Pete's Blog

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It was a steamy night in Lambertville Saturday. For once I didn't fret about the size of the audience. If there had been any more people they'd have rubbed against each other uncomfortably. As it was, both of my brothers and my sister were there, plus our father. Mom says she'll be strong enough to make the next one, and I believe her. Here's my set from which I cut three numbers (Root Man Boogie, Nobody's Daddy, and Sweet Dreams) on the fly: Mystery Woman Blues A Philly Thing Cupertino Delicious Cookies Belle Virginie The Battle Is Over Down the River By the Allegheny River Crime Against Love Turn to Me (encore) From the Island Below is the opening set. The first three tunes Caleb did by himself, the second three I played guitar and sang harmony, and the last three had his cousin (my nephew) Gilbert Spencer singing trios. It's Time (Tom Waits) I Hurt Myself (Trent Reznor) Lonesome Suzie (Richard Manuel) Nothing Was Delivered (Bob Dylan) Wolverine (Peter Spencer) With Bierce in Mexico (Peter Spencer) Streets of Montreal (Peter Spencer) This Wheel's on Fire (Dylan/Danko) It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Dylan) Dad made an interesting observation about the trio set. He noticed that Gilbert (St. Thomas's Choir, NYC; American Boychoir School) reflected his training by standing very still throughout, producing an even, silky tone on every note, while Caleb and I moved with the performance and attacked each phrase separately, varying tone and texture from note to note. I thought Gilbert's approach worked in this context, especially because he was singing what bluegrassers call the "high baritone" part, the top note in each chord. But blues, or any song style that derives from blues, repays the more varied approach, and any singer would benefit from learning it. A blues or post-blues singer wants to keep the audience off-balance, both to heighten the music's expressivity and to keep them constantly engaged - the way circus performers constantly take bows. In musical terms I'd say the best example is not a singer at all. Listen to Miles Davis, especially on ballads. He's constantly making technical mistakes - lip flubs, missed notes - and constantly recovering in ways that heighten the music's emotional authority. Davis turns what in any other trumpeter would be clams into expressions of touching vulnerability, or ecstatic, technique-be-damned inspiration. It was a huge treat to hear "Streets of Montreal" done the way I'd always intended it. And the arrangement for "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" has been hanging fire for 40 years, since I first heard the Byrds version. Caleb sang brilliantly throughout. In the trios he had the most difficult position, in the middle of the chord, which he held tenaciously despite a near-total lack of support from my extremely shaky alto part. We'll hear the results when the DVD is edited, but the fact is I couldn't be prouder of him.

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