Living Room 5-15-06
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     I don't know if it's a circumstance common to all writers -- or perhaps yet another evidence of my own "insanity" -- that even when I have an idea or subject or event I feel most inspired to capture in words, I often find myself deeply hesitant to actually get down to the business of doing so...not uncommonly, in fact, lamenting the more pressing matters of work and other deadlines and commitments only to the very same degree I secretly welcome these "necessary" excuses so "legitimately" preventing me from moving forward in a more timely fashion.
     I mention this here as many of you visiting this page may recall a desire to "get on with" a full-scale review of this show as the excuse I gave for offering only a meager introduction to the one I attended at The Bitter End the night before.  And, I therefore feel it relevant to not only state the obvious -- (at least some) artists are full of (pretty poor) excuses -- but more than that, to confess I again find myself struggling to create a "proper" introduction/companion essay to preface a May 2006 McDermott performance in NYC.
     Having now embarked upon this challenge, however, I feel it likewise relevant to explain that another reason for artistic procrastination is, believe it or not, the very passion that inspires it.  In other words, when a topic one wishes to "capture in words" has struck one in such a complete and profound way that he or she is willing to go through the frenzied frustration of fighting for time to do so --  and deal with the guilt of clamoring to put up obstacles to keep one from doing so at the same time -- well, when one finally does "get on with" it, there's more than a little self-imposed pressure to create something every bit as spectacular as the event itself..  
     And, when the event in question is one of the shortest Michael McDermott shows I've ever witnessed...which also just happens to be one of the best -- needless to say, the pressure rises.  
     Be that as it may -- at last -- "once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"

     It occurred to me even as this show was still in progress that it not only indeed provided a snapshot of Michael at the highest level of passion and intensity of which he's capable as a performer, it also provided -- in the space of a mere eight songs -- a snapshot of his very life and its most significant relationships -- in more or less chronological order.  For example, it began with hometown Orland Park- inspired "Antique Store" -- which, of course, mentions the wonderful parents who provided the raw materials of which this gifted artist is "made"...and which ponders as well "what went wrong" with his first long term romantic relationship, a topic oft revisited throughout Michael's catalog of work.  "Kind of Love Song", which debuted in 2002 at another New York City venue, continued this historical exploration by discussing a second  breakup -- a song honesty compels me to admit I disliked intensely upon first listen, despite its musical objections founded in the line, "the things I'd give my life to do again" -- and the fact I couldn't help thinking (more accurately, scoffing) at the time that in four plus years of dating the person with whom it was written to communicate, every day was indeed just such an opportunity.    Be that as it may, with the distance of another four years since the song was first performed live, honesty compels me to admit as well that on this night it took on a whole new life, separate from the circumstances of its initial composition, having evolved instead into a newly meaningful entity all its own -- hence, serving as a prime example of the dynamic, ever-growing force that is all great art.  
     Moving into more recent lore of the lovelorn came a new song about yet another relationship not meant to be...a matter subject to interpretation, some might assert -- my own opinion based on the self-interest of the loved one implicit in the lines, "hey, pretty baby, get out of my mind, gal, for good...I know it's not up to you, but I doubt if you would if you could."  (i.e. from my perspective a "destined" love is more along the lines of the O'Henry story "The Gift of the Magi", in which each person is primarily concerned about the other's happiness above -- or rather, as a primary source of -- his or her own.  And, of course, in an ideal union, the happiness of both parties is ultimately thereby served).  Again, however, presented as a duet with a highly competent songstress on this particular night, the tune nonetheless likewise fit perfectly into this artful and insight-filled set.
     Of course, I realize at this juncture, you may well be saying, "Hmm...this seems a little more like an assessment of Michael's personal life than a show" -- and a rather judgmental assessment at that.  Fair enough.  However, therein lies the I've noted in prior reviews of great McDermott performances, Michael's art does not merely "imitate" life -- it IS life -- his life.  And, it has therefore become natural for those of us who've known him and/or his work for a number of years to indeed react with sometimes strong opinions to his musical summations of this life based on our own intertwined experience -- by virtue of either reputation or firsthand acquaintance with the characters in his songs, the insights into his own nature as provided through literally hundreds of compositions that indeed lay his soul bare...and, of course, our own lives, relationships, and natures...all of which shape our own "art" -- i.e. our own lives.  
     The reason I'm detailing all of this here, however, is merely to bring to light the fact his work is REAL.  For, it is this reality that not merely strikes chords of agreement, disagreement, compassion, commiseration -- sometimes even indignation -- with us (who may think ourselves, anyway) "in the know" to some degree, it is also this reality that reminds us how much more there is TO know, in the sense of how much more far-reaching are these stories, how much more a slice of other people's/our own lives they also represent -- and how their appeal becomes so much more universal upon a second (and third and fourth) look -- or rather hearing -- than we may have realized possible when each is/was first performed..  
     And so, at last, I come to the reason such a strange introduction seems the most appropriate collection of words I can come up with to explain the appeal of this particular show.  After all, to describe seeing Michael at his artistic best is really merely about indeed "seeing" Michael...the best and worst within him, the questions, the searching...for answers perhaps waiting to be found in the moments he lives before us these glimpses of his past in the present onstage.    And THAT reality is one about which I make no apologies for my judgment -- which is to declare Michael's gift one of the most unique and awe-inspiring experiences to be "lived" by any true aficionado of art -- that is to say, anyone truly "alive".  
   How appropriate this shared experience of living should take place at a venue called...


Michael McDermott 
The Living Room,



An eager crowd awaited Michael's appearance on the stage...

...and perhaps it should have proved a sign that this night would wind up far from "ordinary" when he opened with the highly unusual circumstance of offering commentary even before beginning his first song.  Noting that he likes to say he's from Chicago, he went on to confess he actually hails from the suburb of Orland Park...a place he described as "nothing but golf courses and antique stores".  Of course, in my book it's notable for a more "legendary" distinction -- having produced one amazing talent (okay, two, if you count Donald Trump's first "Apprentice" Bill Rancik, but the latter of those is a matter to be decided by a whole different group of fans...).   As Michael further added at a 2005 show in Valparaiso, IN, it therefore seems strange in retrospect it took him so long to get around to writing a song called... "Antique Store".   Hmm...I wonder if my theory of procrastination based on passion has an application in this case.  Somehow, I think not.  However, there's no wondering whether the long awaited result inspires passion in an audience...

"There's a bell on the screen door,
Wind chimes tell a tale..."

Next came a song from Michael's upcoming acoustic album, and one which may or may not deal with any of the specific relationships mentioned in this page's preface.  Nonetheless, it's one which certainly melds seamlessly into the evening's theme of reflecting on where one has been and a bit of dismay as to where all this may add up to standing now -- "A Long Way From Heaven"...

"I'm wandering and I still can't find
These things I need to leave behind..."

Still, Michael wouldn't be Michael if he didn't face his self-dissatisfaction with a healthy dose of humor.    To amuse the audience while tuning his guitar in preparation for the song to follow, Michael confided that he earns "hundreds of dollars a year" in his occupation as traveling minstrel -- yet he still hasn't purchased a guitar tuner.  "I'm working on it," he concluded with a grin...then embarked on a tale of another work-in-progress -- that of Michael McDermott as explored via "A Wall I Must Climb"...

"Then I smiled for a second,
And for that second I felt just fine..."

After this came the aforementioned composition debuted at Makor in July 2002, "A Kind of Love Song", which indeed sounded far more than a "kind of" lovely tonight...

"My love is like a raging river; sometimes it'll crash you upon the rocks.
These nights alone I start to shake and shiver...listening to the ticking of the clocks."

 Michael then announced this would be the "good looking portion of the show" and called Courtney to the stage to accompany him on the duet also mentioned in this page's introduction -- a brand new song entitled, "Still Ain't Over You Yet"...

"Yeah, even together, still something seemed so wrong;
It's got me turned upside down and it's got me writing this song..."

As the generous applause following this began to subside Michael joked, "How do I top that?  I should probably just end the show now...  But, I won't," he added, his tone becoming slightly rueful, going on to remark, half to himself (?), "The things I should do and the things I actually do..."  Personally, I'm thankful in this case for the latter -- especially given the fact not ending the show meant one of its greatest highlights was immediately upcoming...a truly vintage and yet wholly new rendition of a fave I once listened to repeatedly in recorded form, never knowing I would someday witness it live -- also repeatedly -- and never did it sound more magnificent in its ragged, spine-tingling beauty than on this night...

"My soul feels just like leather,
For you've painted it with the scars that you adore..."

...nor did a song I've only heard live on a trio of occasions -- "Mess of Things"...which already seems a song I'll still likewise be thrilled to hear at many more McDermott shows for years and years to come...

"The circus lights shine as bright as day
(And you know, quite frankly)
I'm terrified by what you might say..."

Unfortunately, it seems all in attendance would soon be forced to look toward those as yet to be announced future shows in order to live such a wonderful evening of music again, since the very next song -- "Drink You Off My Mind" -- would prove the last of this amazing night...

"I stumble in the half-light somewhere in between,
And I can't seem to let go, I can't leave you behind ..." experience no one wanted to leave behind, as evidenced by the thunderous applause at the set's conclusion.    That said, while time constraints apparently prevented an encore despite this unanimously positive response, I'm sure I speak for everyone in attendance in expressing the hope Michael will once more make himself at home in the comfort of... returning there (and other venues on the East Coast) in the months ahead.

For the moment, however, on this triumphant note I once more close, adding only...


As always, 

Thank You, Michael!

And, again,

Please come back SOON!!!









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