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February 11th, 2008

A Truly Arthur Night


Happy Monday folks! Last night started off like any other night…that is, if every night I went to go see two of contemporary music’s most engaging and promising young musicians, as well as one of folk’s most enduring and idiosyncratic and unwitting legends. So, yeah. It was a special night. As I arrived at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, the aroma of warm cookies and coffee told me that I was in for a treat. I sauntered around for a bit, nibbled on a cookie, and gawked at McCabe’s mind-bogglingly immense collection of folk instruments; everything from banjars (a guitar in banjo’s clothing) to lutes to cellos to harp guitars found their place alongside ethnic percussion and thumb pianos at this mecca of all things acoustic.

By the time Matteah Baim kicked off the night’s music I was already all hopped up on coffee, cigarettes, and cookies: a perfect storm of stimulants. Her set was woefully brief, but the ethereal aural atmosphere she created left me wishing that I had come to McCabe’s hopped up on a lot more than sucrose. I had never seen Matteah perform. The melancholy dance of two electric guitars, drenched in reverb and delay, left my eyes transfixed on the stage until her final song concluded.

While Alela Diane was setting up, the audience was given about fifteen minutes to use the restrooms, buy more food, or step outside to smoke a joint. While I was unfortunately ill-equipped for the latter, I did bump into Devendra Banhart and chatted for a bit before we were called back for Alela’s set. And what a set it was. Alela, joined on stage by her clearly cool, long-haired father, started off her set with “Tired Feet” which is, coincidentally, the first song on her debut LP. Her father’s acoustic accompaniment (nylon string guitar, mandolin) added a dazzling new layer to the songs that I had come to know so well from the record as sparse solo affairs. Her voice knocked me on my ass. After a set that consisted largely of new material (which she told me after her set would probably be released this fall) and a DUET with Michael Hurley, the audience at McCabe’s was abuzz. I don’t think many of the people in attendance had heard Alela’s music before, but afterwards the din of Alela-chatter was impossible to avoid. CD’s were flying off the merch table.

Then, finally, what everyone was waiting for: Doc Snock himself, Michael Hurley. As always, he puttered onto the stage in a state of quasi-bemused aloofness, looking at the rapt crowd as if perpetually surprised that people had come to see him play. When he began playing his songs, it was clear that his dexterity on the fretboard has not diminished whatsoever. It was a beautiful mix of old songs, as well as new: fan favorite Sweedeedee, I Paint a Design, The Tea Song, and You’ll Never Go to Heaven just to name a few. The master was in perfect form: spinning yarns, cracking jokes, and unspooling songs with a carefree insouciance rare in most performers, young or old.

Alela Diane + Matteah Baim

[download] Michael Hurley – Sweedeedee



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