the evening.

The feeling didn't last long. She never showed and wasn't upstairs when I went up for the Silver Jews. My only company in the bar was a drunk woman in her mid forties who asked me why I looked so morose (not out of concern, more as an accusation). At least I managed to avoid the opening act, a band called Monotonix. What I heard from the speakers sounded like utter shit and I heard a few people grumbling about it afterward.

So I was in an odd mood heading up to the SJ performance. Probably the right mood. The Silver Jews are essentially the work of singer/songwriter David Berman, whose discomfort on stage is evident in almost every stiff movement of his body (and in the way he obsessively played with the microphone cord throughout the performance). Though the band has been active in some form or another since the early 1990s, Berman pointed out that this is only his 92nd show. But Berman's awkawardness was more than made up for by his solid backing band (including his wife, Cassie, on bass. They way he looked at her during some of the more romantic songs added a sweetness to the concert that wouldn't have been there otherwise). The music was country-tinged and mid-tempo, tightly wound, with little of the lackadasical nature of the earlier incarnations of the group.

The highlight of the show, and the band in general, was Berman's literate, poetic lyrics. Full of disjointed imagery and fascinating narratives, he's one of the best lyricists in rock. Though his rough bariton can't seem to fashion the sort of melodies that would turn these songs into pure classics, he comes close enough to make them stick. And the group has only gotten better over time.

It was music that almost unervingly fit my mood at the time. Not depressed or depressing, just tired and a little thoughtful. It was a solid show, and worth taking the time to come see it. On my way out I picked up a copy of the only album by the band I didn't already have and headed on home. I'm not as bummed as I was when I started the evening, so I guess that's something.