Portable Fans

Can I just say nobody understands audience interaction like Carbon Leaf? You might think if you’ve only heard them recorded that the songs repeat too much and the lyrics while generally very good do sometimes choose cleverness over feeling.

So what you gotta do is see them live. Find out where they are, go see them. Drive from Greenbelt to Richmond the night before an international plane trip, if necessary. I did, and it was so worth it. How long does it take to get to Richmond? I donno, two and a half hours maybe? It’s just past King’s Dominion, right? (The town fathers hate it when Richmond is referred to that way.) Why do you ask? Carbon Leaf is playing there tonight. Hometown show, should be good. Um, okay, any tix left? Yup, and it’s GA too. What, Georgia? General Admission, numb-nuts. Oh.

What the hell, I like staying up wicked late the night before flying; helps me sleep on the plane. Then a wicked latte to wake me up and I’m good. Plus, Jubal Early (our new ride) has actual cruise control! We should be home by 3, no probs. And the National (a new (refurbished?) venue) is like 20 feet off I-95, so we can hardly get lost. (Though we did the cheap tour of one-way streets on the way to finding parking.)

Sadly, the National’s bass response is like unto a camel. Big tall hump down around 100 Hz or so. Man, give me $10,000 and 3 months and even I could make it sound a million times better. It’s quite possible the opening band, Alternate Routes, is awesome, but the kick drum wiped out about 5 critical bands every beat, so there wasn’t much to go on. (That’s a fancy-pants audio term, critical bands. Means your ear can’t hear anything else going on in the same frequency range. I’m a geek, deal with it.)

Their rhythm guitarist looked like a young Steve Page, even down to the glasses. The singer sounded a lot like whatzisname from Bluestring, so that was good. I liked the mega-shaker made from a yellow toolbox, with a mic inside. The lead guitarist looks like a young version of older Paul McCartney, and plays like him too. Lightning-fast runs, slides, etc., and never looked at his hands. Sweet. Their bass player tries to hide his nerdliness with a huge mop of immobile hair; it doesn’t work, just makes him look doofy. He may be a fine player, but all I could hear below 300 Hz was mud. The sound got a lot better for Carbon Leaf, but still wasn’t great. I’m pretty sure the space needs work.

Okay, so. Carbon Leaf. They were videotaping for a DVD. With a bunch of scrounged up equipment (and probably camera ops). The tiny consumer camera stuck on the semi-pro steadicam harness made me laugh. Surprised the counterweights went that low. I bet I know someone who should have been a camera operator for them. Prolly woulda been a volunteer job, though, and I don’t think she does volunteer any more. Upside of the taping though, they had thrice their normal quantity of moving lights, which they used fairly well. Also some cute LED mini-striplights for backlighting. I want!

You know those people who always seem to be looking at you when they’re on stage? Barry is one of them. Always prancing around the space, dancing with the mic stand, and glancing at the audience. Connecting with the crowd is like breathing for this guy. No wonder the girls dig him. Now me, I like watching Terry Clark sing. Head back, eyes closed, mouth wide, blending so well I can never pick out his harmony part, dammit. Best. Backing vocalist. Ever.

Two new people in the band this time, one of whom has been with them for ages. I’ve always seen Carter unobtrusively playing his guitar over in the corner; this time he was back and forth across the stage, lookin’ like bloody Eric Clapton, gettin’ some audience love. Great to see him more front and center.

The new bass player is actually new. Less flashy than Jordan was, but no less talented. During the prechorus of Desperation Song (“ring around the lake”), he was playing Jordan’s line simpler and more staccato, and Jenna thought he maybe wasn’t up to it. Until the last time through, where he went up the neck and dropped in a dangerously blazing riff, as if to say, “Yes, I can do this. I choose not to unless warranted.” I approve. Wish the sound hadn’t made it so hard to hear him.

They did a couple songs gathered around a single condenser, which seems to be a thing these days (anyway, BNL has been doing it for a while), which sounded great. Though the audience noise was distracting.

So, noisy audience? Find the teaching moment. First song of the encore (after 2 hours of playing), they came out with two acoustic guitars, standup bass, and a shaker. And no microphones. In a 1500-capacity hall. (Not 1500 seats, admittedly, but still big.) That takes balls covered with juevos on top of cojones. It took about 30 seconds to quiet everyone down, and they stood there and did Learn to Fly. People started to sing along, very quietly. Amazing. Brilliant! That’s connection. That’s music. That’s life. Also, take that, you meddling kids! I knew someone could teach you a lesson.

Brought out Alternate Routes to join the rest of the encore (Let Your Troubles Roll By and Sweet Emotion). They got shakers and tambourines and stuff, except for Macca-boy, who got a guitar, and spent some time trading solos with Carter. Including a Derek and the Dominos riff, so it seems the Clapton look was deliberate on Carter’s part. Total time 2 hours 15 minutes.

Totally exhausting. Awesome show. Double-win!

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