Finkel had told me earlier that he wasn’t going to take any money for playing tonight. Dondero was the touring musician, he protested, he needs the money. Of course, he thought, like I did, that it would be a sparse crowd. Later when I asked if he was sure he didn’t want his ten percent, he took it reluctantly, only to spend it all on Dondero’s records. Finkel sold a few of his own discs too. Much of his set came from his brand new EP that he claimed is even better than the full length released earlier this year. It had been several years since the release of Simple Life, so it is exciting to see him so productive again. And these are some really good songs. I’ve followed Finkel over much of his songwriting career, having reviewed his first CD for Rick’s Café many years ago, and it’s been fun watching his talent mature. The songs from the EP haven’t sunk in yet, but Can’t Be Found be found certainly has some that have stuck with me. One of those is “Benjamin,” which he introduced as being about The Graduate. With lines like “Benjamin, you are breaking up the family,” I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out on my own. Marty apologized after the show that my favorite track “Still Afraid to Die” hadn’t made the set list, but he claimed it was difficult to play without the band (actually I think he said it “sounds like crap”), but it was such a great set I didn’t even miss it.
It’s easy to see why Oberst signed Dondero, they share the ability to write a smart and catchy song, as well as the occasional vocal similarity. In person, he’s charmingly awkward, telling us a little more than we needed to know about how the hotel breakfast had disagreed with him and seeming surprised when we wanted him to play longer than 45 minutes. One of the highlights of the show was the honest and engaging “This Guitar.” The title track to his most recent vinyl release (the download is available from Bandcamp, there is no CD version) is a cousin to the Magnetic Field’s “Acoustic Guitar,” addressing the instrument as if it were not only animate, but also sentient, blaming it for failed marriages, as well as drug and alcohol problems. An even more direct attack on the addictive nature of alcohol is titled simply “Alcohol.” You get the feeling that Dondero used to really like to drink, but decided he’s one of those people who probably shouldn’t. You can tell he misses it. Like Oberst, he owes a debt to Bob Dylan. The hilarious “South of the South” draws a direct line back to Dylan’s “Talking Blues” songs (which he in turn swiped from Woody Guthrie); the play-by-play of getting pulled over somewhere south of the south is worth the price of the vinyl, and maybe even of getting a turntable. Live he expounded on the story even more, for great comic effect. He finished the night with a request, “The New Berlin Wall,” a social commentary equating building a wall between the US and Mexico to the one that divided a city.
Thanks to all the folks who surprised me on a Tuesday night. And a big thanks to Finkel and especially Dondero for such a great show, please come back anytime.