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Shhhh … Trying To Blog Here – Slaid Cleaves & Bass Hall Wi-Fi

November 3rd, 2012 · Tags:Arts · Cities · Wi-Fi

Guess it doesn’t matter how long it took me to post a piece on Slaid Cleaves’ show at Fort Worth’s McDavid Studio. Because it seems, when I “discovered” him six or seven years ago, I was already way behind the curve. The folkster recently told a Fort Worth audience that he and a grade school buddy wrote his signature song “Broke Down,” but Cleaves recorded it first — some 12 years ago — and joked he had been “riding the glory ever since.” He’s been ’round.

There was also little sense of urgency, because I wanted this blog to be equally dedicated to the McDave. No rush there either because even though I would wager I am in the top five music fanatics in Cowtown, I am probably the last of said group to see a show in this venue … bastard stepchild of the beautiful Bass Performance Hall that it is.


The McDavid

This being my first time at The Mac, I didn’t know what to expect. I think I expected a reprise of the old Caravan of Dreams … some neon, expensive tapestries draping the walls and shaping the sound, more neon, a woodworking masterpiece of a well-heeled bar. The reality: McD Studio is laid out with all the grandeur of a highschool cafeteria. Lots of round tables, placed orderly, each surrounded with four chairs, a low stage up front, in the center, tall windows with curtains pulled open around the room. But unlike lunchladyland, the tables have marble tops. There was a makeshift bar in the back. This was no Caravan of Dreams … it was much more akin to the old “Art Will Break Your Heart” concerts upstairs at The White Elephant. No frills … nothing to get in the way of devoted music appreciation. (Anyone else remember those Art/Heart shows, out in The Stockyards?)

Oh. Sorry about the bastard stepchild remark … But I think it was inspired by Slaid Cleaves’ wit. He described the venue and its audience as a dichotomy. The haves and the have slightly lesses … “the ballet people across the street and the non-ballet people.”

I too picked up on the differences, but also the benefits of the close association with Bassdom. As you may know, this blog is about culture but it is also all about the Wi-Fi. Funny thing, the ballet joint across the street is the one with Wi-Fi … the good news is, they share. You can get online using The Bass Hall Wi-Fi easily … so that you can check in on Facebook to let the world know you are not at the ballet. Just ignore the terms and conditions as we tend to do and accept. Voila! Bravo! Wi-Fi!



So, having secured my wireless fix during the show, I did the Facebook thing … sent a few tweets and also e-mailed 7-8 large file pics off my phone … shots of the Capulin volcano over in New Mexico. I am guessing the architects of Bass Hall Wi-Fi didn’t have volcano photos in mind when they built the network … but it all flowed smoothly — 7 pings, perfect score.

And the show it was a flowin’ too. Slaid Cleaves was a great choice for my McIndoctrination … great storytelling … before an audience of about 250 truly dedicated Cleaves fans. It was a night filled with songs of the northeast logging camps, of black dusty coal mining, heartbreak, redemption, more heartbreak and sorrow … “There aren’t any happy coal mining songs,” Cleaves so aptly put it.

Amidst the logger poetry of “Breakfast In Hell,” one could visualize the rushing water and see the pines falling … crystal clear acoustics, pure vocals … almost studio quality (thus the name of the venue). Couldn’t help but wondering if the Cleaves song had influenced or inspired author John Irving’s “Last Night In Twisted River” … two tall tales of death on the river. I digress …

Unlike many concerts, Cleaves got the “favorite song” out of the way early, the popular “Broke Down” … this night, stripped down — a highlight of a show with none of the violins or horns of his recordings … almost unplugged … just one-on-one point and counterpoint … interaction between Cleaves’ acoustic guitar and the electric accompaniment of Austin guitar slinger “Scrappy” Joe Newcomb. (Newcomb, a guitar for hire this night, he normally plays with the likes of former Small Faces icon Ian McLagan down in Austin.)

As comfortable as most folk singers tune a guitar between songs or attach a capo to the fretboard to raise the pitch … Cleaves strummed the audience’s sense of humor. He likened his live recording with the stature of “Live at Budokan” … a legendary concert recording by Bob Dylan … or Cheap Trick, depending on with whom your drinking. My favorite witticism — “You’re the barb on my wire.” (Ha … that’s what she said …)

He thanked aunt Prudence for inspiring “Whim of Iron,” and mournfully lamented “One Good Year” … “I been chasing grace, but grace ain’t so easily found.” The woe continued with “No poison like a dream when it comes undone” from the “Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away” recording.

Words can’t explain … you should sample some Slaid for your own self:


Slaid Cleaves videos


I mean … the songwriter’s mellow ramblings … the accents of the Scruffy electric guitar … there is something so soulful about a guy playing a beat up old Fender guitar, as he reaches over to adjust the volume himself on a tiny amplifier in the absence of any soundman … and the audience so close … almost close enough to reach out and turn the knobs themselves. That’s my take on McDavid. The audience so attentive, you could hear Slaid softly tapping his boot in time with his music. And the audience for the most part, for most of the evening … so respectful … mesmerized … polite … silently absorbing.

Newcomb played some nice licks on a baritone acoustic and slide guitar as well. Lanky, hunching over his guitar, face grimacing, a puffy crown of wavy hair … he even took the lead on a scrappy rocker, “Where Did The Time Go.”

A tradition I really like about folk and country artists — the time the artists dedicate to praising the artists who influenced them. Cleaves dedicated part of his show to Don Walser, “The Pavarotti of the Plains.” This begat the yodeling portion of the show … perhaps a portion I could have done without. But man … the crowd … they were eating it up and I was like, “don’t encourage him.” Oh well … on yodeling … we agree to disagree.

Don Walser

For me … that was the beauty of this place, this concert. The unadulterated music appreciation. Enjoying Slaid Cleaves in this small, unassuming venue is a bit like having a Grammy winner serenading you and your date in your den. It’s easy like Sunday morning … LOL … It’s sweet like sipping smooth bourbon accented with clever conversation.

As mentioned, the mood was similar to “Art Will Break Your Heart” shows in The Stockyards — everyone peacefully seated at their tables, drinking in moderation and pretty much silent — politely giving their full attention to the musicians. No smoke. No rowdiness. Music appreciation 101.

But they went and messed it up. Somewhere during the night … after the alcohol had swirled around in the audience a bit, came the sad part. However minor, a distraction. The point in the show where a few members of the audience decided they had become part of the show — trying to carry on a dialogue with the singer … trying to impress the rest of us with how many of SC’s song titles they could shout out, when he offered to play a request.

With more humor and good nature … Cleaves put a stop to it … smiling as he said “the request line is closed now.”

How I wish everyone could be like the nice retired couple who joined me at my table. They talked only before the show to introduce themselves and to tell me they had moved to Cowtown from The Motor City … a retired Motorola engineer and his wife a volunteer … music lovers. Between songs, they whooped a little and clapped for all they were worth. But when the music played, they silently sipped a bottle of white and savored every note and every word. They were connoisseurs of the art of storytelling.

Know what I sayin?