Posts Tagged ‘Tin Angel’

img_0459And so it’s finally come to pass: the Tin Angel closed its door on Feb. 4th, a fate expected since the announcement of the building’s sale last fall. The plan, according to owner Donal McCory and booker Larry Goldfarb, is to re-open at a different (and larger) location by the end of the year.

Diane and I saw many shows at the intimate 115-seat venue through the years, from the early 1990s to last year. One memorable concert: Maria McKee in 1998. Another: Garland Jeffreys in 2001.

The Brooklyn-bred singer, songwriter and reggae-infused rock artiste has been making music since the 1960s, but most folks likely remember him from his remarkable run in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when he released a string of excellent albums, including Ghost Writer and Escape Artist, and was frequently heard (in Philly, at least) on AOR radio with such songs as “Wild in the Streets,” “Cool Down Boy,” “35 Millimeter Dreams,” “Matador” and his cover of “96 Tears.”

This Wikipedia entry goes in-depth into his career. If you read through it, you’ll know that he took a break from music for much (though not all) of the ‘90s; and then re-entered the music arena during the summer of 2001.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another salient point: Diane turned me from a radio fan to an actual fan. It was she who discovered he was playing this specific show, in fact, and convinced quite a few of our friends to attend it, too.

garlandtinangelAnyway, my memory of this show, which saw Garland accompanied only by longtime guitarist Alan Freedman, was that it was hypnotic. I don’t recall many of the specific songs performed, unfortunately, though I imagine they included the ones featured above. What blew my mind: an extended excerpt from a psychodrama-like musical play he was writing at the time, Spook House. The protagonist was named Bolden; and the extended scene, if I remember it correctly, involved Bolden and his departed mother. It was powerful, dramatic and spine-tingling.

I also remember this: a sterling rendition of “New York Skyline” closing the show. That was but a few months after 9/11, of course, and I’m sure my – and everyone’s – reaction to it was colored by the emotions of the time. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful.

In the years since, we’ve seen Garland more times than we can count. He’s released two excellent albums – The King of In Between (2011) and Truth Serum (2013) – and has now embarked on making a PledgeMusic-backed documentary and album.

As many an artist can attest, following one’s muse doesn’t always result in success. Such was the case for Maria McKee.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Little Diva, as she’s sometimes called, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In the 1980s, she fronted Lone Justice, a so-called “cowpunk” band from L.A. that never broke as big as they should have. Their best known song is likely the gospel-infused “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling),” written by Maria, Little Steven Van Zandt and Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers):

“Shelter,” from their second and final album, is another gem.

By 1993, she seemed destined to break big yet again, this time on the strength of her second solo album, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved. Such songs as “I’m Gonna Soothe You” –

– received airplay on radio stations that featured the then-hot alternative-country format, which was essentially the previous decade’s “cowpunk” filed under a cooler name. And, as this Philadelphia Inquirer review notes, she headlined and sold out the TLA in Philly, which holds about a thousand.

Looking back, that album and tour may well have been the pinnacle of her success…and the cause of the death spiral that her career soon entered. One of her bandmates is said to have given her a mixtape he’d made of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and other glam and glitter acts of the early ‘70s. Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but this part is undisputed: She released the love-it-or-hate-it, glam-infested Life Is Sweet in 1996. The title track is the most mainstream thing on it:

That song isn’t indicative of the album as a whole, in other words. That would likely be “Absolutely Barking Stars” –

Some fans, such as myself, found it a moody, mercurial and eccentric set, akin to a Flannery O’Connor novel put to music. A Southern (California) Gothic album, if you will. I loved it then and love it now. Other folks, however…not so much. Within two years, the album was out of print and she was without a record company.

This night, the fourth stop on a five-city tour, was a way to test out new material for a forthcoming album (which would take 4 1/2 years to materialize) and, no doubt, make a little money. And I do mean little. Capacity at the Tin Angel is, at most, 125. It’s basically a long, thin hall fronted by a tiny stage; tables take up the bulk of the room, though stools dot one of the long walls.

I wrote about it at the time for my former Old Grey Cat website, as well as Da Boot!, and provide a slightly tweaked version of that summary here:

Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she opened with the plaintive “Life Is Sweet,” a testament to life’s bittersweet truths. The potent “Promised Land,” one of six new songs she showcased, followed; and although a bassist and keyboard player joined her, the audience’s eyes remained riveted on her. “Something Similar,” another new one, was hypnotic.

One of the night’s memorable moments came early. At the piano, she bashed out the thick, angry chords of Life Is Sweet’s “I’m Not Listening” and possessed the sparse lyrics like a mad woman.

After “Am I the Only One,” she explained that the red-hot Dixie Chicks cover the song on their hit Wide Open Spaces CD, wishing them nothing but success. “It means I can make a record and do whatever I want,” she declared. In short, she’s a prisoner of rock ‘n’ roll. She’s also a renegade from a record label – Geffen – that buried her best album. They wanted more of the same, for her to continue to mine a country-rock vein; she wanted to explore new terrain, to dig up skeletons and put them to rest, to lay it out in song.

It’s music for the psyche that she’s after; it’s music of and for the soul. It’s “Worrybirds,” the night’s encore, about nagging self-doubt:

In Philadelphia, if only for a night, Maria McKee exorcised her demons; I’m grateful to have been a witness.