Wow. That may be the best show experience I've had since Tony Beliveau handed me a piano string right off the stage.
I arrived in Austin, found a relatively convenient and free parking spot, and confirmed the time of the show with the bartender at the Hole In The Wall (very apt, really). I spent the remaining 7 hours mostly in the car, occasionally in the Burger King next door, finishing Deathly Hallows. I got to the end of the epilogue just in time to go in and watch the openers start setting up, around 9:30. Andrew arrived shortly thereafter, and we sat at the bar chatting (the bartender was very helpful about giving me drinks with no alcohol).
Eventually, some of the guys came up to the bar from their little clique in the corner to get drinks. I said hi to George across Andrew, and he said a surprised hi back, and asked where he knew me from. I explained we'd come to see Crash Kings last time they were in Austin, and introduced myself and Andrew, and stated our cities of habitation. George was impressed with the length of my trip just to see the band, but I told him they were worth it. He hoped so, and told me the show was gonna be pretty different this time, as they had no drummer and were playing acoustics. I didn't mind, as I really liked the acoustic recording of Land Without Age they posted on Youtube, but they had a cojon even on that one, so this was gonna be a new experience for me.
We talked about the albums a bit, and I explained The Gears probably has about 200 plays on my iTunes. "The whole album?!" he asked, and I confirmed. It's a good one for drawing to. The Overload is a little less of a constant companion; I love some of those songs so specifically I can't let the next track roll on. He asked which ones I skip; I know I'm a Cat is his favorite, but I said it anyway with a lot of qualifiers. I just love the first four and Legend of Red Mahogany so much I skip to them.
I had my copy of Dance With Dragons facedown on the bar, so he asked about my book. I showed it to him, and we commiserated over the different levels of action in the various installments of A Song of Ice and Fire. I told him I'd been saving this one for awhile, so I could reread the others and get the foundation of the story back under me, but I eventually gave it up and just started it, as I'm afraid GRRM is going to die before he gets the last ones done. George has apparently met GRRM; he told the story really well. He was hanging out in the Beverly Hills Mariott with his hotel-heir friend, whom he didn't know was the son of the owner until after they'd already been friends in college forever (I told him about Joodles's unexpected descent from the Exec VP of Shell, and he was suitably impressed), when he saw GRRM walk through with some people. He yelled out "I'm a big fan", and got a nod and a smile in return, and then "of the books!", and that made GRRM come over and talk with him a bit. What a fun conversation that could be.
He eventually went back over to his friends, but Tyson came up to get a drink and did a double-take at me and Andrew, saying "look who it is!" and I admitted we were the ones who had stolen their merch table last time they were in town. He was glad to see us, and went around the back while the openers started to play. I'm sure they were skilled and talented, but punk is not my genre, and I think the rest of the bar concurred, as they (Trophy Kids, I believe they were called) garnered only polite applause and seemed content with it.
And then King Washington came on and did two whole songs for their sound check, soliciting feedback from the all of 12 people in the bar about the sound. Did anything need turning up or down? Nobody said so, so they played amazing show.
They started with Hey Boy, which I don't know well, as the singular recording on Youtube is not very good-quality audio, but I certainly loved it live. They did an awful lot of songs I did know, though, and Andrew and I tracked the various levels of obviousness of Beatles influence from song to song. Andrew even said he recognized several of the ones they had played at the first show we saw.
George asked me by name from the stage how I liked the acoustic versions of their songs, which was fun. I said "I love it!" and I was very enthusiastic, but he teased me about how when people's voices go up like that they might not mean what they say. I reassured him that I spoke the truth; I really did love it. Everything was just as powerful as the studio recordings, and the several unfamiliar tunes grabbed me I'm sure just as hard as they would have if it'd been an electric show.
It is an interesting thing, being a musician. I am sure there are people who love individual pieces of music as much or more than I do, but it is a delicate thing, a live show. The experience is so easy to mar, or even ruin, with the wrong atmosphere. I try not to be a snob about concert etiquette at classical shows, and I think I succeed pretty well, but it still draws me inexorably out of the potential greatness when somebody is continuously unwrapping candy next to me, or a kid is kicking my seat, or a hard-of-hearing couple are faux-whispering comments to each other. These are not occurrences that can screw up a rock show, and for that I am grateful; even acoustic shows are so much louder than any bar ambiance that I can be totally immersed in both the sound and the sight of the guys on stage pouring music into the air. When it is music I have obsessed about independently of live performance, there is the added dimension of interactivity; they are people, and they play music, and I am a person who can play music, too.
If you've been on tour for 10 weeks and you're stalling to figure out the progression of a song you haven't played in awhile, and your words have left you, you can say that into the microphone and it will remind me that you are real, someone real created this stuff that I love, and it is possible to do amazing things in the world even if you aren't a constant paragon of perfect stage presence. If you flub the progression a little bit when you play the aforementioned song, and then recover beautifully and rock a scorching solo, and then explain sheepishly how in those 10 weeks you have somehow forgotten to play the guitar (especially if I happen to know you are an utter guitar badass, a graduate of the USC guitar program), it is endearing and reassuring, because you are real! It is not a mean indictment of your mistake that brings me joy. You are a person! You are not a recording, and I am not either, and that means I can aspire to your level someday.
I don't know if these things and a sense of bone-deep rightness soak into fans who don't write or play themselves, but when I see a show full of greatness, especially flawed and goofy greatness, in an idiom I can analyze and appreciate and identify all the aspects of which I like, some of which seem to be precisely tailored to my musical preferences, it's not just an academic satisfaction. It's the closest I think my humanistic soul comes to a religious experience. Except it's also fun.
George insisted they were done when they played their last song, as "that is literally all the songs we know", but somebody shouted out "Tom Waits!" and it was on. He encored, by himself, while Billy and Tyson started loading out their amps and instruments, with 3 tom waits songs. He took requests for the first two, one of which was The House Where Nobody Lives, and then did the one he was going to do in the first place, The Heart of Saturday Night. I wished I could have remembered the one I like from his soundcloud, All the World is Green, but it was fantastic just to hear him say "that's my jam!" when somebody asked for something he liked. He eventually begged off around 1, admitting he could play Tom Waits all night.
Andrew didn't stay long, but I waited around, finishing my Bloody Mary Mix (I told you the bartender was helpful). Tyson came and sat with the table of girls next to me, and George eventually came and sat down with me. I asked for a copy of The Gears for the way home, since they hadn't had any left last time, and I couldn't burn a cd despite having a computer day job. He asked me what my job was, and I ended up basically pitching OpenStax to him. I admitted I wasn't really looking forward to going to work tomorrow, though, and he realized I still had to drive back to Houston. "Get outta here!", he said, but I said it wouldn't make much difference. He loved the idea, of OpenStax, anyway, and was very enthusiastic about accessibility and openness, and recommended me the Aaron Swartz documentary, which I have to admit sounded painfully sad but excellent.
He mentioned they're going straight from Austin to Phoenix, so we talked about driving and long trips and touring, and I said I thought I would do well in the touring life. He said it's hard, especially a ten-week jaunt like they've been doing. I know that, but he misses his family and friends and girlfriend, and I don't have any friends ("I'm sure that's not true," he said seriously, but for real, very few of my friends live here, so I might see more of them if I were a nationally touring entity), so I think I'd be suited to it. And the driving.
I mentioned I stay awake by singing, and he hypothesized probably not on 16-hour trips, so I told him about the Kansas City to Boston drive where I had the midnight-to-9am leg and spent the whole time singing the earlier discs of the Beatles Anthology at the top of my lungs. I love the obscure stuff you find in those kinds of compilations; we talked about obscure recordings from early in the era and how fascinating they are. He explained how his girlfriend's grandmother was a jazz singer whose first recording gig was with Benny Goodman and whose early recordings are now lost. The time was a tricky one; stuff used to just get burned. I mentioned as a similar example Doctor Who, and how lucky we are to have as much the Anthology we do; he suggested it's probably because they got really big not long after they started recording. He also recommended a more obscure set of Beatles recordings, the original acoustic demos of the White Album, known as From Kinfauns to Chaos
, available in the dark recesses of the internet. It's amazing.
He thought he should probably get back in the van, and I said I'd drive to Houston instead, and thanked him emphatically, with a return thanks for coming out. It was. The best show.