What would you do?
The reasons for this are, first, watching someone play music through eyes that won’t stop watering can make for a highly distracting experience, especially when you have the added fun of scratching like a dog who’s just rolled around on a stinky old mattress in a weed-choked empty lot. And, second: Dunno what it is about the music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but whatever subliminal messages are encoded in the squalls and squawks of the late saxophone iconoclast, we now have solid empirical evidence that they make women do funny things later. In this case, the aberrant behavior came in the guise of not one but two attempted body tackles directed toward this writer, who was busy sniffling and scratching through a solo acoustic performance of Deathray frontman Dana Gumbiner at Old Ironsides last Thursday night.
The opening act, Warren Bishop & the Holy Men, delivered a sometimes-solid, sometimes-wavering set. Bishop, a tall, craggy man who sometimes coaxes ringing chords out of his blue Telecaster, writes and sings in the post-Dylan style that Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler sometimes explores in his songs, but Bishop’s guitar functions more as a rhythm instrument than as a launching pad for the kind of Arabesque melodic filigrees that distinguish Knopfler’s work. The Holy Men, on bass and drums, provided competent backing, although the bass player rambled into Jaco Pastorius territory on a few songs, which may work in a jazz context, but for pop/rock it’s usually anathema. Bishop, whose group recently changed its name from Mojo Filter, sang mostly originals, which ranged from decent to good (including one keeper with an “It’s a long way from Anaheim” chorus), but the Holy Men’s cover of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” was, well, let’s just say it was better than David Bowie’s version.
Then came Gumbiner. At first tentatively fingering the chords to “Smoke on the Water” on his battered Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar, over beats from a vintage rhythm box. It was a charming beginning. Then Gumbiner ran through a set of mostly originals, including such Deathray charmers as “Legionnaires in Doubt” and “Baby Polygon,” at one point apologizing for a self-perceived deterioration of his guitar playing since he joined Deathray. “Where’s Greg Brown when you need him?” he asked the crowd. By the next song, Brown appeared in the audience, but he steered clear of the stage. Gumbiner did audition one new tune, a 1/6/4/5 number that sounded like something from John Lennon’s collaboration with Phil Spector.