Rock, folk and craft
Rock shows are essentially acts of anonymity, particularly if one is at a certain level of success. A band comes onstage and performs its set. The audience—in darkness—cheers and applauds. The band retreats back to the dressing room, tour bus and the next venue.
This is a fundamental difference between a rock show and a singer-songwriter or folk gig. A big rock show is essentially a performance in front of faceless masses, but a folk show tends to be more intimate—a performance for people who not only have faces but who also feel as if they can (and should) be able to meet and speak with the performer after the show. At a folk show, the audience often wants to get to know the artist personally.
Steve Turner walked both sides of this fence last week. First, he played a San Francisco date with his seminal grunge group Mudhoney, a band that combined punk sensibilities with roots-rock jamming and, in doing so, cleared the path for Seattle’s most famous grunge exports: Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Second, he played a short series of shows as a folkie singer-songwriter, including a stop at the True Love Coffeehouse.
Last Wednesday’s set found Turner singing blues and folk numbers, including a cover of the Hoyt Axton-penned “Greenback Dollar,” with support from electric guitarist and Seattle producer Johnny Sangster. The set had a significant Neil Young flavor that mixed with a discernible West Coast country vibe to produce a rootsy and accessible evening of music, at times reminiscent of the solo work of Mother Hips’ Tim Bluhm. Turner’s lyrics are particularly effective but in a surprising way: His songs tend to be stories, and his lyrics are prosaic, but they are powerful directly as a result of this prosaic quality. The overall effect is akin to reading the short fiction of Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver; the listener is quickly absorbed in the narrative.
Also noteworthy was the performance of Future Farmer Recordings artist Nik Freitas, who appeared, supported by a three-piece backing band, after Turner. Freitas hails from Visalia, and one can hear the Central Valley in his songs. This is loud, rocking music, turned down a notch for the intimate setting, and it’s a close cousin to another famous Central Valley musical export: Grandaddy. But while Grandaddy bleeps and warbles its way through its roots-cum-electronica albums, Freitas sticks closer to the guitar-bass-drums model, occasionally turning the sonic palette toward the Beatles with the addition of basic but nonetheless interesting Rhodes electric-piano work.
But perhaps the most impressive facet of Freitas’ performance is the craftedness of the songs: the simple idea that these are pieces penned by a songwriter and, as such, are approached in the same way a cabinet maker might approach a piece of wood. This is not to say that they are in any way unemotional—much to the contrary—but that Freitas’ songs are structured the way a Tin Pan Alley songwriter might structure his or her songs. The results are crafted tunes built by someone who really understands how to use the tools. Find the CD and listen. More information on Freitas is at www.nikfreitas.com; more information on Turner is at www.roslynrecordings.com.