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American Music Club - Harpers Ferry (Boston, MA) - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

27 April 2008

The golden age of radio, for pop music, died sometime around the rise of MTV. Prior to that, there was a strong chance that great songwriters, and the songs they wrote, would bubble up to the surface and take hold of the public’s consciousness. Once MTV got on the scene, style over substance accelerated the ascension of the fluff that was always present in the previous times, but now much more perniciously so. So now, casual pop fans who aren’t scavenging around the periphery of the mass media channels are cheated of hearing the likes of JOE PERNICE, MARTIN PHILLIPS, JASON LYTLE, NEIL HALSTEAD and MARK EITZEL. It’s really a shame that these guys don’t get the audience they richly deserve, and since the music scene and radio support is so fractionated, the old method of getting out on the road is as good a strategy as any these days. And so Mark convinced longtime guitarist VUDI to cut a new record (ironically entitled The Golden Age), take off some time from his job in LA as a bus driver, and also enlisted two others to record and tour as AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB. Mark’s vision has always been a bit too dark and self-loathing, filled with imagery of despair and crushed dreams. So while the song structures are immaculate and the hooks in all the right places, if a non-initiate really paid close attention to the lyrical narrative, they could easily be off-put and off in search of sunnier tunes. But when he opens his soul and rears his head back, that glorious voice heads straight into the soul of the listener.

The setlist was very heavy with songs from the new record (and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though since the record’s quite good), though like the other AMC devotees in the room, I’m sure I wasn’t alone with secret set list inclusions whirring about inside my head, hoping to be played as the night wore on. “Decibels and the Little Pills” picks up right where AMC was back in the Frontier or Alias Records days; an insistent little tune, carefully chugging along until a bright chorus brings in the downer “No one here/is going to save you.” Welcome to Mark’s world. “All The Lost Souls Welcome You To San Francisco,” previously played on his ‘06 solo tour, was preceded by Mark telling us that SF is a city people go to disappear, and that he succeeded. “All My Love” was a song which Mark surmised might not get a rousing response from the crowd as it veers dangerously close to maudlin territory, but he pretty much acknowledged that by saying he “wrote it for CELINE DION but that she didn’t use it. Bitch.” “The Windows On The World” struck back to the grime, a seedy tale about a driftless roamer scoring drugs in bathrooms and dingy bar visits, with SEAN HOFFMAN’s bass quietly nudging the song along until it took a very different shift at the end, with Vudi ripping into a feedback swarm, and blues-vamping off with his metal, hollow-bodied guitar (the High On Fire shirt channeling some MATT PIKE energy?) while Eitzel did some pretty hilarious mock guitar heroics reminiscent of the stuff you see when searching for “ shreds” on YouTube.

The unrealized hopes and dreams of songs to be played finally came to fruition during the end of the set, and altered and dazzling versions of “Western Sky” and “Blue and Grey Shirt” made the smiles being formed around the room almost audible. More grins were seen and internal song request boxed checked off when “Hello Amsterdam” and “Johnny Mathis’ Feet” blazed to life, and the insistent crowd got Mark and Vudi to close the night out with a stripped version of “Jesus’ Hands,” and that sent the non-drinking crowd off into the Tuesday night.


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