I suppose Stan Ridgway is an acquired taste but I never thought so, I just always thought he was an excellent storyteller and musician. You might remember him from a famous band in the 1980’s called Wall Of Voodoo that had some major hits, one of which (Mexican Radio) I was shocked to hear was from 1983…time marches on! Makes me sound old but I don’t feel old.
Stan went his own way soon after, and that’s when I really began to listen. Wall of Voodoo were good and I was “kind of” into the New Wave sound but once Stan started singing songs about the human condition, the desert, and whole albums told stories about characters you could imagine immediately, I was sold. Wikipedia says he was born in Barstow California so the obsession with tumbleweeds, and long drives through the desert makes sense but then again, maybe you have to love the desert to understand. I’d say you should at least appreciate a little Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, and a good Western too, not the whole of the genres, just the “vibe”. (Example: It’s A Lonely Town) His album Mosquito’s was my first and to me it’s like opening an old book I’ve read a thousand times but still can’t get enough.
Last night at McCabe’s, Stan did not disappoint the old listeners or the new, and it was a grand mix of what he is so good at. His voice and harmonica gently invited you to listen, then blazingly (and brazenly) brought a song to its end. Everyone in the room sang the chorus to Can’t Complain and when the famous synthesizer sound of Ring Of Fire began, there was no room to sway but every head was bobbing, and you could feel the smiles through the back of everyone’s skull. His last album Neon Mirage does not disappoint either.
(Listen: Day Up In The Sun from Neon Mirage)
I knew about but had never been to McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, and if you are in the Los Angeles area you don’t need to be a musician to walk into the store (which connects to their “concert” hall). McCabe’s is literally wall-to-wall instruments. The “concert hall” seating consists of those horrible metal chairs we had to sit in at Catholic school and now use regularly in Iyengar Yoga. The hall way leading in is lined with Ukelele’s that you want to reach out and caress because the wood seems to call out to you, there is a flimsy velvet curtain as a door and I’m guessing the place can hold 50 to 60 people, maybe more but not much. It is quite intimate, has funny looking Victorian lamp shades hanging from the ceiling and the sound was impeccable.
Stan’s 4 piece band sounded so tight (that’s a musicians word) that I was drawn in immediately. Even though he forgot the lyrics to the first song it felt like he was playing in my living room, and we were all just sitting by the fire laughing with him as he talked about forgetting the lyrics, while the band played on. I heard the person in front me compare him to Bob Dylan and I saw no correlation but what do I know? Stan’s voice makes me want to hear more; like a lover over the phone reassuring me it’s always darkest before the dawn.
Bob’s voice doesn’t do it for me…an acquired taste!
I was never much of a concert-goer unless they were shows in small places. Enormous stadium shows are not for me. I can’t deal with the mass of humanity and all that comes with it. That was yet another reason living in San Francisco was so great, there were numerous small places to hear great musicians with just a walk or cab ride away. After leaving SF (and wisely coming home to Los Angeles) I think I pretty much stopped going to hear live music. Maybe now that I’ve been to McCabe’s another part of me I’ve missed shall return.
My companion was a very old friend who was once in a punk band so he was going mildly (happily) nuts next to me, and it was endearing. Before the show we had dinner with a mutual friend, and it felt like we had stepped back in time but without the angst of youth. One friend is an accomplished writer, the other a brilliant gypsy of sorts who manages a well-known skateboard team. Both men are extremely well-educated, ever so slightly mad, and 2 of the funniest (darkest) people I know. Of course they spent most of dinner discussing the best places to skateboard in Los Angeles while I just sat there and watched. I didn’t mind, in fact I felt kind of proud. The three of us sort of stuck out in a sushi restaurant on the Westside, I think we were all a bit disheveled but chic(?). Also, it doesn’t hurt that both men are very handsome in different ways. Not the “so good looking it’s stupid” way but more like Supermarket Man: unique and beautiful.
Dinner took forever but was the best sushi I’d had in years, and by the time we got the check we had to make a run across town to get to the show. My friend said, “Dude, we have to go now because McCabe’s isn’t the kind of place you can walk into late, it’s like walking into a séance late…you don’t want to break the chain of hands!”
He was right.
I don’t go out often for various reasons, and there are very few people I feel safe enough with to accept invites, so spending the evening with 2 of my oldest male pals, men I know would do almost anything for me, was special.
Although the halogen light from the stage (illuminating a musicians sheet music) nearly gave me a migraine, the opening singer made me want to slit my wrists, and my back slowly began to scream in pain…it was all worth a visit with Stan.
Addendum: I’d love to see him at Pappy & Harriet’s.
The chorus from Mission In Life:
You’ve got a mission in life
To hold out your hand
To help the other guy out
Help your fellow man
That’s why I own this bar
They’re thirsty outside
I giv’em oceans to drink
Then they drown in the tide…
From the 1989 album: Mosquitos