There are certain situations where a presentation of a song can alter how you react to it. One of the first times I think I ever really noticed it was David Bowie’s cover of The Beatles’ “Across The Universe” and how the spacey meditation almost became a little threatening in the hands of the Thin White Duke. The lyric “nothing’s gonna change my world” took on two meanings with the two different performances. Where Lennon meant that his inner peace and desire of enlightenment would help him to live his life, Bowie was almost using that lyric to mean he isn’t changing for anyone, so back off. There are lots of other examples of course, but this is one of the first that I ever really noticed how easily things can change with a simple change in presentation.
Not long ago, I went to Ames to catch singer-songwriter Brooks Strause. Strause (currently on tour with blog favorite Nate Logsdon) was a highly recommended singer-songwriter, so I was excited to check him out. I wasn’t disappointed. His set was a commanding performance from a master artist. His emotion poured out with each note and each gravelly lyric. Even with his face hidden behind a thick beard, you could still see the emotional toll each song seemed to take. It was almost like you could feel the lines in his face just with his voice. It was a unique and magical experience.
When I went to listen to some of his recorded material, 2007’s The Misanthrope and His Doubtful Faith, 2009’s Dead Animals and 2011’s My Foreign Right Hand (my personal favorite), I was actually a bit taken aback. I expected a heart wrenching set of songs and I hand prepared to be a slightly tortured. And while the gravel is still there, and the emotion is still there, it is much more subtle. Rather than a solo artist baring his soul all by himself, the music is presented in a much more rich and layered way. The same songs that crushed me were now a little more hopeful. They went from pained to optimistic all with a change of setting. It was a different kind of magic than expected, but magic nonetheless.
All of this is thanks to the gifted songwriting ability Strause possesses. Strause is from the Tom Waits school of performing, where musicianship is key and scratchy vocals are the norm, but the words and emotion are more important than anything. Never afraid to try a new sound to go on top of his stories, Strause succeeds wildly in either a live setting or recorded because his music is honest and his emotion is real.
I would imagine there are people that got to this column because they are trying to find some info on Strause while he is in your city. So I will say simply: go see him, but also listen to the recordings. Two interesting takes on the same material from the same man, and it is all magic.
Try Not To Miss Shows – 3/7 – 3/13
Lovely Bad Things w/ Dhobi Fats and Brenton Dean – Vaudeville Mews 3/7 630pm
Loud and fun, Lovely Bad Things are a LA based rock band with a quick punk/garage sound and a ton of energy.
The River Monks – Raccoon River Brewing Company 3/9 9pm
80/35 and GDP vets The River Monks are on tour and have decided to make a quick stop home in the middle of it. Beautiful folk melodies from some super talented folks.
Davina and the Vagabonds – Gas Lamp 3/9
Blusey, jazzy and piano based, Davina and the Vagabonds always put on a terrific show.
Max Wellman and His String Quartet – 4th St Theatre 3/13 8pm
The jazz crooner is backed by a string quartet. I guess you could’ve figures that out just by reading the event description. Um, yeah. Go to this.