Tuesday night in a not so empty room

10. September 2019, Glockenbachwerkstatt

I like the north in general, I like it even better today: Hamburg-based label Devil Duck Records is sending three Canadians our way down south (or, as „down south“ as this specific tour will get). The Youngbloods tour series is a semi-regular installment of Devil Duck bundling up some of their younger artists and putting them in a van, to travel the world and spread good music. This eighth edition of the concept builds on the strong Canadian ties of the label, most prominently exemplified by The Dead South (who were signed by Jörg Tresp years before their domestic Six Shooter Records caught up).
Those four to five gentlemen are, in a way, also present in the room tonight, being on minds and being referred to as the band who introduced most of us to Danny Olliver when he opened for them on the Bastard Son Tour this spring. This, of course, is no bad company, and there is room for some imaginary friends, as this is a Tuesday night and a proper Tuesday night turnout. Instead of feeling empty, though, it feels cozy: This is Glockenbachwerkstatt, it is not even really „going out“, rather a modest-sized living room, home to a lot of good memories of concerts past, attended or self-played, and there‘s exactly space enough for everyone to sit down on the floor and lean back to the wall. The musicians – always except the one presently on stage, obviously – join us there, and so does the technician, soundmixing away. (I wish someone would mix like this in some larger venues I could name.)

So we are set, the stage is set (one microphone and three guitars awaiting their respective humans, that‘s it), and Ellen Froese goes first, kicking off what will essentially be an evening of storytelling: stories told in and between songs, of chatting with the audience and inter-artist tourbus-banter. And there‘s the most important reason this night turns out as it does: A bunch of musicians not vain enough to resent those not present, having come this far themselves, but making themselves at home with those who are; and an audience really, really appreciating this.
So there‘s talk and there‘s laughter, and there‘s music too. What Ellen plays is more or less downright country/folk, there‘s also a harmonica involved at times. It‘s stripped down, unsentimental and simply good to listen to. But what really strikes me is Ellen‘s voice: That voice can be purley folk, but just as well it can be a1920s singer‘s in a dubious club, deep, smoky, charged with unspoken emotion, a touch risqué. A 1920s singer, that is, who‘s singing about the Canadian hinterland farm where she grew up, the catalogue cover girl she fell in love with when she was a kid (and never really out of yet) and the sad lack of cigarettes long enough to burn through all the regretting one has to do. It‘s tongue-in-cheek, caustic and mischievous, and it‘s over too soon.

After a short break, it‘s Jacob Brodovsky‘s turn. Jacob‘s music is still folk(-y), but it would work in any pop-arrangement – years and years of playing in bands make themselves heard. The guitar playing seems effortless, so does the singing, the harmonies and chord progressions betray some (the best!) indie influences. But the lyrics almost steal the show, with the weird, the funny, the sad and the striking chasing each other, often in one sentence or turn of phrase, and a cast of characters worthy of the great Canadian novel: A sad night baker so lonely that his very loneliness is mocked, for lack of other company, by the gluten-free dough alone; a boy fervently wishing to be the weather man on his secret flame‘s family‘s TV; a restaurant where the (allegedly) awful service provided by the part-time table-waiting songwriter correlates with an unusual frequency in break-ups, providing him with subject matter for his songs. If somewhere in the future you find a book written by a Jacob Brodovsky from Winnipeg, buy it, and let me know; until then, go see him play. Only that the set, no matter how long, will probably be over too soon.
Jacob ends this one with a cover of Kat Goldman‘s „Red canoe“, dedicating it to touring, times away in general and his two present tour mates specifically. It is the last evening of the tour, and it must have been a good one; the joy these three feel for having been there and the slight sadness of soon parting ways is tangible, and shared with an audience readily stepping into the mood. I for one am grateful to be there on this specific evening; it feels, well, nice.

Danny Olliver‘s question to the room „Anyone else want to have a smoke?“ initiates another general five-minute-break in the backyard, then artists and audience are back for the last set. And when Danny takes to the stage, something new happens. I‘m not sure whether it is that I‘ve seen him play before, on a (for me, at least) rather exceptional day, so that the past illuminates the present; or if it is purely his music and stage presence; but there is a different magic in the room now, something intricate and almost shining. If you listen to his records, you will hear something that, I guess, is safe to call „pop“, well-made and well-produced; but it is something different to hear him play solo, acoustic, and live, and I‘ll admit I prefer the latter. He does what he does way more than good enough to rely on his songwriting, guitar and voice alone. Stories keep getting told: of being on the road (the other two cheerfully heckling from the auditorium); of lost phones, lost loves, lost time, deaths and moustaches; but the vocal performance and extraordinary guitar playing transport this to a rather breathtaking prospect. Styles and techniques – classical, folk, indie, bit of blues and country thrown in sometimes – blend into one another, and something unique, precious, and often stunning emerges. I hear a whispered „madness … !“ from the left or right more than once, and I wholeheartedly agree. Danny Olliver really, really can play; yet everything is the song, nothing is technique for its own sake. On this level, in between his own intricate, unpretentious songs, breathing cool early mornings travelling and murky evenings walking your hometown‘s streets, he can do an autonomous cover of Leonard Cohen‘s generally over-covered „Halleluja“, gripping the audience with all the original force this song can have; and how many people could?
The set comes to an end (unsurprisingly, too soon) with the untitled piece of music that astonished and hooked me at my first Danny-O.-concert earlier this year. I‘m still astonished, maybe even more so. You‘ll have to go see him play somewhere to hear this one in its current incarnation, it‘s not on record. And that‘s fine, recordings don‘t come anywhere near to evenings such as this one anyway.

So that was that, or almost, as the three musicians team up for two more songs, Bob Dylan‘s „I shall be released“ and Neil Young‘s „After the gold rush“; more good company, no mic needed. And then the musical part is, indeed, over, and too soon, but to much cheering and applause (fourteeen people, when really thrilled, can be quite loud).
Chatting at the merch table ensues, creative and very sweet signatures are put on stuff, and a magic trick involving an invisible cigar is performed. Then, and only then, we go our ways into the Tuesday night, feeling rather light inside.

A camp fire in the middle would have been nice. But it was perfect anyway.