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22 August, 2010

Great Wednesday Part II: Cracker Plays Glacier

So I get to the venue, which is half bar and restaurant, and half general store to the last town on the road. Again the bad news good news oscillation set in, somehow ending up higher on the good side. I was about to order a porter when the bartendress said something about it being really foamy, so I asked for a Guiness, since it has a high nutritional value, and my reserves were depleted from all the climbing. But having a Guiness tap handle is different from having the drink itself, so I had to choose something else. Giving in to the hop-mad NW default, I asked for an IPA, only to learn that that keg had just poured its last. Unwilling to go Belgian (I continue to boycott Leopold's domain long after that devil got his due), I looped back round to the porter, and when they tried, it worked just fine.

As the chocolatey goodness coursed its way into my system and I was feeling happy, the other shoe dropped. There would be no ordering dinner and sitting around until the show started, because they were kicking us all out to let the band set up. Come back at 9 for first-come, first-served tickets. I squesked into the general store part just before closing, got the best food on offer (beef jerky, oh well), and decided to make a last-minute run to the end of the road for a view of Mount Baker.

After making it through an are of one-lane road controlled by robot traffic lights, I saw a bunch of cars coming down, and guessed form the fading light that I would not be treated to a sunset show, but I pushed on, blazing up straightaways and ripping the curves as fast as possible. At the end of the road, reflected in lakes, I caught the last red glow of the summit another 5000 or so feet above. Better yet, a big bright moon looking like it was resting on a ridge, carressed by trees.

No time to dally, though, and I looped around to rush down the hill even faster, fearing that hordes had showed up in my absence, maybe denying me entry to a place that looked like it could not hold more than a few dozen people. I skidded into the lot to see more than 50 people outside, and edged by way about midway through the amoebic crowd. Normally I don't cut in, but a large number of these were college kids with no real clue what they were about to see, and there was no sense them getting in while a true crumb was stuck outside.

I talked with a couple people, including Heather a brash hippy chick. There was a time in the '90s when I encountered a series of hippy chicks named Heather, all from Santa Cruz, a place dear to Cracker Van Beethoven. I took it as a good omen. The crowd kept good humor, milling about in the main drag, watching locals on ATVs roll through, and inexplicably smoking a lot of cigarettes but no weed.

9 o-clock came and went, and while some pompadoured doofus talked loudly so we could all confirm his idiocy, the crowd overall began to get antsy. After a while, the band came out to say there were technical difficulties, but they were working on a solution that would make loud music without eletrocuting them. (Based on Lowery's blog, such an accident might well be interpreted as part of the show, like when his DIY pyrotechnics backfired.) Through the windows, we could see cords connected and taped dow, ripped up, gear reconfigured, and finally an anorexic version of the black things from 2001 being erected. Then, music to my ears, a "Mr. Wrong" soundcheck. Pompousdour proclaimed this a country vibe, as if nobody else could hear.

Then they let us in. I got stamped and headed out back in search of a tree instead of a stinking bar toilet, looked at the stars a minute (could not make out the Big Dipper), and headed back in. Where despite a thick crowd I walked easily to the end of the bar, and quickly got a beer. There I found myself standing in a good spot, clear view of the band, close to another drink if I wanted it, and standing by a couple guys more my age than the college kids.

And I had a rare experience. Usually, in that idle conversation starting where you find out what each other do, my being an archaeologist trumps what the other people do, and sometimes they get awkward about it, apologizing for being corporate tools or whatever it is they do that is so boring by comparison. But these guys were in the beer industry, which makes them natural allies of archaeologists. I offered to pick up the next pitcher and share with them instead of getting individual cups, but they just said thanks and told me I should drink their beer. At this point, I realized that the bad-news half of the cycle had given up, that someone had beaten him up and sent him down the road, and it was to be smooth sailing.

The band came in, not complaining about the small venue or antique wiring at all, ensconced themselves in their corner (no stage, all egaltaritry here in Glacier), and I realized that the mob was focused elsewhere, and me and the beer guys would have a pretty much unobstructed view. Soon after they started playing, the obligatory (and for some reason familiar) gyrate-in-front-of-the-lead-guitarist chick appeared, but she was short enough that we could still see the band just fine.

Song after song that I know and love, the improvised sound system sounding very good (even if Sal seemed spooked from time to time by that 2001--or is that 2010?--monolith). If you know a band's songs, and have heard them a year or so apart, during which time they've toured relentlessly, it is easy to hear how much they love the music and have mastered all the fine points. I kept noticing how right on the inflections of guitars and background vocals were. Perfect.

There was a brief while when I wondered about the monolith and the band, especially lead singer David Lowery. He was hidden behind sunglasses even though there were no lights, he maintained a certain distance from the crowd (seeming unaware even when a wasted shaman kept dancing an pointing into the singers face), I began to wonder whether the beard was to cover the faux flesh of an android, a suspicion egged on by his robotically precise strumming. Was he the man who fell to earth?

But nah. Just rock.

The bar was not big, and the band was pent up in a corner. Frank halfway back into an alcove, guarding a hoard of chairs and tables. Sal just inches away from the pool table, stealing occasional wistful glances toward it. David perched in front of the crowd with nowhere to go. Johnny with no amplifiers to stand on or stage to work, face to face with the dancing girl until she was lured away by the shaman to dance in the center. The lights were just wall fixtures like in people's houses, and the windows behind them, looking out onto the porch, completed the illusion of a house party like they have not played in years.  Outside those windows were hippies who could not or would not come in, dancing, peering in, and sometimes talking with friends inside between songs. It was very nice to be by a window and catch this part of the show. And to top it off (both in terms of elevation and imagery) above and behind the band from by vantage point was an old copper still.

And through it all, no diva-ness. No bitching about the people outside betting a free show. Or about the facilities, or the encroachments on the stage, or the parade of people waling right in front of the band to get to the beer. Maybe a little bit if entrapment, when the bans asked how long the delay was, and some guy said "47 minutes" and was immediately accused of being uptight and German, with David proclaiming "I call bullshit on 'Glacier time,'" that being akin to Hawaiian time and other laid-back chronological reckonings. In fact, the guy was probably not from Glacier, and most of the crowd was pretty laid back about the delay.

But then David did acknowledge one guy for uttering the strangest boast he's heard from a crowd ("I have better handwriting than anyone in the room!"). And when some other person made the connection between a monmologue about rednecks and the song "Get Off This," they praised his multi-dimensional intteligence and added it to the encore. Two sets, two-song encore, and hours of rocking.

Long fieldwork the next day kept me from catching the Seattle show the next night, but I may not have gone anyway. A small show, like a house party with better sound, emerging into a cold starlit night instead of urban streets? Yeah, I'll take that.

1 comment:

  1. Lucky - sounds awesome. I got to see the Pixies in Denver last November and had a quite similarly killer night.