Sunday, August 28, 2005

Last night I saw John Wesley Harding perform at an Acoustic Music San Diego concert, and had a great time. He was performing with the Love Hall Tryst, which consists of Kelly Hogan, Brian Lohmann, and Robert Lloyd (supplementing the line-up in the absence of the very pregnant Nora O'Connor). Kelly Hogan was the name that got me in the door (I love her voice, and think she deserves Neko Case's career), but I looked forward to hearing Harding, of whom I was only passingly familiar.

I also looked forward to checking out the venue. I was unfamiliar with Acoustic Music San Diego, but their line-up looked interesting. And they hold their concerts in an old church, which sounded like an appropriate environment for hearing old folk tunes. As I approached the church on Adams Avenue, I saw some sort of carnival ride rising up over the local businesses, and wondered if I had forgotten about the Adams Avenue Street Fair, but it turns out there was just some sort of carnival going on across the street from the church. But there still was plenty of parking available, and the carnival wasn't too noisy (the occasional screams that seeped into the church only seemed to compliment some of the more gruesome folk melodies). The church was nice, an about average-sized sanctuary with vaulted ceilings, and a typical lightly-adorned motif with stained glass windows and cross and whatnot. The acoustics were good, and the atmosphere suited the evening well.

For the first set, the various musicians performed a few of their own songs, before the second set, dominated by the material from the Songs of Misfortune Love Hall Tryst album. I was almost immediately taken by Harding's material, as well as his voice, which seemed a mix of Jon Langford and Elvis Costello. He performed "Miss Fortune," sort of a prelude to the second act, a song which seemed a bit heavy-handed when I encountered some of the lyrics in print, but which just comes across as direct and unassuming when performed. Brian Lohmann performed a few amusing songs in the novelty vein, which were somewhat underwhelming following Harding's material, but were fine as a palate-cleanser. Kelly Hogan's set was as enjoyable as I'd hoped, and I was surprised when she said the first song she performed was from the women's wrestling documentary, Lipstick & Dynamite, giving me another reason to see that film when I get the chance. She also sang a duet with Harding, the Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn tune "It's Only Make Believe," which was a highlight of the evening for me.

The second set was predominantly devoted to performing the Songs of Misfortune album (they performed every tune save one), a collection of mostly a capella folk tunes referenced in Wesley Stace's (Harding's real name) historical novel Misfortune, some of the time period, some written in the style of the time. Some of the new songs, such as "The Sanguinary Butcher," I mistook for songs of the era, while others, such as Leonard Cohen's "Joan of Arc," possess a rather modern mindset without removing the listener from the conceit of the project. I loved the songs, and their presentation, and am certain the CD will be my next music purchase, and Stace's novel my next book purchase. Harding broke up the Love Hall Tryst material with mini-sets of his other material, including an amusing summary of Hamlet, which is available for download on his old website.

All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable evening. Kelly Hogan was great, I became a fan of John Wesley Harding, and I discovered a great venue to see acoustic music in San Diego (Dave Alvin will be there in a few months). And seeing the carnival across the street reminded me that the Adams Avenue Street Fair is just a few weeks away.

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