Saturday, September 11, 2010

Blake Thomas/Josh Harty and the band/Winn Dixie; September 11, 2010; Harmony Bar

Blake Thomas has always been a rambling soul. He’d lived in a half dozen different places before settling in Madison the first time. When he came back after a short stint in Austin, it seemed like it wouldn’t be long before he moved on again. Instead it turned out to be another three years , and I felt pretty lucky about that. I always knew Madison’s hold on him was tenuous, so when he did decide to go I was happy that it was only to Minneapolis instead of another Texas-sized move.

The show the Tuesday before had felt like the real going away show. All the regulars were there, as well as friends and fellow musicians who couldn’t make it to Mickey’s on as frequent a basis. And everybody stuck around. When he ended the night with a giant sing-along of “Matt Ladish is on Fire” for the third week in a row the bartenders had to hustle people out the door just minutes before 2 AM. Tonight was like the reception for all the guests who weren’t invited to the small family wedding, and folks who hadn’t seen Blake more than a couple times before turned out to wish him well. That turned out to be a lot of folks, the Harmony was packed like I’ve only seen it for Robbie Fulks’ shows back in the day. The opener tonight was Winn Dixie a new traditional band featuring Andy Moore and his daughter. Their set was plagued by sound problems, as in you couldn’t hear them at all, and feedback, that you could hear.

The all star band backing Blake and Josh included many of the people who played during the dual recording session for their next record- Mary Gaines on cello and backing vocals, Chris Wagoner on all sorts of stringed instruments, Chris Sasman on drums and Louka Patenaude on bass. Patenaude is an always impressive musician. A jazz guy first, he’s dabbled in most every scene Madison has, and I always enjoy watching other guitar players watch him play. Perhaps the most impressive story I’ve heard came from the recording session. He was tuning Blake’s bass when he broke a string. Rather than take the time to get a replacement he played the whole week on three strings. I’ve heard the recording, you would never guess.

Josh opened the night with a set of his songs. It had been awhile since I had seen him play, and it was nice to hear all the old favorites again. They took a break and then it was Blake’s turn. He featured most of his new record, a collection of songs that sound intrinsically like him, while sometimes not sounding like him at all. “Like a Window Needs the Sun” (I don’t remember the actual title) is jammier than he’s ever been, with the recorded version clocking in somewhere around eight minutes and the live version at least that. Admittedly, given my lack of sleep and the busy day I’d had already, that was a little long. “Cradle to the Ground” and “Fire and Bones” feature smart songwriting and catchy tunes, but none of the new songs have hit me as hard on first listen as the ones from Flatlands did. To this day, “You’ve Got Me Feeling like the Moon” can bring a tear to my eye just by its sheer beauty.

Madison will be a different place without him, but at least for now he’ll be back at Mickey’s on the first Tuesday of every month. And so will I.

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