When I arrived at the Chapel, the newest venue in San Francisco (located at 777 Valencia Street), Jessica Pratt had just begun her set. She sat there on a chair with an old school microphone picking her guitar and singing melancholy folk songs. She was like a cross between Graham Nash and Laura Marling singing in a voice so melodic it almost had a lilt to it. Each song she sang made me enjoy her music even more and though I’d never heard of her I will be sure to find some of her music for the times when I just want to mellow out. She was magnificent. Aidin Vaziri from SF Gate wrote this about her latest album, “It feels like the perfect soundtrack for chilly winter mornings in the city spent sitting on the windowsill, sipping tea and contemplating the world outside.”
Then came out, much to my surprise, John C. Reilly and Tom Brosseau, who I’d last seen at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in October. They played 12 songs and even had Becky Stark from Lavender Diamond come out and sing on three of them. To say John C. Reilly is merely an actor anymore is to be narrow minded about the brilliance of this folk duo (sometimes trio when Stark plays with them). In keeping with the theme of Preservation Hall West they play songs from a bygone era when folk was a thing people actually held reverence for and when people actually listened to the lyrics.
John C. Reilly might be the thing that gets them in the door, the attraction if you will, but the revelation is Brosseau. What a talent! He reminds me of a young Woody Guthrie or Hank Williams. This North Dakota native has such a wonderful voice and style that it’s hard to see him not breaking out, at least in the folk/bluegrass community, as a star. That is not a slag on Reilly who said he might consider quitting his day job (acting) to be a musician. It’d be difficult considering the genre, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him become a great Indie star, because of his distinctive voice and talent.
When they covered Johnny Cash’s “Dark as a Dungeon” the entire crowd hushed and you could hear a pin drop as they ran their way through their perfect version of it. That’s really saying something too considering this was a crowd full of people that said things like “Magnifique” and “Mr. C. Reilly you warm me.” It was the Mission, a place I tend not to like to go because of the immensity of hipster douche bags that traverse the soiled streets. I had to make the effort though, because Lavender Diamond aka Becky Stark and her band of miscreants are a band not to be missed.
As I mentioned I have seen Becky Stark perform with John C. Reilly, but never with Lavender Diamond. If you’re unaware of Becky Stark’s style she’s like Emmylou Harris meets Stevie Nicks meets Sarah Silverman. She’s funny, charismatic, a little quirky and can sing like an angel. When she took the stage she explained the origins of a song she’d been trying to write for five years. She played quite a few songs from her first album in five years Incorruptible Heart. She was wearing a pink cape that she spun around her and made some of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. I am known to dabble in hyperbole on occasion, because in the moment you think everything is the greatest thing since the White Album. Let me reassure you, though, Becky Stark is one of the best singers around today.
She seems happy when she sings even the saddest of songs and it instantly makes the crowd happy. When a rather inebriated loud mouth called out, “Becky, you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.” She didn’t skip a beat by saying, “Well, thank you. So are you.” And as the crowd laughed uproariously she succeeded in doing what everyone else had tried so valiantly to do the whole night. She shut up the heckler, made everyone happy and then played her song “Forgive” which fit in so perfect that it was almost as if it were staged like a play. It wasn’t, it was just a perfect segue on a perfect night in the Mission.
If you haven’t had a chance yet check out my interview with Becky Stark from Monday.