Click the photo to view a slideshow of the concert. All photos by Michael Alan Goldberg.
Jonatha Brooke, Steve Poltz
June 16, 2007
Jonatha Brooke, Steve Poltz
June 16, 2007
Better Than: Most "singer/songwriter" performances I've ever seen.
If this music thing doesn't work out for Steve Poltz, there's always stand-up comedy. Not that the forty-something, ever-touring San Diego singer-songwriter hasn't garnered a loyal following (including such professed admirers as Neil Young and Peter Buck) via his tunes over the past two decades -- as frontman for indie-rock outfit the Rugburns, as songwriting partner with best pal Jewel, and as a solo artist with a handful of major label and self-released discs under his belt. But for his 45 minutes onstage at the very sold-out Triple Door on Saturday night, Poltz had the crowd roaring at his hilarious banter and witty lyrics as he warmed them up for headliner Jonatha Brooke.
Poltz is easily one of the most natural entertainers I've seen, with a voice and style that reminds me of both Jeff Tweedy and Camper Van Beethoven/Low singer David Lowery. Alone onstage with his acoustic guitar, he crooned about his childhood, Catholicism, baseball, and love -- perhaps my favorite line of the night, during one number about his family moving from his native Canada to California during his youth, was "We met Elvis Presley in the middle of the summer/He hugged my sister for far too long/I felt kinda weird but I would’ve pimped her out just to hear him sing a song." He told hilarious stories about getting kicked out of a church recital for taking a Sex Pistols approach to some traditional hymns, and about two of his uncles, one of whom was gay and the other who came back from Vietnam with VD -- he recalled asking his mom why his uncle didn't have a girlfriend, and what VD was, and having her reply "Look, just don't use any of the towels, okay?"
Poltz, who worked in a song from his smart new children's album, The Barn, closed with his version of "You Were Meant for Me," the chart-topping tune he wrote for Jewel, introducing it as "the song that sent my parents on an Alaskan cruise and my niece and nephew to hip-hop dance class." And mid-song, as he continued to strum, he went off on a brilliant rant about the song being featured in The Office, and how it was also sung (not very well) by a contestant on this past season's American Idol, who was sent off in tears by mean Simon Cowell -- Poltz said he wished he could go back in time "like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five" and not pen the tune so that no one would have to go through such pain, but then, he noted to much laughter, the Idol usage got him some nice publishing royalties, after all.
Jonatha Brooke -- who first rose to fame as one-half of the early '90s folk duo the Story, subsequently went solo and earned nice press during the Lilith Fair era, and has since settled into an appealing roots-pop sound that's perfect for the Sarah McLachlan/Shawn Colvin/Patty Griffin set -- is also a supremely confident performer, and funny in her own right, though the 17 songs she played with her crack three-member backing band during her 90-minute set dwelled mainly in wistful, poignant, yearning territory. Mostly sweet, sporadically gritty, Brooke's voice was in fine, affecting form as she ambled through compositions from her new Careful What You Wish For -- which features songs co-written with Nick Lachey(!) and the Hooters' Eric Bazilian (who's morphed into a Linda Perry-like song-provider) -- as well as her half-dozen or so other solo discs.
As she switched between acoustic guitar, electric piano, and electric guitar, Brooke's bandmates mostly stuck with clean, elegant backdrops; so restrained was their playing that in those rare times when a bluesy, distorted guitar solo emerged, or the foursome came close to actually rockin' out, those moments felt like explosions. The crowd responded fantastically to the dark, dramatic new number "Prodigal Daughter," though the heaviest cheers were reserved for such older songs as "Crumbs" and "Is This All?" Comic relief came via several boob jokes -- at one point, Brooke noted that the title of her 1997 solo breakthrough album, 10 Cent Wings, sounds more like "Tits and Wings," and that earlier in the tour she had a fan who accordingly presented her with a T-shirt design of a chicken with a set of hooters. Unfortunately, they weren't for sale at the merch table.
Personal Bias: I like funny stage banter.
Random Detail: Hanging at the back of the room after his set, Poltz was approached by a female fan who said, "You are so funny! I mean, you have a really nice voice, too. But you are so funny! And you have great hair!"
By the way: I love going to dive bars and seeing scuzz-punk bands, don't get me wrong, but I've been nothing but impressed with the Triple Door every time I've gone there -- the comfortable, opulent confines, the absolutely perfect sound, and the beyond-gracious staff. Maybe I'm just getting old, but it's one of my favorite venues in town.