I don’t get to see a lot of shows for any number of reasons:
1) I live in a city that doesn’t attract the kinds of bands or artists I want to see;
2) I have a wife and young children who keep me at home; nothing wrong with that, it’s my sitz im leben;
3) I have a job;
3) I am actively looking for employment suited to my, ahem, unique skill set;
4) The money I have squirreled away needs to be generally protected;
5) Few bands or artists I want to see stop close enough to make a trip…
You get the idea; circumstances needs to align just about perfectly for me to get to see a show. So, when I realized that my tax return was going to be substantial and allowed for a little lateral movement, and I discovered that Damien Jurado was solo touring the Upper Midwest and would be in Madison, Wisconsin’s Majestic Theatre, I had to pull the trigger. wife allowed me to, and for that, I am grateful.
Jurado, a Seattle-based musician who has built a considerable cult following with close to 20 years of recording and touring–and recently surfaced on a more prominent level thanks to his appearance on and contributions to Moby’s Innocents–has been a personal favorite of mine for about 15 years, when I went to a Pedro the Lion-Jurado-TW Walsh show at the legendary First Avenue in Minneapolis. At the time, I was in college and had discovered the laments of David Bazan’s Pedro, which was great brooding music for the brooding tendencies I would default to at the time. Jurado, who was touring in support of his final Sub Pop release, I Break Chairs, made Bazan’s performance expendable.
That voice. It stops you in your tracks, commands your attention, forces you to not just hear, but listen. If you haven’t heard him, do yourself a favor and listen. [This was the song that did it for me live; this is another one that, last night, gripped my soul, but I’m getting ahead of myself.] It’s OK; I can wait.
I’ve seen Jurado perform three times in Madison since that Damascus road experience: twice at High Noon Saloon and once in the basement of Pres House, an old State Street church not far from Bascom Hill. The last time I saw him was about eight years ago. Marriage, relocation(s) and finances not only kept me away from seeing him live but largely from buying records at all. It’s not like I stopped appreciating him–his records and tracks were always welcome appearances on random play–but, like an old friend moved away, we haven’t kept up. Then I picked up 2014’s Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son on a $5 Amazon digital download sale, put it on my BlackBerry, played it in my vehicle and nearly had to pull the car over halfway through the first track.
Holy crap, I thought. This is absolutely stunning.
‘HOLY CRAP!’ I shouted to myself in the car. (Admit it, you do the same.)
Thus, the relationship between myself and Damien Jurado’s catalog was renewed. I acquired 2012’s Maraqopa, and was summarily annihilated by that. Jurado reclaimed a spot amongst the ranks of personal favorites, including Bob Dylan, Luxury, Starflyer 59, et al.
My long time show-going partner and dear friend Andy came up from the flatland and met me in frigid Madison yesterday; we hung around town, caught up, the sun began to set and we made our way downtown. Cold blasts in Wisconsin are normally accompanied by a clear, pitch black sky lightly salted with stars. In that picture of the Capitol, the glow isn’t from dusk, but the stark contrast from light and dark. Doors opened at 6.30, there we were at 6.15, the handful of frozen chosen waiting to get into the venue.
We were let in, my ear lobes began to thaw and some other friends and fellow Jurado patrons from here in Stevens Point joined us. After an opener, Jurado came out, sat on a chair and started into his set with one of my personal favorite songs, Maraqopa‘s ‘Working Titles’.
I shot wife a BBM: Instant tinglies. (Thanks again, wife.)
Jurado seldom talks between songs, preferring to tear through sets. In this respect, solo acoustic tours suit him well; he can play what he wants from anywhere in his prolific catalog, rearranging at will. Indeed, while a lot of songs came from recent releases from Saint Bartlett to Brothers and Sisters, he pulled out some older work (‘Ohio’ from 1999’s Rehearsals for Departure) as well as two unreleased songs (‘Newspaper Gown’ and another whose name escapes me at the moment), even mashing up several of his songs into a most tasty medley.
Jurado has always been a good guitar player and distinctive vocalist, but what struck me after a years-long hiatus was how advanced he has become both with his play and the strength of his voice. In recent records, he and producer-collaborator Richard Swift have begun to employ some psychedelic technique with production and using Jurado’s voice as an instrument itself. (‘Silver Donna’, a track that nearly put me in a coma when I heard it on the aforementioned car ride, is a lush example.) He played for about 90 minutes, left the stage, and came out to play a five song (!) encore, wrapping the night up with a perfect bow of ‘Arkansas’ (lyrics like “Fade out/This is where the credits roll our name” seems fitting for a closing number, no?)
He made himself available after the show and was generous with his time with everyone–a very cool gesture, Sondre Lerche was the same when wife and I saw him destroy St. Paul’s Turf Club last October–where I finally made his acquaintance. (Previous efforts at High Noon and Pres House were thwarted preemptively as it appeared to me that approaching him would result in my getting punched out. Ah, my starstruck youth.) I filled in the blanks in my Jurado collection, we chatted for a few moments, he thanked me for being a long-time fan–while grateful for a full house of fans, I’m not sure how many people in attendance are that familiar with Waters Ave. S.–talked quickly about the earlier shows, and were cleared out by a more-than-slightly-inebriated little drunk fan girl who took umbrage with the fact that he was sharing time with me. Apologies to all little drunk fan girls everywhere if 15 years were awkwardly crammed into roughly four minutes.
[“What are you, some kind of Damien Jurado…[too drunk to complete the intended-to-be-insulting remark]?!” may go down in history with the little drunk fan girl at the Lerche show who burst out in tipped frustration waiting in line to meet him, “I don’t mean to be a b—-, but what the f—?!”]
Then, we headed outside. -3º is not warm. Andy and I earnestly walked the two blocks to our cars; it was halfway when I realized that my chest started tightening up and I couldn’t feel my face or fingertips. These arctic winter nights are beautiful…but cold. I started shivering, teeth chattering as we talked about the show, got to the car, and began the defrosting process.
Have you ever tried expediting the warming process from frostbite? It had been a while since I had a strong case of exposure, so I decided it was a good idea to wrap my fingertips in fleece and blow onto them.
That was not a good idea.
My fingertips felt like they were stuck in a kiln for the next 30 minutes. Agony.
Quick tangential thoughts on yesterday:
– I may have had the single worst cup of coffee I’ve paid [far too much] for in years at the Capitol location of Colectivo Coffee. Truly hideous.
– Majestic Theatre is a nice venue, good acoustics and great sightlines throughout the main floor, but the soundboard needed a slightly steadier hand. Several instances of mild feedback throughout the night. A solo acoustic show should be fairly easy to manage. Not sayin’, just sayin’.
– Damien Jurado’s tour wraps up this week, with dates in Chicago [TONIGHT!], Champaign tomorrow, Cincinnati, Louisville and Fort Wayne rounding out the week. Get familiar here, buy records here [sorry, Damien, your webstore is down atm].
Photos courtesy the author and a BlackBerry Passport.