People quite often ask me, what's the best part about working as a music journalist. It's things like this:
The last time I have seen Damon & Naomi live, in Hamburg in 1998, was one of the most memorable shows I've ever been to. Partly because I didn't think I'd see the concert in the first place, partly because there was only a handful of people at the gig, partly because I did not expect to hear songs like "Blue Moon" or "Blue Thunder" and partly - yes, I admit it - because D&N were talking to me throughout the show which, quite frankly, is what you want, right? One of your favorite bands on stage, playing all your favorite tunes and still finding the time to talk to you personally, making some inside jokes so everybody else in the audience is turning their heads, thinking: Why him? When you work as a music journalist your chances are slightly higher that something like that occurs, but it's usually not when one of your favorite bands is on stage, it usually only happens with lesser or unknown bands and it kinda ruins the whole idea of it.
Anyways, I knew that experience at the 1998 Hamburg show would be a one-off and something equally exciting would not happen to me again in my entire life. Which is fair enough.
So I was very much shocked/surprised/delighted that the show in Utrecht this past Thursday (incidentally Bob Dylan's 60th birthday) was very much Hamburg, part 2.
Blame it on the amazingly nice weather, blame it on the fact that it was - to the best of my knowledge - a public holiday in the Netherlands, but again only 30 people showed up to see D&N and their guest star, Michio Kurihara. Or, blame it on ME, which is what Damon did before even one note was played. He said: "There's somebody named Carsten in the audience tonight, who has seen us in two different cities, two different countries actually, and he must think we're not very popular" (or words to that effect). I replied that I would try England next time, and Damon gave a look that seemed to say: "Do you really want to scare away the people in a country where we actually do have a paying audience?" After the show they told me they would only allow me to see them again in smaller cities...
But enough of that, unlike most other bands I have seen in front of select audiences, Damon & Naomi still give their best, knowing that a big audience is not a guarantee for a good show. Apparently the short set they had played for Dutch National Radio the day before in Amsterdam was "horrible", as Naomi put it. (You will be able to judge for yourself soon when the show will be available online at http://www.vpro.nl)
In Utrecht, they started their set with "Judah..." and even though Kurihara only played a few quiet licks on his beautiful Gibson SG on this song, you could tell that his style fitted in perfectly with the understatement of your typical D&N song. The first real highlight (for me anyways), was "Eye Of The Storm", always a favorite of mine and done just as beautifully as I remembered it from Hamburg. Another special treat - very much in the same way that "Blue Moon" had almost moved me to tears at the show in 1998 - was "Song To The Siren" by Tim Buckley. A great tune that sounded quite perfect in this sparse arrangement. Even better though was the discussion that followed. Damon pointed out that he used the early lyrics of the song ("I was puzzled like the oyster I'm as troubled as the tide", and not "troubled as the newborn child") and then was trying to make the connection to the Odyssey, which got him in big trouble, as Naomi couldn't see the connection and told him that he didn't get it right. Not knowing that my major is sociology and not literature she even asked me to back up her theory (I couldn't) but I suppose it would be fun to find out who's right.
Isn't that cool if you actually get the chance to learn something at a show rather than just hear the same three chords over and over again?
Some old favorites like "NYC" and "The Navigator" followed, but is was on the last couple of numbers (from the new album) that Kurihara really got to show us what an amazing guitar player he is. He played some great solos that Neil Young probably would've been proud of. I think in some ways he made D&N play better as well, or certainly harder, as Damon broke a string in the last "guitar duel" on "Tanka", the last song of the night.
Well, not really the last song, because they came back for an encore. Damon tried to tune his guitar (complete with new string) for several minutes before realizing that he actually got the wrong string! Well, it certainly did not hurt the performance that followed, which was quite frankly the weirdest thing I ever heard D&N do. I know they are on first-name-terms with (for a lack of a better word) Slow-Rock, English Folk, Indian Traditional and Japanese Experimental-Pop, but to hear them play a COUNTRY song (and very well, I might add) with Kurihara taking the solos, was very funny indeed. The song in question was Gram Parsons "A Song For You" and while I have heard many bands cover it, I don't think I've ever heard a version further removed from the original arrangement, yet managing to keep the essence of the song. Great stuff, especially since this was a rare chance to actually hear D&N sing together. A second and last encore followed and that was another special treat as well. Another cover, sung by Naomi, by obscure Japanese 60s band The Jacks.
All in all another great evening - not only for me I suppose. It was also the first ever show that I left with some homework to do, as Naomi gave me a list of records that I have to buy and listen to before I'm allowed to see them again (I probably will share the list with you sometime soon). "We want to do something for your musical education", she told me with a smile and as I pointed out before, I think it's quite fab if you can actually learn something at a show, regardless if it's about 60 folk music or literature.
So thanks to Damon, Naomi and Kurihara for yet another very memorable night. They are gonna be in Spain this week, go see them if you can! It's not gonna be all perfect and polished, but that exactly what makes it so good. As D&N put it: "Compromising quality of reproduction for the sake of nostalgia".