Stage Banter

Last month I went to see a double bill of John Vanderslice and the Extra Glenns (John Darnielle + Frank Bruno) at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel in DC.  In addition to some good music, the audience was treated to some talkative musicians.  I’ve seen both Vanderslice and Darnielle (in his Mountain Goats skin) before and I knew they enjoy some interaction with their audience.  Personally I like some good stage talk, I mean that’s part of the concertgoing experience as much as an extended guitar solo or a song played at a different tempo.  If I wanted to just hear the music as it appeared on the album and nothing else, I’d have stayed home and popped in a CD.  And when the band doesn’t acknowledge the audience at all, well, it makes me wonder how thrilled they are to be there.  Of course, as with anything, done to excess, stage talk can wreck a concert experience.

John Vanderslice opened and played a nice acoustic set with some songs from his last album as well as some older numbers.  When I last saw JV in LA at the Troubadour he was the headliner and played with a full band.  The smaller confines of RnR Hotel suited this stripped down version of his music.  The small space also seemed to encourage talking to the audience.  Vanderslice several times mentioned that he was manning the merchandise table and at one point joked about how he should have been in retail given how much he was shilling the merch table (and if you somehow read this Mr. Slice, remember my girlfriend is still waiting to get the call to work your merch table in LA!).  After playing a song from his collaboration with John Darnielle, Moon Colony Bloodbath, he remarked that he should put this on his website for free which was met by enthusiasm by the crowd.  Vanderslice always has an aura of optimism and it comes out in his interaction with his crowds, he genuinely seems excited to talk with those who come to listen to his music.  He provided a good warmup for the main event, both musically and stage banter-wise.

John Darnielle also exudes his love for music in his stage presence.  He often explains the origins of songs before launching into them and will respond directly to audience members (more on that in a second).  I wasn’t that familiar with the Extra Glenns music and apparently neither was Darnielle.  He messed up the guitar parts multiple times and while he tried to laugh it off, but after 3 times it was getting a little old.  Suprisingly, when Darnielle and Frank Bruno decided to depart from the setlist (at the time I thought this was not going to end well) Darnielle seemed to pull it together and the rest of the set went smoothly.  The mess-ups did lead to one funny exchange with a fan.  Darnielle was explaining to the crowd that he has trouble remembering the guitar parts for the Extra Glenns songs and a fan said “but you’ve wrote like 3 million songs.”  Darnielle retorted, “yeah but all my songs only have 3 chords.”

Earlier in the show, in between songs, one unknowing audience member yelled “Freebird.”  Now, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence at shows, I even have one friend (who shall remain nameless) that enjoys this bit of fun at shows.  However, I’d seen this movie before with Darnielle (telling the fan at the Mountain Goats show “that one day that joke will be funny, but this isn’t that day”), so I knew as soon as I heard the fan shout “freebird!”, we were in for something good.  Darnielle let the fan know that “yelling Freebird is the equivalent of killing a boner.  You sir are a bonerkiller.”  This got a good chuckle from the audience.  He went on to tell the offending party he should get “bonerkiller” tattooed on his back.  There were no more calls for Freebird.

A small technical snafu also led to a short lesson on acoustics that Darnielle admitted was for “geeks.”  A small mic he’d installed inside the body of the guitar started causing interference.  Darnielle went on to explain why he’d put the mic in, which included the very technical term “soundhole” to describe the circular opening in guitar.  Loved that.  Also got a kick out of his intro to one of their songs where he assured the audience that we were great and this line was nothing personal.  The song then began with “No one in the crowd was anyone of note,” which again created a collective giggle from the audience.  Finally as his piece de resistance, during the last song (“Memories” a Leonard Cohen cover), he noticed a girl filming the song on her iPhone, jumped off the stage and sang in front of her, then snatched the phone, went back onstage, getting some extreme closeups of his face, and then returned the phone to its surely ecstatic owner.

Darnielle then exited as Bruno finished off the piano part of the song solo.  Bruno does not really look the part of a musician.  He’s bald, wears glasses, and looked like he’d come from the office to play (wearing chinos and a dress shirt).  As I remarked at the time, it looked like he was a guy that was taking part in a rock n’ roll fantasy camp.  In addition to his appearance belying his musical talents, while he didn’t say much during the show, he had the line of the night.  Finishing his solo and recognizing some of the night’s “issues” he deadpanned “thank you for being so forgiving.”

As I imagined, here’s the youtube video of “Memories” I mentioned above:

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One Response to “Stage Banter”

  1. Ben Folds – Wiltern, LA « Nothing to Write Home About Says:

    […] I did know that Ben Folds was a witty lyricist, and that translated into some great between-song banter.  Before playing a cover of a Ke$ha song, he told a funny story about the night before the show involving his cell phone, a pool, and a surprise appearance by Ke$ha saving the day (diving into the pool fully clothed to retrieve Ben’s cell phone from the deep end).  He also had some great monologues about some of the new songs he had written with Nick Hornby.  His stage presence reminded me of John Darnielle. […]

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