One Magic Night at McCabe’s with Eric Andersen and Scarlet Rivera
Make no mistake about it, song-poet veteran troubadour, Eric Andersen, is an international treasure. The concert at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California provided all who attended with an illustration of this truth.
For over 50 years he has created a musical legacy that has influenced and inspired fans and artists in the United States, Canada and Europe, even as he has flown below the radar of the kind of fame attained by some of his peers. All the while, he has kept to true to himself and his art as he has moved through musical eras, from folk to country, blues, rock, and jazz with uncommon grace and commitment.
Throughout his career Eric Andersen has walked the same musical and lyrical ground as friends like, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but, if the time is taken to explore the breadth of his 50-year musical journey, it is clear he has deepened his own art in ways that has set him apart from even the best singer-songwriters of the last five decades.
With Andersen that journey began in the early 1960’s, but it didn’t stay there.
There are only a handful of singer-songwriters alive today who can authentically call back the years of the original folk music that grew out of New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. This was the official place where Eric Andersen first entered music history. It was a scene where Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk once haunted small smoke-filled venues as they brought together so many varied elements into what was then being called a folk song; these included the poetry of the 1950’s Beats, the folk, country, and blues music of the South with traces of their European ancestor’s affinity for love & murder ballads.
This became Andersen’s musical vocabulary.
Today, there are even fewer artists who continue to actively pursue their art with the passion of a young poet. Andersen is one of them.
So, when singer-songwriter, Eric Andersen, comes to Los Angeles, as he did last month he brought a treasure of new creativity, like his old friend Townes Van Zandt, once wrote, he came with the ‘melody and the rhythm that he’d found.’
He did this on one April night at McCabe’s Guitar Shop. And then some.
He returned to the West Coast, after a two-year absence, with more stories, new projects and songs to share. It has been a jeweled road since his last drive-by through L.A. He brought with him stories and songs from companion-collaborators like the great philosopher, Albert Camus, and outlaw romantic British poet, Lord Byron, to keep him company. He has recently participated in a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the great philosopher, Albert Camus’ only trip to the U.S.A., which included a live performance of his four-song EP titled, The Shadows and Light of Albert Camus in New York City.
So, it was with audience and artist anticipation, that he walked down the familiar narrow flight of stairs at McCabe’s on that Saturday night.
For the historic show, he brought with him two like-minded artists and friends, the fine singer-songwriter and instrumentalist, Steve Postell, and extraordinary violinist, Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s 1975, Rolling Thunder Review, and his landmark album of the same year, Desire.
The show came about by the kind of chance alignment of circumstances that can only happen in a world of gypsy musicians who live and breathe to make music together for audiences like those gathered at McCabe’s.
The result of the evening was musical inspiration enough to ignite a warm fire inside of the hearth of the intimate den within the historic walls of McCabe’s Guitar Shop, a venue that has become an L.A. symbol of those original days in Greenwich Village.
But, if those early days were the first steps for Andersen’s career, this concert showed how far he has come and how much more traveling he will continue to do as he treads along a sometimes solitary path with his ‘thirsty boots,’ well worn.
After a brief solo set by Andersen, lead guitarist, Steve Postell, a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter, delivered a set of songs which were well-crafted, lyrical and reminiscent of the best of the heyday of the L.A. singer-songwriter movement. He was a reminder that fine song craft and performance are still alive and well.
When Andersen brought out Scarlet Rivera, the musical chemistry of the evening took flight. If there was a bit of unease as the set began between the three musicians-this was the first time they played in public together-once they sensed each other’s musical instincts, they came together to caress each measure of each song, with breathless space and beautifully realized solos, all centered on Eric Andersen’s uniquely soulful voice. Musical magic was realized with each song.
At times, when a somewhat hesitant Rivera, became more familiar with the texture and hue of Eric Andersen’s particularly artful way of delivering his songs, a light of recognition and a smile brightened her countenance as she carefully caught the nuance and shades of the musical energy before her.
There were those stand-out moments as when Postell and Rivera found just the right rhythmic riff to compliment Andersen’s classic, “Violets of Dawn.” There was no showmanship in the song’s performance. In fact, the utter simplicity of the space between them gave the music it’s deepest moments. They were three artists in service to the muse they sought that night. It was like hearing the song for the first time.
The set well represented Andersen’s treasury of songs including two from his classic album of the early 70’s, Blue River, along with “Foghorn,” “Rain Falls Down in Amsterdam” and the song he co-wrote with Lou Reed, “You Can’t Re-Live the Past.”
“Thirsty Boots” was especially poignant coming near the show’s end. A song he originally wrote for the great souls who fought in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s, the lyrics take the path of an empathetic poem rather than a preachy anthem. It is a kind of epiphany that represents the unique choices this artist has taken throughout his career. While Dylan was singing the prophetic sermon “The Times They Are A-Changing” Andersen was inviting the weary souls of humanity to rest and heal for the long journey ahead.
As the two-hour show came to an end, Andersen introduced a new song written with his lyrical collaborator, the Romantic 19th Century poet, Lord Byron, simply titled, “Mingle with the Universe,” based on the poem “There is a Pleasure in the Pathless Woods.” He has recently recorded an album of music to Lord Byron’s words. If this song represents what is to come with the new album, it will be another landmark work for an artist who has always chosen the authentic, pathless woods over the paved streets of sure-fire commercial success.
As the three musicians performed the song, it felt like a cosmic, existential gospel finish to an evening full of the true spirituality of music and it’s community. The finale left the audience not feeling nostalgic, but, rather, connected to the gift of the immediacy of the moment buoyed by this wonderful song, delivered with the kind of emotion and heart, which left everyone feeling swept away….free to mingle with the universe.
The evening with Eric Andersen, Scarlet Rivera and Steve Postell nurtured in the audience an experience of songs mingling with words that crystalized into a rough wild gem of collaborative beauty. It was a rare moment, even for McCabe’s, where the magic happens often between musicians and the audience.
Ultimately, the evening belonged to Eric Andersen, walking into his sunset years with Lord Byron, Albert Camus, Scarlet Rivera and an appreciative audience by his side.
Eric Andersen’s too often overlooked legacy is like a secret valley in the Yosemite wilderness, or some undiscovered transcendent meadow in Walden Wood; His 50-year legacy of song is the musical equivalent of this. For the uninitiated, I encourage you, go there.
The injustice remains that Eric Andersen is not a household word in the same way as Dylan or Cohen. But, he prefers to stay out in the wilderness of song. It is up to us to seek him out and join him. He is a songwriter’s songwriter; a song-poet, a title given to him by documentarian-filmmaker, Paul Lamont, for the upcoming 2017 film.
But he is most of all, a gypsy dweller in a universe open to the discovery of pure creativity through the mingling of words, melody and a voice, once as smooth as silk, today rough, elegantly ragged, and worn with the wisdom of a poet whose life continues to be well-lived and loved.
This concert at McCabe’s was an evening to discover the depth of this unique artist. He is truly a walking, living breathing international treasure. His work today shows the beauty of the kind of insight that can only come with time, talent and a willingness to always take chances in the shadows and the light.