Last Saturday night, the Lobero Theatre played host to an eclectic program, part of the ongoing “Sings Like Hell” series.
The evening started with the legendary Van Dyke Parks declaring that it was “mighty nice to play a theater where [master Spanish classical guitarist] Andres Segovia once played,” someone he had seen (presumably elsewhere) when he “was a brunette.” He then casually stated that, “Here’s what I have done in my spare time,” and launched into the playfully delightful and rather cinematic piano workout “Jump,” with accompaniment on acoustic bass guitar by David Jackson.
Then, in reference to recent storms in the area, Parks said, “I thought it would be good to bring out this rain song that I wrote in Los Angeles. One week it rained solid. It was quite musical in our house. We had pots and pans on our floor, and the roof was in disrepair.” The song was the resounding “Wings of a Dove” from his 1995 album with Brian Wilson, Orange Crate Art.
In his introduction to the next song, “Cowboy,” Parks gave a brief history lesson and pointed out that Hawaii was the first state to develop a state land use act, which allowed the protection of undeveloped properties in places such as Waikiki on the legal basis of their intrinsic beauty. The song addresses the evolution from Hawaii’s natural beauty to a land of golf courses.
Afterward, Parks pointed out that the United States got the Hawaiian territory by aiming a cannon at Queen Lili’uokalani, adding that he’s “obsessed by means by which we got here, and to question that.”
Parks then played the immediately catchy (and perhaps not coincidentally, more musically straightforward than the others) song “Sail Away.” It was followed by the final Parks showcase, the song “The All Golden” from his eclectic 1968 album Song Cycle. Parks wrote it when he was 23 about his friend — and the evening’s headliner — Steve Young. The song starts off with the line “He is not your run of the mill garden variety Alabama country faire,” and at times rather surreally includes a touch of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the melody.
It served as a unique introduction to the more traditional singer-songwriter Young, who came out and gratefully stated that “a few months ago, I had no idea this [concert] could ever happen, so I’m very happy that it is happening.”
Young started with “Seven Bridges Road,” his “most famous song” that he did “differently from the guys who made it famous.” Indeed, it was a wonderfully plaintive version, in contrast to the more upbeat and heavily harmonized hit Eagles’ cover, fleshed out nicely by Parks’ piano and Jackson’s bass.
Young’s introduction to the next song, “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” gave some interesting perspective.
“Writing songs is a strange way to make a living,” he said. “I wrote this song and forgot that I wrote it. I thought it was so bad I kind of forgot all about it. Then, an old friend of mine came and reminded me of it. I decided I would do a version of it, and then Waylon Jennings heard it and gave it 15 minutes of fame. And it became this country sort of macho rock thing. But the funny part is that the song’s really about the idea of playing clean and sober, which was a unique idea in those days. But I don’t think Waylon ever really knew what the song was about, actually.”
The sung was sung passionately, and had some very tasteful honky-tonk piano from Parks.
The next songs, “Silver Lake” and “Goin’ Back to California,” reflected on the time Young spent starting in the 1960s as a transplant from the South in the Golden State. This was followed by a cover of “Mystery Train” by Junior Parker and Sam Phillips, famously recorded by Elvis Presley at Sun Studio.
The encore was a cover of “Drift Away” by Mentor Williams (think “Give me the beat boys and free my soul / I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n’ roll / And drift away”), which was stripped down effectively relative to the Dobie Gray hit version.
After an intermission, there was a delightful set by Austin, Texas-based Matt the Electrician (real name Matt Sever) joined by “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb on guitar, backing vocals and some lead vocals. This kicked off with the amusing, light and playful “Animal Boy,” featuring Sever on banjo ukulele (“banjolele”).
Then, Sever revealed that it had been written for his 5-year-old son, adding amusingly that, “I [also] have a daughter who is 9. When you have two kids, and you do something for one kid, you have to do something of equal value for the other child. It has to be equal. So right now I need to play a song that I wrote for my daughter when she was very, very little. Because even though they’re far away and they’re sound asleep, if I don’t play this song right now my daughter will awaken with the night terrors. It happens every time.”
In fact, Sever — who asked, “It’s kind of dry here today; does it ever rain here?” — had an abundance of amusing anecdotes that complemented his often equally amusing songs about subjects ranging from the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, to a surprisingly positive experience with a Wal-Mart employee, to quitting drinking alcohol, eating gluten, smoking and drinking coffee.
The highlight of Sever’s set was the slow and surprisingly touching banjolele-driven cover of Journey’s power-ballad “Faithfully,” which Sever lovingly played for his wife — back at home with their children.