For once in a long while, things worked out. I was doing some research for an essay on Marshall Crenshaw’s debut album and wondered just what Mr. Crenshaw was up to nowadays. I knew he had put an album out a few years back, and that he continued to play shows, but hadn’t checked in on him in a while and would soon be glad I had.
Just so happens, Marshall Crenshaw had signed up to play three shows at the City Winery, a wine bar/restaurant/performance space in downtown New York. And I hadn’t just missed those shows, either – they were a few weeks away, and would be in celebration of the 30th anniversary of that very same self-titled debut album, where it would be played straight-through. That the album came out in 1982 and this was only 2011 didn’t matter at all to me, because it was already like magic that this coincidence had arisen and when stuff like that happens I don’t ask questions.
I had been to the City Winery once before, to see the magician Ricky Jay be interviewed for the New Yorker Festival. The crowd was fine, skewed older, though the beautiful venue was a cut above my usual cultural tastes. But I also write about hamburgers, so my tastes run wide, if occasionally shallow. I do like the idea of it, a kind of dinner theatre without the probably unfair connotations. The venue caters to a particular kind of sensibility, I think, and the thoughtful pop of Marshall Crenshaw fit in well with the sophistication of the surroundings.
I was also excited for the show because, as with these artists who have been around awhile, I asked my father to go. I arranged for seats in the back, raised up a little bit, for a better view and for another special reason. But those seats reminded me of another concert I took my dad to, a Gin Blossoms show back at, yes, the Downtown in Farmingdale (of the ’02 Almost Queen and Tonic shows). The artists had pleasant, brisk music in common, to the point where Crenshaw wrote at least one song with the Gin Blossoms.
For about twenty minutes before the concert, a screen in front of the stage showed us performance clips and interviews with Marshall Crenshaw from the early 1980s. We saw him play Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba (during which he vaguely resembles an older version of the Mighty Ducks‘ Les Averman) and we caught glimpses of his wry sense of humor and cool midwestern confidence, the same confidence that would propel an artist to make music somewhat independent of the dominant style of its time, as long as it was good music. And it was.
Crenshaw and his drummer, guitarist and bassist didn’t hop right into the album. They set the stage by playing four songs from earlier in Crenshaw’s career that were only released later, if at all. And after the album, as a sort of encore, the band did other favorites, cushioning the main event at the center of the evening.
It was a genuine thrill to hear the album live, with a fuller band sound. Funny how that happens when it’s live. But the drums seemed heavier, the bass richer, really making some of the tracks stand out very much more than they usually do. “Someday, Someway” was the biggest hit from the record, but “Cynical Girl” and “Mary Anne” were the songs I heard most often growing up. I wouldn’t know the other tracks as well, not having heard them as much, but eventually I became familiar with them and it was pleasantly surprising to hear those fleshed out. “Girls…” and “Rockin’ Around in NYC” were those that benefited most from the heavier sound of the live show. But as for the ones I knew best, “Cynical Girl” was a bucket-list type song to have heard and enjoyed. I believe that one is now played down a step to G from the A of the record version, owing to vocal changes I suppose, but that downshift contributed to the fullness with little compromise to the melody.
As an added bonus, I had signed us up to meet-and-greet Marshall Crenshaw after the show. I had no burning questions to ask, but I shook the hand that strummed those chords and he did sign my CD. I could only say that I’ve enjoyed those songs since I was a kid, too dumbfounded to think of anything else. My dad did engage him in conversation and that was a treat to watch. Mr. Crenshaw said he dug the father-and-son thing. Down to earth. Kind of surreal.
Then on the way home, I got a text from my friend and turned on the radio and heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed.