Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jon Dee Graham/Josh Harty; May 11, 2008; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I had tried in vain to convince Matthew Ryan and his cumbersomely named band Vs the Silver State to play the house on one of their days off in between Indianapolis and Chicago. After some initial interest, they declared it just wouldn’t work… which made more sense after it was announced they would be playing the High Noon only a few weeks later. To be honest, I was only interested in getting his opening act, one Jon Dee Graham, back to the house. I was beginning to think a trip to Chicago and a missed volleyball game were inevitable. But Jon Dee has a way of finding his way back to the basement. Only two weeks before the Chicago show, his booking agent sent me an e-mail wondering if I’d be interested in hosting a show. We all know this is one person I will never say no to.

Initially I thought Andrew DuPlantis (currently of Son Volt) his former and currently when he can bass player would be joining him, doing an acoustic set of his own, but instead he had other commitments. I laughed out loud when Andrew asked if I had any singer songwriter friends who might be able to open instead. “Those are the only people who are my friends,” I replied. And sure enough, all it took was a late night text message to Josh and I had my opener.

I hadn’t seen Josh play in a month, and as it turned out he hadn’t played in a month. While taking a break from Mickeys and playing with Jentri Colello might be good for him in other ways, it did mean he hasn’t been playing his own stuff and it was a little obvious. I have to admit the occasional forgotten lyric or chord was actually rather endearing, and it was good to hear the seldom played “Last Known Address” from his debut CD. There were a few people who hadn’t seen Josh play before and I’m pretty sure he gained a few new fans.

One person who was already a fan was Jon Dee. He claimed he would have to be extra funny tonight since he sure couldn’t play guitar like that. And he was true to that proclamation. His merch pitch, in addition to being hilarious was also effective. It read like a Feed the Children commercial, “If you buy one CD I can eat lunch tomorrow, two CDs and I can put gas in the car.” After sitting in standstill traffic for almost two hours outside of Chicago, he was so happy to be in my basement with a glass of red wine (in the Muppet glass of course) that he was determined to make this show extra special. He did that by playing a whole batch of brand new songs, songs that he hadn’t played anywhere else, “hell, some of these songs aren’t even finished,” he laughed. The standout track was a dark murder ballad with the ominous chorus “la, la, la, la, la, how do you like me now?” Shivers. I have no idea when these terrific new songs will be released, but everyone in the basement can say they heard them here first.

The rest of the night was more familiar. He played “Airplane” of course, and I felt like it was being sung only to me. Gina’s request “October” was just as rocking solo as it is with an electric guitar and a band, while “Tie a Knot” matched that intensity. As good a lyricist as Jon Dee is, he seemed in awe of his tour mate Matthew Ryan, raving about his songs and one in particular. “He promised her everything… not really knowing what everything was,” he quoted, shaking his head as if wishing he had written that line. While I haven’t heard that song, I can’t believe that it beats Jon Dee’s bulls-eye lyrical emotion. Don’t worry, I ‘m going to go see Ryan when he play the High Noon, no hard feelings. I got what I wanted.

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