August 23, 2010
Boston Montague | Roderick/Hodgman/Rees | 8.20.2010
[John Roderick at the Montague Book Mill, August 20, 2010. Photo by Michael Piantigini. More photos of the night here.]
On paper, I'm not sure how John Roderick's songs even work. He may describe his songs somewhat dismissively as being about "men and women, and how they just can't seem to get along," but these short stories with odd, complex melodies, and lyrics sometimes so literal, sometimes so obscure, connect with a potent punch to the heart. How to explain the heft of a song like "The Commander Thinks Aloud," a song about spacecraft disaster? To push the boxing metaphor, "as we feel our weight return" sets you up, and "the crew compartment's breaking up" lays you out (this particular performance is particularly devastating).
This is all true enough when you're listening to or watching Roderick's band The Long Winters play, but it turns out it's even more potent in a stripped down solo set like the one he played for - we were told - TV's John Hodgman's personal amusement this past Friday night at the Montague Book Mill. This is one spectacular bookstore set on a river (the building was once a grist mill) with nooks and crannies, creaky floorboards, stacks of books, and the most bucolic, idyllic, and peaceful setting one could imagine for browsing through stacks of books all on the edge of a quaint Western Massachusetts town that you might see a movie make a mockery of (it was even Old Home Days in the town center!), but they'd be all wrong. Their slogan is "books you don't need in a place you can't find," but it is definitely worth seeking out.
Hodgman, seasonal area resident, writer and "Famous Minor Television Personality," apparently tiring of live-tweeted Scrabble matches (as I write this, he's just announced the results of two concurrent games between the guests of this show), was the funny and gracious host of this night headlined by Roderick, who nearly had the show stolen from him by a pencil sharpening demonstration.
David Rees, author of hilarious comics My New Fighting Technique is Unstoppable, My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable, and most recently, the Rolling Stone-syndicated Get Your War On, found himself casting about for something to do after ending the latter at the end of the Bush presidency and decided to become a craftsman. Finding that the URL for ArtisanalPencilSharpening.com was available, his path was chosen. Friday night we got a rare glimpse of a skilled craftsman at work. For $12.50, Rees will "sharpen the shit" out of your pencil and will ship it back to you in a complex tip-protecting package, along with the shavings (they're yours, after all), and a Certificate of Sharpening. Is this a joke, you might ask? "If you think it's a joke, why don't you poke yourself with your newly sharpened pencil? Better yet, don't, because it'll really fucking hurt," he explained. (It was hilarious anyway).
Oh, and he only sharpens #2s. He's a specialist (and, apparently, a master Scrabbler who scored 149 points on one word during the above mentioned game).
This was the perfect set-up for Roderick, who presided over the next hour with charm and wit befitting the night. The requests that got the show going were meager enough that it didn't seem like the small, sold out crowd knew him, but the flurry that came as the set was winding down betrayed a timid reserve. No matter - we got a good cross-section of the Long Winters' catalog, from The Worst You Can Do Is Harm's "Scent of Lime," to Putting The Days To Bed's "Fire Island, AK." This was the first acoustic performance of the latter, Roderick explained, though there was an acoustic version of an entirely different arrangement that appeared on 2005's Ultimatum EP (and there's a particularly great performance of that song, as well one of that EP's title track in the KEXP archives here - I am, apparently, a completist).
Hard to believe that it has been four years since Putting The Days To Bed, but the new Long Winters album isn't yet ready (though some of it's progress is tracked here in a YouTube series). Roderick says that the music is there, but he's still working on lyrics. As such, we heard only one new track "Not Moving To Portland," which appeared on a Seattle-area charity compilation last year. It was a highlight, as was an impressively remembered-as-it-went-along version of "Solitary Man" was prompted by a Neil Diamond fakebook on display nearby. One of the early requests was for "The Commander Thinks Aloud," but Roderick patiently explained that, as a professional musician, he needed the set to build up to something. After an hour of laughs and by-proxy heartbreak, Roderick finally dealt this masterpiece.
How do songs like this always work, no matter how much you anticipate it? Gives me chills every time.
John Hodgman: Internets | Twitter
John Roderick / The Long Winters: Internets | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter
David Rees: Internets | Artisanal Pencil Sharpening | Twitter
Montague Book Mill: Internets