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.