Michael Hurley – St. John’s Pub (Portland, OR)
Friday the 13th didn’t toss any black cat voodoo at the bubbling cluster of four-wheel-drive yuppies stuffed into St. John’s Pub for a rare appearance by “Snockgrass” troubadour Michael Hurley. Backed on bass by former Holy Modal Rounder — a band with whom he is often linked — and Golden Delicious plunker Dave Reisch, Hurley filled two generous sets with his bawdy, elemental tales of good times with bad women, insights on dogs and ruminations of enjoying a little wacky tobaccy while dinner is cooking.
The concert, like the singer, was lean and mean, with a refreshing minimum of between-song chatter. He seemed a bit miffed after opening with “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”, pronouncing his microphone as having “no vocal presence.” Plucking away on a vintage f-hole Gibson guitar, Hurley reeled off stomp-along waltzes, shuffles and two-steps, with Reisch filling in the warm, fat notes and stepping up with an occasional harmony vocal. Hurley’s voice slid into an easy, yet chilling, falsetto on “The Werewolf”, effectively hushing the chattier members of the audience with his lusty full-moon howl. It took four tunes before he acknowledged the crowd with a grudging, “It’s great to be here tonight.”
Hurley saves wit and wisdom for his songs, dispensing sly advice to the young and randy with lines such as “Sneakin’ in the back door/That ain’t no 10-4” in “Negatory Romance”. Not one to heed his own words, Hurley served up a continuous cycle of horny courtship, bliss-in-the-sack (probably only about a PG-13 rating by today’s standards) and eventual bailout in songs such as “Sweet Lucy” and “Don’t Call Me Sam”.
Yet despite an itinerant existence, Hurley doesn’t come off as a faithless ramblin’ man, but rather as an aging hippie who seems to have found himself the good life. Seemingly indifferent to cosmic matters — “I got more religion than a dog’s got fleas,” he deadpans in “I’m Gettin’ Ready To Go” — he cherishes a mundane and comfortable domesticity: “A great big easy hair/Smelling greasy fried chicken.”
In an autobiographical sense, Hurley plays his hand pretty close to the vest, but when he sings lines such as “Some poets are poor/Some poets are rich/The shithouse poet is a son of a bitch,” one gets the idea he’s proud to be the last.