Saturday, June 7, 2008

Grant Hart and Greg McPherson at La Sala Rossa

Punk as fuck. That's the only way to describe Grant Hart, former drummer and half of the singer-songwriter power of Husker Du. Admittedly, I'm borrowing the phrase, but this guy is the genuine article. But, I suppose to understand that, one must first take a look at good, solid Canadian indepedent act, Greg MacPherson first. The comparison between new school and old school was well illustrated.

MacPherson is a Winnepegger touring juggernaut. He poodles back and forth across Canada with his weathered guitar, opening his veins and his lungs from club to club. This current tour is a bit atypical for MacPherson, as he reminded us many times he hadn't performed solo in almost a year. Since I've never seen his backing band, I find it difficult to imagine him as anything but firey, grand solo MacPherson. Seul. Sans autre.

One either hates or loves MacPherson. There is no other option. His show at Sala, peppered with nervous and self-depreciating comments, was raw, generous, and fierce. MacPherson is powerful by the determination of his effort and likable for his authenticity and humility. His most popular song, Company Store, is an Irish miner's fight song that rouses the audience to punch their fists and sing along as if at McKibbin's Pub. Despite its fraternal mask, typical of MacPherson, the lyrics are thoughtful and politicized.

for all the heart, MacPherson's shows are a bit like slamming a hammer into your thumb. They are a non-stop pounding -- loud, emotive, and with little delicacy. There is limited modulation of mood or conquering energy.

Which is where Grant Hart comes in.

Hart hopped onto the stage, his eyes glazed over, straggly hair, wearing a ratty grey jacket with patchwork stitched at the pocket. Even at the age of 46, long past the days of Husker Du, he oozes anti-authoritarian punk, and not the kind you can buy, but the kind that gets you beat up and left choking in a puddle of your own blood and saliva. He spent the first few songs finding himself and then seemed to step through the portal to the other side, easing into the music and riding it to other more surprising places. The show felt like one was sitting in his living room (or standing, I suppose), and he was just fiddling around on his guitair, some old songs, new songs, and occassionally just playing around and experimenting.

Hart, with his old guitar, his old amp, his bad ass attitude, his clumsy memory, and even his crude bedside manner, has that quintessential grasp on what makes indie music great. It's not a matter of trying to be something, of trying to get a message out, of trying to cajole love or acceptance out of anyone, of trying to be cool or posturing at cool or having a look or a style. There is something precious about being one's ugly, imperfect self with a take it or leave it attitude and just loving the act of making music itself. Hart is not a people person and I'd be all to happy if he left the provocative attitude at the border. But, perhaps the attitude is necessary, because when he isn't making obscure references, ironic comments, or carping, suddenly on stage appears a vulnerable, fragile artist, the epiphany of the very thing I usually have to strip through layers to find. Hart lays it out, exactly as it is, and to do that is a true gift.

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