Live in New York City, Mercury Lounge, 6.15.06
Catalog #: SC 08
Edition unknown. Cdr. Released in 2007. Brown card stock, Silk Screened.
This gem from the first incarnation of Howlin Rain is a precious piece to me. It may be the only existing live documents of HR mark 1 (though I seem to recall another one around from North Carolina too).
It was recorded by Philip Smoker and this gig at the Merc was at the top of a long trip touring with Howlin Rain for the first time across the country playing to rooms empty enough you could count the audience numbers on one hand most nights. John had soon had enough and left the band for other pastures a few days after this show. Ian and I flew home from Atlanta and Mike Jackson climbed into a van headed south with The Warmer Milks, a great band from Kentucky who we’d been slogging it out with and he headed off on a bender into the unknown in the back of their old postal van using an ice chest for a seat. But this just goes to show, you NEVER know when a band, or a vibe or a lineup is going to end and in some cases they are never captured in the wild because you think there’s always tomorrow, there’s always next week or sometimes you’re just working too hard to take the time to capture it.
In this case though Phil caught it and man, I can hear it. I can hear that nothing was good about that tour, no money, no crowds, not too many laughs, our friendships were definitely under fire—we were living for the stage and I was most certainly taking it out on the stage, you can hear that in how hard I’m singing and playing my guitar. Nothing to lose and little more to gain. Just blasting music out of me as hard as I could out of the will to survive the tour at that point.
It’s striking to me now how totally raw the band as a whole is in this performance and we’ve been touring for a few weeks already and playing almost every night! To say it’s unpolished would be a drastic understatement, the nuts and bolts are barely holding the form together let along polish but that doesn’t mean it’s not moving at high speeds and with a groove and force and energy that trumps polish and perfection on a good day.
I’m especially proud of my guitar playing on this recording. For what was supposed to be “mellower groove music” I was singing and playing the solos like I was trying to kill somebody. That’s not to make light of the band sound here either, there is something almost completely broken but still special about the center that those guys create. I love the way it sounds like the band keeps blowing up with air or gas and feels like it’s going to burst or just fall apart like an old shack in a cartoon but somehow everyone leans quickly and desperately in to hold it up or right the thing again, which isn’t very straight in the first place and as soon as you get it up it starts leaning to the other side and everyone rushes over there abandoning post to keep it from going down. The whole gig has that kind of movement. Desperately and confidently fending off one musical disaster after another as a group until that is the sound of the rock and roll being made.
I’m not going to sugar coat this thing, I wouldn’t want to be back there, it was tough times and no fun. But like I said, I’m proud of this. Not many bands sound this good and this bad at the same time. I’ve always loved those kinds of groups. The Replacements, GBV, The Stones- best and worst band in the world at the same time. You can’t manufacture that sound, it just has to be born fucked up.
The way Howlin Rain music is made and played has changed since then. Sometimes we were the best band in town and sometimes the worst but rarely both at the same time after that tour. But in June of 2006 we were probably the best and worst band to play in New York City all month.
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