(Photo from A.A. Bondy’s Social Media Page)
A.A. Bondy’s show on Thursday, September 9, 2010 at Mississippi Studios taught me a lesson about the power of an artist whose performances can be as shattering as an emotionally charged relationship. Maybe I get a little too mentally caught up in my live music experience, but when I’m there, I’m there and vulnerable.
As Bondy carefully soundchecked I focused on his expressionless face, searching for a spark of pleasure, hope, or even an acknowledgement of how cool his situation really is (or seems to be from the outside). Nothin’… -just pure concentration and seemingly zero notice of the large crowd gaping at him, though I have to think that he was acutely aware of us and that his duty to perfection intensified to an almost unbearable state as the minutes counted down to take-off. Sipping a scotch, I started to wonder about his psyche: shy? tortured? preoccupied? achingly raw? or did he just hate us for being there to witness his imminent catharsis? When the hood on his sweatshirt was slammed shut by a tug at the drawstring and his glass of whiskey drained with a steady pace, I decided it was the first option, and the second, and the third, and maybe the fourth, but probably not the fifth, unless he’s some kind of masochist, which…?? I realize it’s not my place to psychoanalyze, but knowing that I was about to let him all the way through my head into my core with his music made me want to know a little something about him, even if i had to make it up.
Soundcheck is over, the rollercoaster ride continues. Somewhere backstage the sweatshirt was traded for a faded red, short-sleeved Western shirt; he looked quite different, handsome, ready. Instantly his lightly husky voice, which reminds me of the sound I imagine my knee making right after a scab is pulled slowly off, became mynext favorite attribute, second to the oddly beautiful, slightly unwell lyrics that I have admired for some time. His melancholy air and gorgeous guitar work led me toward him like a wild forest animal wanting food, but fearing the feeder. Though his soundcheck persona left me cold and untrusting, I was soon simultaneously back on my heels and ready to eat from his hand as he started singing about devils and other tortured-soul icons with a distant preoccupation.
The set was steadily captivating, painting vivid pictures both of places I wanted to see and places I didn’t, until the amp blew (or whatever happens to amps…I don’t really know, but something happened and the s*** quit working). He was clearly provoked. I was worried. The show went from controlled, cavalier lawlessness to a long moment of pitching and lurching. I’m not sure if his whiskey helped or hindered, but I’m going to go with the former because out of the wreckage Bondy’s genius kicked in and he piloted us out of a white-knuckle situation with stoic grace, an even hand, and a whiskey back. I felt handled. The audience’s reaction to this resolution assured me that everyone else was as vulnerable as I, riding this train whose engineer carelessly played with his circumstance as a teenager does with his life, but whose prowess ultimately delivered us safely to a somewhat haunted, yet intriguing destination.
I don’t know if J.D. Salinger (d. Jan 27, 2010) met A.A. Bondy before he died, but if he had I think he would have had a Geppetto moment. I really do.
Download When the Devil’s Loose on iTunes. Sept 1, 2009; Fat Possum Records.
Check out A.A. Bondy’s Daytrotter session.
September 16, 2010 ADDENDUM: I had a chance to talk with Auguste (a.k.a Scott?) last evening before his show at Spaceland in L.A. He’s gentle, extremely polite, friendly, and seems to appreciate and notice the things that make us all human. I like him -not that it matters to him or to you, but… I like him.
After spending a few minutes around him, my perception of the afore-described soundcheck changed. He’s not a hobo playing for dimes, he’s a professional. Music is his career and he’s great at it, so of course he’s focused.
Oh yeah — and that wasn’t whiskey in his glass. It was scotch.