February 17th, 2010
Slaid Cleaves (pt. 1) – Chasing Grace: A Preview to a Show
The indie music scene is one that tends to be glorified, but we forget how tough independent singer/songwriters have it. If you need confirmation of this, the stories on Slaid Cleaves’ website will happily oblige you with tales of such hardships. Endless miles in barely running cars, hopping from venue to venue, bad food and crappy hotels, all in search of the perfect gig. Luckily, Slaid won’t have far to drive this Friday when he commutes from Austin for two shows at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck.
Texas is a little different in that there is a greater appreciation for independent music, as long as the artist identifies with Texas. For Cleaves, who was born in Maine, the way that music took “such a large role in people’s day to day life in Texas was a revelation.” He quickly fell in love with the “culture of music and BBQ and friends and hospitality,” not to mention Chicken Fried Steak, but admits that there’s something about the accents and attitudes in Maine that “will always sort of be home.”
Cleaves will hit the Mucky Duck stage with guitarist Michael O’Connor at 7:00PM and 9:30PM this Friday. Based in Austin, he’s been steeped in the Texas scene, but he’s got serious Folk music cred, winning the 1992 Kerrville New Folk Award. Slaid’s music is a little country, a lot folksy, but still retains some of the garage band spirit from his early days.
Slaid’s songs are like perfect, sunny days: When everyone around you has a smile on their faces and you know you should feel elated, but for some reason there’s a chill in your soul. The tunes are catchy and even upbeat at times and it’s easy to get caught up in the rhythm. They invite you to blindly sing along with them, even though the lyrics speak of a desolation without deliverance. What starts off broken ends up “Broke Down.” Born out of “seeing something that strikes my heart as something worthy of talking about,” Slaid’s characters aren’t lovable losers, they are ne’er do wells that never amount to anything, but he treats their stories with an honesty that is devoid of judgment.
I actually stumbled onto Slaid Cleaves’ music accidentally. In college, I used to listen to Gruene With Envy (facebook page) while I was writing and I’d just zone out. Every so often, one of the songs would break me out of my trance and I’d stop to check out who it was. More often than not, it was Slaid Cleaves and I’d always make a mental note to check out his discography.
Even though the music wasn’t flashy, the songs were well crafted and the lyrics had substance. I know a lot of people who listen to music and the lyrics never register, but as an English major, the lyrics were the most crucial part of a song for me. Slaid’s lyrics were always spot on and the music had a meditative quality that only enhanced the ruminating effects they had.
After college, I moved out of Texas, but one of the things that kept me connected to home was the music. It was always a treat to catch acts from home. I furiously combed websites and touring schedules to find the next chance to catch a little bit of Texas in Manhattan. Luckily, Slaid played at Folks on the Island and, admittedly, I cheered as loud as I could when he asked if anyone had ever been to the Horseshoe Lounge. (Truth be told, I hadn’t and still haven’t, but after living in Austin one summer and driving by it countless times, I felt like that was close enough.)
Seeing Cleaves live gives you an appreciation for his music. There’s something about watching this mild mannered, funny and sincere man singing heart-wrenchingly sad and desolate songs. The melancholy nature of the lyrics is hidden in catchy rhythms and choruses that force you to nod along with each song as if it’s a folk anthem. You almost forget that he’s singing about paying “for the things you do.”
Slaid doesn’t ooze the comical charisma of many a front man, instead his is the easy-going manner of an everyman, which helps make his characters that much more believable. His straightforward storytelling easily disarms the listener and makes for an inviting experience. He prepares the audience with explanations and stories that give you a better understanding of both the song and it’s maker.
Slaid’s latest release, Everything You Love will be Taken Away, doesn’t deviate from his formula of sad songs and sadder characters. Derelicts whose stories carry weight only by virtue of Slaid’s songwriting prowess, these are the people we walk by every day and pretend we don’t notice while diverting our eyes. The songs don’t redeem them, instead they humanize, which is at once more powerful and devastating at the same time. At each song’s closure there is no salvation, no contrite happy ending, because ultimately, “there’s no poison like a dream when it all comes undone.”
Cleaves sings on ” One Good Year” that “grace ain’t so easily found.” Luckily, a great night of music isn’t so difficult to discover, and Slaid will oblige this Friday. If I were you, I wouldn’t miss it. Tickets are $20, cash or check only, and can be picked up at the Duck from 11am til 11pm Monday through Saturday and 5pm til 9pm on Sundays. Slaid has also been gracious enough to speak with The Loop Scoop, so we’ll have that interview Friday before the show.