Charles Hatfield here, of NE Connecticut (and, specifically, UConn). I thought I'd de-lurk to describe last night's RT concert at the Northampton Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass.
In brief, a terrific show. Few surprises in the set list; indeed, nothing that really threw me for a loop. But the show was well-paced, dynamic, with really punchy performances and, of course, drop-dead solos from our man (as well as Pete Zorn on sax and mandolin, and Danny Thompson on the bass).
One wonderful surprise for my wife Michele and me was the discovery that our seats were in the *front row*, something I've never experienced before. (I bought the tickets by phone, expecting to get good but not great seats.) In fact, we were even closer than the front row, in the orchestra "pit," with maybe six feet of empty legroom in front of us (once we shoved our folding chairs back a bit, which everyone in this little row--maybe 12-15 seats?--did, out of necessity). We were so close we were almost *under* the stage, with monitors looming so large over us that I couldn't see Danny Thompson below the chin throughout the show, unless I leaned forward and craned my head to the side. Too bad about that, but I was able to watch Dave Mattacks' face a bit, behind the drums, and of course we got a good unobstructed view of both RT (center stage), and Pete Zorn (forward, stage right). In fact I was able to actually see DM's sticks hit his snare, and could see the constant up-and-down of his high-hat. As I joked to list member Eric (forgot your last name; sorry!), we were close enough to see the sweat fly.
RT up close was a kind of epiphany: his constantly changing facial expressions, his (of course) beatific, eyes-closed, practically blind solos, his habit of ducking from the microphone, then rushing back to it, and his shifting feet, legs drumming the rhythms of the songs. I'm not a guitar player, but I was still transported by the sight of him getting *those sounds* out of the thing.
The show began a bit after 8 o'clock, with a driving version of "Razor Dance." I confess I haven't listened to _Y?M?U?_ in weeks, so much of the new material struck me as really fresh and feisty. With "Razor Dance," I was immediately taken by how tight the band was: the dynamics of the song, and its sudden, stop-start changes, really came through, much more powerfully than on record. I really had the feeling that the band could stop on a dime at any moment. The abrupt changes between chorus and verse (i.e., when the song goes from full-throttle to that light, choked rhythm again) were startling.
RT was an engaging presence, of course, making verbal if not eye contact with the audience. Some of his between-song patter had an air of familiarity about it (list folks have already mentioned the penis gag before "PITP," for instance), but RT rolled with the punches too, extemporizing quite a bit in tune with the audience's cheers and calls. From the opening moment of "Razor Dance" he was intense and seemed determined to really *deliver* each song to the audience.
Third song in the set was "Bright Lights," with Pete Zorn's baritone sax a highlight. Then came "Hand of Kindness," which was carried by Dave Mattack's driving tom-tom beat; watching DM play the rim of his snare during the quiet solo was one of several minor drum-related revelations for me: the man is one of the most tasteful drummers around. (I noted that, despite the relatively small number of drums in his kit, DM has a lot of cymbals, and plays them musically, attentive to subtle variations in sound: e.g., he would sometimes play cymbals by scraping them with the entire drumstick, rather than just the tip. There was a lot of this quiet stuff in the drumming, as well as the requisite kit-bashing during RT's more volcanic solos.)
Then came "Put It There Pal" (the first part of the show was very loud, very heavy, climaxing with this), with RT playing such a mind-numbing solo that, despite my tendency to bop around during the numbers, I found that I forgot to move at all for a minute, so busy was I watching Thompson play. DM thrashed his kit, with many of his trademark sharp, stinging snare fills, and Pete Zorn broke a string on rhythm guitar. The noise was unholy, pushing the coherence envelope in true RT avant-rock fashion, a sheer tsunami of sound unequalled until the climactic, wrenching "Shoot Out the Lights" (of course) later in the show. "PITP" was the longest of the show's numbers, easily, and the most aggressive except for "SOTL."
I can't reconstruct the whole set list from memory (who wants to take notes in concert?), but some other highlights for me were:
"Al Bowlly," with crisp solos from both Zorn and Danny Thompson. Zorn played a soprano sax, and managed to sneak in what I believe was a phrase from a popular Benny Goodman swing number. Riveting, ice-cold versions of "Cold Kisses" and "Woods of Darney," which came through so clear that Michele, who isn't really familiar with the new album, could make out the scenario in each. (We talked for quite a bit about "Darney" after the show.) Zorn's baritone sax took over the violin part of "Darney," with surprising elegance; a terrific version. Also fun was RT's intro to "Kisses," which he called "a love song" (to which I said "uh-oh," a slip of the tongue picked up by our man, who threatened to "take care of" me later.)
T's acoustic playing, fast and furious, on both "1952 Vincent..." (the most obvious crowd-pleaser of the set, prompting a scattered standing ovation even though it was in the middle of the show) and the first encore number, "Easy There, Steady Now." Delicacy and drive, joined perfectly.
The aforementioned "SOTL," with Zorn abusing his mandolin for a solo that went even beyond the frenzy of what we heard on the "Mirror Blue" tour a ways back. He was SLASHING at the thing; the high-pitched scream of it as he played *way up* on the neck (bottleneck-style) was both painful and wonderful. RT, for his part, began practically detuning his guitar in mid-performance, and created a truly assaultive shower of feedback which was tinpanum-bruising but way cool.
Watching Mattacks during "Tear-Stained Letter," gazing at RT with admiration and occasionally biting his lower lip or blowing his hair off his forehead, puffing with exertion to maintain that steady, metronomic beat for minutes at a time.
"Long Silken Hair," which was unexpectedly graced by Zorn on flute, again taking the violin part. I don't expect that kind of sweetness at an RT show but it worked. (This was the 2nd encore number.)
Again, I didn't get to see much of Danny Thompson, but then, he's less visibly emotive in concert than Zorn, who looks (as Michele put it) like a nerd playing rock'n'roll with all his heart. RT himself we saw constantly, as our seats were right in front of him, dead-center. (Man oh man, I may give up on concerts now, as I don't see how I can top this stroke of luck.)
Great show, reviving my interest in what I had thought was a so-so album (and it *is*, I suppose, but when RT plays seven or eight of the best tracks in concert, tracks like "Kisses" and "Put It There Pal" and "Long Silken Hair," all doubts vanish: it may not be a great collection as such, but it has half a dozen brilliant songs). My thanks for this list, without which I wouldn't have known about the show until perhaps much too late, and certainly wouldn't have called in time to get what turned out to be incredible seats!
Charles Hatfield (still decompressing)