If it wasn’t enough that it was The Patient Mrs.‘ birthday and I still got to go to the show, I knew walking into The Mercury Lounge that it was going to be a good night because the dude at the door said, “Hey man, I dig your beard.” Had it been anyone else playing that night, I might have just cut my losses and gone home right then, opened up my diary (or WordPress) and written, “Today was a good day.” Instead I celebrated with an $8 Sierra Nevada.
I figured out the last time I was at the Mercury Lounge was a couple years back to see Dax Riggs, and though I expected my skin to be burned off in hipster hell, it wasn’t actually that bad. Well, maybe it was, but the last acoustic show I went to was Six Organs of Admittance, and the volume of that crowd was so loud it was offensive, and that definitely wasn’t the case here. I don’t care how ironic your flannel is so long as you’re there for the music and you’re not a dick about it.
Opening the show was Hunter Hunt-Hendrix of black metallers Liturgy doing a solo performance that turned out to be him, a looper, some vocal effects, and nothing else. His voice mimicked strings and he set up elaborate choruses of himself over the course of a couple separate pieces. It was brave, but probably not something that should be done for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, as after that the “What the hell am I doing here?” impulse kicked in and I went to the bar out front for another drink and to wait for Man’s Gin. People were in and out from the back room and I could hear just fine in case he, you know, took out a guitar or something. Nope. Semi-melodic moaning all the way.
The plan for the night was Man’s Gin, then Wino, then Scott Kelly, then Wino and Scott Kelly together, and it was a good plan by me. I dug Man’s Gin‘s Smiling Dogs record and was psyched to see the Erik Wunder-fronted outfit in their full-band incarnation after when I last caught them at Lit Lounge and it was just Wunder and standup-bassist Josh Lozano with percussion behind. Fade Kainer (Inswarm, Batillus) handled drums and Scott Edward guitar, and they were loose, but sounded good all the same.
They got a mixed reaction from the crowd, but it seemed more positive than ambivalent, which translates to triumph in Manhattan. Everyone in attendance who was conscious of their surroundings during the grunge era probably had a better idea of what they were going for than those who weren’t, whatever that says. Highlight of the set was the Neurosis-style drum jam at the end and “Doggamn.” Still waiting for them to do “The Ballad of Jimmy Sturgis” live.
It was a party when Wino took the stage, and that spirit continued through his set, numerous whoops and hollers coming from the crowd. Wino, up there by himself with just an acoustic guitar, couldn’t help but rip into a fuzzed-out solo about halfway in, but aside from playing them a bit faster (as he acknowledged he had a tendency to do in our interview), he was loyal to the versions of the songs that appear on his Adrift album. The split 7″ single he shares with Scott Kelly was mentioned as being for sale for just $5 — end of tour blowout price — and it seemed only proper to pick one up.
He covered Townes Van Zandt, as would Kelly when he took the stage later, but the highlight of Wino‘s set was probably “I Don’t Care,” which he prefaced with a story about being 15 and getting locked up in a Maryland juvenile detention center and writing the song then. It was one of my least favorite tracks on Adrift, but the performance live and the context made it a high point of the evening. I actually saw people dance. It happened.
The thing about Wino is that, even if he’s doing something else (i.e. playing acoustic), he’s a classic rock songwriter, and he can’t help but rock out. He brought the crowd along with him for the trip, and when Scott Kelly took the stage later, it was clear that, despite their apparent friendship and cohabitation in the supergroup Shrinebuilder, they’re two very different performers.
Scott Kelly plays s-l-o-w. He’s really, really good at it. The room — apart from one dude who decided it would be a good idea to accompany Kelly‘s guitar by banging on a cinderblock and eventually brought the show to a screeching halt — was dead quiet. So much so that Kelly remarked approvingly on it more than once (we did good!) as he went through his set of morose, low-key but still highly emotive songs. He covered his half of the split with Wino, taking three tries to get through the song because of the aforementioned cinderblock jackass, and by the time his version of “Tecumseh Valley” was done, my arrived-at conclusion of the evening became, “Well, I guess it’s time to buy a Townes Van Zandt record.” He made a pretty convincing argument.
I had been hoping for “Remember Me,” which originally appeared on Blood and Time‘s At the Foot of the Garden before Kelly re-recorded it for his last solo album, the brilliant The Wake. That was a no dice, but the new Shrinebuilder song Kelly brought Wino on stage to play, and the jam that ensued from there, was more than enough to make up for anything lacking. The crowd had thinned some by the time they were done, but not much, and those who were there were entranced by what they were watching. Wino took leads (higher in the mix, or maybe it was where I was standing) while Kelly played rhythms, and each guitarist seemed to enjoy most of all the chance to be on stage with the other. It was something I was glad to have witnessed when it was over.
Something I was less glad about was having lost the ticket from coatcheck. Whoops. It really is a wonder I’m not divorced by now. The Patient Mrs. and I stood, describing the contents of her coat pockets to the heavy-sighs of the girl at the rack, and eventually, we got her jacket and left. I don’t know if it was her best birthday ever, and I don’t know if it’s the only time I’m ever going to get to see Wino and Scott Kelly perform together in this fashion (they looked to be having a good enough time that I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it again at some point), but man, if ever there was a time I was happy to be in New York on a Saturday night, this was it.
Tags: California, Los Angeles, Neurosis, Neurot, Oakland, Scott Kelly, Shrinebuilder, Volcom, Wino