Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Polly Wolly Doodle All The Day.

My habit has fallen by the wayside, this one-time music reviewing that I used to do. That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a couple few words about the Leon Redbone show I flew out to see in Denver last weekend. I used to annoy him on a fairly regular basis to come to my city and, two months after moving from it, he lands there, with hardly a hint of fanfare. I missed it, obviously, but Colorado beckoned a couple weeks later and I just didn’t want to miss my shot. Luckily, this time, I didn’t.

The classic (at least in the minds of a handful) singer some used to think was either Frank Zappa or Andy Kauffman all trussed up in some kind of disguise played to a sold-out crowd on Saturday night at Swallow Hill. It wasn’t a bar by any stretch or a venue that could house more than a few hundred but in essence, more of a town hall. With the aid of his guitar, a particularly skilled piano player (who sounded like he’d been plucked from a saloon) and a nearby dim lamp, Leon took to the crowd and immediately came across as the perfectly hospitable gentleman he must be in real life. Opting to go with sunglasses and black suit this go-round instead of the traditional Col. Sanders/Kentucky Fried Chicken ambassador getup, his less than 90 minutes of a set was a casual stroll of sorts through his fairly vast catalog of the old and particularly obscure.

Among so many others, then, he gave us “Polly Wolly Doodle,” “Diddy Wa Diddie,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Champagne Charlie” and “Shine On Harvest Moon.” He didn’t care to stop at simply rifling through his songs and offering up the smattering of hits that never really were. There were long guitar interludes that seemed to lean in the Django Reinhardt direction rather easily and so much whistling, both Andrew Bird and birds in general (cockatiels in particular) would likely have left feeling a bit threatened by his ability.

The feeling was that he’d invited us to his time gone by: it was like clambering into a time machine. Like Tiny Tim before him, his desire to expose music that was no longer heard and rarely played (much of it coming right out of the 30s and earlier) seemed to cast him as someone stuck in an era most in the crowd either hadn’t experienced themselves or had forgotten about. And he did it in such a way that we felt he belonged exactly where he was. He wasn’t a new musician playing old songs as much as he was a well-preserved musician playing what came the easiest.

And, for a recluse of a singer with the voice that occasionally sounds like he’s got a frog permanently lodged in his throat, the intrigue factor was high. Yes, we enjoyed and smiled our faces off, especially when he’d continually joke that the next song was a sing-a-long number (though none ever really were). Even those working the merch table (with no new album to offer up) were wont to ask those in the room how old he was, a bit of information he’s deliberately chosen to never reveal. And, in the end, it didn’t much matter.

With a few tips of his hat using his cane and a quick grin before he disappeared, we left knowing little more about him than we did before he appeared. Still, that was okay. For the time we had him around, we may as well have all been gathered in front of a large radio in the pre-TV era, soaking it all in. We’d come for a show and Leon gave us one.

Fair Thee Well, indeed.

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