Eric Andersen’s Poetic Journey
Live music has the potential to be any number of things. It can be a pleasant diversion, it can be cathartic, it can be a shared party. And sometimes, with the right artist, it can be transcendent. On the right night, when the artist and the audience are both dialed in, a sort of communal feast happens. The table is set and the artist and audience feed each other energy and, in the best of moments, intimacy. No matter how well you may relate the details of that evening to others, it still gets filed under the heading “You had to be there.”
On this October night I had the same feeling I have about every concert, that gnawing sense of expectation that leads me to hope for a spiritual connection. Some artists know how to curate that moment, none better than Eric Andersen.
He entered with an acoustic guitar and perched atop a stool close to the edge of the stage. Wearing a black fedora, he greeted the audience and remarked that he had not played Richmond before.
He began the evening with “I Will Go Unbounded,” and it was clear from the start that it was going to be a special night. Andersen followed that number with “Foghorn,” and was joined on stage by Cheryl Prashker, who provided percussion, drums, and backing vocals.
To be in the same room with an artist of Andersen’s caliber is to experience the best in poetry and melody. Lyrically he has few peers. His performance was honest and direct, and it made you want to lean in a little closer, so as not to miss a single detail. His voice has aged well, it carries history in its warm tones, and adds weight to the darker lyrical scenes in some of the material.
When he was younger he seemed to write about life with a skill and perspective that went beyond his years. Now, at 74, he has paid all those dues, and fulfilled those artistic promises. He inhabits the landscape of a prophet who has seen his jeremiads come to pass. And he does all this with a gentle humor and compassion that still leaves room for hope.
“Dusty Boxcar Wall” brought back memories and provided space for Prashker to shine on percussion. “Violets of Dawn” was elegant and tender, full of yearning for a kinder time, beyond these days of division, when we still believed all you need is love.
Andersen quickly tempered that wistfulness with “Rain Falls Down in Amsterdam,” from his 1998 release Memory of the Future. Recalling the fall of the Berlin Wall, Andersen observed that the historic event brought more than freedom, it also brought skinheads and neo-Nazis out into the open. In light of the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, the song proved all too prescient. It also challenged us to see the human side of struggles that are all too often characterized as political problems.
Throughout the set Andersen moved between guitar and piano. His stage banter was humorous in an odd, understated, and quirky manner. Prashker brought a bright spirit and playful interaction with Andersen, and it was clear that he enjoyed her presence. Their camaraderie emphasized the humor in Andersen’s body of work, and endeared her to the audience.
At one point, as he was introducing the next song, Andersen tossed off a simple, yet poignant comment. “When you’re looking for what you’re missing you’re not looking at what you’ve got.” And perhaps that was one of the gifts of the night. Great music acknowledges the truth of our human situation, grounding us, even as we reach up for enlightenment.
There were moments of beauty; “Dance of Love and Death,” and “Salt on Your Skin” illustrated how deftly Andersen handles the fragility and awkwardness of relationships. By the time he closed with “Blue River” Andersen had taken the crowd into his confidence and into his very personal poetic vision. It was a soul journey, and a healing one at that. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.