Saturday, October 18, 2014

Music Star Cafe Norderstedt, Germany October 9

Today was the 74th anniversary of John Lennon's birth (and on a personal note, the 25th anniversary of the greatest set of music I ever saw The Grateful Dead perform) and we spent the first half of it blasting down to Lunenburg  for a radio interview.  Juergen (Jurgen in english) Kramer (there should be a colon'y umlat over the "u" in his name and that of the city) has been playing Jon's music for years.  As a result, Jon graciously made time to go record an interview for future broadcast as a thank you for all of the airplay and support.

Being the complete radio dork that I am, I would normally want to watch the interview....maybe even be in the room.  But I had fallen behind in my blogging at this point and the studio only had three chairs and a DJ from another show was also excited to meet and chat with Jon.  Juergen graciously set me up at a computer in their office so I could work.  So, there I was poking away at the keyboard next to some of the station's producers.  I had left some notes at The Bresnahan's, but Neil kindly and promptly scanned them and sent them to me so I could continue my work.  I could hear the sounds of the interview and performance faintly drift from the other room.  But I heard them well enough to hear Jon recount the story about how I had locked him in his hotel room during the first show of our previous European Tour.  Now tens of thousands of Germans know the story.  Super.  I recounted my version with the producers m;who were in the room with me, and they seemed to get a kick out of it.  I guess you gotta laugh at your own dopiness from time to time in this life if you want to maintain your sanity.

The interview went very long.  Jon played about 7 or 8 songs and sounded from the next room like he was in decent form despite the fact that he was a bit tired.  We briefly walked around the college campus that surrounded this professional radio station and then high-tailed it up the Autobahn to Norderstedt for our return to the Music Star Cafe.

The Music Star Cafe had been a key place on our last trip.  This is a room widely-known across Europe for being incredibly supportive of worthy and deserving independent musicians.  When I walked in for the first time I marveled at all of the pictures of previous performers that decorated much of the wall space.  It made me feel at home to see hanging on the walls pictures of a bunch of musicians from The States with which I was familiar - Chris Smither, Geoff Achison (an Australian who calls Atlanta his US home), Jerry Joseph and Caroline Aiken are each well-represented on the Cafe walls.  Aiken is scheduled to perform here in February, and everyone seemed to be looking forward to her return.

The folks at the Music Star Cafe provide every performer with a cool little light show, and they capture the performance with a well-edited five-camera shoot.  Below the setlist at the end of this post, you will see that you can click over to YouTube to see the version of Jon's "Ordinary Cats" from here last year.  It was by far the best video to come out of that tour, and most of the other European venues have been using it as part of their promotion for shows on this tour.  These guys are much more about spreading the word about under-appreciated great musicians than about turning a profit.  It takes on the feel of a music-lovers man cave, but instead of sports memorabilia and/or scantily clad women hanging on walls above pool tables - they have a bunch of music performance and documenting-related equipment.  Needless to say, it is a place with which I fell in love rather quickly.

Last year, they had provided a homemade dinner for us, but that would not be possible this year.  However, the dynamic and fearless leader of the room, Wolfgang Sedlatschek had kindly told us to just buy dinner and give him the receipt.  This came in handy, because as we approached Norderstedt we hit horrendous traffic on the same road which we had the year before, so we slid into a snazzy local pizza place and had a dinner that nicely balanced our healthy appetite with our concern for not wanting to spend too much of Wolfgang's money.

Jon was still rather tired, so I had to step up with some actual Tour Manager'y behavior.  I dropped him at the hotel (or "hotey" as the kids like to say) and then gathered some CDs I had brought for Wolfgang and headed over to the venue to see if they would allow a later than scheduled sound check.  This wasn't difficult, and Wolfgang graciously accepted the CDs I brought, although he told me he had the Neil Young ones (he has every show Neil has played in the past 35 or so years) but he quickly passed them on to an eager peer.  I had successfully bought Jon some nap time.

In all candor, I had been a bit intimidated when I first met Wolfgang Sedlatschek last year.  My first impression was that this large, stoic and somewhat imposing guy would kick my ass if I stepped out of line.  First impressions can often be radically off-base, and it seems as though mine were with regard to Wolfgang.  Once he and I discovered that we weren't just Neil Young fans, but rabid enthusiasts about all things Neil, we hit it off quite well.  Not only was Wolfgang the brains and energy behind this fantastic room, but in a short period of time he also would reveal himself to be the most fervent Neil Young fan I had ever met in my life.  In fact, he excitedly had told a story about how Neil had in Frankfurt in 1989 performed the rarities "Razor Love," "Winterlong," "Stringman" and "Cocaine Eyes."  A little research on the Internets revealed that Wolfgang is a lot like many of us aging rock lovers in that his memory wasn't completely accurate.  The show was actually in Rotterdam, the final of a brief December 1989 European Tour....and Neil hadn't actually played "Stringman" there.  Perhaps Neil had done the song for Wolfgang in Paris a few days earlier and Wolfgang was having memory merge issues (I find this happening to me more and more every year).  Or maybe Wolfgang had somehow encouraged Neil to perform the debut version of "Dreamin' Man" which also was brought forth that night in Rotterdam.  Whatever the case, it is a very cool story and to this day, Neil has never again played "Cocaine Eyes" in public.  (Neil fun fact - he also has not performed his composition "No More" since this Rotterdam show)

I did eventually go back and pick Jon up, who on this night had the luxury of NOT being locked in his room.  Everyone was happy to see and hear him because like I said, this room is all about quality independent musicians.  His sound check went seamlessly and shortly thereafter he was digging muscular low notes into "Loan Me a Year" and again regaling with a spirited rendition of Hank Williams' "California Zephyr."  Much like last year, Jon soared through the first set and was rewarded with an attentive and responsive audience.  Each of the shows were recorded, so proof of this will be on exhibit when the full versions of those reach the US.  Jon plays so well here that I suggested he consider releasing a DVD of stuff culled from the two performances.

This was the first version of "Fading Light," the lyrics of which Jon and I had discussed during the I was particularly drawn into them today.  Thankfully I grabbed my own video of "Mr. Snakeoil" as Jon tore into this one with strength (there is a link to a video of this included with the setlist below).  He dusted off "Laughter Fades Away" and absolutely nailed such an extent that when asked which song the room should master for video release, this was the one we decided upon.  The highlights of the rest of the set were Jon rewarding the attentive audience with inspired readings of "Merrimack" inspired by the decline of industry in Jon's hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts, and "Full Bloom" which was inspired by brave soldiers who have served (and in some cases, lost their lives) in recent wars.

(edited to add - turns out someone changed his/her mind and "Luckier Than Most" was chosen from this show.  I wish I had captured that "Laughter Fades Away" now, but here is the "Luckier" vid anyway.

The 2nd set featured a few ol' Shain originals, a requested "Level It Out," another strong "Station Master," "Song For JoJo" (featuring a quick reference to The Grateful Dead's "Bird Song" a subtle reference to my cry baby whining about missing my dog Birdie the previous day), "Love Is a Lucky Thing" (sent out to Jefferson Waful, whose editing has been immensely helpful to this blog), the rarely performed instrumental "Drunken Horses" and a rousing, set-closing "Ten Days."  However, the rest of the set was composed of brand-new unrecorded Shain songs and covers.  Very unusual.  He was clearly as fired-up to be back here as I was, dropping on our faces spirited renditions of "All Your Neon Dollars," the Spanish-flavored "It Wouldn't Be Long" and the recent-Dutch-law-inspired "Den Bosch Blues."  The covers were Paul Simon's "Peace Like a River" (like "California Zephyr" this is from Jon's Reupholstered CD), a soulful and slightly down-tempo version of The Rolling Stones' "No Expectations" and he honored John Lennon's birthday with an impromptu version of "Norweigan Wood" replete with a nice section of modal improvisation.

Much like a Paco Plumtek in Almelo last year, the show may have ended, but the evening still had just begun.  We were in no hurry and clearly neither was the staff or a certain number of the attendees.  This place attracts a fantastic crew of music fans.  I ended up cornering one particularly enigmatic fella I would end up finding out was named Thomas Bruse.  This dude had been seeing shows in Germany since the 60s.  I wound him up and then listened to stories about seeing The Stones and The Beatles at Ernst Merck Hall in Hamburg in 65 and 66 (respectively) and Hendrix and The Band at Musikhalle in the same city a few years later.  He got particular wistful when he spoke of seeing Keith Emerson and The Nice play at The Star Club in Hamburg.  This is a precursor to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and one that Bruse greatly preferred to the (what would become) considerably more well-known ELP.

However, what surprised me the most was his response when I asked him his all-time favorite band, he identified it as Spooky Tooth.  This was an English rock band with for which I had only a passing familiarity, and one that Thomas told me had featured the twin keyboard work of Mike Harrison and Gary Wright.  Yes this is the Gary Wright who played on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass record and who eventually had a solo career which is perhaps best known for the hit, "Dream Weaver."   The group also featured eventual Humble Pie bassist Greg Ridley.  They also featured Luke Grosvener, a guitarist who would eventually record and tour with the legendary Moot The Hoople.  My new friend Thomas spoke glowingly about the many times he had seen this band, and I was surprised to learn with a little research that many, many other musicians had played with them.  Among them was one of my favorite rock pianists, long-time Eric Clapton side man Chris Stainton and Mick Jones who would later form Foreigner.  I had no idea that my chat with Thomas at a tiny table outside of Sweeties Mehr Als Ein Kaffeehaus (the coffee shop with which the Music Star Cafe shared a building) would turn into a full-blown rock lesson.

I also had no idea that when I re-entered Sweeties, the few folks that remained from Jon's show had moved into there, and been joined by a few lively locals.  I had encouraged Wolfgang to tell his Neil Young story.....and I wish I could detail it better but I can't find the notes and my memory of the post-"on the clock" portion of the evening is admittedly a bit hazy.....but suffice to say that this inspired Wolfgang to get Jon to pick his guitar back up play an impromptu, informal set of Neil Young songs in Sweeties.  It was pretty cool to watch Wolfgang run around and excitedly film Jon as he led a couple of musicians through "A Man Needs A Maid," "When You Dance I Can Really Love," "Old Man," "Cripple Creek Ferry," "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," "Big Time" and a couple of others while everyone else sang along or danced or made new friends.  Wolfgang seemed most excited about "Cripple Creek" and "Big Time."  The night ended sort of the way it began, as I acted a bit like a tour manager, dragging Jon out of there even though each of us would have loved to stay for hours.  But our hotel wanted us out of there by 11am, and I wanted to be sure my li'l maestro was well-rested for the completion of the tour.

Jon Shain
Music Star Cafe
Norderstedt, Germany
October 9, 2014

Loan Me a Year
California Zephyr
Another Month of Mondays
Luckier Than Most video
Ordinary Cats
Fading Light
Laughter Fades Away
Mr. Snakeoil  video
Full Bloom
Cut-Out Bin
Level It Out
Station Master
All Your Neon Dollars
Peace Like a River
No Expectations
Song For JoJo
It Wouldn't Be Long
Love Is a Lucky Thing
Drunken Horses
Den Bosch Blues
Norweigan Wood
Ten Days
The Deep Freeze

Jon Shain at Music Star Cafe 2013
Chris Smither at Music Star Cafe
Geoff Achison at Music Star Cafe
Jerry Joseph with Walter Salas Humara at Music Star Cafe
Caroline Aiken at Music Star Cafe
Blog author's video of Jon Shain performing "Windy and Warm" at Music Star Cafe 2013
Neil Young Rotterdam 12/13/89 setlist
Neil Young performing Cocaine Eyes Rotterdam 12/13/89
Neil Young performing Winterlong Rotterdam 12/13/89
Neil Young performing Razor Love
Neil Young performing Stringman
Neil Young performing Dreamin' Man
footage from the night when The Beatles at Ernst-Merck Halle in Hamburg 1966
audio of Rolling Stones performing at Ernst-Merck Halle in Hamburg 1965
audio from Jimi Hendrix's late show at Musikhalle in Hamburg 1969
The Nice footage
Spooky Tooth live

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