Bidez is quick to strip the stage after silently assuring his guitar channel is muted through eye contact with the sound technician. His twelve-string hoisted, pulling the guitar cable and draping it over the adjustment knob on the microphone’s boom stand.
The Basement continues to fill with a stream of people passing the second chair at my table, the last empty one in the room. Bidez has put me in a place of relaxation and I’m deep inside myself – considering the size of the space and the amount of people, it’s rather quit in comparison to the volume before Bidez took the stage. My meditative state makes me ignorant to the request of a table mate and it takes the wave of a hand to get my attention. I place his name prior to the introduction and catch myself by surprise with the amount of knowledge I disclose on the guitarist’s career. It’s off-putting and what may have been a casual conversation for the duration of the evening is now an awkward silence with the intermittent attempts to salvage the encounter. A few one word answers and I cut the line. It isn’t our first exchange and I’m confident that we will cross paths down the road; another first introduction will reveal a clean slate.
Easton’s 80’s model Gibson could be mistaken for a midcentury relic. It’s pick-worn in three distinct spots and hardly reflects light. A dull faced companion to a life-long traveller. Easton’s physical appearance matches the instrument’s and lends a credibility to the duo, alone at the front of the room, together. A flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Easton goes to work.
Where I would choose to keep it a secret, Easton reveals he is from the future and doesn’t have long. This would explain his devotion to lyrical clarity, line after line delivered with direction. Across my table, an iPhone glow takes up a substantial amount of visual real-estate, fingers furiously communicating – as are Easton’s, owning the fret board. He sings a horn line.
The time traveler discusses the concept of killing time, offering a double-entendre in the face of American apathy. A song written while broken down in American Fork, Utah, Easton looks the pandemic in the eye. With its final strum he urges the room to “make the phone calls now”. Earlier at Bongo East he referred to his change in job description following the recent election – he takes it seriously and uses the stage as if he were working for a promotion. Easton isn’t just a songwriter anymore, but an initiator for change. Intensity is balanced with comedic relief as he ends his “preachy” songs assuring the rest are about more American pastimes, like sex and going to jail, yet, he goes for the the throat – a tongue-in-cheek attack on the hypocrite Christian. “Jesus protect me, Jesus protect me from your followers, not all of them – just the ones that turn love into fear and hatred.”
It’s easy to separate those that speak out against the religious establishment whose opinion is based on an ignorance towards spirituality from those that are outspoken in support of spiritual teachings. Easton is convincing that he is of the latter. A well traversed man, born in Ohio with part of his youth spent in Tokyo. Running the globe, he honed his chops on the streets of Czechoslovakia, Spain, Italy, and Ireland. Like a rock, rolling between labels and releases to find himself in Joshua Tree, California. A worldly view that accommodates to an educated opinion. Easton admits nervousness following his delivery of such unsparing lyrics – his ability to do so is crucial in today’s climate. From Joshua Tree he came to Nashville, and as he puts it “the new home of the protest singer – they’re all here now.”
He comes back to his setlist and if the last song referenced rhythmic structure, he is now locking it down. In the style of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, a new side of Easton is presented. Bidez sits transfixed, side stage, and my table mate lifts his head from his iPhone. He puts it away. Rarely in any club does a performer get the attention of every person in attendance – this is one of those moments. Everything is percussive. He digs into his lowest guitar string towards the bridge and huffs in sequence with the harmonica – the combination gives an effect of a jaw harp. A trick used once, further commanding the room’s attention. ‘King of the Slide Guitar,’ Elmore James was mentioned by George Harrison on the Beatles track, “For You Blue” – now, Easton has us in a call and response of the same name and title to the song. Elmore James. Elmore James.
“God damn, next thing you know you’re going to be dancing,” he counters.
In and around the next three songs, Easton is more and more open about his personal life. He’s safest on stage and allows his listeners in. A vulnerability that is strengthening and an honesty that is refreshing. There’s no façade. Struggles that the next artist would bury, Easton exposes and brings us all closer to our own capabilities in this regard.
“Gatekeeper” flows well from “Elmore James”. “I Thought You Were My Friend” flows well into “The Old New Streetsville Blues”.
Attention is diverted as what seems a “somebody” has just attended our party. I remain ignorant to her importance. Black hair bobs beneath a wide brimmed hat. Pale skin and red lips and eyes lined in black. A mesh top upon a black bra, black skirt and slip. Like a shadow just bought Blundstones and prides itself as hip.
Easton keeps on playing.
He’s a writer’s writer. The kind that remains on at all times. The kind that can offer his whereabouts at the time of a song’s creation and never is it the same setting. “We wrote this one driving around in a truck”, “I wrote this one in the great city of Amsterdam”, “I started this one in a parking lot in Okemah, Oklahoma, and finished it in Kansas City, Missouri”. He closes with “Burning Star” and I remember my tarot card in my chest pocket. The Star.
Easton may be one of the most important artists in our movement. He’s accessible and intelligent with a musicianship that is polished and eclectic. Be it practical or not, he works well alone and drives a message home. Most importantly, as a New Revivalist, he’s vulnerable. Through revealing himself in song and banter, he influenced the room for the better. Like Bidez, he’s grateful for tonight’s turnout and reminds us how lucky we all are to share in the evening. The following act, Northern Californian, Don Gallardo is quick to the microphone: “Tim, is a true folk protest singer”.
For as much as I’d like to assume my seat for the remainder of the night, I sneak out the door past the queen in black as she facilitates a scrum of adoration by the merchandise. Outside, my table mate is standing alone smoking a cigarette, back on his cell phone.
Wedgewood Ave to 65 N, Exit 82B to Knoxville, Exit to Clarksville/Louisville, Spring Street towards Ellington Parkway, Cleveland Street to Marina Street and I walk in the door of the house.
The late night shift has begun and I write into the night.