Thursday, August 20, 2009

W.P.A. at Joe's Pub

We have yet to discuss my favorite band. Seems a bit peculiar, as I have almost 150 posts about 'things I like.' You would think that Nickel Creek would be one of them.

I think Laura first told me about them. She must have burned me a Nickel Creek cd, like a good sister would. La, do you remember? Em? Somehow we got ahold of their first album and listened to it until we knew every string, every pluck. Its bluegrass reinvented, like nothing I had heard before. It was heartbreaking music. But it was also fun and fast and lovely and sounded like something from another time, another era. We like things like that.

I first saw Nickel Creek in concert in Minneapolis for my 22nd birthday. Laura drove 9 hours from Nebraska to surprise me and Emily (although Em was in on it, as I later realized.) I remember first hearing them live and feeling like my heart was physically expanding. That this music was somehow made for the three of us.

We then saw them live in Lincoln the next year at that old theater downtown. We ran into the band on the street afterword, and after thanking them for a beautiful show, Chris Thile looked me dead in the eye and said, "Third balcony? First row?" (Yes, Chris Thile! I WAS in the third balcony, first row! And you were clearly singing to me the entire time!) That was a nice moment.

I saw them again in Central Park two summers ago for their 'Goodbye for Now' tour with Fiona Apple, who is a crazy person. It was titled 'Goodbye for Now' as a way of announcing a Nickel Creek recess in which they would all explore solo careers. Since then, Chris debuted one of the most GORGEOUS albums I've ever heard. Its called How to Grow a Woman from the Ground Up and makes me ache for my early days in New York, as for a few weeks it was the only friend I had (go ahead, laugh at that statement. But you know how that is. Music as a prescription for loneliness.)

Sara Watkins introduced her own solo album this year, a softer compilation of old bluegrass tunes and a few gospel melodies. Sean has been around the world and back, lending his talent to different projects, new voices.

And now this. W.P.A. (named for the Works Progress Association, which was part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Love that.) is a new band composed of eight musicians with crazy talent. Sara and Sean Watkins are two of them (as is Glenn Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket) and this was only their fifth show ever performed. And the place was packed. A very interesting-- and dare I say rare-- experience to sell out a show on your fifth performance as a band. Also rare to be in the audience. It was a priviledge, a treat.

I can't say that the evening was perfect. If I were in California and this was November I would blame the Santa Annas. If I believed in astology I would blame the New Moon that hit last night's dark August sky. But this is New York and we don't believe in silly things like that. (Perhaps I can blame this long August heat though. Its getting to us all, isn't it?)

Joe's Pub is a fun place to see a show. Its a dinner theater setting, which I wasn't exactly expecting. It's part of the Public Theater, the same people who produce Shakespere in the Park and lots and lots of new talent. Its a tiny little space, which of course can create tension it itself.

We agreed, Al, Annie, and I, that Sara and Sean Watkins were the clear talent. They outshone Glenn and Luke and the four other members whose names I won't remember. They had the gut, they had the gusto. Sara belted 'Long Hot Summer Days', a song from her solo album, until the hair on the backs of our necks stood up. You couldn't be in the room and not get it, not understand how good that was. It is a rare thing, that talent. (Go download it. Download it right now.)

The evening made me miss my sisters, as I probably could have predicted. It made me wish they could have been there with me, in excitement and appreciation. But Laura is off delivering babies and Emily starting her first week of grad school and we will be together again soon I'm sure.

But the moment Nickel Creek gets back together for some sort of 'Hello Again' tour, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Butler girls will be there listening. Third balcony. First row.


Emily Jayne said...

Sarah! this makes me miss you and laura too!!! those concerts were so fun. i can't wait for the 'hello again' tour. we'll totally be there.

La said...

aw...miss my sisters. :-) i definitely remember introducing you to them. i actually went to their concert before i even knew who they were and had to tell you about them immediately. i just bought two tickets for sara watkins concert in denver. who wants to visit?

tre cat said...

were you at the lutefest concert your junior year?

Sarah Butler said...

tre, i was studying abroad in italy when they came to olaf. i cried myself to sleep when i found out that i missed it.

em- cant wait for 'hello again!'

la- when is the concert? sept?

Anonymous said...

Oh... what a great commentary on this amazing band. I also was able to see one of thier last performances together at Interlochen Arts Acadamy here in Michigan. They played Kresge, which is in outdoor stage just off of a beautiful lake. As a dragonfly glittered by it highlighted against the fading sun and I thought the world was just as it should be at that moment. Perfect bluegrass Americana. I wanted the concert to go on and on.