Warning: What follows will not mean much to people who are not already Greg Brown fans. If you are not yet a Greg Brown fan, that means one of two things:
a) You have never heard him (or perhaps even never heard of him). Please rectify this problem by buying at least one of his CDs. My recommendation for a starter: "Dream Café" from 1992. But "Down in There," "The Poet Game," "Further In," and "Slant 6 Mind" are all brilliant, too, just to name a few.
b) You have listened to Greg but somehow not recognized just how utterly brilliant he is. This makes me sad, because you have missed something! :-)
Anyway, this is a review of a 2-CD recording of a concert of his in 1991. For insiders, but of course outsiders are allowed to read it, too.
Greg at JR's
"You Drive Me Crazy" is the opener; as with several other tunes from "Dream Café" here, it must have been quite new at the time (the "unit" had not yet been released). These tunes all sound pretty close to the album versions here, as well as to the versions on "The Live One." (The other DC tunes are "I Don't Know That Guy," "No Place Away," and "Spring Wind.")
"Good Morning Coffee" has the "Earl Grey kind of guy" story with the "expensive, greasy little buggers." It's a very quick and energetic version.
"I Don't Know That Guy" is lovely and haunting (but then I love this song); Greg introduces it as being about an "evil twin."
The introduction to "If I Had Known" is about how much Greg likes albums; I like the point about how albums would change over time in a way that CDs do not. Remember how one would get to know one's own copy of an often-played record? (Still, I don't understand why he insists that you can't call CDs "albums"; after all, a CD is still an "album" in the sense of a "collection," as in a "photo album.")
"If I Had Known" is more poignant and plaintive than some more recent versions, which often get bluesier than this version. I wonder if he knew when he wrote this one just how good it is (and how "better and better than it's already been" it would keep getting).
"No Place Away" is a haunting song even one is familiar with it, but imagine hearing it here when the CD had not been released.
"Fishing Blues" closes the first set and is real groovy, with lots of Greg's lovely, driving finger-picking and the British-trout rap: "Oh, I hardly think so" (Greg's version of "I would prefer not to"?).
Still on the first CD, the second set opens with "In the Dark with You," slower than the studio version. It is as if the song were both more subtle and more explicit at the same time: the music is more relaxed, but the sensual side of the song comes through a lot more clearly.
"Dream On" follows, also a bit quieter and subtler than on "One Night," the picking of the chords less pronounced, the guitar playing more drumlike, as it were. "Heavy-lidded eyes."
I always like "Speed Trap Boogie" without the studio effects and with the wonderful rapping. "Earl? Come in, Earl. Wake up, Earl. ... How many'd you get?"
"Twenty or So" is an eye-opener, one I had never really noticed on "44 & 66." Such a beautiful song, actually!
"Spring Wind" is very close to the studio version (again, before it was released). "The wine bottle's half-empty, the money is all spent." (My sister Sara's favorite Greg Brown song.)
The Blake set that follows is preceded by the FIRST REASON TO GET THIS CONCERT. In his intro to the songs, Greg talks about poets, including e.e. cummings. In the discussion of cummings, he recites the beginning of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales in the voice of cummings. He also recites Dylan Thomas in a fake Welsh accent.
So "The Little Vagabond" and "The Chimney Sweeper" follow, the former with its usual energetic triple meter, the latter strummed in a more floating, almost ethereal way, with occasional accents for effect and an evocative solo: humming. :-)
Disc two begins with the SECOND REASON TO GET THIS CONCERT: the Angel Poop Lullaby. It is part of the introduction to "Daughters." Sung only once, apparently, like the songs children make up: "They're just sung once; they're like jazz." A must have for any Greg fan. "This life we have on earth, the beauty and the poop are like that."
"Daughters" is full of drifting rubato, as it always is, and beautiful, as it always is. "Dad, the moon is coming home with us."
Dave Moore joins Greg for the last four songs: a rowdy version of "Help Me Make It Through This Funky Day" ("Mr. Mellow, they call me"); "Who Woulda Thunk It" as always funny and swinging; a version of the "Chicken Polka" ("Everybody dance!" cries Greg); and "Downtown." Greg's version, of course, not Patsy Cline's (or Neil Young's?). "Downtown" even includes a sax player identified only as Tom.