Ed Askew - It is quite a treat to have someone who recorded on the great sixties label ESP playing on a DC stage in 2011. The label had a great eclectic roster including the Fugs, Godz, Pearls Before Swine, and the Holy Modal Rounders. It is great to see him still active; and with labels that understand and market "cool" such as Subpop and Drag City putting out his music, he just may have the deserved audience that alluded him decades ago. Voice-wise, he sounds like a poet. Actually he was a painter, but it is best to simply call him an artist. He sings and plays a bit of harmonica and has a keyboardist with him who plays ukulele on one song. The keyboards are solid, although sometimes the arpeggio styled playing gets a little loopy. But this is all the better to judge the quality of the songs and Askew's abilities on stage. The result was very successful in a low key way and the rapidly filling club really was hanging on every note. It was an older, sharper crowd, but they really enjoyed both the historical implications and present abilities of Ed Askew. If you like Roy Harper and Tom Rapp (Pearls Before Swine), it is only natural that you would enjoy this music.
Bill Callahan - Oh, the guilt. How could I know of Bill Callahan all these years and yet failed to have seen him live or own any of his music? He even operates right in my wheelhouse of outsider folk music and accessible experimental music. Well, time to catch up tonight and wedge in between the denizens of the Rock'n'Roll Hotel in this sold out show. Callahan used to perform under the moniker Smog and seemed to do a lot of well known songs that may go back to that era along with recent material under his own name. No matter, as whatever he chose sounded great to me and the rest of the audience. Callahan played acoustic guitar and a bit of harmonica. He had a drummer who laid down simple percussion patterns underneath the music. He also had an electric guitarist who laid down wild crazy guitar runs all over the place--on top, in the middle, underneath--Glorious psychedelic moves creating loads of exciting sounds while allowing plenty of room for the vocals and acoustic guitar. And Callahan's rich baritone is a marvel, but actually the marvel is how he uses every tool at his disposal and with his band to bring forward these rich, vibrant songs. Even his harmonica playing is understated and used to create nice textures and not just blare away in shrill annoying blasts. The second cut, "Baby's Breath" was crazy good with its tempo adjustments and powerful lyrics. The set goes over well with this adoring crowd and were it not for the usual claustrophobia I get at Rock'n'Roll Hotel sellouts, this was spectacular for me as well. I could wax on, but I have someone's back catalog to look through before I plan some purchases.
Quote of the Night: Ed Askew alluding to the ESP days... 'That was from an album recorded in 1971, but didn't come out until 2004. Uh, there was a little delay."