Nathan Bell at (not)SXSW
The noise in the media about SXSW is always about the official showcases and events. The problem with these, for the street-level music lover, is the brevity of the sets and the cost of getting in. Personally, I don’t have the $700+ it takes for a wristband, I don’t particularly want to fight the crowds, the traffic, the parking, &c. Luckily for myself and others, there are dozens and dozens of unofficial showcases going on all over Austin, offering anyone with the time to spend the opportunity it hear an array of fine artists – local and otherwise – that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Music is always, for me at least, about being able to see and hear an artist perform in person, up close and personal, to be able to feel a direct connection with their material.
Nathan Bell doesn’t come this way very often – in fact, he said Sunday that this was the first time he’s ever played in Austin. I’m so glad I was there, and I can only hope he’ll find his way back here before too long. I became a fan the first time I heard his Blood Like a River CD, after reading about it here on this site. The piece by Donna’s Americana piqued my interest, and after acquiring the disc and being vastly impressed by everything about it – the songwriting, the arrangements, the playing, the very soul of the artist on display, with no pretentions or BS – I began working my way backward, ordering everything I could find by him. While I’ve encountered stylistic variances through the different albums, I’ve also found consistent quality. I haven’t been disappointed by a single recording.
There was a small crowd when Nathan took the stage at G&S Lounge in South Austin on Sunday. The sets had begun at 12:30pm, and the hard wooden chairs took their toll on the audience’s stamina. Those who stayed, however, were treated to something very special and rare, and were visibly impressed with his set. One person sitting at the back of the room moved up to an empty chair on the front row in order to get as close as he could to the music and its maker.
Nathan drew from several albums, including 1989’s Bell & Shore disc L Ranko Motel (‘Radio V-i-e-t-n-a-m’), 2009’s Black crow blue (‘Crow in Oklahoma’), several from Blood like a river (‘Turn out the lights’, The Snowman’, ‘Fade out’ and ‘Names’ as an encore request), plus a few from his upcoming release I don’t do this for love, I do this for love. I can’t recall any titles from these newer songs, but they were all great, and I’ll know them again when I hear them. One was a father’s musings about suddenly realizing how savvy and wise his son had become (‘Damn, damn, damn – where’d he learn to think that way…my son’s gonna be OK’) and another I believe he said he wrote some time ago, a love song for his wife, containing one of those jewels of a line, ‘If I were a word, I’d be your name’, pouring his heart into it without getting sappy even for a second – breathtakingly honest, like all of his writing.
It was pretty obvious Nathan was in his element and having a great time. His guitar work was amazing without being overly showy, his voice was in fine form, and he joked and interacted with the audience members with a natural ease of a conversation with an old friend. Several people I know who had never heard him before were there, and I know they’re now fans. Seeing him in person only solidified my admiration of him and his work, and verified for me that my first impressions of the quality of his music were accurate.
His new album should be out soon – I’ll be picking up a copy (as well as some for friends and relations), and I would strongly suggest you do the same.