It’s all about attitude. It was the Molotov Lounge. Austin in March of 2007.
Bikers, aggressive punks, music critics, folk music fans, feminists, the generally rebellious. They filled this place. I swear in one of the only two booths was a Midwestern family, kids and all. Inside a rather threatening room, what could have brought together such a wildly diverse crowd.
It was Michelle Shocked.
A folk darling early on from the tapes she released from that Texas campfire, she stirred something similar and uniting in that strange mix of fans. Oddly, I was there mostly to see Sally Timms.
Over the previous few years Alejandro Escavedo had become slightly familiar to me through friends or relatives who had grown up in the Southwest, lived in Texas, or just knew a lot more about the music scene than I did. He played Montage Grille one year. It was one of those gotta-go to shows. Only because people I respected treated it that way.
I was very glad I went.
In the vast billow of tribute albums now available, one of the most heartfelt and true to the original artist is Por Vida, a tribute to the songs of Alejandro Escavedo. The one song that hit me and wouldn’t let me go was “Broken Bottle”, as done by Sally Timms and John Langford.
They each have a history with punk, and raw rock music. This song, this arrangement has the most brutal simplicity and beauty. It is a quiet, acoustic duet accompanied by a strong rhythmic plinking of strings. The kind of simplicity that casts a shadow of looming complexity. It compelled people to call the station to ask about it.
So I was there to see what is behind Sally Timms, the Broken Bottle gal.
We got there fairly early. The 2007 NCAA basketball tournament was on. I think Texas was playing, which was appropriate. The room slowly filled to a shuffling semi-crowd, Sally came on, fiddled with her guitar, and with an odd certainty of who she was at that moment apologetically stumbled through her first song.
Fiddled with her guitar a bit more, and began to publicly read through the insecurities and ill prepared state she was actually in. In a most strangely honest resignation, she confessed all her professional performer sins and insecurities.
She didn’t know the chords to any more songs. She hoped a guitarist friend would show up to bail her out, and back her up for a few more. It was an emotionless breakdown. Total resignation. Two, three songs. She apologized for being unprepared and left the stage.
Wow. Did we really just see that.
So here we are. Her set began at 7 pm. Michelle Shocked is not set to go on for another 50 minutes. What happens next?
A few moments pass, ten minutes maybe. Michelle Shocked come out early. Let me say, it’s not like a stage, but a vacant spot behind the stairway, in what looks to be a small closet they knocked down the walls of.
She stands there by herself, plugs in her guitar and starts creating, or recreating, from the ashes of the dismantled Sally Timms.
I was only vaguely familiar with her “hits”. She created within this room a show where the crowd was collectively drawn into each breath, each word. She had people dancing in their seats. The kind of performance that doesn’t require familiarity. A rare kind.
The place was packed. All types of fans. Two songs in she was joined by her bass player. One more, the drummer. A song or two after that the lead guitarist. They arrived by the schedule, in time for their 8:15 set, which she had unexpectedly begun at 7:40.
She created a show on the bed of the most public performance crash I have ever witnessed. It was extraordinarily organic. Michelle, her guitar, her stories, her band slowly joining her on stage. The crowd, the room transformed.
What was it that drew that crowd so close, or even there at all? Bikers, lesbians, folkies, Midwestern families, and so on, in a punk bar. I have to think it was Michelle Shocked’s complete commitment to being exactly who she is. A compelling quality of honesty and the courage to reveal that on stage. There is a rebelliousness to being honest that people are drawn to.
Michelle Shocked played in Rochester in the summer of 2007, but the venue was not right. It had the same uneasy, unprepared feeling Sally Timms has so honestly displayed on stage.
Someone just didn't put enough time into making it ready.