parsons7210.jpg
Julia Mullen Gordon

A Tribute to Gram Parsons, hosted by Country Dave and the New Fallen Angels

Columbia City Theater

Friday, Feb. 11

Let's do

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At Gram Parsons Tribute Night, Too-Faithful Renditions of an Alt-Country Visionary

parsons7210.jpg
Julia Mullen Gordon

A Tribute to Gram Parsons, hosted by Country Dave and the New Fallen Angels

Columbia City Theater

Friday, Feb. 11

Let's do the math. Gram Parsons, one of the most influential artists at the intersection of country and rock and roll, died at the criminally young age of 26 back in 1973. He would now be 64. Anyone who had a chance to see him perform live would need to be about that age, give or take a few. For those unfortunates too young to have experienced a show in the flesh, the Gram Parsons Tribute held at Columbia City Theater on Friday night offered the prospect of seeing what his songs, so beloved on record, sound like in a live setting. Country Dave and the New Fallen Angels remained faithful to a fault to Parsons' original recordings. But they might have shone a bit brighter if they had put their own spin on his songs.

They certainly covered all the bases. In a nearly three-hour set, they played a mix of hits and deep picks from Parsons' six releases. The core lineup, led by Country Dave Harmonson, featured classic country instrumentation like pedal steel and dobro. Their clear love for his music made for enjoyable listening, especially on more up-tempo tunes like "Still Feeling Blue." Guests from Seattle's alt-country scene, including Zoe Muth, Davidson Hart Kingsbery, and Tom Bennett of the Rolling Blackouts, took the stage, offering their interpretations of Parsons classics like "Juanita" and "A Song for You." The standout was the New Fallen Angels' ersatz Emmylou Harris, Gaye Winsor, whose real-deal vocals put the other female singers to shame.

When you only know an artist through recordings, after a while your mind imprints on those recordings and becomes inflexible. The beauty of a live show is hearing another version of a song you admire. But it's an adjustment, for sure, to accept that what's being played onstage doesn't match, or at times seems a poor imitation of, your mental map of a recording. Thus it was disappointing to hear a somewhat sluggish, flat version of a great tune like "Wild Horses" (written by the Rolling Stones, but originally recorded by Parsons) or a lackluster duet on "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning." Which all raises the question, do people go to tribute nights to hear exact covers of the original recordings, or for interpretations of those songs?

Fortunately, the New Fallen Angels and co. hit the mark often enough, and it was really fun to be able to go out, have a beer, and hear songs you normally experience through headphones in a crowd of enthusiastic fans. But with the specter of those recordings hanging over you, you might find yourself enjoying the songs you're unfamiliar with more than the ones you really, really love.

Reporter's Notebook:

The crowd: Die-hard Parsons fans in full G.P. regalia--Grievous Angel shirts, sequined Sin City jackets, hats, boots, and a veritable ocean of plaid.

Random notebook dump: Instead of head-banging or holding up lighters, fans showed their appreciation for a song by partner-dancing.

 
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