I had a ticket for the Old 97’s at Irving Plaza for this night but I see the band and Rhett solo regularly and this is only the third opportunity I’ve had to see Malcolm Holcombe. This was my second time seeing him at Kathryn’s Space House Concert Series, which is a living room in an apartment in the East Village.
Walking up Clinton Street/Avenue B, I was struck by how much the area has changed. I knew it had but I hadn’t seen those blocks in a while. There are empty storefronts when you’re near Delancey Street but as you walk closer to Houston Street and then cross over from the Lower East Side to the East Village, it’s all expensive bars and restaurants. I saw one Latino couple walking down the street that reminded me of the old Loisaida. The Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union (with an ATM that gives $5 bills), a few old delis, and a check cashing place were a few of the things left from the old days.
The set-up this time was a little different. Last time Holcombe performed against the back wall of the living room and there were a few rows of folding chairs on either side of him and in front of him. This time he was performing in front of one of the side walls and all the folding chairs were facing him. I picked a row in the middle and was not surprised to see Venetia and J, since they had introduced me to Holcombe’s music. It was fun catching up with them. My seat was fine until just before the show started when a tall guy with tall hair sat two rows in front of me. The woman in front of me had to keep moving her head to try to see and I had to move my head in the opposite direction of hers. I only got to see part of Holcombe’s face throughout the concert. I would have liked to have seen more. The sound was perfect, though, so that was a saving grace.
Before the show, you can help yourself to the food that Kathryn has put out. We bring our own wine and beer. There were salads and other good stuff and the passion fruit mousse was delicious.
Holcombe plays as if he’s in a trance. Sometimes he closes his eyes while he’s performing and when the song is over, his eyes spring open as if surprised to find out where he is. He bleeds for you – he rips open his chest and shows you his heart and his nerve endings. There seemed to be less rocking back and forth this time but I can’t be sure since I couldn’t see as well as the last two times I saw him. He has that amazing ability to play rhythm and melody on the guitar at the same time and I would listen to him for the guitar playing alone.
There were funny asides and stories throughout. Before “Down in the Woods” (which Jonathan Edwards has covered) he said he’d give us the Reader’s Digest condensed version of a story – “If your dog tells you what to do and his lips aren’t moving. Don’t do it.” Holcombe seemed so appreciative of Edwards’ covering one of his songs that I thought of asking Holcombe if he knew that Justin Townes Earle was also covering one of his songs in concert (“Who Carried You”). Many times, he went from one song into another and didn’t give us a chance to applaud. Once when we did applaud, he yelled out the first two lines of The Boxtops’ “The Letter” and then told us how much he liked that song but he wasn’t going to do it. He actually yelled out those lines on two occasions, once asking if Joe Cocker had covered that song.
Many of the songs we heard are from the new (excellent) album Pretty Little Troubles. For one of the songs we had a singalong. He had us repeat words in the chorus for “Yours No More” with the haunting lines “Send me your tired, poor, sick, suffering. Send them to me. Send them to me. Ellis Island is yours no more.” “Goin’ Home” was a request shouted from the audience and Holcombe’s response was that he just got there. He did play the song.
One interesting thing – he had fans from Germany who come over to see him play in the US (similar to Cory Branan’s Norwegian fans who always see him when he plays the East Coast). If you look up Malcolm Holcombe in Wikipedia, you will only find him in the German version.
No photos because I couldn’t get a view of Holcombe and no set list because I was too enthralled to write down the songs. I like Holcombe’s CDs and will continue to buy them but there’s nothing like seeing him live.
By Carene Lydia Lopez