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The Dark Road Diary: Part 9

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Wrestling Old Ghosts

Theater 80, NYC

Sunday

New York City: You write those three words down, in that order, and there’s a feeling of having written a tight, picaresque novella. They have that weight, no doubt. They do for me, and I don’t favour the place. It has always been too much for me, all at once. But to play there: I’ll admit it on behalf of the band, was and remains a BIG FRIGGING DEAL. This is largely because I have a strong sense that everyone there HAS SEEN IT ALL, BABY, SEVENTEEN TIMES. 
So, if at the end of one of these most unlikely of evenings, undertaken in a speakeasy of previous times/now an off off Broadway atmospheric and odoriferous black box owned and operated by what is surely a bejeweled, silver cane-wielding aristocrat of a failed city state of yesteryear, the crowd’s generosity of spirit alive in their laughter, alive in their silences rises, and they rise en masse to bless you as you take leave of them … well, then, it seems you have truly stood and delivered, and served the Muses their portion, and kept to the covenantal jangle of the bardic road life.
And we shook that monkey of last year’s NYC audio debacle off our backs. Mercy prevailed.

Inside This is Red, Pittsburgh, PA

Tuesday

Pittsburgh: An eight hour bus ride down the highway to a lapsed and former Slavic Cathedral (I know. We did put ‘NO CHURCHES’ in the contract. Nobody seems to read the fine print. Myself included.), now one of the craziest, most seductive and tricked out high tech venues I’ve ever heard tell of. A three story high vaulted mahogany ceiling, Byzantine tiles set in the walls, spectacular Oaxacan-style brickwork, moody lighting, a green room where the priest once prepared for mass. A few ghosts from the Old World, wondering what became of their heirs. Grief and Mystery, alright.
Now, perhaps you’ve made rash but entirely necessary promises to yourself as your days have gone by. Vows, even. And if you lived through the eighties, those promises might have included something like this: “No matter what, I’ll never do a music video. Never, no matter what.” If you did, we have that in common. I had no reason to make such a vow, no lifestyle choice, no skill that would ever lift that strange vow to the realm of possibility or likelihood. But in truth, back in the day, I’d watched enough of those crude novelties – added up, whole days of my lifetime that I’ll never get back – that the vow at least made some kind of moral or artistic sense.
So you know what I’m going to tell you now. An hour before show time last night, the Grief and Mystery ensemble is on stage for a three-camera video shoot of various takes on what we do. At first it seemed like a record, a kind of archive thing, like recording a live show. But there was just enough ‘lights/camera/action’ to the business to give me the bends, morally or artistically speaking. Mr. Hoskins (‘Hoss’, we might come to call him), the dervish of detail in such moments, drove the film crew to fits of precision, focus and unwavering technical prowess, himself calling for retake after retake. With patrons for the evening’s show already lining up outside and looking through the stained glass for a glimpse of the shenanigans, the band hit their mark. They were tight, model musical professionals. I blew my lines several times, ludicrous because I wrote and crafted all of them some years ago, and the order and the cadence of them were mine, and barring neurodegenerative disarray should have come to me easily. But I’m no actor. That much self understanding was renewed.

Fifty minutes later its time for ‘Ladies and Gentlemen …’, and we reach into the mortal depths once more, and we believe in these strange nights. And we earn our keep. Tears and applause enough, and enough ribaldry from the Steel City crowd, and three hours later weare sipping smokey whiskey with the owners and the local organizers in the emptied hall, all of us beginning to lie with alarming and escalating confidence about the epic edges of our lives, and for a while, as the Old Man, the patron saint of this operation unawares, so properly put it: 
The whole damn place goes crazy twice. And its once for the devil. And its once for Christ.

SJ


The Dark Road Diary: Part 8

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Prevail #2: by Lisa Hodgson

In the This Is Red venue, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo: Gabe Jenkinson

Prove more powerful than opposing forces; be victorious.

“We prevailed” has been the most commonly uttered first words spoken after walking the dark road from the stage and back to the temporary shelter of our greenroom.

Ahhh…the mercy, the kind labour’s of our many hosts providing us with a sanctuary, may you ALL know how immeasurably important and crucial your offerings are.

You see, we DO prevail….over and over again. And the opposing forces? Well…they are there, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Do we prevail because we are more powerful? No. We prevail because each one of us is willing to saunter along this dark road, sometimes crawling on hands and knees, other times with arms outstretched and a knowing glance to the mystery, all ragged and breathlessly whispering… “Shall we Dance?” Nights of Grief & Mystery…We asked for it, They deliver…and then some.

I’m in.

lisa


The Dark Road Diary: Part 7

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Sometimes you are asked to prevail.

Load In: NYC

Some nights you are just asked to show up and do your thing. Other nights, you are asked to prevail.  New York always asks the latter of us. 

gh


The Dark Road Diary: Part 6

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


The Church of What’s Happening Now

In The Maine Irish Heritage Hall. Photo by Adam Bowman.

We made a deal with ourselves, with each other, with whatever brought us together a few years back, that – having tried, mind you, tried and tried again – we wouldn’t play churches. Call it bad faith: I’m not sure I’d argue. Call it a fall from whatever grace would have us: a case could be made. But we put it in the contract: No Churches. No Used-to-be-Churches either. 
Obviously a good number of people have associations with such places that won’t or can’t be overcome, and so are deeply dissuaded from darkening the doorways. Given even the documented histories, that’s understandable. And I for one have spoken or played or performed under more crucifixions, tormented stick figures, metaphorized and raptured butterflies rising from the rack, back lit by incontestable stained glass vignettes, than is wise. But the tactical strategy for the prejudice is this: for reasons unknown to me, they built these places in the old days so that people in the pews couldn’t quite make out what was being said at the front of the hall. The sound, almost always, is swimming, turgid, swampy in all the ways you wouldn’t want, and unwarm. And entombed.

So we pull into Portland, Maine yesterday, and we adjust the set list to bring back one of our operatic favourites: Never Be a Poet. We’ve done so because we’ve been booked into the Maine Irish Heritage Hall, and the story is about my first trip to Ireland, and about all the weather of fatherhood and frailty, and because Portland has a noble history of welcoming ragged survivors of The Famine in the mid-1800’s. Beautiful confluence. Until we pull up to the Maine Irish Heritage Hall. And it is a proper Gothic pile, a nineteenth century used-to-be-a-cathedral, in fact. Oh oh.
Without our man in the house, Charles, we’d have been in the shit, in every way that can be imagined. But his chops with the knobs, and a way-too-long sound check, and a quick dressing room revamp of the set list to accommodate the utter lack of light on stage and cut down on us moving around, and a band that trusts itself now to rise, and faithful Erin-led local organizers/workers, and especially a curious, slow to warm but beautifully locked-in crowd of the children of the children’s children who Came From Away in those ruinous days: all of that wound itself around this once and only night granted to us to grieve and be mystified, and for a while all was marvellous and well. Street legal devastation of the uninvestigated life proceeded. The people in the book signing line testified to it, were strangely grateful for it. Elegant praise. Generosity of spirit. Burgundy in the back room afterwards. Reasons to live.

Amen.

SJ


The Dark Road Diary: Part 5

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Highjacked, held hostage.

End of Night, Turners Falls

Some nights more than others, the emotional current seems to run higher.  There are a lot of reasons for this and I don’t know them all, and last night in Turners Falls…a full house, an old theatre, an absolute crack team of young people on the ground there (led by the intrepid Erica) setting the scene for us…was properly a high-octane Night, a perfect way to start this tour.

Sometimes, fatigue is the the crack that emotion seeps through for me. I’m not a fan of tears on stage, but occasionally I’m highjacked, held hostage by the moment until it relents. Last night was that kind of night for me, both in the dressing room and on stage. There was a different kind of fatigue in the house, too: the one that makes itself known living in these times, in this country specifically: people tired of carrying a weight they didn’t realize they were carrying.

So the wreckage was deep and very much in evidence for us in Turners Falls last night. I was lucky to be a witness.

gh


The Dark Road Diary: Part 4

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


4 Years On…

The Faces of The Great American Diner

According to the elves that live in silicone chips in my cell phone, 4 years ago today I was sitting in the El Quijote bar (right beside the Chelsea Hotel) in NYC. I was drinking not-so-great red wine and expensive but equally not-so-great gazpacho. Still, I was geeking out: it was THE El Quijote attached to THE Chelsea Hotel. I was waiting to meet up with Stephen at the venue a few blocks away for our first official gig…just the two of us.

Tonite, I’m in a Days Inn in Utica, NY. 

SJ is here, too.

And 7 others who in various capacities have thrown in their lot with us on dark road: Lisa, Charlie, Adam, Gabe, Colleen, The Spaniard, The Choirmaster. The packing, the repacking, the driving, the rendezvous-ing, the driving again, the border crossing, the border fingerprinting/picture taking/question answering, the driving, the diner stop, the driving…all leads tonite to a Days Inn in Utica. 

Tomorrow we begin. Tonite, we were driving on dark roads in America.


The Dark Road Diary: Part 3

Wherein we keep you apprised of making our way down the dark roads and dark, dark woods on our saunter around the continent on these Nights of Grief & Mystery.


Another Kind of Light

Soundcheck at La Tulipe, Montreal.

You begin in the light
and you end in wisdom,
if the gods prevail.
But otherwise,
light.

SJ

There are some songs you can play in the morning or afternoon and there are songs that need the night. Some kinds of performative work live happily on a sun-drenched stage and others wilt under that kind of light. I’ve always felt more at home singing my stuff knowing that night has fallen, or at least is about to. The dark helps to contain things. Like being tenderly cupped in giant hands, the way we do with an insect we’re trying to transport out of the house to freedom without hurting it. The dark helps deliver a performance in the same way.  

Clearly, the world changes at night. Behavioural patterns of all kinds shift in flora, fauna, and town folk. “I said, the night is a dangerous thing,” I once wrote. I was afraid of the dark for a long time. But then again…


If you look deep,
deep enough,
into the heart of night,
you’ll see that it is just another kind of light,
if you look deep enough into The Heart of Night.

From Take A Little Walk, gh

I wrote that once, too.

So, this tour, its not Grief & Mystery: its NIGHTS of Grief & Mystery. Because that is when grief, mystery, and all their relations show up at your door, insinuating themselves into your kitchens, living rooms, and beds, without your permission but probably with your blessing.

We turn the house lights down, affording you a kind of privacy and inviting the blurred edges the dark offers, and we bring up the lights on stage hopefully just enough that you can see the kindness in our eyes. We don’t use the light to illuminate us, per se. We use the light to accentuate the dark.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have someone at the lighting console who helps in this regard. Like Jeremy in La Tulipe in Montreal. Thank you, Jeremy.