I felt that way when I saw Steve Poltz was playing at the Hideaway Cafe.
I’ve loosely followed Steve’s career since the 1990s. Once upon a time, I was a huge Jewel junkie. She and Steve co-wrote a lot of the songs on her first album, and his old band, The Rugburns, opened for her when I saw her in Indianapolis in 1999. I didn’t see Steve again live again until 2012.
What a different show that was. A very intimate setting at The Independent here in Tampa. I remember one of the highlights of the night being a sing along about crystal meth.
With that memory in mind, I bought my ticket and down to St. Pete I drove.
I like to get to the Hideaway early and stake out my favorite spot: on the island, on the left hand side. Usually I’ll journal, or maybe read, while waiting. In the interest of saving some money, I sipped on a Crispin cider. No Gibson flatbread. (I’ve most definitely mentioned my love for this culinary delight in past posts.)
While waiting, I recognized the talented Ed Woltil who I had the pleasure of meeting at last year’s Listening Room Festival. We chatted a bit about who we were there to see (he was there to see Grant Lee-Phillips), the new layout of the Hidaway (they extended the stage, and there’s a baby grand piano up there now). I love running into people I know from house concerts and other musical events.
Music is turning into a true community for me.
When showtime rolled around, Grant-Lee Phillips and Steve played a song together together, and then Grant played his set. I wasn’t familiar with Grant’s music prior to the show. According to Ed, Grant was part of Grant-Lee Buffalo back in the 1990s, and they were fantastic.
My first impression of his solo act was that I liked him. His lyrics are thoughtful, and his songs are musically well-rounded. Vocally he has a nice range. Many of his songs are lower, and a bit slower in pace. But he can still hit those high notes with some lovely, soothing oooohs. If he’s not excited about making music, he’s doing a lousy job lying. He seemed embarrassed when the crowd clapped and cheered so enthusiastically for him.
Nearly his entire set was done by request, which I think is amazing. He started off with “Straighten Outer.” He had to turn down a couple of his first requests because they were “hard ones.”
I think it’s funny when musicians forget how their songs go. I understand better now though. I’ve tried my hand at writing a song or two. I work on them for awhile and shove them back in their cupboard. I have to reteach them to myself whenever I pull them out again…
Grant-Lee proceeded on: taking requests, playing, telling stories. He said that he and Steve had been traveling through Sasquatch land in Florida. He inquired whether we had Sasquatch here. Someone called out that we have something called Skunkape. I never knew that was a thing…
You learn something new everyday!
Grant-Lee chose his final song from a bunch of call-outs, one about weather and love. His encore was “Mona Lisa.”
Then Steve was up. He started off with “You Remind Me.” It’s a really cute song, and he even accompanied himself with mouth trumpet noises!
This video gives an idea of how dynamic and jolly Steve is live. I think one of the reasons I like seeing him live so much is that his energy is infectious.
He then moved into his song about being a folksinger. The lyrics of this detail the travails of the occupation, and one might feel sorry for these troubadours. Steve makes it really hard to feel bad for too long, because the song is damn hilarious.
Steve then described about how he’s been in a Grateful Dead mood lately, and he played a cover of Uncle John’s Band. Before starting, he pointed out that the only thing that really matters is: are you kind?
Another reason I like seeing Steve live is that he will write a song about just about anything, and he won’t pull any punches. “Lake Wishigan” is a pretty good example of that. If your political leanings are highly conservative, this might not be the song for you… He takes a stab at a lot of what is wrong in our world; including, white privilege, guns, legal torture, drones dropping bombs, etc… Yet, somehow it’s still quite upbeat!
He then went into a song he wrote for a friend dying from cancer. He said he was very angry at cancer, but he wanted to write an upbeat song so that cancer would think that we aren’t scared of it. Towards the end, he had the crowd sing along to a hearty “FUCK CANCER!” The first time, we were pretty enthusiastic, but not quite enough for Steve. “That was close, but my balls aren’t tingly. Try it again!”
Apparently the second time, we made his balls tingle…
The highlight of the night for me was when Steve played “In it for the Long Haul.” This song alternated back and forth between story-telling prose and the chorus. The story telling portion involved the B.O.P. (bag of porn), among other things.
Now, I cry at house concerts and other concerts pretty often (perhaps 80% of the time). This song had me crying but for a completely different reasons. I was laughing so incredibly hard the tears were rolling down my face. There was absolutely no controlling it. The lyrics in the below video are a little different, but it definitely gives you the idea. These lyrics are not work appropriate.
Grant and Steve ended the night playing together. At one point they played the Brady Bunch, and it turned into Gilligan’s Island, which turned into a modification of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (changed to “You’ve Got to Love the Hideaway”) all while Steve was dancing and singing.
They ended the night on a nice note with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” and Grant-Lee played the baby grand a bit.
I had to be up early, so I left quickly. I stopped and told Steve thank you for a great show (I didn’t see Grant on the way out). I reminded him that we had met a couple of years before at The Independent in Tampa, and he seemed to have a vague recollection of that. I walked to my car, grinning, and I stayed that way the whole way home.