Steve Poltz: One To Watch For At SXSW
With all the recent talk around the site of who to catch at SXSW, I couldn’t help but think of the loveliness of Steve Poltz. If you’re thinking to yourself about now, “Who the hell is Steve Poltz?” you probably know him better than you think. Remember the 90’s? That magical decade when flannel was king and Seattle its kingdom? It was also a magical time to be a woman. The music world was suddenly turned into a Garden of Eden where Lilith, not Eve, reigned supreme. In direct contrast to the testosterone that was driving grunge, women began to strum acoustic guitars, play pianos, leave things unshaven and carve their own niche in music. One in particular, a homeless, ethereal Alaskan named Jewel captured our hearts. From first yodel, America was smitten and one of her songs, the one you most likely only managed to get out of your head last week, “You Were Meant For Me,” still ranks high on Billboard’s list of Top 100 Hits Of All Time.
So what, you may ask, does this have to do with Steve Poltz? Well, if you were to dust off that old copy of Pieces Of You, you would notice his name right next to Jewel’s on “You Were Meant For Me.” That’s the short story. The long story is that he co-wrote it with her on a romantic getaway to Mexico that turned into a whale-watching voyage gone awry with twenty kilos of pot and an army of machine gun toting Mexican federales.
And umm, just watch the vid below…
An even longer story is that the ways in which you may know Steve are much more numerous than that. His songs have been featured in Jeep commercials. His fans include the likes of Neil Young and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. In his spare time he likes to hang out with AJ Croce (yes, son of Jim). Also, he’s probably the most incessant touring musician on the planet, he was voted San Diego’s most influential artist of the decade, and he still finds time to practice yoga and co-host songwriting workshops at the top of the High Sierra’s in Yosemite National Park. Yeah, I’m winded just writing about it. But Steve manages to do it all in stride and lucky for us, put it all into song along the way.
With his 51st birthday only two weeks behind him, Poltz is now most often referred to as a “veteran troubadour.” A moniker that, hand in hand with his biography, brings to mind a life made of and for song. Taken straight from the biography section of his website, Steve was “born in Halifax, Nova Scotia but has lived most of his life in Southern California and those geographic poles are quite likely responsible for his unhinged genius. Over the course of his life he’s met Elvis Presley (who hugged his sister for far too long), trick or treated at Liberace’s house (each finger had a diamond ring), was Bob Hope’s favorite altar boy (according to him), bravely traveled the world busking before he knew how to do it, famously co-wrote “You Were Meant For Me” with Jewel, pissed off David Cassidy, and can count some of the world’s coolest people as fans.” And well, you can actually listen to most of his biography by way of one of my favorite songs:
Poltz’s critically acclaimed solo career dates back to 1998. After leaving his post as the front man of legendary San Diego pop/punk band The Rugburns, he released One Left Shoe and never looked back (http://poltz.com/words/discography/). In the tradition of John Prine and Randy Newman, Poltz’s songs and albums are marked by his sense of nostalgia, his love of being in love, and his unique brand of satirical humor. Add to this his raw talent for lyrics and his appreciation for a perfect folk-pop melody and you’ve got a man who is truly a step beyond today’s endless supply of acoustic musicians. More than any other musician I know, Steve lives and breathes songwriting, often earning him the title of a “songwriter’s songwriter.” Therefore, while his catalog boasts the heartfelt simplicity of songs like “Everything About You” and “You Remind Me” it also contains his trademark quirk on songs like “Give You Up For Lent” or his album Answering Machine (an album of fifty six, forty five second songs that Poltz originally recorded as the outgoing messages for his answering machine).
However, as any Steve Poltz fan can attest to, nothing compares to catching him live. My first time seeing him was a mere three months ago when he played a couple of local Oregon wineries on two consecutive nights. I laughed, I cried, and found smile muscles in my face that I’m pretty sure I never knew I had. And even though Oregon was his last stop before some much needed time at home, Poltz still managed to perform an over two hour set filled with all the high energy, sweetness, and laughter that he’s known for. Old favorites like “Holliston Street” and “Silver Lining” were interspersed with some of his most legendary answering machine songs (look up “Super Taco Dilemma” on YouTube if you want to see my favorite), as well as some truly inspired covers (“Moon River” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” were among my favorites). On par with the songs themselves, Steve’s between song charisma and storytelling are truly one of a kind. Throughout his set at Harris Bridge Vineyards that first night, Steve not only told us of how he managed to acquire a rug in Turkey at half price by singing some a cappella U2, he also treated us to some of his Dad’s poetry on his iPhone, and a dirty penguin joke or two.
Some vid from Harris Bridge:
An even greater example of Steve’s gravitational stage presence? Due to a skiing accident at the beginning of the tour, he was actually left with a broken hand the night before a sold out stint at a venue called The Old Fire Hall in Rossland, British Columbia. While it would spell suicide for some performers, Steve decided to remedy the situation by simply getting up and talking. Without a single note played or sung, he talked for an hour and a half. And got an encore.
I have to admit; the main goal of this post is a selfish one. Both my financial situation and Northwest location make it impossible for me to attend SXSW like a good No Depressioner; so instead, I encourage you to go check out Steve’s sets for me. In fact, I dare you to attend Steve’s show on March 16th at The Dogwood or his set at The Continental Club on March 18th and not come away a fan. While you’re there, be sure to pick up a copy of his latest album Dreamhouse. It’s his richest, most cohesive record to date and has been riding high as a favorite amongst fans and critics alike. Highlights include the album’s light as air title track, the can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head catchiness of “Digging For Icicles,” and the instrumental “Song For Kosovo” which beautifully captures Poltz’s talent for fingerstyle guitar melodies.
For Steve Poltz, art inspires life and life inspires art, making him one of the most genuine musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Eschewing mega hits and major labels has earned him a legion of loyal fans, the respect and friendship of some of the best musicians out there and the freedom of following his own artistic vision. I can’t claim to have known Steve from the beginning. Having only really gotten to know him over the past couple of years, I often want to kick myself for having missed out on so many years of his amazing career. However it has afforded me the pleasure of years of backlogged music to discover from a musician that I already love. Join me? 🙂
Steve’s website is one of the most hilarious, touching, and wonderful ways to keep up with him and his maniacal tour schedule. View it here: http://poltz.com/