When I first started doing house concerts I relied heavily on Blake Thomas and Josh Harty to make it happen. Harty was nice enough to loan me his PA, they were my sound guys, and frequently the opening act, solo or together. It’s been years since either of them had played in the basement, with Thomas off to Minnesota and Harty on a never-ending tour, so when they asked if they could play a CD release show at the house, I jumped at the chance to have two of my favorite boys back. The CD had been recorded several years earlier, but had been awaiting a proper release till things calmed down (see above), and it features many of their original songs, plus an excellent cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner,” that they have played together for years. Reservations were slow at first, but it eventually sold out in a flurry a couple days before. It broke my heart to turn down longtime fans from back in the Mickey’s days, but you know what they say.
The first act tonight consisted of each of them doing a short solo set, which followed by a set together after intermission. Time was there wasn’t a song in Harty’s catalog that I hadn’t heard a million times, but with him on the road the bulk of the last two years he had new material in his canon. And even the songs I had heard a million times seemed fresh. It seemed odd to hear the perennially upbeat Harty admit that “here’s a song my dad hates.” His dad is a preacher, so I guess it’s no surprise that he doesn’t like the song about Sister Morphine. I’ve heard many a Harty story about growing up playing shows with his dad at nursing homes and small town festivals, and tonight was no exception. Thomas’s newer material was decidedly lighter, having recently penned a musical which takes a trip through time with music highlighting each era. In the stage production of the musical some of the songs were sung by his wife, the very talented Mary Fox, but Thomas sang songs like “When the World is Married to my Dreams” every bit as well, even though he claimed otherwise. It was a reminder of what a great songwriter he is, and how much I’ve missed him. He closed his set with the ridiculous sing-along, or as he said “I was thinking about doing something kinda dumb.” Literally a song about a guy who’s really good at bowling, “Matt Ladish is on Fire” ended his set the way so many of those nights at Mickey’s ended. Thank god the calls for “Monster Truck Rally” went unheeded.
They came back from the break to play the new record, with some notable additional players. Chris Sasman had fashioned a drum kit from a returnable beer case and a dresser drawer (I wonder if his wife knew about the latter). The subdued sound was the perfect backing for the duo’s quiet songs. There was also a fourth chair on stage that wasn’t occupied till a few songs in when Shauncey Ali and his violin joined them. Ali is a talented and instinctual player with an indelible memory. Thomas marveled later that he didn’t know how Shauncey could possibly remember songs he had only played once years ago. There were no surprises in this set which featured a roughly equal number of songs from both of them. These were the songs they played together when I saw them the most, each harmonizing on the other’s tunes with the exception of “Country Song.” Harty’s simple, sad song had evolved into an affecting duet with Thomas taking the first verse. I’m not sure how, but I had forgotten what a perfect song his “You’ve Got Me Feeling like the Moon” was, but tonight it triggered a flood of emotion. I’ve known both of them for so long that it’s easy to take them for granted, but this was one of the best shows the basement has seen.