Valpo, IN 2-20-05
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"If my words are still unclear, perhaps these pictures will illuminate...after all, that's what an artist does best."                                    
from  The Bridges of Madison County


     I don't know if it's the result of my having a bit of experience in both writing and acting for the stage, or perhaps the fact that theater owners/operators seem more likely than the management of many other venues to understand and thoroughly embrace the common artistic purpose of both music and drama productions (which is, according to textbook definition, "to provide a unified effect on an audience").  But, whatever the reason,  I've long since concluded there are few other places on earth so well-suited to the drama that is a collection of original songs -- lived out onstage by the person who created them -- than "the boards" of a "real" theater.  
     That said, I was particularly excited at the prospect of seeing Michael McDermott -- arguably one of the finest "dramatists" I know -- present an evening of his works in such a setting.   To experience the privilege of sitting in the audience, watching and listening to life itself being revealed -- indeed re-created in bits and pieces, the darkened room illuminated by the beauty and truth captured in each story told in song -- must surely prove a wondrous and magical undoubtedly worthy of sharing a space at times occupied by Shaw, Beckett, Williams, et. al.
     And now, with that event behind me, I can tell you with absolute certainty that my anticipation was not in the least misplaced. For, it was an evening that indeed combined all of the finest characteristics of any play -- great writing, fine performances, a spellbound audience -- and the bittersweet knowledge that what was transpiring would exist (in precisely that form) only in the "here and now" of one incredible night. 
     And an incredible night it was... 

Michael McDermott 

Featured artist in the...


music series, presented by....

Valparaiso, IN

This "midwinter's tale" began with IN artists, Acoustic X -- a clearly talented (and obviously well-rehearsed) group I thought among the finest openers for any McDermott show I've yet experienced.  Sharing several songs from their new album, 

(recorded, as you'll note from the photo-link above, under their alter-ego "Electric X"), and showcasing an appealing versatility by switching off lead vocal duties throughout their set, these highly talented artists quickly "set the stage" for a full evening of great music to come.

And, of course, no sooner had they departed, and the lights come up on Michael at the piano, than this promise continued to be fulfilled.  In fact, throwing out the old adage of "saving the best for last", the very first song quite arguably proved my favorite of the night (although there were certainly many contenders likewise worthy of that distinction).  An "older" song, so I've been told, this was nonetheless the live debut of the delicate and beautiful, "Misguided Companion"...




   "... no matter how cold your 
               heart may grow,

      Better keep that hunger yearning...

      'Cause no matter how long the 
               road may seem,

       There always comes a turning."




Immediately thereafter (joined on guitar by Angelo Santuccci) Michael moved on to another debut, this one a questioning composition centered around much harsh self-examination and the paradoxical nature of mankind -- wherein reside both "The Lamb and The Lion" -- and these (as one might expect) not always living so harmoniously...

"I had to stop just to keep myself going,
So many things I have yet to be knowing.
In the distance I see your light glowing..."

Next came Angelo's turn at the piano, as Michael switched to guitar and invited Lance to the stage for his first appearance of the night, on "Arm Yourself".  A song much more familiar to regular McD show attendees than the ones we'd heard so far, it was still one no less welcome...especially given the fact it was introduced by a verse of the lovely Van Morrison classic, "I'll Be Your Lover, Too"...






   "I'll be your man...

     I'll understand...

     I'll be your man....

     And I'll be your
                   lover, too...

     Yes, I will."











                        "Dim lit dreams dance in 
                                     darkened doorways,

                          While the scent lingers of
                                     a crescent moon


                           A phantom jack-of-irons
                                      scours the highways,

                            While the swan and the
                                       nightingale cry..."





Returning to the piano himself once again, Michael recounted for this audience a tale he'd told at The Point in Bryn Mawr, PA during his Sept. appearance there, regarding the inspiration behind "Hold Back A River"...and the negative outcome of his actions subsequent to writing it.  If you haven't already heard that story for yourself (or read my assessment of it before), I suggest you follow the link above to the page reviewing the show in question.  And, if you do recall my comments as to whether it's Michael or the girl in question who seems more than "a little crazy sometimes" given this situation, I continue to stand by them.  Of course, I also continue to stand by the theme of "" in thinking sanity overrated...just not in this particular case!&*!^*!  

Nonetheless, I'm grateful the result was this wonderful "madman's tune"...




    "Got a roof over my head,

      But my floor's falling through...

      Getting drunk every night

       From talking 'bout you."




Switching back to guitar yet again, and giving both Angelo and Lance a break from their duties, Michael next revisited a place from his distant past -- Gethsemane.  And, from there he plucked the amazing surprise of "The Idler, The Prophet and a Girl Called Rain", which he dedicated to a rapidly read list of folks in attendance whose names I failed to catch.  What I'm certain no one present missed, however, was the beauty of this longtime favorite song of many fans -- a song rarely played live, and one almost never played live on an instrument other than piano.   And, I'm sure all would agree that it suffered nothing from either the translation or its long period of hibernation...




                  "'Rain', he said, 'tell me again,

                     How you got your funny name.'

                     My house is the only one on
                            that street...

                     I live at 1 South Rainey's Lane.'"




Remaining at the guitar, but returning to the present day, a song from Michael's latest album, Ashes, followed -- the wistful, yet hope-tinged, "Baby I" (for which he was once more accompanied by Lance and Angelo, although this time the latter on mandolin)...





    "Somewhere down
                Division St.

      Come a day, my love,
                 we'll meet..."





Reaching back a little further into his bag of musical tricks, Michael took a trip to his 2000 release, Last Chance Lounge, to recall what one might think the less than happy circumstance that is being "Unemployed".  It seems from the expressions shared by both him and Lance, however, that they instead found the whole matter inexplicably amusing.  Of course, maybe the mood of the CST audience had merely made its way so completely onto the stage that they simply couldn't help feeling "overjoyed"!!!




    "You can call me
           a slacker,

       You can call me
            a waste...

        But I'm just 
             a pauper

         With a prince's



Growing only semi-serious once more, Michael then announced to the audience that he was relying on their applause as a guide in his decision whether to include the song that followed on his next album -- and offered a bit of background on its creation as part of his "sales-pitch".  Noting it captured a "scenescape" of the neighborhood surrounding the 620 W. Surf apartment in which he used to live, Michael said he'd written "Borderline" on a listless Friday night, when he "didn't have anything else to do.  I had no money...didn't have a I wrote a song".  Hmm...that's some pretty efficient  -- and profitable -- use of time, if you ask me...





   "And there's nowhere to go

     When you're all boxed in...

     There's every way to lose

     and no chance to win..."




Returning yet again to the piano, Michael announced briefly, "My dad's here"...and while he meant this in the literal sense, I think anyone new to his work and/or hearing the next song for the first time realized by its end that his statement would likewise prove true anywhere Michael himself might go.   And, to those of us already aware of this reality, such a declaration could only mean the song being introduced was, of course, "My Father's Son"...






           "I see myself there in his eyes

             'Cause I'm my father's son..."





Upon concluding, Michael continued his comments by wryly noting, "Well, since the whole damn family's here...I'm gonna do this one for my mom".  Going on to explain only that he'd written the next tune on an Amtrak train, he began without further ado -- then stopped briefly at the realization, "They're even in the same key...that's pretty weird!" (Actually, given he's his mother's son every bit as much as his dad's, I think the commonality not weird at all.  Be that as it may) there was certainly nothing weird about the lovely (and slightly modified) version of #49 Michael went on to share -- well, after taking just a wee bit of refreshment, that is...





   "Yeah, it gets mighty cold
                  after dark...

     I was walking alone
                  through Battery Park...








          And down to 
                     the south

           I saw a spark

           Coming from,
               coming from

            A lady's candle..."




Still at the piano, Michael moved on to yet another of his newest compositions, prefacing it with the explanation that there are a lot of antique stores in his hometown of Orland Park.  Allowing a bit of unanticipated humor to creep in he went on to ponder why it took him "so long to write a song called...'Antique Store'", quickly adding, "Next month I'm gonna work on "Grocery Store, and then..."Hey, I don't want to discourage artistic inspiration by any means, but maybe this is one instance where the phrase "quit while you're ahead" could be really good advice!






     "There's a stunning
               iron crucifix

        Hanging crooked 
                on the wall..."




That said, I'm sure glad Michael didn't act on that advice back when his first release likewise proved his first success.  Of course, I'm referring to "A Wall I Must Climb"...a song, incidentally, very competently covered by Brian Fitzpatrick at a recent NJ show...

"I tried to connect us in some way,
But we were on two different shores...

Love is a wall I must climb."

Hesitating briefly, Michael weighed options for what would follow -- with Lance and Angelo hovering nearby as they awaited his decision.  Apparently sensing a bit of impatience, Michael jokingly blurted, "Don't rush me!" before arriving at a definite choice, and ushering the pair from the stage entirely to perform the next song alone on the piano.  And, a great choice it was -- in fact, undoubtedly another favorite of the night (and yet another new composition) "Molly Mockingbird"...

"I ain't got a dime, babe...
What I've got I'll gladly give to you.
Let's lay it on the line, babe...
It's the only way we'll ever make it through."

Thanking everyone "for coming out" to be at this amazing show, Michael then switched back to guitar to offer a song I'd first heard on the September evening at the Point mentioned above -- "Long Way From Heaven"...





          streets with
           rain and light...

       I'm not feeling
            like myself




Unfortunately, next came that announcement dreaded by all McD show attendees...the news that the set was officially winding down.  Promising to do "maybe two more...but no encore", Michael was again joined by Lance and Angelo for a rousing performance of "Twenty Miles South of Nowhere"...





         "Dan sat at the bar,

          He was talking about his car

          With Alice...





              She was heading out to Vegas,

              Running from her dark days in Dallas...









                She had a brother  she 
                                 could stay with,

                 She said he didn't know 
                                she was coming..."





...which he concluded with an extended bit of jamming with his comrades in arms. Following this, Michael moved on to what was to be the final song of the evening -- one whose opening strains made me rethink that assessment regarding the set's first song.  For, when I recognized these belonged to "Never Going Down Again", I decided perhaps he'd indeed saved the best for last after all...





       "Sometimes you feel surrounded,

         Sometimes you're ready to fight.

         Sometimes you feel confounded

          In the palest of light..."




However, as I noted in that earlier comment, determining what constitutes one's "favorite" or what's "best" is a far from exact science given the number of exceptional songs in Michael's repertoire.  But, backing up a comment made even earlier on this page, Chicago Street Theater's Paul Braun (who had served as sound tech, introduced the acts this evening, and who now appeared to conclude the show) provided a perfect illustration of my words about a theater's operators being completely "in tune" with the audience's appreciation of such great "drama".  Rejecting Michael's attempt to wiggle out of an encore, Paul coaxed him back for one more song -- to the audience's delight.   And, despite having already given a hundred and ten percent in fighting through the lingering effects of a cold that had made his job more difficult the entire evening, Michael rose to the challenge admirably...sharing such a passion-filled performance of "When It Comes To You"... 





                     "So put a tourniquet
                            around my heart...

                       To keep it from
                             falling apart..."





...that he not only shook his bottle of water right off the piano, but nearly shook the piano itself right off its stand!!!                                 

Talk about ending a show with a bang, huh?!?!

In any case, with that final bit of "drama" the show indeed did end, and Michael exited the stage once and for all, to the sounds of heartfelt cheers and applause...

...leaving me to only add...many thanks to...

...and, of course...


As always, 

Thank You, Michael (and Angelo and Lance)!

Once more,

I warn you Chicago (and IN!)

I Will Be Back!!!





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