Friday, May 17, 2013

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder


I feel a hot wind on my shoulder.

Usually this would be a reference to Munson standing by the bed, breathing quietly but regularly to alert me to the danger of fire or flood (from aforesaid malamute’s bladder). Today however I’m talking of the opening line to Mexican Radio ( lyrics, video) , biggest hit song of the band Wall of Voodoo when their frontman was Stan Ridgway.

I didn’t think any more of this music until years later when I encountered Stan’s solo album Anatomy in Seattle. I’d started developing a taste for some of the darker Americana roots music through Seattle band The Walkabouts, Chris Isaak and Texan vocalist Cassell Webb, and Stan’s idiosyncratic noir-ish story-songs really caught hold with me. More recently I introduced Gustav to the now-defunct Norwegian band Midnight Choir who mined the same territory, with production assistance from Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts.  Reflecting more on the musical path that led me to exploring Stan Ridgway’s later work, I must also nominate This Mortal Coil’s reworkings of psychedelia-tinged Americana from Tim Buckley, Alex Chilton et al. Goth country anyone? Or are we just talking Nick Cave and the resurgence of pirate ballads?

Tonight Stan and his touring band are appearing at the Factory Theatre, only a short walk from where we live. I’d booked tickets for the concert even before I’d left France. Gustav and I fronted up at the Factory a few minutes before the 7:30 start time and milled around for an age at the outdoor bar. There would be a support act, but for now they were just billed as “and friends”, meaning they hadn’t been decided at the time the concert series was booked.

We didn’t discover who they were until a few songs into their act. They were a local Americana-ish act, who I thought were called Chowder Whores, but this was later clarified as Charlie Horse. They didn’t start well but I grew into them over the course of their set.
Stan started delivering from the beginning. With a repertoire stretching back over three decades I was not sure if he was going to present any of my favourites. It would almost be inevitable that Mexican Radio got trotted out late in the show along with his great cover version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire but I was most happy when he performed Mission Bell, the first track of Anatomy. He also improvised a few songs or engaged in dreamy monologues over his wife Pietra Wexstun’s keyboards, his distinct vocal delivery riding over the chords of a Satie Gymnopedie. I must say his live sound is eerily close to his recordings, although considerably embellished by his hilarious asides to the audience between songs and instrumental covers of Ennio Morricone.

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