jamesincafe.jpg

James McMurtry

Treehouse Cafe , Bainbridge Island

September 22, 2011

For area readers who've picked up a copy of this week's Seattle Weekly , an

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Six Years Later, James McMurtry Still Can't Make It Here

jamesincafe.jpg

James McMurtry

Treehouse Cafe, Bainbridge Island

September 22, 2011

For area readers who've picked up a copy of this week's Seattle Weekly, an issue devoted entirely to the obituaries of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, James McMurtry's preamble to "We Can't Make It Here" last night at Bainbridge's convivial Treehouse Cafe may have borne an eerie, deja vu-like poignancy. McMurtry, who released the song--his biggest hit--on 2005's Childish Things, remarked that when he wrote it in the throes of the Bush recession, little did he realize it would still be so pertinent six years on (and on).

When Rick Anderson started posting heartfelt remembrances of fallen Middle Eastern soldiers to Seattle Weekly's website in 2002, he felt the same way. Anderson and his editors at the time had "an idea back in 2002 to write a few obituaries about local soldiers dying in Afghanistan. Our President told us it would be a quick war, and we figured on doing perhaps a handful of death notices over the next year or so. But it went on, and on, followed by another 'quick' war, both of which continue indefinitely," he writes, in explaining the impetus for this week's special issue.

Great songwriting, distilled to its purest, is defined by timelessness. And McMurtry is undoubtedly one of America's great living songwriters. Presumably encouraged by the reaction to "We Can't Make It Here," McMurtry included the track "Cheney's Toy," a scathing portrayal of Obama's predecessor, on 2008's Just Us Kids. It marked a rare misstep in McMurtry's oeuvre: a song that was dated almost as soon as it came out. "We Can't Make It Here" is the antithesis of such waywardness, destined to endure as one of the signature snapshots of the early 21st Century.

"Cheney's Toy" wasn't among McMurtry's set choices at the Treehouse last night, but the title track of Kids made a welcome appearance, as did the splendid cut "Restless" off Childish Things (a quiet request, granted, from this writer, a longtime McMurtry aficionado who was sitting just to the side of the stage). Yet the capacity crowd of about 100 wanted to cut loose a little on a Thirstday night, so it was venerable scorchers like "Turtle Bayou," "Where'd You Get That Red Dress?", and "Choctaw Bingo" that more matched the mood.

As Chris Kornelis has written, the Treehouse is increasingly establishing a reputation as a spot for touring musicians to double-dip on a swing through Seattle (McMurtry played the Tractor Wednesday night). Situated next to the Lynwood Theatre, it is essentially a sprawling, no-frills pizza bistro (I could have eaten their panino sticks all night) with a cozy performing space. It feels a long way from cutesy Winslow, and a longer way from the chipped shoulders McMurtry writes about in most of his songs. It's near the woods, baby, back where the stop signs say "Whoa." Here's hoping McMurtry and his cohorts find their way back there again, and that the sentiments expressed in "We Can't Make It Here" will be viewed strictly through a perversely nostalgic lens by then.

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