Milwaukee, WI ... October 4, 2009... The Pabst Theater
Thinking Like That
There's a Willow
Around My Smile
For the Rest of Your Life
Feeling of Gaze
- From Zarik: I got there pretty early and did some extra things during the day. At night I got to the venue and there was a small group of about 5-10 people waiting for doors to open. Got the tickets, went in at almost exactly 7 and plopped down in the front row.
Loved the theater. It was one of those old-style classic venues with two balconies above, and a crazy ceiling. Stage was two levels, one eye level with our row and the the second level slightly elevated and distant from the crowd. The equipment was set up on the second level, so naturally I knew where the band was going to be playing.
Before the show, there were some records spinning that were really, really eclectic. For the most part, people were pretty quiet (there were < 50 people at this point) and just listened to the music. Knowing that Colm has DJed out in LA every now and then, I'm guessing he was actually controlling what was playing, because every now and then a song would start and then skip abruptly to another one. There were some Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Rolling stones mixed in there, but for the most part you could tell that Hope and Colm had programmed this playlist because it was scratchy vinyl-y sounding stuff that sounded a lot like Mazzy Star and HS&TWI. "Hair and Skin," the song that Mazzy Star covered from "Green on Red" that was on the Flowers in December single, was among the tracks. I have to look up some of this other stuff and see if I can find it.
Anyway, at exactly 8 (literally - exactly 8!) Dirt Blue Gene came on and they really impressed me with their musicianship. They seemed quite psychedelic in their arrangements and I recognized one of the songs they played immediately as one of the "preview tunes" we had been treated to before the show. The songs kind of seemed to blend into one another (but in a good way), and at one point the lead singer Charles seemed to be kind of surprised that the crowd was so quiet and respectful, remarking "helll-ooooo?" at one point. I really liked them though, and it's probably the reason why I (and so many other Hope fans) found the musicianship on her new record to be so strong, because of these guys. Technically sound. They wrapped up their set at 8:40 and then the lights came up.
A few more people had come by this time, I'd say a few seats empty here and there with the back few rows and the balcony empty. Probably 100-150 now. There was a guy who brought his 8 or 10 year old daughter who was dressed in a flowery dress, something you'd expect to see Hope in. I thought it was cute. The couple next to me were pretty cool and knowledgeable about Hope and her music. It really goes to show you that Hope's music seems to attract the "right" kind of people. Finally at 9:25, lights dimmed again and a jazz song began playing. Then some harps began playing (kind of like when they show the Walt Disney logo in Disney movies), and Hope and the band came out. Lighting was perfect for Hope's needs...a little bit of blue on Colm, Charles, Dave and Al and Mick...and of course, the dark outline near the microphone with no lighting at all on her.
For a second I tried processing it. My favorite living musician who I never thought I'd get to see live, ever, was standing ten feet away from me, so close that I could smell her perfume (and yes if you're reading this it was pretty strong perfume Hope...lol). And before I could think of anything else, they kicked off with "Blanchard." Seems like they skipped Susanne at our show, so we only got 12 songs.
I was struck by how technically adept Hope is. I know she's a guitar player, harmonica player, and she plays xylophone as well, but I found it really cool how she was almost angrily hammering away at both sets of xylophones, how she adeptly made the harmonica echo with the special microphone and her hands (would have been cool to hear Hope's voice throught hat mic, lol) and in all these cases, when she wasn't singing, she seemed to seamlessly fit right into the rest of the band. A recent review for the Fillmore show commented that when she wasn't singing or playing, she looked "awkwardly at the band." I strongly disagree--I actually found it very neat - kind of like a captain of a ship observing the sailors and ensuring they're doing what they're supposed to be.
Colm was great. Hair flopping all over the place, he took an active leadership role in the starting of the songs and making sure everyone stayed on tempo. The way they were playing "Feeling of Gaze," at times I thought they were about to go off tempo, but Colm, even though he wasn't really playing at the start of the song, quickly put his hands up and guided Mick and Charles into a proper tempo, almost like a conductor. He also clicked his drumsticks together to start off songs, or when he was playing guitar, quietly counting off 1...2...3...4. His drumming is perfect for Hope's music, I think that's indisputable at this point. And when he jumped on guitar, Nigel (or was it Paul? Not sure) filled in adequately and ably.
Speaking of them (again), DBG really have to be some of the best musicians Hope's played with since Dave. No disrespect to Colm, but these guys have brought skill AND energy to Hope's music, both live and on the record, that I haven't seen since "So Tonight I Might See." It also seems to energize Hope as well. Whereas once she might have been content to languish in slow, droning ballads like "Lose Me On the Way," she works herself up on songs like "Trouble" which sound just as good live as they do on the record, and a lot of the credit I think goes to the band. On the way out, they were standing by the tour bus for a smoke and I made sure to thank them, they were pretty appreciative.
The silent film clips repeating on the screen behind them...now that was a really cool touch. It was a technique I remember Dean & Britta using earlier this year when they were on tour, unfortunately I missed their show here. But for Hope's show, especially because she forced you to ignore her physical form and focus on her voice, I mostly paid attention to what was on the screen and man, it was some creepy stuff. Different hues of random colors, people's faces, shocked expressions, stick figures, cities, stars, flowers, crosses, graves, fireworks, hands, people interacting...so many things, and some of them synced along with the music flawlessly/perfectly.
One really cool moment for me personally was when I almost thought Hope was looking right at me as she uttered, unaccompanied at the end of Blue Bird..."Is that the devil...in your face." I kind of got a little embarrassed and looked down, and in that moment I could totally understand and sympathize how she felt about her whole performing process. I think we as fans should really be appreciative and understanding that she gives us this much, because there are a few artists like her out there but choose not to share it in any way shape or form...just look at Kendra Smith, she's completely disappeared and there are tons of Opal fans that wish they could see or hear her again, but alas. At least Hope is still around and willing to share her incredible gifts with us and we should be lucky and grateful for it.
We did get a few thank yous, that was really cool. I think before "For the Rest of Your LIfe" she also said really quickly, "OK we've got one more left" (obviously not accounting for the encore). There were a few moments where I cringed due to the crowd (late in the game)--"You Rock my world, Hope!" and "We Love You!" For Satellite, some people were cheering kind of loudly during the actual song itself. I grit my teeth and hoped nothing would happen, and thankfully, Hope just ignored it and kept going. For the most part the crowd was great though. Pin-drop silence between almost all of the songs, and I think a technique that they may have adopted (not for every song, mind you...but for most of them) was to have Mick, the keyboard player, make some droning, weird sound effects from his instrument during song breaks so that the crowd wouldn't get a chance to yell anything and just keep listening.
In conclusion, it was the first time I saw Hope live, and it was worth every dollar (and more with Courting Blues...at first my jaw dropped when I heard it because I hadn't seen the YouTube clip...but then later on I found out it was a Bert cover and had been on the setlist). Ideal venue too, I think going forward Hope should pretty much just stick to theaters and never do a show in a bar or club again. So much elegance.