Two wheels good
May Day. Break out the bikes.
Our fair city, being a flat and temperate place, is quite conducive to bicycling. Indeed, May has been bicycle month for the past few years, and bike traffic seems to increase on the downtown-Midtown grid, especially at night. Bicycling is a fine, non-carbon-footprint way to trip around and see live music.
Someone handed me a flier touting a Friday night gig that mentioned bikes and a safe place to park them, but the gig turned out to be way off the grid in someone’s Curtis Park backyard, behind the long-defunct punk venue Club Minimal a block south of Sutterville Road. The performance space was a one-car garage. I caught part of a cool set by San Kazakgascar, then chatted with Troy Mighty (a.k.a. Dead Western), Shawn Vreeland and Kazakgascar frontman Jed Brewer.
But after Mighty and Vreeland left, I picked up one of those vibes you get when you drive through a backwoods town and people give you a flinty-eyed stare down before skittering away, and then someone with a pitchfork snarls, “Yeer nawt frum aroun’ theez pahrts, are yew?” Now, perhaps that icy-cold shoulder was entirely inside my skull, but it was real enough to send me off into the night.
The next morning, I hit the bike trail. The combination of sunlight, blooming poppies and overhanging vines was mildly enchanting, like one of the Pamela Colman Smith-illustrated pentacle-suit cards in the Rider-Waite tarot deck. I’d finally talked Ricky Berger into letting me rip the music from the self-explanatory Ricky Berger’s First Album to my iPod, and the sweet acoustic nuances emanating from the earbuds only amplified the spell.
Now, I’m no psychic. I could predict that the world will rise and embrace these 11 songs like it fell for Norah Jones a few years ago. But this is an indie album (out at the end of June) recorded in a small local studio by Jimmy Bell. And it doesn’t have a major-label machine cannily positioning it in Borders and Starbucks to ride piggyback on an NPR Terry Gross interview. But it does possess a similar Venusian magic.
The record’s sound is naked, or bare enough to float on the gossamer wings of Berger’s lovely voice; the instrumentation—finger-picked guitar and piano, plus frosting like the occasional flute, cello, muted trumpet, organ wash, accordion or toy xylophone—never gets in the way of her voice or the songs.
Berger’s songwriting is generally superb. Her melodies lie somewhere between Harold Arlen and Joni Mitchell; the notes tend to float into your ears and rattle around for days. I’ve had the opening line from “Warning” greet me every morning for the past week. Her lyrics belie her age—Berger’s 20—but they’re young, in the sense she hasn’t had those experiences yet that give lyrics real depth and dimension. Hey, give her a couple albums.
Like I said, I’m no psychic, but I have learned enough to spot someone with major star potential. And I did get a vision of the lovely Ms. Berger shyly shaking hands with David Letterman before leaving the studio audience and Paul Shaffer dumbfounded by her charms. Stranger things have happened, right?