It’s always daunting to strip things down and return to just me and the piano. Even though it’s how I do all my writing, it’s not how I’m used to being on stage anymore. And after a two month stay at the Watermill Center, I had basically been purged of the songs that make up my act. My initial concept for this tour was to rethink the bulk of this material and record it on tape so I could play along as way of looking back while moving forward. But I resisted and kept working on new material (To Make You Stay / Blue Car) instead and put this plan on hold until the last minute. As it turns out, I’m glad I did.
Jason and I loaded into the car, staying first in the terrifically creepy town of Herkimer. I’d brought my old keyboard and a 4-track along but I knew I wasn’t going to be fashioning a brand new set on this first night. Just getting the hang of things.
When the first show came in Burlington, I was nervous for the first time in years, shuffling my setlist, passing it to Jason and then shuffling it all again. But when I walked out and sat down I asked a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: “If I could do whatever I wanted to do right now, what would it be?” And the answer was to find something new in these songs I hadn’t found yet. The Burlington audience made that easy for me. We learned the songs together and looked for things between the cracks I wasn’t going to find by re-recording anything.
By the time we made it to Buffalo I had shaped up my set and acquired a pizza-box music stand well suited to my usual ramshakle milk-crate ensemble. I worked with the 4-track in the hotel room each night and spun off in new directions or slightly evolved what was already there. Either way, it ended up a different show each night.
Crossing the border into Toronto I was annoyed to be reminded of an incident from 2000 by the border patrol. I’d stolen a pack of razorblades when I was 19 and spent the night barefoot in jail. But the fellow just said “Looks like you had some trouble back on 2000?” and I had to search my memory for all the stupid and terrible things I’d done to be able to land on that particular one, but that kind of nostalgia was put to good use.
Lee’s Palace was a very special show for me. It’s always a good sign when the sound engineer seems to enjoy his job. Everyone at the club was patient and kind. With just seconds left to showtime I realized I had to take a piss and filled an empty Starbucks cup in the green room before I ran on stage. I don’t know if this stupid act was what did it, but something connected and Toronto ended up being my best show yet. Girls in the front row were dancing. People were warm and friendly throughout. I spent a lot of time talking both from the stage and behind the merch counter. On my way out the door a nice young man presented me with a crystal as a way of showing his thanks. No one has ever given me a gift like that after a performance. I only wish I’d gotten his name so I could give him something in return.
Tomorrow is Detriot where I plan to try a few new things. Some new words, a little new music. Or I could throw it all out and do something else. I feel like that’s possible now.
But I’m most excited to return to Chicago and play what I hope will be a very different kind of show in the city where I have played the most. These solo shows all end up being a sort of conversation, and I can’t think of a more interesting conversation to have than with the dysfunctionally affectionate old friend I have in Chicago.