August 9, 2018

The Prayer Chain, Dakoda Motor Co., Pedro the Lion, and friendship

A couple days ago I was in Lansing, Michigan and bought the Sleigh Bells album Jessica Rabbit at The Record Lounge. I was having a conversation with the owner of the store, and we began talking about Sleigh Bells. I told her how my appreciation for the band increased dramatically last week after I listened to a podcast with singer Alexis Krauss. The podcast barely mentioned music; it was about Krauss' work as a teacher--first as a NYC public school teacher and now in outdoor education. After that podcast and during a long drive I listened to all five Sleigh Bells albums in a row. I have a radically different understanding and appreciation for the band now that I understand more about Krauss. She is not only a musician, but also a compassionate, thoughtful educator.

The owner of The Record Lounge gave me a discount on the album, probably because we had the conversation. Next time I am in Lansing I will definitely be back.

My opinions about the store and about Sleigh Bells are now formed in relationship. Not that I am friends with the owner or Krauss, but I now know them at least a little and have a connection to who they are, not just what they do. (Final comment on Sleigh Bells for this post: I bought the LP not just because I enjoy the music, but I love the bad-ass album cover and artwork.)

This brings me to the actual topic, the fact that I saw Dakoda Motor Co. and the Prayer Chain in concert. IN 2018. The show was wonderful of course as I have been a fan of both of these bands for 25 years. The show was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign the Prayer Chain ran earlier this year to press the album Shawl on vinyl for its 25th anniversary. I pledged to the campaign for the vinyl only back in January. The only planned show was in California at the time, and I of course was living in Germany and had no idea where I would be come summer.



At the conclusion of the successful campaign in February a Nashville date was added. I still had no idea where I would be living on August 4, but considering I am from Nashville and have family in the area, I gave it a shot and hoped.

It wasn't until last week I finally decided to go. Thankfully I had some credit card miles built up to get my plane tickets and I was on my way from Detroit to Pittsburgh to Nashville and back. Not only did I go for the music, I also went because it is the closest I will ever get to time travel. But the main reason I made the trip was because of friendship.

Being at the show was surreal. In many ways it felt like I was back in the mid-90's. Dakoda Motor Co. was my first favorite band back when I was 16, and the Prayer Chain was in my top 5 favorite bands for all of the 90's. I'll included some facts about the show itself, but the heart of the experience and my writing will be the people I saw and had conversations with.

When I finally committed to attend the show, I reached out to my friend DC. DC and I went to Samford together for a couple years in the 90's, and then he transferred to Auburn. I think we talked about the Prayer Chain the first time we met, and his email address was sunstoned@_____. Some of my favorite memories with DC are going to shows and Auburn Football games, including the 1997 Iron Bowl.

From a music perspective, DC and I bonded when we drove from Birmingham to Atlanta in Fall of 1995 to see Starflyer 59 and Morella's Forest play at the Pterodactyl. I had seen them both play the night before at the Crush Warehouse, but he missed it so I insisted we must go again the following night. Not only did those two bands play again, Joe Christmas was also on the bill. The highlight of the night though was a surprise appearance from Luxury. I have written about this experience on my blog numerous times before. It was Luxury's first performance since their horrible van crash (documentary about that and the band releasing soon). Lee Bozeman walked on to the stage, said, "Hello, we're Starflyer 59," and Luxury launched into "Solid Gold."

I hadn't seen DC since the late 90's, but we have been in touch off and on over the years. It was terrific to connect, and just as the Prayer Chain was the first thing we might have ever talked about, the band brought us together 23 years later.

Speaking of Birmingham and the Crush Warehouse, the next friend I saw was JW. He and I first met as he worked in the music department at LifeWay Christian bookstore in Birmingham. I bought countless CDs from him over the years, including The Prayer Chain's Antarctica. We also attended numerous Crush Warehouse shows together.

JW eventually moved to Nashville and I reconnected with him at Grimey's, where he has now worked for a long time. He posts frequently on Instagram of the albums he is spinning and is a fun follow. JW helped me arrange pre-show dinner at the Peg Leg Porker, and he, myself, DC, KP, AH, and two other guys all ate and hung out.

The final Birmingham connection of the night was GH, who I had actually never met in person until Saturday. However, we later realized he and I had attended countless shows together, but had just never met. The most notable mutual concert experience was the Prayer Chain's 1995 show at the Crush Warehouse, in which I worked the merch table. That show was much more significant to him, as it was his first date with his wife!

GH and I have chatted online a lot over the years, and at the show he let me know what led him to first become aware of me as a "music writer": In 2002 I and another crazy friend wrote a LONG letter to the editor of HM magazine. Surprisingly for us, they published it in full! I am not sure if it is still on the HM website, but a few years ago I put it up on my blog for posterity sake.

My brother KP came to the dinner and show as well. He and I of course have countless musical memories, but I'll focus on one. When I was 16 and he was 14 we listened to a radio show called the A-Zone in Nashville, hosted by deejays Dr. Tony Shore and KC Jones. And guess what, KC Jones was at the show on Saturday.

I went to talk to KC to remind him of the memory with my brother. KP called into the A-Zone in 1994 and won a contest. The prize was a copy of the Prayer Chain's Shawl. KC and Dr. Tony had promised to mail it to Keith, but forgot for months. Well, in January of 1995 KP and I were at a Fleming and John and Hoi Polloi concert in the basement of a Vanderbilt frat house. In between bands, we went outside to a payphone and called into the A-Zone, which was being aired live at the time. The hosts were of course jealous. A couple weeks later we visited the radio studio on a Saturday night and KP got his Shawl cassette. And we were able to give KC and Dr. Tony a Fleming and John demo cassette (this was before the initial release of Delusions of Grandeur).

The other three guys at the dinner I had never met before, but one, AH, I had also been aware of for quite some time. Number one, he is the owner of Theory 8 Records, who in the past couple years has put out stuff from Idle Bloom, Bully, and others. But most notably for me, he put out the 2003 Forget Cassettes album Instruments of Action, one of my all-time favs. (My brother, KP, also eventually played keyboards in Forget Cassettes a decade later). AH's most notable discovery is probably the band Copeland, but as he told me on Saturday, he never got much credit for that one.

I also started following AH on Instagram a few years ago, and have been fascinated by his restoration of vintage audio gear. We discussed my recent re-acquisition of my dad's old Marantz receiver which a friend had refurbished for me.

Most of my friends I found and connected with before or after the show, but one found me in the middle of it: CB. CB and I met at Beach Project in Panama City in 1996. We also connected about the Prayer Chain quickly, and CB's high school band opened for them in Memphis. CB and I both had radio shows at Samford, which were the best things WVSU had going for it. I also hadn't seen CB since the Samford days in the late 90's.

Dakoda Motor Co.

(Video is actually from the California show; haven't found a good one from the Nashville show yet.)

Setlist (which was honestly nearly perfect):
"Sondancer"
"Wind an' Sea"
"Need a Love"
"Grey Clouds"
"Rockin' in the Mall"
"Stand Up"
"Ooh, That Girl"
"All Good Generals"
"Truth"
"Alive"
"Trip to Pain"

Song they didn't need to play: "Rockin' in the Mall"; fun live, but not one of their better songs.

Biggest omission: Would have loved to hear "Ocean Seems".

I am thankful I got to see Dakoda Motor Co. back in 1995, but that was with Melissa on vocals, as Davia had left the band at that point. Seeing them with Davia was terrific (and once again, surreal).

The Choir
Honestly not much of a Choir fan. I like their better songs, but the majority of their catalog bores me. The Choir did sound good, and they had Steve Mason from Jars of Clay on guitar and Wayne Everett on percussion. I had a bad The Choir experience at Cornerstone one year that was moderately relived last Saturday night. I got to tell the story a couple times as well:

Midnight shows were a common thing at Cornerstone. One year, when I didn't attend a midnight show, and instead went to bed, I had trouble sleeping because of an especially noisy show. You are probably thinking some hardcore show or something and that I was just outside the tent. Nope, it was The Choir, and they were playing the song "Circle Slide"; and I was camped far away in an area we called "the shire". My memory is that Dan Michael's saxophone solo lasted hours, and I was having nightmares about it. Anyway, The Choir did play the same song again with Michaels on sax. I am not sure how long the solo was for, but it was too long for me.

GH's wife described them in this way: "The Choir a bit bland and bloated."

The Prayer Chain


I shot that video, but this one (below) is better, and also includes Jyro! So cool that Jyro sang with them in California, and sad but understandable he didn't make it to Nashville.



Setlist:
"Sunstoned"
"Crawl"
"Dig Dug"
"Fifty-Eight"
"Like I Was"
"The Hollow"
"Never Enough"
"Wrounde"
"Grin"
"Big Wheel"
"Pure"
(sorry no Wayne poem in French)
"Worm"
"Psychoflange"
"Mercury"
"Grylliade"
"Chalk"
"Sky High"

Song they didn't need to play: "Chalk"
I have nothing against the song, but it took four takes for them to play the song.

Biggest omission: This is different for everyone, but I would have replaced "Chalk" with another Antarctica song, "Friend or Foe". Thrilled that they played no pre-Shawl songs.

I had seen the Prayer Chain two other times: 1995 in Birmingham and 2003 at Flevo Festival in the Netherlands. It is hard to compare because of the huge time gaps in between those, but this show was really special. As I was explaining to Andy Prickett after the show, this one was different because all the guys in the band were happy. Andy himself admitted that in 1995 they were "grumpy". Understandably so for any band touring in those conditions, but the Prayer Chain itself was full of tension at that point and they broke up just a few months later.

I have also had a great relationship with Prickett over the years. We first connected on the Northern Records message boards, which is by far the most involved in an online music community I have ever been. Northern launched their boards around the time the first Cush album was released in 2000, and then I became a pretty dedicated member there in 2002 or so. I think the boards lasted until 2005 or 2006, and I have continued to email with and engage on social media with many people I met on there.

That included RL, who I met for the first time Saturday night. He volunteered to work the Prayer Chain's merch table, and it was fun to connect in person for the first time after 16 years of digital communication. The Northern boards were unique in that everyone was kind, interesting, and the level of discussion, while obviously mostly about music, went to deeper levels. What also made them unique is how many musicians took part in the message board such as Andy and Eric and how much insight they shared about the Prayer Chain and Cush's music. I have been emailing with Andy Prickett now for 15 years, and we had good conversation at Flevo in 2003 and then this week in Nashville.

Back in the early 2000's I created a MySpace for Dakoda Motor Co. because they were not active. And MySpace was essential. ;) In 2007 when they reformed for shows and a few recordings (only one of which was released), I got in touch with bass player Derik Toy and turned the page over to him. He and I emailed off and on, and then we met in person for the first time Saturday night. I also talked to Dakoda Motor Co. members Chuck Cummings and Eliot Chenault. I was telling them how Dakoda Motor Co. was my first favorite band, and Eliot shared those sentiments. He talked about how surreal it was for him to join his favorite band after their first album. The next day I saw Eliot in the Nashville airport and we chatted again briefly.


The final example I'll share about relationship in music is how I have related to David Bazan over the last two decades. I began writing this post just before seeing Pedro the Lion play Tuesday night in Ferndale (near Detroit), and I am now finishing it a couple days later.

When I first began listening to Pedro the Lion in 1997, and then began seeing Bazan in concert in 1998, I connected to him on many levels. Not only did I enjoy his music, but we shared the same religious beliefs, and we were similar in many ways. When he began to question his faith, I didn't know what to make of it, and it led to me becoming less interested in his music (When Achilles Heel and Headphones were released, my connection to him was severed and was honestly put off by much of those albums).

I wrote about this in a lengthy blog post in 2015, but over the years I once again began to relate to him more. Not because we believed the same things, but because he is an honest, intelligent, transparent guy. And as someone who still follows Jesus, I also am disillusioned and sometimes angry with the Western Christian church. I also relate to him as a husband and father trying to support a family in this screwed up world.

On a musical level, while enjoying his more recent solo work, I only really listened to him over the last few years because I like him as a person, connect to his lyrics, and appreciate his perspective. I saw him play a solo show two years ago in Atlanta and found it enjoyable, but thought his best work was behind him.

But then on Tuesday night, the three-piece rock band Pedro the Lion rocked me to my core. As I shared on Twitter, it was the loudest show I have been to in a really long time, and was utterly stunned with how powerful the hour and a half performance was. The set was broken into three-song medleys in which the songs were thematically related and the sound never stopped (the songs overlapped or blended into one another). The best of these was when they played "Magazine," "Second Best," and "A Mind of Her Own" consecutively. I thankfully got that last song on video (below). While I without a doubt would still like Pedro the Lion with no backstory; having a "relationship" with Bazan for 20 years gave me a deep, spiritual connection to the show.




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