Monday, June 17
There is an astoundingly large number of people here, around, for one reason or another. I've been doing a lot of talking to them, mostly about "plans" and "what i've been up to," which has meant a lot of repitition and a lot of either paraphrasing or repeating with near-verisimilitude what I have written here. It always feels funny to do that, somehow cheap or wrong, since conversation usually assumes spontaneity. Particularly, in cases where it took some consideration to come up with a word or phrase to describe something, I always hesitate about using it right again. Writing about reality has the oft-discussed side-effect of reducing the topic to a singularity, necessarily a crude one, and reiterating it in conversation only strengthens it.
Thursday I was up early to follow Alyssa to work here at nine, took a break to participate in a psych experiment (which involved wearing a virtual reality headset and walking back and forth in a room), and then met Rae for lunch. Actually, first she marched me over to Tarble, where I identified Roban, who came to the barn with us to help load her bed into the car; seeing the barn again gave me a tremendous sadness - a sadness of leaving, without a definite referent. In Media we discovered a thai[-french, supposedly] restaurant with a low-priced lunch special and a park that we'd never seen before. Following its ponds and wooded paths to a bench, we discussed those things, and Joel and long-distance and New York and our respective visits to Oberlin, which it seems were virtually identical.
Ben, Al, and I left the library together, chatted some more, ate chips, shopped, and (with Joanne) had dinner. Another day of reunions, peaking with Ester, who arrived at Ben's digs (Prof. Murer's apartment, which happens to have the coolest CD collection I've ever seen) not long after we did. That needs little discussion: it was happy. The supposed "pub night" that was planned for the banana-house was a little less so because of a difficulty with the tap, but accessible beer was procured (not that I had any), and I joked with some and triumphed over Mike Camilleri and a host of others in egyptian rat screw (perhaps my winningest game of all? I can't remember ever losing.)
Friday was much the same: blogbrary interrupted just by Stef, Lenasitting, and another party at the house - this time the keg was tapped, though hardly depleted, by a larger crowd which ranged from David Owen (accompanying Petar and Shel-Silversteinin'-it Gaal) to Sarah Edelst. (semester-break-refreshed, who talks, converses, readily enough) to regulars like Finney, Murrik, and Gabe (always a comforting, homely presence) - bookending a most pleasant evening out. The post-work hour brought a malaise of indecision, but little by little, through the influence of logistical concerns and feather-weighted preferences, a plan was cast. Eve drove us into the city for dinner at a fabulous crêperie, attempting to squeeze every ounce of hipness out of its old-world-elegance decor and m.o., whose bartendress identified my glasses frames. Jenny met us there and we split three-ways for a simply scrumptious meal: sweet-potato bisque with some cream/rum thing on top; one ratatouille-goat cheese crêpe and one grilled veggie-feta; and the dessert crêpe I lobbied for, lemon curd-lemon sorbet-mixed berries. Mmmm.
Then scampering down South Street (I left my hat and picked up Rae's prepurchased copy of WIWC in the process) to finagle our way into a sold-out Beth Orton concert. Our borrowed hand-held cardboard "pretty please" sign provoked funny responses - confused, pitying, and derisive looks; mystifying previously-uninvolved parties with offers to help ("who is she?…she's a T-bag?…oh, and you're a T-bag [pointing at me]; that's all right then…how big is the venue?…do you have any idea where the back stage door is?…listen, you seem like nice folks; let me go and talk to my date…we'll go see if we can score you some free passes"); and eventually tickets ($15, $0, and $20, for a face value of $16.50 - not bad at all.) The TLA was perhaps the most crowded I've ever seen it, with a notably mixed crowd, from the thirty-something would-be-hipsters behind me chatting with new friends about their shared music tastes (Buckley, Stereophonics, Coldplay, David Gray somehow giving way to Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond) to an old (60s? 50s?) woman in front of me who refused to let me move next to her to talk to my friends. Oh yes - the front row was entirely dominated by Swatties: obsessive Dan Sproul front and center, staring straight up at his Beth ("I think she has a thing for me"), and ringleader Dave Conners with Mara, Nina, and surprise surprise Alison, just in town for one night before heading off to Ireland. How about that.
We missed the opener, which perhaps made the wait feel even longer (tech persisted in doing next to nothing - every ten minutes or so they would come on stage and check an instrument, or put bottled waters around for everyone, or, best of all, set a cup of steaming tea in front of Beth's microphone.) Just as I was about to call out that the tea was getting cold, she emerged, with a pleasingly motley (and, as it turned out, very talented and forgivably large) band: shaggy-haired drummer with a lo-fi "The 13teenth Floor Good Sounds" t-shirt (elevators, I presume?), spiffy-jacketed pianist who manned a couple keyboards, a laptop, and a melodica, entertaining bald-bird-haired (upright) bassist who lurched his head forward and stepped side-to-side with the beat, unremarkable guitarist, and a full two-piece string section, who were kept surprisingly employed. Beth herself, in jeans, orange converse, and a rather revealing black top, is preposterously thin, endearingly (at first) but cloyingly giddy, offering a star-struck and breathless "thank you" after each number (the louder the song, the louder the thank you), with few other words besides a couple of flat jokes and yelps of excitement. Ah, but when she sings, you can hear the truth auditioning. Such a voice.
Maybe half the set was new material, presumably from her forthcoming Astralwerks release, which sounded more or less like her other stuff, perhaps a bit louder and funkier. That made me think about how rare it is that I go to a concert without knowing the majority of what will be played (unlike, say, Alyssa, who knew only one Beth Orton song beforehand) - it makes for a different experience. Of course, she also came through with plenty of stuff from her first two records, a lot of it nicely tweaked and varied ("Someone's Daughter" was oddly stripped of its better chord changes, but "Central Reservation" and "She Calls Your Name" were arguably improved with new complex house-y grooves.) And she played for a long time - two encores, the second of which was poorly prepared, mostly acoustic, and completely unnecessary - which for someone with only three albums means she played nearly her entire catalog (she asked for requests at the end and I could barely think of things she hadn't played - although she did noticeably skip "Live as You Dream" and "Couldn't Cause Me No Harm.") I can't decide if she's really good or just good - part of the problem is that her music is so atmospheric (an importantly element well-captured by the extended band) and dreamy that it's hard to make it exciting enough for a live rock show. It did occur to me, though, that "Stolen Car" - her claim to fame if she has one - is almost certainly her best song, which I find an oddly comforting indication that sometimes the radio-single hit machine isn't too far wrong.
oh yeah you stand for every known abuse that I've ever seen my way through
don't I wish I knew better by now, well I think I'm starting to
when every line speaks the language of love
it never held the meaning I was thinking of