Status: Little air flow, but roomy-yet-intimate bar
Opening Band: Milk Carton Kids
Main Act: Joe Purdy
The question mark that rests above in the Time spot is because my tickets said 8pm EST, even though Nashville is in CST, but Joe's website said 9pm CST. This was a large difference, and I wanted to make sure we got there early, so we left home about 3pm yesterday. We made it to Nashville, parked and ate (at Demos', which was quite tasty), and then decided to walk the relatively short mile to the Mercy Lounge. Apparently, the Country Music Awards were going on last night, and the city was packed. Still, we made the walk in muggy, high temperatures, getting further out of town, and eventually down seedy streets that may possibly have been dotted with strip clubs. The mile trip took about half an hour, through the crowd and winding roads. Egads.
But then we were there, and the mostly empty parking lot of the Mercy Lounge laughed at us, mocking our long walk and emptied pocket money. Had we known, we literally could've parked at the back door for free... Anyway, we headed inside to pick up the tickets, but there was no one there. Joe's music was playing, we followed it and just so happened to stumble in on the sound test. Joe & the gang were onstage singing and playing and the sound guys were getting stuff ready and that was it. Doors didn't open* for another hour (8pm CST), so we had to go out and wait on the steps. Later on, Joe walked out, said what's up, and hopped in his vehicle and left. Somewhat surreal, I think.
From personal experience, I rarely enjoy an opening band whenever I go to a concert. There's typically something odd or off-setting. Yet, honestly, I was almost as excited to see the Milk Carton Kids open for Joe Purdy as I was to actually see Joe. I'd never heard of the duo--Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan--until a few months ago, when I purchased the tickets for the show. I scoured the webs and found their website, where they had a free album to download. I did (and I boldly recommend you do so, too), and I fell in love.
The Milk Carton Kids took stage with grace, Joey introducing the band and saying they were going to play their most depressing songs from their tiny catalog. Instead, they played their familiar-to-me songs with smiles on their faces and joy pouring from their bodies, even if the lyrics were forlorn. But what artist doesn't pine for love? Or hate? Regardless, the two were brilliant, establishing a mood for the venue, starting with using acoustic guitars that were stationed in front of microphones and foregoing traditional plug-ins. (In fact, the only instruments that were plugged in appeared to be a bass, an electric guitar, and an organ, all of which were used for the Purdy portion of the show.) They sang to a divided crowd, many interested and listening, and many talking and chattering through the background.
This was obviously frustrating for the two, and at one point they asked the crowd to quieten down so they could play the next song with a proper feel to it. It worked, but only slightly. Still, the noise didn't deter me from listening enraptured by the prodigious playing of Pattengale and the smooth voice of Ryan. The two were on fire, and they finished by asking if anyone actually knew any of their songs and had any requests. Apparently I was one of a handful, and I yelled out "Queen Jane," to which the band played "for the one guy that asked for it." Hey, that's pretty cool you ask me.
And then there was a short break before Joe took stage. He played a few songs solo and then beckoned the Milk Carton Kids onstage to play with him. They jammed and sang for the next hour, largely playing selections from Joe's latest album, This American. The raw energy between the three was palpable. They were stomping and laughing and generally just having a good time. Perhaps it was because this was the first stop on the second leg of his tour and they'd all had some rest over the past week or two, but the three didn't slow down one bit. Sweaty and sticky, their fingers moved up and down guitar necks or across piano keys. I really liked the slowed down version of "Can't Get It Right Today."
The three played like a band that's been playing together for years, not just three months. Unlike the last show I saw Joe play, where it was all solo, this was an altogether different experience. Songs were filled out and fleshed. Many had an almost newgrass feel, hammer-ons quick enough to make any guitarist in the room jealous. Synergy was the word that came to mind last night.
By 11:20, the crowd had thinned out a bit, and the band played their last. Pattengale had broken a string on his guitar, and then broke one on the mandolin. The three bowed and headed off-stage for five or six seconds (a "formality," Joe said), and then Joe returned for the encore. He opened up the floor, asking for any requests. The crowd exploded, and Joe randomly picked a few. Some he hadn't played in a long time, and one ("Secret") he stopped at the end and asked the crowd if there was more. "Seems like there's another chorus or verse or something," he said, and then he fingered through the keys and re-sang the first verse. He finished "Secret," picked up his guitar and someone asked for "You Can Tell Georgia" (one of my favorites) and he complied, putting down the guitar and returning to the piano. This went on, open requests, for almost an hour. Some songs Joe struggled to recall (forgivable with a catalog spanning over 100 songs in so few years), but he pulled them all off admirably.
The encore was something special. He played so many requests it was unbelievable. Not only was he entertaining us, but he was having fun himself, and that's always a plus when seeing live performance. Finally, around 12:15am, the Milk Carton Kids had returned and the three finished off the night with as much energy as they had started with. The set was over, three hours gone, but definitely not forgotten. We walked the long stretch back to the car and made the long, boring drive home. I got to bed just after 3am, late enough that my eyes burned, early enough that I could've stayed up and just went on in to work soon after.
All in all, the night was phenomenal. It very likely places among the top of my favorite concerts, and I've been to a lot of concerts**. Supporting independent artists is always good, and Joe Purdy is one of the best out there. He's truly independent, shunning record companies to make and produce his own stuff, and that's something I for one appreciate. He doesn't do it for the money, but for the fact that there are songs inside that just have to get out. I believe the Milk Carton Kids are in the same vein. As I mentioned above, if you've never heard either, follow the links and give the bands a shot. I'd recommend starting Purdy's catalog with You Can Tell Georgia or Paris in the Morning or This American. All the others are great, but these are just plain awesome. For the Kids, I particularly like the song "Charlie," a poignant and resonating song about a father's love for his currently unborn daughter. I also like "Queen Jane," "Permanent," "Broken Headlights," and "Like a Cloak." And you have no excuse for them. Their album is free! So get out there and listen to some new music and hopefully find something you like.
*The irony here is obvious. Or perhaps I mean coincidence. Or oxymoron. I'm too tired to think it through.
**Perhaps I'll make this into a list and put up here...