Last night, I went to two shows. The first was at Cabin 12, a place which has yet to make up its mind as to what kind of venue it wants to be. It is part fifties diner, part coffee shop and part pub. I was told that it shares a kitchen with Monty’s, the very classy strip club next door. I’m pretty sure Cabin 12 serves breakfast all day and all of the night: the Philip’s brand beer they have on tap is, fittingly, called Phillip’s Breakfast Brew, or something like that. I had many breakfast beers last night.
The performances were as diverse as the patrons. The evening started out with a set by the host of the open mic. We were impressed by the acoustics there, and by the man’s finger picking style. We hoped the other performances would live up to the mediocre standard he set; for the most part, they did not.
It is on occasions such as last night, that I wonder how I could ever quit smoking. I went through an entire pack while trying to avoid the barrage of bongos, acoustic guitars and the assorted Jack Johnsonesque adolescents who played them. While the music was awful, it provided a fitting backdrop to the scene in front of me as I looked through the window. One patron, in particular, stood out from the rest of the crowd.
I would estimate he was about 36 or 37 years old. His white, collared shirt contrasted his tanning bed complexion and his hair was golden and feathered. He was sitting in the corner of the odd shaped room next to his mother, who looked chronically disgusted by everything around her as she gargled the house red wine from her lipstick stained glass. Every so often, upon seeing this or that friend pass by the window, the man would leap from his bench and out the door to congratulate said friend on their appearance: “ You look fuckin’ great, man!” he would scream as he embraced them violently.
He also blessed a couple of drug addicted women walking by with his one-way conversation. “How are you ladies doing tonight?” he asked them. When they took offense to his mere presence, he pretended to jerk himself off and said, “Betcha’d like a piece of this, wouldn’t ya?” They assured him they wouldn’t and he got even angrier. He went back inside and told his mom all about it.
The highlight of this show was a trio of young women, who played mostly originals. I was too lost in the music, to notice how they were received, but I did notice that the host took quite a liking to them. He kept adjusting their microphone levels, to try to encourage them to keep playing. Their set, unfortunately, was much too short.
Despite the overwhelming sadness of most of the songs, the girls seemed to have a hell of a time playing them. They frequently smiled at one another; it was obvious that they are long time friends. The singer wore a trucker’s cap, shielding her eyes from the crowd. Throughout the set I wondered if she hid tears behind the brim too: her lyrics, quite simply, were heartbreaking. The trio featured a violinist, as well, who complimented the sadness of the singer’s chord progression with a wailing cry. The bass player’s smile was the room’s biggest; she nodded her head to every word and gave the songs a bottom floor with her little fingers on big strings. Their set was tragically short: one scraggly man at the bar whooped loudly as they left the stage.
I found out later that the singer’s name is Tessa Kautzman. Her album, just released, was recorded in Saskatoon this past winter. Please go to her myspace page (myspace.com/tessakautzman) to hear demos from the album: they are almost as good as the finished product, and even more raw. She can often be found at the Hootenany at Logan’s on Sunday afternoons. Y’all should check her out!
Having had my fill of open mics, I headed to Lucky Bar to see Run Chico Run open up for Chet. There was another band too, and I was told that they were great, but I can’t remember their name, my head, by then, full of Breakfast Beer. Due to an unfortunate incident with some of Lucky’s security personel, I missed most of Run Chico Run, but what I did hear was great! The duo jumped back and forth between instruments, and reminded me quite a bit of The Black Keys.
Smoke still filled the room as Chet took the stage. Having listened to their newest offering, “Chelsea Silver, Please Come Home” pretty much nonstop since their CD release party several months ago, I was excited to hear how the songs would reveal themselves on stage. I moved to the front of the crowd and stood at the band’s collective foot.
Not many bands are brave enough to write eleven minute songs anymore, much less open a show with them. Chet did. They started their set with the sprawling, epic (with an equally sprawling, epic title) “An Abiding Love Despite Adversarial Vice” from Chelsea Silver. In many ways, this song captured the essence of the show that followed. Hypnotic, beautiful and terrifying, the song changes clothes several times as it morphs, seamlessly, into a many headed monster. “I woke up in the morning, I circled numbers for you darling, I was a mess, a wretched mess”: a beautiful mess, indeed.
The rest of the show went by like a dream. Most of the songs they played were pulled from Chelsea Silver, though one of the show’s highlights, “Grow Old Gracefully”, is many years older. Having gone through many incarnations, and many band members, it is clear that the current line-up for Chet is its best incarnation. The relatively recent addition of Keyboardist, singer and sometimes cellist, Megan Boddy has given the band a tenderness and balance sometimes lacking on previous albums. It is exciting to think about the music they will be recording in coming months as they head back into the studio.
The band obeyed the stomping feet of the scraggly figure in the front row (same guy who was whooping at the open mic) and came back to do an encore consisting of two songs, both of which were inspired by Malcolm Lowery. The first, a tender ballad called Allerseelen, was a testament to Chet’s ability to turn off the maximalist switch if they choose. The second, my personal favourite on Chelsea, “Every Night, A Supper Wine”, contrasts the impending sadness of the nighttime to stoked fires, and cheap wine. After receiving a tremendous applause the band went outside into the brine-perfumed air of our fair city to enjoy a smoke. I stumbled home, singing “supper wine” with breakfast beer breath. It was a good night.