March 21st, 2011
As I’m wont to do before a show, I was at a bar with a book and a beer. The bar was the Hard Rock Cafe where they charge $6.25 for a pint of Mannys. OK then, won’t be drinking there very often. The book was The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Charles Bukowski, a posthumously published journal of sorts and my go to read for the quiet pre-gig moments. The gig was Kirsten Ward and Gary Westlake opening for the Paperboys at the Showbox at the Market on St. Patrick’s Day. I’d seen the duo perform at the Seattle Gibson Showroom in January which was an intimate evening, small, cozy, like being gathered in a friend’s basement and someone just picking up the acoustic from the corner and strumming out a few beautiful tunes. When I heard about the Showbox gig, I was excited. She’s a favorite of mine recently, and I wanted to hear the music in a larger setting, an amplified setting where even the quieter tunes would fill the room with sound impossible not to hear.
So I read a few pages, finished the beer, and headed over to the show getting there just as Ward and Westlake were stepping onto the stage. They tuned as I situated myself. Then they started in with my favorite, San Sebastian, but rather than acoustic, Westlake was playing a Gibson Firebird with a bit of overdrive. There was an edge to the sound not heard on the CD or at the Gibson show. The intimacy was there, Ward’s songs lend themselves to such no matter the setting, but the sound was of course bigger, enveloping, that edge soothing, like a knife spreading butter on a toasted bagel. After the second song, Ward spoke to the audience, “This is the intimate beginning.” Indeed, it was.
Later, Ward recounted a time in Cannon Beach that involved lots of rain, lots of Patron, and Deliverance. “It was four days of hell,” she said to laughs, “but then we finally got to some song writing and came up with this. This one’s called How to Love Me,” and they started into it. It’s a beautiful soft song, and listening to it and the songs that followed, I was reminded of the Bukowski I’d been reading earlier. He’d been going on about not being able to find any decent music on the radio, about hitting the button again and again to find nothing, something we’ve all experienced, about the great music of the centuries falling on deaf ears, “Think of all the people alive who have never heard decent music. No wonder their faces are falling off, no wonder they kill thoughtlessly, no wonder the heart is missing.” He should have heard Ward and Westlake do one of these sets.
The music went on. The heads bobbed. A few danced, but most just listened and let the music do its thing. Near the end, Ward asked, “Feeling intimate?” There was a “whoo!” from somewhere in the audience. Ward continued, “Last time I asked someone that, he walked out the door.” There were laughs. “This one’s called Drive Away.” She started playing but stopped, “Whoa! Something’s not right.” She laughed. There were more laughs from the audience as she tuned. There was again a “whoo!” from somewhere in the audience. They started again, nailed it. The show was much bigger than the Gibson show, but Ward somehow still made it feel small, more like she was performing down in the Green Room under the Showbox rather than up there on the main stage.
When the set was over, they stepped quickly off the stage. The intimate beginning was done, but for me that was the whole of the night. I left and walked up first avenue singing, “All I wanna do is drive away from here.” It’s music that should be on the radio somewhere, music that will give one heart and, perhaps more importantly, keep faces from falling off.
Photos and Drive Away Video by Kathy Whitsett