Eric Andersen at McCabe’s: A Bittersweet Reunion with Joni Mitchell
Eric Andersen’s appearance at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, California has become an annual event, which is good-news for L.A.’s Americana-roots music scene. The veteran singer-songwriter responsible for such classics as “Violets of Dawn,” and “Thirsty Boots,” has been especially active for the last few years with new releases and concerts that include the 40th anniversary of the Rolling Thunder Revue in Duluth, Minnesota last year. This night at McCabe’s was unique with celebrated guests like the members of the improv-comedy company, The Committee and actress Amanda Plummer. But the most honored guest of the evening was Joni Mitchell, looking relaxed and healthy in the front row. The icon of the 70s singer-songwriter movement, is in recovery from an ailment that struck her in 2015. In times past, she has joined Andersen on the McCabe’s stage. But not this time. She quietly sang from her seat with Andersen on several songs. It was a bittersweet reunion between two life-long friends. Her vocal on Andersen’s 1972 classic, “Blue River” is among the finest ever recorded.
This is a time when Eric Andersen, as a singer-songwriter, is experiencing a career renaissance. He has been nurturing interdisciplinary collaborations through the intersection of music with art, philosophy and literature. 2014’s Shadow & Light of Albert Camus demonstrated how the words of the famous Absurdist philosopher remains vital and relevant today. Andersen gave new life to his words through his music.
Andersen’s latest release, Mingle with the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron, is the next chapter in this epic-musical novel Andersen has been writing most of his career. Fortunately for all in attendance at McCabe’s, he performed several songs from the new album. He also told stories about Lord Byron calling him history’s ‘original bad boy of rock.’
It was a night of warmth, community and positive energy as Andersen sang liberally from his catalogue that goes back to the 60s. With a band that included Scarlet Rivera (Violin, Desire-Bob Dylan) and Steve Postell (lead guitarist for David Crosby and Jennifer Warnes), Cheryl Prashker (percussion) and Eric’s wife, Inge Andersen on harmony vocals; the sonic quilt that covered the intimate venue was as fresh, dynamic and entertaining as it was informative. It was a night for song and story with the poet and his band of talented musicians.
Like his friend and peer, Bob Dylan, Andersen is a performance artist who rarely plays any song the same way twice. It brings a contemplative freshness to material, old and new. The band gave detailed texture to Andersen’s classic songs like “Thirsty Boots,” “Blue River” and “Wind and Sand.” The psychedelic-drenched lyrics to “Violets of Dawn,” remain relevant with echoes of the dense prose of the Beat poets of the 1950s. “Dance of Love and Death” carried an intense and silent undertow accented by an exquisite imaginative accompaniment from Scarlet Rivera. “Salt on Your Skin,” is a work as fine as any abstract or impressionistic painting through the musical lens of a tragic shanty-sea ballad as he weaves through the poetry of romantic, existential angst.
His voice, seasoned and deeper than his early recordings, serves to bring an intimacy and depth to his performance. He’s like the blues singers of old whose well-worn voices only added to the soul of their songs. The same holds true for this legendary singer-songwriter who continues to create and contribute vital music well into his sixth decade of recording and performing.
When the evening came to an end with the cosmic-pagan-gospel anthem, “Mingle with the Universe,”-lyrics by Lord Byron- it was clear that the long lineage of great American songwriters runs through Andersen’s veins and resonates in his voice. He is not leaning on nostalgia or past glories. He continues to make vital and modern music for today. The wonder that remains is how under- appreciated he is in the mainstream world of Americana-roots music-including the best of today’s singer-songwriters. Some of this may be due to his home being in the Netherlands. But distance and time won’t contain songs so well-conceived. Nor do they constrain this important artist. Eric Andersen embraces and expresses his own vision of a musical landscape that reaches beyond space and time into something that is simply transcendent.