Friday night I went to hear Shelby Lynne at McCabe’s. I’ve been a big fan, especially since I interviewed her back in March. McCabe’s is a great venue, small and simple. You can just feel the vibration from past shows and people sitting around playing and picking out chords, looking for just the right guitar.
There’s a hush, a layering and nuance in Shelby’s voice that you don’t get off the recorded stuff. At least, I don’t on my car stereo speakers that switch from mono to dual sound with crackling regularity. Or the sad speakers on my computer. I was really looking forward to hearing I’ll Hold Your Head. I think of that song as a ballad though it may not strictly fit that form. But it has a simple, heartfelt storytelling quality. And now, it’s kind of ruined for me because I don’t love the recorded version as much. So Shelby, whenever you want to come over and sing that song for me, just let me know. And let me know what you like to drink so I can pick up a bottle.
There’s a song on Shelby’s latest album, Revelation Road, called Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road. Shelby wrote and sang this song through the voice of a dead man. Switching up perspectives is a good challenge for a writer. Even more interesting was watching Shelby perform this song. She had the big guitar out for this one. (Please excuse my ignorance in guitar vernacular. Shelby used two guitars for the performance. One was bigger.) Her posture changed. She leaned back away from the mike, she seemed to square herself off and get a little broader. Her voice went deeper and could have been a howl with a little less control.
I want to be a rock star. It’s hard to accept that this isn’t in the cards for me. Makes one hope for reincarnation and indulge in happy obsessions with the real thing. I get the same feeling from certain singers and songs that I get from poetry. It’s this intense longing for…something. Something that I hate because I can’t hold it or touch it. At the same time, I love and protect this thing because I think that maybe I’m lucky to feel it at all. And then I go see shows like Shelby’s and I’m courting this thing, wondering if everyone else in the audience feels it. Hoping they do and also hoping that I’m special and no one else gets it the way I do.
After the show, I got to say hello to Shelby and tell her how much I liked the new song that she did. I’d love the chance to just sit and talk with her about how it feels to perform, to hold that audience. How do you know when you’ve really connected? Is it a visceral sensation? Is it something you realize while it’s happening or after?
Instead, I hopped in my car to get home and nurse a child with a sore throat. But I sang all the way home from Santa Monica. I wonder how long it would take me to learn guitar. Oh god, just don’t let me end up at one of those rock star fantasy camps or drunk and singing karaoke, okay?
Here’s a version of Heaven’s Only Days Down the Road. The sound quality isn’t great, but it gives you an idea…