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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Local Boy Strums Good

Sunday Nov 21st: To bucolic Ballard, there to meet the stalwart Zed Man for a musical soirée at the Tractorium in the company of Bainbridge's own pharaoh of the fret board, Mr Bill Frisell.

But first the Rite of (literal) Passage: gittin' there. Hell, I want an agony free evening of Frisell, I'll stay firmly home and to hell with the traveling. I set out knowing I'm walking into a morass of hassle.

Ferry over and up to 4th to catch the 17 bus, which arrives as I do. So far so good, and a pleasant journey it is, too. I admire the view and think Frisellian thoughts.

I've been to the Tractor before, to see Tom Rush, so I only take one wrong turning, which I'm convinced is freudian because no sortie abroad is complete without waylaying at least one local lass to ask the way.

The doors don't open for an hour but that's deliberate because the next essential is to find a boozer that allows smoking so I can sit, brood, quaff and puff.

Lock & Keel is exactly what the doctor advises against and I spend a contented 45 mins with pints and JDs and Coke chasers.

Even just 10 mins after the doors open, the seats are filling but I bags 2 decent perches 5 rows from the front just to the right of centre. Zack is joining me around 7:30 but I've done my job of getting us a cool view.

The audience is a mixed bunch with lots of guitarist faces and plenty of chording of right-hand wrists and plectrum rippling of left-hand palms. My neighbor to the right is a tough-looking chap on his own who looks like he might be handy on a Strat or 12-string.

Zack dead on time, looking fit and well in a leather jacket. We are pleased to see each other quickly catch up on new: he is engaged (which I think I was meant to know; **SGNP** is fiancé'd, for God's sake; Mr Works, also engaged, which I also think I knew.

The stage is intriguingly set: full drum kit, Master Krauss's double-bass, and what looks like 2 Fenders and an acoustic - plus the usual array of electronica with which BF will mix his wonderous sounds. I imagine the trio in the green room, deep breathing and flexing joints and going over last-minute minutiae of phrasings and timing.

8pm arrives and no sign of the artistes. 8:10 and in they walk from the street, Bill in leather jacket, Viktor Krauss looking ridiculously young (see photo), drummer Kenny Wollesen looking like some wild-haired hippy and too skinny to whup the skins.

They start and I strain to see Frisell's chording and picking but he is facing the band and our view is shoulder on. The drummer has the best view.

Frisell sounds exactly as he sounds on disk and I strain to see his fingers as he plays the familiar tunes. He resolutely maintains his stance of first-rate view of his left shoulder and back of left hand, thumb well over the fretboard as if using it for the bass strings.

Wonderful music: of note, Dylan's "Just like a Woman", "Gimme a Holler" off the Nashville album (on which Krauss features as contrebassiste) and Wolleson wonderfully visual on the batterie with a splendidly effete trick of stroking the cymbals with sticks upside down.

Minimal announcements by Bill, who favors the shy modest style.

He fiddles a lot with the tuning and when asked what the gizmo is on the head of the guitar (the tuner), he replies that "it's a camera, and it's counting the votes", going on to complain about its weak battery.

When they take a break, Frisell assures us it will be a very *short* one and asks us not to go. It is a very *long* during which everyone gets up to buy more drinks, so I suspect the manager has had a word with BF that there *are* no short intervals because the punters need to spend.

In the whole concert, BF treats us to only *two* tantalising face-on glimpses of what he's doing, like some fan dancer whipping the fans open but too fast for anyone to get a proper thrill.

Excellent treatment of "What the world needs now" and then it's over, whereupon Z and I retire to the Lock & Keel for Guinness and too many cigs as we chat about his reinvented ID as artist and try not to be distracted by the TV endlessly playing the NBA punch-up.

Down the snooker end of the bar, someone starts a chat about other great punch-ups.

We share a cab, dropping off Z at his Magnolia pad and taking me on to the ferry which I find I've misjudged thanks to old timetable and I have another hour to wait for the 2:15am boat. I am alone except for a distinguised grey-haired businessman who complains non-stop about the wait. Security policiers everywhere and I'm surprised they dont check my bag: I look and feel grubby and venomous over the wait.

I've parked the Volvo in Daigle Design's spot and drive home and plunge into a bath, Callas on the stereo. Having steeped myself in Friselliana, I can't bring myself to listen to another note.

Email from mama saying that she's looking forward to seeing me and that we're booked out of London for Corfu on Dec 8, the day I actually arrive in London. I send depressed fed-up reply, apologizing for once again cocking it up.

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