With a nod to Neil Young: “’Live music is better’ bumper stickers should be issued!” God knows how few of us realize what we are missing out there these days. The bars and taverns and music listening rooms are being stocked with an amazing array of excellent artists and we are either sitting at home with our fingers up our ass or hanging out in some bar with no music beyond that hooked up to stereo speakers on walls, bitching about there being no good music. For all of you who do that (and you know you do), I have a finger for you and you can bet which one.
I drove somewhere close to ninety miles last Thursday to put things right with the music community— a little right, anyway. I know I don’t support music like I should, at least on the live side, and when I posted my little rant about Picture The Ocean in a review and then found out that a few days later they would be rolling into Portland, Oregon’s Alberta Street Pub for a pit stop, I was stuck. The words in my column were something like “if they ever come to your area, you have to check out this band. I intend to.” At first, I felt like I shot myself in the ass because a ninety mile drive (plus the ninety mile drive back) is not my idea of a good time, but I am always that way. Yeah, I’ll go turns into I think I’ll go turns into I might go turns into that was last night? Then again, something serious would have had to keep me away this time because PTO‘s new album (self-titled) had been getting an amazing amount of airplay at my house and I confess to being more than a bit smitten with the sound. Ninety miles is ninety miles, but spewing words and not backing them up would be a blot on my record. I drove.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when I headed north and by the time I got to the pub, I was high as a kite and drugs had nothing to do with it. It was a glad-to-be-alive day and the anticipation of PTO‘s show was palpable. I was wired. A musician named Ellis had booked an early show which had nothing to do with the PTO gig. I watched through a double-door and heard very little, thanks to music in the lounge side of the venue (the building is split in two, a listening room on one side and the lounge on the other), but it must have been impressive judging by the crowd’s reaction. The place was packed and I had no trouble hearing the applause after each song.
PTO showed and I flagged down Jacquie B, who had just entered with Jesse Dee and Matt Blackie. After a quick introduction, we headed out the back door to the outside area to talk and so that they could order some food. The talk was enlightening, to say the least. Their show two days before in Seattle had been canceled due to a mix-up. They were on their way to Spokane, Milwaukee and then Toronto, where they have a number of gigs scheduled at The Cameron House (6-8 PM on September 4th, 11th, and 18th—Aurora Jane will join them on bass). They are frustrated but not as much as myself by the problem of getting their music heard. And they live on the road. If you ever thought being a musician was easy, you can forget that. They spend so much time on the road that they no longer have a permanent abode, living instead out of their van and eating mostly fast food. Yeah, it can be fun, but not as a primary lifestyle.
When it came time for them to set up, I headed into the listening room with them, flashing my “I’m with the band” smile and claiming the end of the table at the back of the room which was not all that far from the front. I watched them pull out instruments and arrange them while talking with the opening act, Chris Bigley and Ben Cartwright, who play as a duo— acoustic guitar and pedal steel (which Cartwright exchanged for a resophonic guitar on the last track). The stage looked empty, small as it was, Blackie’s trap set taking up most of the space, bookended by Jesse’s and Jacquie’s amps and Jacquie’s keyboard. Cartwright set up his pedal steel in front of Jesse’s amp and Bigley sat just to the right of Blackie drums and in front. They were set.
Bigley and Cartwright opened the show with a number of folk/country/blues numbers, all sang by Bigley but accentuated by Cartwright’s soft touch on the pedal steel. Bigley falls somewhere between a country boy and Jackson Browne in his approach to his songwriting and his voice brought that approach home. Later that night when I got home, I tracked down Bigley’s Myspace page and listened to a folkie version of what I had heard— good songs but with a voice lacking the depth and emotion I had witnessed on stage. I have to admit to being impressed with his direction since then. It was a very good set.
The room held a little over forty people, most friends of Bigley’s or Cartwright’s. I don’t know if anyone was there for PTO but myself. If there were, they were well-camouflaged. The numbers had dropped to thirty or so between sets (it was a Thursday night, so I assume people had work the next day), but that didn’t stop the band. From the first notes, as roughly mixed as the first couple of songs were, they cooked. Jesse drove the band with his guitar, jangling with odd time changes and chord progressions. Jacquie’s mic was mixed way too low and Matt Blackie, as solid as he was, needed to get in the flow. By the end of the second song, they were on the same page and the real show started.
It never fails to amaze me when musicians become one with the music because that is when that “whole is greater than the sum” thing kicks in and, boy, was it whole! With the mix down (much praise to the sound man who really nailed it), the three became one and the fun started. I don’t know what it is that I love so much about PTO‘s sound, but it was overwhelming. When I mentioned it to friend and music writer Mark Tucker, who has heard the album, he said “that was my reaction when I heard (their music on) the link you sent. There is something indefinable in what they do.” Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to the end of their set. Shades of Alcoholic Faith Mission, not in the music or sound but in my reaction to it. I liked it so much that I plunked down the money for a physical copy of their album. Digital was just not going to suffice.
I had planned on listening to the album on the drive home, but I didn’t. I didn’t play anything, in fact. There was still music playing on my ears and it felt good toodling down the freeway with PTO in my head. It was a night I am sooo glad I hadn’t missed.
I did mention that they will be at The Cameron House in Toronto three Tuesdays in September, right? This band gets my highest recommendation, my friends, right up there with Jon Gomm and Alcoholic Faith Mission. When these three (there will be all four in Toronto) cook, they cook with gas. Here is what I suggest you do. Go to their bandcamp page (click here), familiarize yourself with their music and then head to The Cameron House and buy their album from them. Talk to them. They are quality people, good people, and very accessible. I don’t know how their music could possibly get any better, but you can bet it will after you’ve talked with them. It’s psychological, I guess.
Miss it at your own risk. Right after, they head to Europe for a bit of a go around. With my luck, the Europeans will adopt them and I will never get the chance to see them live again unless it’s on the Net. The hazards I face when I get invested in my music. Well, technically, it’s their music, but you know what I mean.
– Frank Gutch Jr. – Segarini