Last Night: Frank Fairfield Picks Apart Ballard

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Frank Fairfield played Egan's Ballard Jam House on Friday, January 15. He returns to Seattle for a show at The Croc on February 15, with Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs).
If you subscribe to Damien Jurado's notion that there are performers, and there are people who just perform, Frank Fairfield is the latter. In fact, I get the impression that his performance (if you want to call it that), Friday night at Egan's Ballard Jam House, wouldn't have been any different had it been set in his living room. Fairfield plays his much as much for himself as his guests, much to the delight of the rapt audience.

Rotating between banjo, fiddle, and guitar, Fairfield kept time with his right foot, his left moving in step but rendering no sound as he howled along to what he said were songs primarily pulled from the Americana canon, such as "Hesitating Blues."

"I'm not used to having an attentive audience," he told the capacity crowd (50 strong) seated around tables cramming the stage, an overflow crew standing in the back next to where my party sat on stools. "You really feel that silence."

Fairfield explained that he's used to performing on the street where he can vamp on the same song for 30 minutes at a time. Making a set list, he said, was something of a new experience.

The Jam House proved to be an awkwardly appropriate venue for his pickin' and fiddlin'. Though you could imagine it just as easily with a dancefloor down the street at the Tractor or Conor Byrne, the crowd -- a solid mix in the 21 to 70 year old range, enjoying table service and stiff drinks -- seemed content to study his music, rather than dance to it.

There is no irony in Fairfield's music. He seems completely unaware -- and uninterested -- in the commercialization, mainstream acceptance, and contemporary co-opting of Americana that goes on today (the local nucleus being the neighborhood he performed in). It was enough to make any part-time, alt-country crooner a bit sheepish.

 
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