Winner, Best Venue - Northern Lights, in a strip mall in Clifton Park, between a dollar store and a church (yes, that's right, a church in a strip mall).

Winner, Best Venue - Northern Lights, in a strip mall in Clifton Park, between a dollar store and a church (yes, that's right, a church in a strip mall).

I liked everything about this place, including their no-frills, kitschy sign.

I liked everything about this place, including their no-frills, kitschy sign.


I had a feeling this would be a very special show, since 1) it’s the first time they played in upstate New York; 2) Northern Lights is a very low-key venue up past Albany; and 3) The Parson Red Heads happened to be playing some NYC shows and were added to the bill. I knew this was one not to be missed.

As Airborne gets more popular and draws bigger audiences, these occasional smaller gigs in out-of-the-way places will become these special gifts (they already are). I hope they always continue to do them, because it’s so incredibly important to maintain a balance and a sense of connection.

Though you wouldn’t guess it from the outside, Northern Lights is a wonderful, charmingly divey, and relatively small venue. Not enough room for the full set, so no screens or stairs; just the backdrop. A more basic, stripped-down show, more intimate, so nice. What you gave up in fancy lighting and stage design you gained tenfold in intimacy and warmth. There was this feeling of hanging out in someone’s living room with close friends, like an amazing ‘family reunion’. While you could still hear some folks in the back talking over the quieter songs, the audience was generally very attentive and appreciative, which Mikel made a note of at the end – “I don’t usually say this to audiences, but you guys are the best fucking audience”.

The Parson Red Heads

Brette Way and Sam Fowles of The Parson Red Heads

Brette Way and Sam Fowles of The Parson Red Heads

I was so excited when I first learned that these guys would be performing this one show with their good friends. As someone who is often bummed to hear about all the amazing lineups of great, great bands at clubs like Spaceland or the Echo in Los Angeles (stuck on the East Coast as I am), this was the most marvelous surprise. The Parsons tonight consisted of three of the core six (and, from what I understand, often up to twelve at their live performances) – Evan and Brette Marie Way, and Sam Fowles – playing some of the prettiest music I have ever heard. Folksy, softly psychedelic and full of California sunshine on this chilly upstate New York autumn evening, they played semi-acoustic versions of their upbeat and heartwarming songs, with incredibly lovely guitar from Evan and Sam, shaker/maraca and some very nice harmonica from Brette, and gorgeous vocal harmonies from all three, strongly reminiscent of CSN&Y and The Byrds. They set the mood for what would be a delightfully relaxed (and relaxing) evening of good times and great music. After NYC’s edginess and intensity, I was so looking forward to a laid back and informal evening with some of my favorite bands – and The Parson Red Heads provided the perfect apĂ©ritif.

Evan Way of The Parson Red Heads

Evan Way of The Parson Red Heads

Their set began with “Knew A Young Girl” (from their Orangufang single), and then “Jenny” (written by Evan a few years ago, which they used to perform in a side-project band called The Ghost Kings), with great harmonica from Brette. It has the wonderful line, “go right up to the ones that hurt you, tell them you love them.” Their set also included “Hold On”, a song that Evan recorded for an upcoming solo album, which the band decided worked well for their trio. [Thank you, Sam, for the info.!]

They also played “Out To Sea” and “Don’t Hold Back” (both from Owl & Timber).

“Don’t Hold Back”

They finished up with “Burning Up The Sky” from Field Mouse Carnival, and my notes say “lovely, lovely, lovely!”. They may have performed something from King Giraffe as well; not entirely sure now. Before “Don’t Hold Back”, Evan asked the guy at the soundboard “do we have time for two more?”, to which a familiar voice from behind me answered, “take all the time you need, Evan” (it was Mikel, enjoying the set as part of their appreciative audience).

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Red Cortez

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Yet another dynamic and powerful set from Red Cortez. These guys are truly amazing, Harley Prechtel-Cortez is the consummate frontman, and I predict big things for them in the coming new year. I’ve recently learned that one of my favorite songs they’ve been performing, “Western Front” is indeed a new track, so that bodes very well indeed.

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Pretty much everyone from Parson Red Heads and The Henry Clay People were up onstage for a rousing rendition of “Old Man Jude”. One hell of a great live song, it includes the refrain “I’m not dead, you’re not dead, oh no”. No indeed!

“Old Man Jude”

The Henry Clay People

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Do these guys really need an excuse for a party? No, I don’t think so. After Joey proudly announced, “we had too much to drink backstage” (and I should point out that “backstage” was the strip mall’s back lot where trucks unload), they went on to do what I thought was a rollicking good set. They played pretty much their usual set on this tour (songs from For Cheap Or For Free plus newer tunes like “Switch Kids” and “Randy, Where’s The Rest Of Me”), and they also included a song which may or may not be titled “Saturday Night”. The wistful ‘Randy..’, about going out on the road and leaving friends and loved ones behind, Joey introduced with “this is for my dog”.

Is it just me, or does Andy look like an evangelist in this photo?

Is it just me, or does Andy look like an evangelist in this photo?

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More words of love for Jordan’s keyboard playing, as we were treated to a delightful vaudevillian honky-tonk piano before my fave “This Ain’t A Scene” – perfectly apt for the occasion.

We got a different closing song this time. Instead of the usual “Bang A Gong” (audiences always chose T.Rex over Jackson Browne; must be an East Coast/West Coast thing), they did Tom Petty’s “Listen To Her Heart”, which I enjoyed far more than the original, and which The Parson Red Heads came up to join in on.

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Wow... ferocious!

I’m thinking now it was during “Something In The Water” (The Parson Red Heads must have been onstage for that one as well? All is rather hazy now…) I was grooving along and snapping away and the scene got pretty crazy, including Andy falling from or over an amp at the back of the stage – which definitely wasn’t part of the choreography! Evan wandered over to make sure he was ok, as he lied on the floor – continuing to play, I might add.

Sadly, I didn't get video of Andy's pratfall, but this photo must have been taken immediately afterwards.

Sadly, I didn't get video of Andy's pratfall, but this photo must have been taken immediately afterwards.

Everyone 'bringing it down low' (but apparently they forgot to tell Sam)

Everyone 'bringing it down low' (but apparently they forgot to tell Sam)

Did I mention it was a pretty loose evening?

Did I mention it was a pretty loose evening?

The Airborne Toxic Event

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This glorious love fest continued with a truly stellar set from Airborne Tox. I was already feeling pretty emotional to be in such a nice, relaxed place with a roomful of very appreciative, enthusiastic fans. It was the first time they’ve played in upstate NY, so people were really excited to see them. From my informal “interviews”, most were seeing Airborne for the first time, even though they’d been listening to their music for quite a while.

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A huge musical treat was a song written for The Parson Red Heads, which Mikel explained they would be performing for the first – and only – time that night. A very sweet tribute to their good friends, it’s a soft, pretty song very much in the style of the Parsons’ own material. It speaks of a simpler time, and memories of childhood. I think it’s about belief as well. Really, really nice.

For the second time, I heard “This Losing” with that great, angsty and desperate “alternate ending”.

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“This Is Nowhere” was preceded with a special introduction in which Mikel name-dropped a lot of really awesome Silverlake-area bands. A great and especially memorable rendition this night.

Mikel’s beautiful new song about being out on the road was performed again (the first time was at the 2nd NYC show), with just Anna providing exquisite viola accompaniment. I usually avoid transcribing lyrics, as I almost always embarrass myself by getting half of them wrong, but I’ll make a valiant attempt in this case (see below). It’s harrowing, poignant and incredibly lovely; about being cut off from family and friends, and fighting personal demons. I sincerely hope this makes it onto their second album – along with the (correct) lyrics.

“Untitled”

Instead of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died”, another wonderful surprise for the encore: Nirvana’s “All Apologies”, with Mikel saying that it was his first time singing the song, and they hadn’t rehearsed it. Deeply moving and quite beautiful, Mikel’s comment afterward pretty much summed up my feelings as well – “that was fucking emotional”.

“All Apologies”

An especially communal and celebratory version of “Missy” included a softly sung chorus of 500. What an amazing evening.

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~~~~~~~~~

Untitled

[“This is a song about being on tour, and you’ve been gone and away from your home for like two years. And then like, everything… when you go home, you’re like a different person, and you don’t know people, and they don’t know you.” – Mikel]

I’ve been away for far too long,
I’ve been (??) this one song
I heard last week on the radio
driving near that place we used to go.

The traffic(?) all looked the same
with the roofs, and the tires, and the ?? frames
and the streets are so wide and the cars are so lame
and on every block I hear the whisper of your name.

I spent many evenings in my head
lying alone on an unmade bed
counting the minutes on the numbered clock
should I call, should I write, should I reach out for someone?

I’m a child, I’m a ghost, I’m a sinner, I’m a boast,
I’m a prince, I’m a king, I’m a rhyme, I’m a ring,
I’m unable to sleep, I’m unable to sing,
I’m a desperate, lonely, frightened unholy thing.

And you say, “la la, I’m so glad I’m over you”.
as you reach for your drink, and you tell me you like my shoes.
And I smile like a wretch, there’s not much more I can do
Yeah I know what you mean; yeah it’s weird for me too
at least that’s what I would say, if I had you.

And then it sounds something like this…
La la la, la la la la la la
la la la, la la la la la la
la la la la, la la la la
la la, la la la la.

I think maybe it was Radiohead
it had a sweet little beat and a keyboard that said
the tall plain chords (?)
I remember how bored you’d get with those bands that you said
played the same three chords.

And you’d dance all around in your tshirt and sing
don’t you love Modest Mouse and (??)
don’t you wish that you could just avoid everything
join a band, go on tour, and think of me when you sing.

And I think, la la la, yeah that sounds ok to me
and you’d fall out of bed, and I fell down to my knees
and I’d smile like my life depended on it
it’s so weird that I was mostly right about that
I was eager to love, and eager to leave.

La la, la la la la la la
la la la, la la la la la la
la la la, la la, la la la, la la
la la, la la la la.
La la.

And I think, la la, these songs are so untrue
as I stare at this strange side of you
and I don’t belong, and it’s oh so wrong
and you’re beautiful with that gray scarf on
I think yeah ok, well maybe it’s just the song
and I miss you, but it might just be the song.

~~~~~~~~~

Shout-outs to a few people I met before the show – Sean and Scott from Boston; and Nancy, who was dropping her daughter and her friend off at the show. Her son, Kyle, wanted badly to see the show, but got very ill. Daren came out to say hello, and she told him about Kyle, asking if maybe he could get an autograph to make up for having to miss the show. Daren came back with a poster fully signed by everyone.

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Never mind the CD... can you sign my sneaker?

Never mind the CD... can you sign my sneaker?

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The drive back from Albany to Boston just after midnight went, for the most part, without incident (3-1/2 hours, for those of you who were wondering). That is, except for almost running over a coyote somewhere on the Mass. Pike in Western MA. I said almost. And no, it wasn’t a raccoon. Most certainly not a possum. Definitely not a hedgehog, nor a deer, nor a fox; and positively not a squirrel. It was, I’ll put it this way, a large dog. But not a dog. Kind of beige, though I was semi-comatose at the time. I swerved as he came to a fast stop a foot from my right front tire, and he lived to howl another day.

Also up on YouTube:

(The Parson Red Heads):

“Out To Sea”

“Burning Up The Sky”

(Red Cortez):

“Waste Of Time”

“Western Front”

(The Henry Clay People):

“This Ain’t A Scene”

(The Airborne Toxic Event):

“This Magic Moment”

“The Parson Red Heads Song”

“This Losing”

“This Is Nowhere”

“A Letter To Georgia”

“All I Ever Wanted”

“Missy”

More photos will be uploaded to Flickr, eventually.

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