Dan Bern at the 9th Ward

What we had last night was a good old fashioned folk show, right here in Buffalo, New York.  The 9th Ward is the basement venue at Babeville.  It’s an extremely intimate setting, holding I would guess no more than 150 people, if that.  It’s filled with great brick walls and at no point can you be any more than 25 feet from the stage.  I was hoping he’d draw a good crowd and there ended up being maybe 75 people there. It was a tough night to play Buffalo, with Steve Hackett playing a few miles away at Kleinhans.

http://www.babevillebuffalo.com/venues/the-9th-ward/

The doors opened at  7 and the opening act went on at 8.  We were unsure how well attended the show would be and since we wanted to get seats at the bar instead of on folding chairs, we showed up early.  That turned out to be a perfect idea because I like to stand instead of sit for really great shows(spoiler alert, this was a really great show).

It’s been 13 years since Bern last played Buffalo and it looks like he’s been hitting the gym pretty hard in those 13 years.  He was much more muscular than I remember him being.  Dressed in a flannel shirt and wearing some sort of fedora/cowboy hat hybrid, Bern hit the stage with nothing more than his guitar, harmonica, beer glass, and wicked sense of humor.

That sense of humor was evident throughout the night.  Bern told a story of his time as the opening act for Ani Difranco’s band a number of years back and how being in front of her mostly female audiences every night inspired him to write Tiger Woods, which he then broke into.

I got big balls
Big ole balls
Big as grapefruits
Big as pumpkins
Yes sir, yes sir
And on my really good days
They swell to the size of small dogs
My balls are as big as small dogs

Well, it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true
Yes sir, yes sir
It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true
Mohammed Ali said that
Back when he was a young man
Back when he was Casius Clay
Before he fought too many fights
And left his brain inside the ring

Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods
Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods

I got a friend whose goal in life
Was to one day go down on Madonna
That’s all he wanted
That was all
To one day go down on Madonna
And when my friend was thirty-four
He got his wish in Rome one night
He got to go down on Madonna
In Rome one night in some hotel
And ever since he’s been depressed
‘Cause life is shit from here on in
And all our friends just shake their heads
And say, “Too soon, too soon, too soon,
He went down on Madonna too soon
Too young, too young, too soon, too soon”

And it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true
Yes sir, yes sir
It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true
Mohammed Ali said that
Back when he was Casius Clay
Before he fought too many fights
And left his brain inside the ring

Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods
Sometimes I wish I was Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods

If certain girls don’t look at you
It means that they like you a lot
If other girls don’t look at you
It just means they’re ignoring you
How can you know, how can you know?
Which is which, who’s doing what?
I guess that you can ask ’em
Which one are you baby?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
Do you like me or are you ignoring me?
And all you need to do that
Is one good pair of big balls
Balls as big as grapefruits
Balls as big as pumpkins
Balls as big as mine

But even though my balls are big
Sometimes i wish they were bigger
Even bigger
Big as the wheels on tractors
Big as the golden arches
Big as the Golden Gate Bridge
Big as the state of Kansas
Big as Mars and Jupiter
Big as the swing in Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

That there is some pretty fancy songwriting if you ask me.  Bern is a fine guitarist and harmonica player.  His voice might be described as an acquired taste, although I like it very much.  It’s as a songwriter though that he stands out the most.  Lyrics are so much more important in folk music than in many other forms of music and this is definitely where he stands head and shoulders above most of his peers.

He also told a story of his mom being in the crowd at a show and Ani yelling out to her from the stage to say hello, which prompted him to write a song about Ani’s mom, Talking Ani Difranco’s Mom Blues. 

It wasn’t all humour, of course.  I noted that during his great song, Black Tornado, he added a line about his mom, who must have recently passed away.  The original lyric is:

There is a tombstone
Of my father I visit sometimes

and the line he added was something like, ” and a fresh one for my mom”.

So the first half of the show was Bern alone on stage and then for the second half, he invited a friend up to play guitar and sing backing vocals. His friend played some very tasty guitar and if I remember correctly, Bern said he is a music Professor at Syracuse University.

Bern is known to be a huge baseball fan and I believe he has a CD of songs solely about baseball.  Included in the set list last night was The Golden Voice of Vin Scully.  After that, he sang a short song which recounted the year by year, home run stats of Barry Bonds.

Tonight I feel so far away, so far away from you
What did you do tonight
I’m drivin my truck up and down the coast
From north of Seattle to the Mexico line
Right now, I’m in San Bernardino
All day long it was 95 degrees
But at least tonight I get to hear
The golden voice of Vin Scully

I’ve been stuck in this goin no place desk job
For too many months, it’s time to move on
If I quit and tried to just do my paintings
I wonder if I could come up with the rent
I still root for the Yankees back east
Never did take to these local teams
But at least tonight I get to hear
The golden voice of Vin Scully

Ooh, I do my share, I knock about
Ooh, is anything gonna work out

Sometimes I’m almost out of range
I head south of the valley
And pick up the game
Pull off the road, step out of the van
Lean against the hood still hot from the drive
Trees fade out in the black of the night
Some days it don’t hardly seem worth the fight
But at least tonight I get to hear
The golden voice of Vin Scully

 

I was familiar with most, but not all, of the songs played.  There were many highlights. I was singing along enthusiastically to Marilyn, where he sings that Marilyn Monroe should have married Henry Miller instead of Arthur Miller.  I won’t post those lyrics because, well, my mom will probably read this and they’re pretty raunchy.

I loved the way Bern whisper sang God Said No,  which Bern said was named as one of Roger Daltry’s favorite songs.  I also sang along to I’m Not the Guy.   I loved the version they did of Breathe.  The last two songs of the main set were covers.  Bern tore into the great Buck Owens song, Streets of Bakersfield and then segued right into Amarillo By Morning, showing how blurry the line is between folk and the best old country songs. I loved it!

I can’t recall every song but here’s what I remember of the set list: Hoody, Black Tornado, Marilyn, I’m Not the Guy, Tiger Woods, Lifeline, Welcome, Golden Voice of Vin Scully, Barry Bonds Stats, God Said No, Breathe, Talking Ani Difranco’s Mom Blues, Streets of Bakersfield, Amarillo By Morning, Albuquerque Lullaby.

Random Concert Notes: Bern recalled the Buffalo show from 2003 where he shared a bill with the very weird Daniel Johnston.  He told the story from that night where Johnston’s rig for his keyboard lost power and when he couldn’t get it to work, got flustered and abruptly declared, “the show’s over” and left the stage.  Too funny.  Bern also made a pitch for his radio station, which I mean to start listening to.  I bought two of his more recent CD’s and he was gracious enough to sign them for me.

http://danbern.com/radio-free-bernsteinn/

Bern ended the night with an encore of Albuquerque Lullaby, one of my favorites. The Missus and I absolutely loved this show.  I hope that if you’re reading this and have never heard of Bern before, you lend him your ear.  He’s a tremendous talent and he deserves to be heard.

I have a friend
Sits in his office
Where he’s had his big success
Now he cries all day
He says the Internet
Is stealing his royalties
Talks of his glory days
I say no one cares about your glory days

Backroads New Mexico
There’s an old abandoned church
Windows boarded up
Never sees a coat of paint
Sometimes I drive by and dream
Of hearing the preacher preach
But it’s a dragstrip for the kids
You can hear their tires screech

Don’t let your heart
Get broken by this world
Don’t let your heart
Get broken
At the bottom of the ocean
You might find a pearl
Don’t let your heart
Get broken by this world

Drop by Albuquerque sometime
When you need to
I’ll sing you an Albuquerque Lullaby. . . .

So baby when I close my eyes
You know it’s you I see
You know I’m pulling for you
As you go on your way
Don’t ever hesitate
To say what’s goin’ on
Ain’t nothin black and white
Always some new place to turn

Don’t let your heart
Get broken by this world.

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