A Different Kind of Funneh: Mary Gauthier and Cowboy Junkies at OTSFM
When I was eyeing up the Spring Concert Offerings at the Old Town School, about 75 things leaped out at me: The Magnetic Fields (shah, good luck, chump: despite there being SIX shows, I only managed to swing volunteering for the very last one [call time 9 PM Sunday, cat drop-off time, 8 AM Monday. I M so smart. S M R T]); Todd Snider (canceled due to illness, rescheduled for when I was out of town, which completely broke my heart); Mary Gauthier opening for the Cowboy Junkies (you are HERE); and Nanci Griffith (next week, and I'm volunteering for the early show, seeing the late show).
Spousal unit M was PARTICULARLY excited when he learned that we'd be seeing the late show, as he just loves depressed Canadians before bedtime, and the experience could only be improved by them being preceded by a depressed Southerner.
Said depressed Southerner was, quite simply, awesome. After a too-long introduction (in which the introducer stressed over and over again that there was only VERY LIMITED TIME for her to play, so he wouldn't go ON AND ON AND ON), she took the stage in her ripped genes, rock 'n' roll hair, and literally rose-colored glasses and went right into "I Drink." Things looked dodgy for a moment: The first time the title came up in the lyrics, it drew an extremely strange frat-boy "Woo!" from someone. I don't know who you are, but that is definitely the moral and intellectual equivalent of bringing knife to a gun fight. Asshole.
But this and any other oddities about the crowd, the room, the time of night, or anything else bothered Mary not at all. Her songs are all a soul-scraping mixture of pain and word play. Her between-songs patter is a masterful exercise in total lack of sarcastic voice. She dead-panned jokes about herself, her lyrics, shilling her CDs ("I'll be out there with a pen, like a gypsy flea-market whore, willing to sign anything for $15") to get the crowd just loose and comfortable enough for a laugh, only to then unleash songs like "Mercy Now" and "Last of the Hobo Kings." I very nearly lost it when she started in on the latter ("Steam Train Maury died last night . . ."), as the ZK and I had just leaned over to one another and quoted Coulton on Dylan (in brief whispers) as she picked up her harmonica-stabilizing apparatus and proceeded to blow and pick simultaneously.
She was absolutely at her sarcasm-less best when talking about writing Camelot Motel. She said the kitchenette/cigarette rhyme came to her and demanded that she write a pathetic country song that then wouldn't come. That is until she stayed in "the kind of hotel that opening acts stay at," the kind of hotel "where a folk singer's car is the best-lookin' one in the parking lot."
She closed her set with the angry, relentless, driving, 100% fabulous "Wheel Inside the Wheel". This could have been extremely bad news for the long-winded emcee, because shee-it I wanted to hear lots and lots more of her by the end. A right Hoyden,she.
If the Junkies' set up last year seemed surprisingly complex, this year they'd expanded right off the stage. (Seriously, there was a full mixing board on the stage left stairs and Mike's rack o' guitars was at the foot of the stairs at stage right.) Margo had her table with two vases of flowers, a high stool, and the lyrics Bible (which would fail her once or twice, reminding me that last time, she vowed they'd never do a second show past her bedtime again).
Their set had a lot of variety and a lot less patter than the show we saw 18 months or so ago. If there was a bias toward anything in particular, it understandably emphasized At the End of Paths Taken, their most recent: "Still Lost," (with the lyrics inspiring the album's title), felt a little wordy at first, but they're such artfully assembled words, it satisfies a lot in retrospect; "Spiral Down," in contrast, felt so simple, but I love the elision of "Now it all begins, or continues to," and it's stayed with me; loved "Cutting Board Blues" in a simple, no-further-comment-necessary sort of way; "Follower 2," classic Junkies pain song, beautiful, as you'd expect.
They also did a couple of Townes Van Zandt songs: "Marie" (which was wonderful, even though Margo messed up a couple of times). I, of course, have forgotten the other (my sinuses were unexpectedly exploding by this point in the show, so please forgive your humble correspondent), but I'm almost certain it was, ironically, not "Cowboy Junkies Lament." (Ah ha! "Townes' Blues," of course. Scrumptious.)
The big news that surprised me was (a) Trinity Session is 20 years old (we all vowed that we were 12 when it came out . . . [of course, I wasn't a lot more than that, which seems impossible, too]), and (b) they've re-recorded the album as their present-day, edgier, less romantic selves. After hearing "Workin' on a Building," "To Love is to Bury," and most especially the sinuous, masterfully befunked "Walking After Midnight," it's basically a gimme that I'm going to be buying this. Again. At some point.
They were wise enough not to let the drummer pick the encore this time, but apparently they're never wise enough to actually plan an encore, so there's always fierce, whispered ante-upping just outside the stage door. Margo was tired enough to leave the decision up to them, provided they picked something in the lyrics book. Can't you just see the bite marks on Margo's ass? Again, the first song is lost to the mists of lack of sudafed (but it made Margo shake her head. A lot. I have a feeling there was Punishment on the Bus), but they finished with "Sun Comes Up It's Tuesday Morning," which I fucking love and, apparently, DO NOT HAVE. WTF?
Anyway, skimpy on the details, but it was a great night, and I couldn't let it go unremarked.