Nestled underneath the streets of Charlottesville, the dark cavernous basement of The Southern seemed like an ideal locale for commiseration and post-election mourning.
From the small stage with her five piece band, Lydia Loveless described a life of touring under a black cloud. One day, she said, you wake-up and a racist and misogynist has been elected to be your president.
But as Ohio goes so goes the country. Despite the best efforts of the two Ohioans on the blll (including Loveless and the show’s opener, Nashville transplant Aaron Lee Tasjan), two kindred spirits tried to make sense of the week that was, playing subterranean post-election blues.
Standing onstage alone with her electric guitar, Loveless’ “Can’t Change Me” had a defiant and angrier undtone. And when she ruefully sang “I guess I should get used to November by now” from “Desire,” the centerpiece of the documentary Who Is Lydia Loveless?, the written words of grueling inner turmoil had extra resonance. The depth of emotion that brought the club to utter quiet caught one so offguard it was stunning.
In her coonskin cap, Loveless looked like she was calling to order a meeting of the rock and roll lodge. She admitted it was hard to feel very rock and roll wearing a sweater but with three guitars, the music took care of itself. “Midwestern Guys” had the guitar density of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. During “More L:ike Them,” she and guitarists Todd May and Jay Gasper killed it, with drummer George Hondroulis and Gapser all smiles coming out of the song they knew they all nailed.
If Gasper exhibited his own wildness with fingers flying during “More Like Them,” May was like a man possessed during “Head.” Running into the mic in his baseball cap, he almost sent it falling into the audience, as the force sent his hat flying in the process. In “Out on Love,” things got trippy during Gasper and Mays’ workshop, with Gasper kneeling and sitting conjuring some mystical Eastern sounds and May dialing up some synth lines in open space.
May’s vocals underpin the expansive pop montage and sounds of Real. So it was great to see him spontaneously step to the mic to sing with Loveless during “Bilbao.” When it came time for “Longer,” we just imagined the great vocal build of the record watching Loveless mouth it to herself as the song ended.
Loveless sang Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” without any trace of irony. Outside at the merchandise counter you could buy her cover of Kesha’s “Blind” on white vinyl. But perhaps the greatest reinterpretation of the night was of her own song, during a closing solo version of “Chris Isaak.”
Looking back on a coming of age romance of a decade ago, she sang in a way that put the emotions in the present–timeless and in a way we hadn’t heard before. It’s her greatest gift to reimagineher catalogue from night to night. Depending on which lens you’re looking through or which intonations Loveless is exhibiting at that moment, you can always point to something that’s new on any given night. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Tasjan opened his set thanking the gathering of friends and neighbors. Paired with electric guitarist Bruce Wright, his “Gone Gone” had a kind of rockabilly energy as the two-man band riffed off one another. The duo struck up stellar harmonies laid over the cascade of emotive stories in “Memphis Rain.” Vocally there were British pop hints of Badfinger and 10cc. Wright’s guitar vocabulary accentuated subtlety.
His playing turned ferocious in the tortuous song “Ready To Die” that Tasjan introduced as a favorite for grandparent days and children’s birthday parties. Tasjan howled and brought up the ghost of Hank Williams. In his intro to “Little Movies,” Tasjan’s wry humor came out as he recalled once receiving a paper napkin of acid in Nebraska. While not advocating for drug use, he certainly seemed a proponent of advancing his own folklore, vouching for it fueling a creative binge resulting in “Little Movies” and three other songs.
Tasjan’s gift of gab and verbosity reminds one of a modern day Arlo Guthrie, perhaps capable of reciting if not improvising his own version of “Alice’s Restaurant” someday. During the set he exclaimed that he had his eyes on a future Nobel Prize forty years down the road–and previewed the chorus of a prophetic new song he’s working on.
“The answer my friend is on the Internet,” he revealed of its lyrics. “The answer is on the Internet.”
Perhaps current events had a more immediacy on this night. Reflecting on the week that was, he pretty much summed it up before “12 Bar Blues” when he said:
”We’re in some deep shit.”