Chris Smither; November 12, 2010; Café Carpe
I’m always looking for a reason to visit the Café Carpe in Fort Atkinson. I should take more chances with the shows they book, but it seems like the only time I make it out there is for a dependable act like Peter Mulvey or tonight’s featured artist Chris Smither. I first went to see Smither because Peter Mulvey had mentioned him many times during his shows. It’s easy to see why Peter is a fan, both songwriters have similar style and a matching sense of humor. He’s instantly likeable, from his persistent smile to his totally 80’s Gary Sandy feathered hair, and his voice (both speaking and singing) is a comforting croon.
It had been a number of years since I last saw him but many of my favorite songs which all come from Drive You Home Again remain in his set. The always amusing, gonna buy me a dog lament “Get a Better One” is a crowd favorite. After he’s wronged by several women with two names he decides he’s gonna get a better one, “one with one name that comes when I call.” The giggles ripple through the audience as it takes a second to realize he’s no longer talking about a woman, but is instead opting for loyalty and unconditional love from man’s best friend. Another perennial winner is “Got no Love Today” which is based on the song of the fruit vendor in his hometown of New Orleans. He runs through a list of his wares which includes “okra, enough to choke ya,” before he claims, “But this ain't what you came to hear me say, and I hate to disappoint you, but I got no love today.” These songs are always terrific, but I actually prefer that record’s slightly dark title track with its clever, snide line, “And if I drive you to distraction, I will drive you home again.”
I’ve probably seen more Bob Dylan songs covered at the Carpe than anywhere else. The café’s gruff but lovable owner Bill Camplin, who tonight delivered his curmudgeonly introduction lying on the floor next to the microphone that amplifies the piece of plywood Smither uses for percussion, is a huge Dylan fan and I’ve seen him play entire sets of his songs. So playing a Dylan cover isn’t only expected of a singer songwriter, it’s almost required at the Carpe. Smither chose well, his version of “Visions of Johanna” was gorgeous, picking out the songs’ subtle rhymes and emphasizing lines I’d overlooked before. There’s nothing cozier than seeing a show in Carpe’s pleasantly warm music room, cradling a cup of their cinnamon coffee and hearing a revelatory version of a song you’ve heard a hundred times before. Like I keep saying, I need to get to the Carpe more often.