I Was Destined To See Israel Nash In Concert, Wasn’t I?

IMG_0842Everything was going smoothly. The train I’d boarded in the suburbs deposited me in downtown Philadelphia at 8:30 PM. Four minutes later the blazing neon sign of one of rock and roll’s heavenly venues, MilkBoy Philly, stared me in the face. I snapped its picture. Then I entered MilkBoy and climbed the stairs to the second floor music hall. A band was playing, undoubtedly the opening act. They were loud, man, loud. I stopped two stairs shy of the top and took in the scene, the little of it that I could make out. The place was so dark my eyes would’ve performed no worse in the dead of night in Amazonian jungles. One light, the only light anywhere near me, turned towards me. It was attached to the forehead of the keeper of the gate, the guy who used the light to check IDs and sell tickets at the top of the stairs, and maybe to do some mining in his spare moments. I couldn’t make out his face or body. “How’s it going? Didya find any promising coal seams tonight?” I almost started to say, but decided against it. In half an hour or so, no doubt, I’d be watching Israel Nash in concert. Destiny, which had begun spinning its threads five weeks earlier, was playing out. That’s a swell word, isn’t it? Destiny. How sweetly it rolls off the tongue.

Here’s where this little saga began: On the final night of our stay in Amsterdam in June, my wife Sandy and I had dinner in a great, intimate place named Tomaz. A gastropub is what we’d call it in the States, but I don’t know if that term is used in The City Of Canals And Marijuana. Hardly matters. Sandy drank wine, I downed a couple of beers, and we each had a steak dinner and, for dessert, a chocolately, moussey concoction. A delicious meal. Our waiter was the bistro’s owner. I didn’t ask his name, but maybe it’s Tomaz.

Anyway, Maybe It’s Tomaz is a music lover. Has been for decades, like me. As soon as Sandy and I sat down I was taken with the song playing in the restaurant. I commented on this to MIT. “That’s Israel Nash,” he said. The tune was the type that will carry you away on a long, spacey ride. MIT purposely had programmed it, via Spotify, because, as MIT told me, the music he liked best these days are the dreamy, atmospheric sorts that emerge from various just-so combinations of country, folk, rock, blues and sometimes other styles. And he mentioned two more practitioners of the amorphous genre whom, as with Nash, I’d heard of but knew next to nothing about: Harry Manx and Jonathan Wilson. MIT played multiple tracks by all of them for my listening pleasure. Between bites and between conversation with Sandy and MIT, I half-listened to the songs. And eventually Sandy and I bid our music-drenched host our adieus.

Back home in the States I did some barebones research into Messieurs Nash, Manx and Wilson and checked out a handful of their tunes on YouTube. What I heard sounded very good (click here and here and here for the smallest of samples). Perhaps I’d get to see one or more of them on stage some day. That would be nice, I thought. And then my short attention span kicked in and I moved on to other important topics, such as pondering how many new varieties of Cheez-Its I might give a whirl, and whether my shampooing regimen needed an update.

I should have seen it coming. A few weeks ago, checking out a local music website, the name Israel Nash jumped out at me. Good gawdalmighty, he would be at MilkBoy in three days, it indicated. And when, in the blink of an eye, the third day arrived I looked at MilkBoy’s website to see when the show would begin. The site said 7 PM. What? The last time a show began that early at a rock club was . . . well, never. Must be a misprint. I called MilkBoy for clarification. No answer. Called again and again and again. No one picked up. It figured.

But I had a good feeling all along. It wasn’t by chance that five weeks earlier I had heard, for the first time ever, a song by Israel Nash. And in a foreign land, no less. Some elusive guiding force had befriended me that night in MIT’s restaurant and was leading me to the proper culmination of the storyline. I was meant to see Israel Nash in concert. At MilkBoy.

“Who’s this? The opening act?” I inquired of the gatekeeper. The light attached to his forehead was tremendously focused. Only a few strands of illumination were able to make their ways sidewards. But those faint rays revealed to me that MilkBoy was incredibly packed with human bodies. That night, the phrase Standing Room Only didn’t apply. Standing Room Nearly Impossible did. Not only that, the air was thicker than thick with perspiration and other inspired body odors. Any high school gym’s boys’ locker room smelled a lot better.

“No, this is Israel Nash,” said the man with the light. “He has only half an hour left in his set. Do you have a ticket?”

“Uh,” I mumbled, and turned around. Down the stairs I went.

So, what’s the thrust of this story? Is there a moral? Something to be learned? Well, those questions usually are pretty much out of my league. I’m not all that bright. However, I have a half-decent answer in this case: When destiny appears to be knocking on your door, do what the man with the light would do — check its ID.

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Lindi Ortega Revisited

Last July I penned an essay about Ashes, a brilliant tune from the heartbreak canon that came out on Lindi Ortega’s 2015 album Faded Gloryville (if you’d like to read my words, click here). Lindi is a singer-songwriter in love with pensive ballads, country music in various varieties (gritty, rocking, bouncy), the blues and soul music. She has reached a modest level of success. My story, though, didn’t go into much detail about Lindi, a Canadian who relocated to Nashville five years ago, because I didn’t know all that much about her or her music (not that I’m an expert now). I concentrated on the song. In a nutshell, what I said was: “Ashes to me is perfection.”

Well, for reasons that probably always will remain unknown to me, my Ashes opus became pretty well read. Most of my stories are looked at for a few weeks at best, rarely to be discovered by any member of humanity after that. But the Ashes piece was different. Week after week, month after month, folks kept finding it. About three months ago its audience finally petered out.

Me, I didn’t forget about Lindi after I wrote the story. She and her great song became so stuck in my mind, I knew I had to see her in concert. A few months ago, voila! I noticed that Lindi and her band, who tour like mad around the USA and Canada, were on the schedule of MilkBoy Philly, a smallish and mostly rock-music club in the heart of Philadelphia. On May 22 I left my home in the burbs to take in that show.

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Was Lindi a let-down? Had my infatuation with Ashes set the bar of expectations way too high? Hell, no. I, who was familiar with not a one of the Ortega-composed songs performed at MilkBoy, other than Ashes, had a great time. Lindi and band were terrific, as I’d assumed they would be. And it was a gas hanging out in funky MilkBoy, where I squeezed close to the stage like a frigging fanboy, inches away from a gaggle of new-found, swaying and shimmying friends.

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Lindi, who is in her mid 30s, hit the stage at 9:05 PM and bid us adieu 75 minutes later. In between she sang her heart out, ripping it up on hard rockabilly and honky-tonk and bluesy numbers, pouring out her soul on the slower, more doleful part of her repertoire. She and her four-guys band knocked  each song (19 in all) out of the park. Lindi wrote or co-wrote 16 of them, and those 16 came from her four most recent studio albums. Most of the lyrics were finely wrought, sweet metaphors and similes abounding. Without a doubt, Lindi’s my kind of girl . . . a wordsmith.

Lindi Ortega sings about the subjects that have fueled country and blues and soulful songs since time almost immemorial. We’re talking loneliness, regret, broken hearts, drinking to drive the troubles away, lovers who can’t help but disappoint. Her voice and delivery might remind you of Dolly Parton and Lee Ann Womack at times, and of Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin at others. In her trademark red cowgirl boots at MilkBoy she leaned into her hand-held mic and told it like it is.

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Take one of the fast numbers, for example. The evening began with a Faded Gloryville song, Run Amuck. Wham, bam! It was a honky-tonking blues blasted into fourth gear by James Robertson’s red-hot Telecaster guitar and Noah Hungate’s precise, rip-roaring drum work. Robertson and Hungate threw out sparks for 45 seconds before Lindi sang the tune’s first lines. “Daddy, where you going?/Going out again?/You keep messing round town with your floozy little friends,” Lindi finally unloaded. And she didn’t quit unloading till the tune ended a few minutes later. Man, I was sold. And psyched.

And take one of the slow tunes. Near show’s end she broke my heart with Tin Star, from the album of the same name. Voice quivering, she sang sorrowful words: “Like an old tin star I’m beat up and rusty/Lost in the shining stars of Nashville Tennessee/Well I wrote this song for those who are like me/Lost in the shining stars, the shining stars.” She held that final stars fragilely, with a high note, and for only half a second before continuing Tin Star’s tale of a very struggling and conflicted musician. The song was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

You get the idea. If Lindi and her band pass your way, plunk down a few bucks and catch them. In the interim, you can watch part of the MilkBoy concert courtesy of YouTube. Someone whom I didn’t notice, but who no doubt was standing near me, recorded and uploaded seven of the MilkBoy songs. If you click here you’ll see and hear Run Amuck. And if you do likewise right here, Tin Star will come your way.

I can’t leave without mentioning Ashes, which, sadly, the MilkBoy YouTuber didn’t post. I went half limp when, halfway through the show, I heard the chiming guitar riffs and the dirge-like drumming that introduced the song and gave it gripping power. And what might I say about Lindi’s shiver-inducing voice and the intelligence and sadness of the lyrics? Well, to repeat, Ashes to me is perfection. By clicking here, you will hear the album version of one of my all-time favorite songs.

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