Sunday, September 13, 2009

Greg Brown in Duluth

I have been listening to Greg Brown's Dream Cafe album lately. It was his newest album when I first came to know his music, and it remains as one of his best. Which is a difficult choice. One of the songs from that album, "Laughing River", is among my choices for Best Song Ever Written By Anyone, Ever. It says so much in so few words, about the heartache of giving up on a dream, but all the promise a new life offers. Well, way more than that. That is how Greg Brown writes. He gets it man, he really gets it. And I found out on short notice last week, he was coming to play in my favorite small city in Minnesota, a short 50 mile drive from my house, for a mere $4 entrance fee to the Harvest Festival and Renewable Energy Fair. What could be better?

It was a perfect evening for an outdoor concert. In case you haven't heard, summer has finally arrived in Minnesota, and for a few days at least, polarfleece and sweatshirts are optional outdoor attire. The setting was a park on the waterfront in Duluth, near the landmark Aerial Lift Bridge. As the sun edged towards the hills to the west, recreational boats, tour boats, and the occasional Great Lakes freighter sailed by. Greg remarked that one's horn was tuned in D. I have a thing for musician nerd jokes like that. :)

I have to say, of all the Greg Brown concerts I have been to, which is more than a few since I first saw him in Hastings, MN in 1992, this was my favorite. He seemed so relaxed up there on stage, so in his element, and I was equally relaxed and taking it all in. He started off with "Home In The Sky", which I think is from his earliest album Iowa Waltz. Looking up at the sky and the seagulls circling over the harbor, I could agree that heaven is just about a thousand feet high.

Greg has a real knack for between-songs banter. With some self proclaimed "singer-songwriters", the between the songs thing can get a bit tedious. Not with Greg. As a matter of fact, what I liked best was how he denounced how self-absorbed some singer-songwriters these days seem to be. Ironic, considering how I thought the opening act belonged in that category hands down.

He did all the best. "Canned Goods", "Laughing River", "You Drive Me Crazy", and a whole bunch I was nodding and laughing along with. I was surprised he included "Kokomo", his very dark but humorous elegy to one night stands:

"You know she was just my kind, middle aged and crude
Nipples the size of jack balls and a real bad attitude
She wore my ass out so damn fast and left me nowhere to go
Just a sticky wicket and a Greyhound ticket on the road to Kokomo"

So there you have it. The Iowan poet, married to another musical poet Iris DeMent, father to musical poet Pieta Brown, and just all around perceptive, beat poet musician Greg Brown. I hope to see him again real soon.


Floridacracker said...

Hmmm, a northern Buffett ...

Jain said...

Great photo. Love the man (Buffett should shine his shoes ;o). Look at that blue sky, must have been a great venue.

Anonymous said...

So happy to know you made it to Greg's concert in Duluth! Sounds like a very sweet performance. He never ceases to amaze me with his voice, his music, his lyrics. I'm anxiously waiting for his visit here in Maine come January. I'm edging up toward 20 as far as Greg shows I've attended since 2002! :-)

Jayne said...

It's so much fun to see someone whose music you so admire, and can sing along with while they play. Glad it was everything you'd hoped it might be Deb. :c)

dharma bum said...

Sounds like a wonderful concert! I'm envious. :) You have written a really perceptive review of the man, his music and this specific show and I felt a bit like I was there. Cheers.

Kathie said...

Nice! You know I love his music, I've yet to see him live... He's coming to Montana soon, I might have to change that.

gtr said...

Glad you enjoyed the show! An amazing day, eh? It was nice to meet you again in person!

I was rather distracted at the show (toddler wrangling, you know) and we were a bit too far back to hear well, but I'm glad it was a good one!

MojoMan said...

How lucky you are! I love Greg Brown. I discovered him only recently (Thanks, Chris!)and would love to see him live some day. I love that song "Kokomo" too. God, when's the last time I saw a good tube top?

Deb said...

FC- I guess he is to Ottumwa, Iowa what Buffet is to Key West? :)

Jain- That sky, the warm air, it was all around beautiful.

Kathy- Congrats, I don't think I had been to a Greg show since 2002! Enjoy it!

Jayne- Lately when I've been to concerts (not that often) I've found myself wondering how long until it's over. Not with Greg!

Dharma Bum (you share a great first name ;) ) Thanks. I was so "there", so into every moment, I could remember it all vividly.

Kathie- I hope you see him when he comes your way!

Gina- It was great to see you again too, and to meet Will and the Bean. I remember those toddler wrangling days all too well. When Calvin was about Bean's age we flew to California for the Kate Wolf festival, which was wonderful, then the next year we braved a drive to North Carolina for Merle Fest. By that time I was pregnant with Starflower, things were changing, and we never knew what it was like wrangling two toddlers at a music festival. But I'm glad we did it. :)

MojoMan- He is someone I would like to sit around a campfire with and talk and sing late into the night. He was sipping on some dark brandy-looking drink all through the show. And i inadvertently left out the word "deranged" from the Kokomo lyrics. :) Have you heard his album "Over and Under"? It's way dark...

Ellen Snyder said...


He is the best - the writing, the voice, the music, the stories. We first heard him in the early 90s while we lived in Rochester, MN. Heard him at Oak Center, a great little forum. Since then we've been to a half dozen or more concerts from Minnesota to New Hampshire. His shows are best when he is relaxed.

Sorry the Twins list!