Ottobar, Baltimore MD, 22nd March 2006
Black and Brown Blues
Inside the Golden Days of Missing You
Smith and Jones Forever [video]
O Captain! My Captain! [video]
Trains Across the Sea [video]
How Can I Love You (If You Won't Lie Down)
I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You
There Is a Place
How to Rent a Room
The Poor, the Fair and the Good
Punks in the Beerlight
Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed
Rock to Baltimore: Silver Jews at the Ottobar
OK, so here’s the thing. Joos Cruise 2K6 was a whole lot of fun through the first four shows. Each one was a great time. I actually had fun with old friends and new friends. It was a special feeling to be there with DCB and Co. as they got their sea legs on this first tour. The performances were a lot stronger than I thought they would be, honestly. Some individual clunkers here and there, but with the help of an ace backing band DCB seemed to be doing fine. If there was any sloppiness it was always an endearing quality. Each night found everyone getting more comfortable on stage, especially DCB. There were some performances of “Punks in the Beerlight,” “Dallas” and “Smith and Jones Forever” that were classic. But I’d be lying to you – and myself – if I said these were truly awe-inspiring shows. Now that’s sort of the point. The Silver Jews don’t need to put on awe-inspiring shows. I’m not going to see them to see this well-oiled rock machine run through the hits. It was more of a familial experience, being there with this guy who has written some of the greatest songs in recent memory, sharing them with his most devoted fans in a live setting for the first time as he puts his life back together. It’s pretty fucking uplifting, y’know? Those first four shows were some of the most memorable and most fun shows I’ve ever been to, sure. But some of the best – totally objectively? Not quite. But hey, I’d like to see any band in the world have one of their first 10 shows ever be an all-time great.
That all changed in Baltimore. First off…
Should I live to be 75 or 80 years old, I will remember this show as one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Everything you could possibly want in a Silver Jews show was here. A great, tiny venue packed to the walls with Joos fans. The band members – and especially DCB – were in a great mood from the second they walked on stage and were feeling it from the start. If I remember correctly, as the earlier shows DCB was always last to take the stage but tonight he was the first one out, waving to everyone, wearing a huge grin. The small stage meant they were closer together, adding to the more unified feel.
From the start you could tell this was going to be a good one. “Slow Education” was brilliant – Peyton Pinkerton broke out a slide and it really added a new dimension. He hasn’t been using that at previous shows, has he? This was the first time, right? Anyway, it sounded awesome. Speaking of sound, what a brilliant job behind the soundboard by the unbeatable duo of Steve West and Adam Cooke. My kudos to the both of them.
“Black and Brown Blues” was a rollicking good time. Apparently DCB just doesn’t like that last verse (“When I go downtown I always wear a corduroy suit”) because he simply doesn’t sing it anymore. He just talks over it, which is highly entertaining. “Smith and Jones” was a highlight as usual. It’s always nice to see everyone bounce up and down during the chorus. I made sure after the show to tell Brian Kozur how much he single-handedly made that song one of the highlights of the tour. Just that extra added dynamic. And that’s what this tour was about – those added dynamics. Besides Tanglewood, this was a Natural Bridge-heavy tour, which makes sense since Peyton played guitar on that one. And my main issue with that record has never been the quality of the material, but just the general flatness of the production. You know that. And that definitely isn’t the case on the tour. The songs really come alive, sort of like that Frampton dude, but with less talkbox. A lot less talkbox.
I was thrilled to get to hear “O Captain” again. I remember when I went to see a boatload of Pavement shows back in ’99, by the end of the tour the one song I was really hoping to hear on the last night was their cover of “Sinister Purpose” and they came through with it. I actually think the version of “Captain” from New York was a bit stronger, but this was still damn good. Just a pretty straightforward rock number, which was sort of refreshing. The Nastanovich double shot of “Trains” and “How Can I Love You” sounded really great. Like I’ve said plenty of times before, DCB’s voice works really well in tandem with another voice and “How Can I Love You” does that really well.
“Dallas” was back to its majestic heights as Cassie came back in for the “cruising down Commerce” bits. I’ll take some credit for that one, as after the Philly show I told her I really missed her presence on it. “Pet Politics” is another song in which DCB obviously has issues with a verse (just like “Black and Brown”) that he just doesn’t like anymore. In this case it’s the “Adam was not the first man” one and in Philly he ad-libbed something but tonight it was a blank verse, DCB just strumming silently, eyes closed, deep in … something.
As I get further away from the show I’m forgetting some of the details, but he was certainly chatty all evening. He asked if Brian Billick was in the house and mentioned how Ray Lewis ruined his life in Nashville. There was some other stuff, it was funny. Although nothing as funny as when he came back from backstage after an especially noodly version of “The Poor, the Fair and the Good.” “I go to the bathroom and come back and you turn into the Dead!” It was nice to get some confirmation from the man himself that this was actually happening. Anyway, that’s such a damn great song and how can you not love the thick drawl that Cassie lays all over it? “Un-mey-yuh-nuh-feh-stid.” That transliteration didn’t really work. Just know that it’s very adorable the way she says “unmanifested.” “Punks in the Beerlight” brought down the house, as always.
The encore was the perfect ending to my time with the Jews. DCB was extremely loose and in good spirits, even pantomiming some lyrics, playing with his ring finger at the appropriate time in “Random Rules.” He was also messing with the timing of the vocals but on his terms, if that makes any sense. Earlier on in the tour it seemed like he was honestly reading the words off the page and just trying to get them all out. He was in total control tonight. Then for the final song he did what I was hoping he’d do all tour – put down the guitar and just stood there at the mic and let loose on vocals. If there is a best song to do this on, he certainly picked it. Eyes closed, both hands gripping the mic, he gave a growling, inspired take, complete with MES’d endings, as indicated in the setlist above. He walked off the stage to thunderous applause, the band tore it up for another 20-30 seconds, stopped, Billy Idol came on over the speakers and that was it. What a way to go out. Can’t wait to do it all again next year.