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!"
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 beauty...my 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 point...as 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...
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
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
"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...
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
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
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
"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 ..."
...an 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...
...by 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...