Sunday, October 11, 2009

Carnegie Hall

Last night played a gig at Carnegie Hall in New York. Zankel Hall is their 600-seat theater and, oh, it sure is pretty. In typical Minnesotan fashion, I did not tell my relatives and friends that I was playing Carnegie Hall, and when some of them learned about the show and mentioned it to me, I made sure to clarify that I wasn't playing in the main hall with the New York Philharmonic, but in Carnegie's smaller performance space.

"What are you talking about? It's Carnegie Hall!" was their response every time. Maybe I can learn someday to drop that habit of backpedaling - why not just allow my friends and relatives to enjoy the moment?

Anyway, when I saw my poster there on the side of the building, underneath the Tiffany-style colored-glass logos, it was my turn to enjoy the moment.

The Carnegie show felt like an extension of the Hometown Tour I did here in Minneapolis a few weeks ago: easy-flowing, open, free-associative. That tour put a whole new batch of my older songs and also a couple of new ones at my fingertips: "Act Naturally," "FNT," "Something I Don't Know" among them. So I had lots of music to choose from last night, and I took advantage of that. Playing the amazing piano there also made me want to do more shows playing piano. I'm not sure how that would go but I think it would be interesting and I could improvise a lot more.

Brad Gordon, a multi-instrumentalist friend of mine, flew in from Los Angeles to play piano with me during the songs on which I played guitar. (And Brad played the clarinet on "Baby Doll.") I met Brad in 2008 on the Hotel Cafe tour, one of the more formative experiences I've had in a while, and by the end of that tour he and I had pretty much established a very nice blood-brother type of e.s.p. when we jammed together. Brad just plain plays the piano like a more skilled version of me. So of course I like performing with him.

At Zankel Hall last night, I shared the bill with Cory Chisel, who is a gravelly-voiced singer/songwriter from Appleton, Wisconsin, and with whom I had written a couple of songs maybe a year ago. He's an amazing singer, able to channel the spirits of Otis Redding, Bob Dylan or Ray Charles. We wrote together in Graham Nash's house, which could only have been more surreal and glorious if Graham Nash were home. As it was, he was not, but it was still a memorable time. At one point, Cory initiated me into his theory of Bob Dylan's vocal phrasing and how it changes from one period to another in Dylan's career. I wish I had recorded Cory's holding-forth - he can switch back from one era of Dylan to another, freestyling lyrics in the voice of each era. I laughed a lot. Inspired by Cory's outpouring of mojo, we wrote a bluesy and Dylanesque song called "Never Meant to Love You," which I adore.

At the end of my set, Cory and his singing partner, Adriel Harris, joined me onstage and we performed "Never Meant to Love You" and, if my experience is any indication (doubtful but possible), it was beautiful.

On my way out the door of the venue, one of the staffers considerately handed me the "three sheet" poster for the show. These are the giant posters, about 40" by 80", that they put up on the side of the building or on the wooden walls of construction sites and abandoned lots. After a brief moment of excitement, I immediately began fretting about how impossible it was going to be to get the poster onto my Northwest Airlines flight the next morning.

Then my friends Craig Wright, Jacob Slichter, Gillian Ryan, Steve Schiltz, and Jim Grant, along with Brad Gordon and Cory Chisel and his band and a lot of the audience from Zankel Hall, all went to a way-too-loud bar down the street and had a lot of whiskey.

Even later, Craig and I spent about two hours wandering around Midtown trying to find a sandwich. This kind of late-night search is a common-enough occurence on tour, when it can be very hard to find the one joint in Topeka or Toledo or Tuscaloosa or Toulouse that stays open late. But New York City! What has become of our nation's cultural capitol? Every hotel restaurant and bar seemed to have closed at midnight - the City may never sleep, but they don't stay open that late either. In fact, I'm sure they were wide awake behind their closed doors, eating the sandwiches my friend and I were seeking. In a typical bout of late-night urban aimlessness we took a taxi down to around 52nd and then wandered back uptown from closed cafe to closed restaurant to closed "all-night" diner, until we finally ended up at the Carnegie Deli, ludicrously near where we began.

But when our blintzes and a gigantic American-Tourist-Sized Corned Beef Sandwich arrived at the table, all was forgiven, and we loved New York once again.

Following this mini-adventure and my very short night of sleep (bedeviled as it was by Carnegie-Deli-Corned-Beef-inspired nightmares), I found myself zooming in a taxi through traffickless Queens, enjoying the scenery and wondering who exactly lives on Astoria Blvd., a pre-sprouted gentrification zone if I've ever seen one.

In the trunk, the giant poster; ahead of me, certain confrontation with the employees of Northwest Airlines. They were sure to see this huge roll of paper as a security threat, or worse, the sign of a Minnesotan pumped up with pride, and I could only imagine how crumpled or folded it would be by the time I brought it home. Or perhaps I would be forced to discard it along with the plastic water bottles and hand lotion containers of greater-than-3-ounce capacity which one can often see forlornly piled in the TSA Forbidden Container bin at the airport security checkpoint.

But no! my fears were unfounded. Instead of the old Northwest Airlines "we hate our jobs and so we hate you too" approach, I was treated to the now-famiiar new post-Delta-merger niceness: the crew found a spot in some special secret closet for my poster, and now it's home with me.

But where exactly does a Minnesotan put a gigantic poster advertising his own show at Carnegie Hall?