Friday, January 25, 2013

Damien Jurado and Naomi Wachira at a Seattle Living Room Show

I went to my first "Seattle Living Room Shows" event to see Damien Jurado and Naomi Wachira. Damien Jurado has been a local fixture for a while, but somehow I had never managed to see him until last Summer at Bumbershoot, where he totally blew me away. He writes powerful, often bleak songs that just totally hit home with me, and I was looking forward to seeing him in a more intimate setting.

The process of seeing the show is a little secretive - you sign up electronically, then a bit later they give you the details. We got there within a few minutes of the doors opening and already more than half the seats had been claimed, but we got reasonable seats together. That was kind of important because Heather was on crutches, so there's one tip: come quite early if you want to get seats at a Seattle Living Room Show!
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

It wasn't actually in someone's house, it was in a space near the Seahawk's stadium that I think is a gallery, but it was the intimate setting I was hoping for.
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

The crowd is seated in front of and to the right of the performers, with around 40 seats, and another 30 or 40 watch while standing behind the seats. The technical crew (audio and video, more on the video later) took the left side space. A small table was laid out with free snacks, bread with a spinach spread and chips, salsa, and multilayer dip (beans, cheese, sour cream, onions, a few peppers) to munch on, and a paid bar with beer, wine and hard liquor.

They had a single bathroom which also made it feel like a house show - standing in line to get into the bathroom took a few minutes.

The show was a benefit for the Melodic Caring Project, and they streamed it live to several hospitalized kids and teens.Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

Both Naomi Wachira and Damien Jurado have kids, and you could tell they took the charity to heart. They spoke to the kids during the show, and they both got choked up doing it. Having your own kids, the thought of kids being deathly ill hits too close to home for comfort. That's OK, the world is full of things that are not comforting, and too often our culture stays in denial on the subject. It's important to acknowledge how tough things are for some, even if it makes me cry in sympathy.

Naomi Wachira took the stage first, she's bee n in Seattle for some time and is originally from Kenya. She told us that she was going back home in the next couple days and would get to see her child, who is being raised by her grandparents. It was interesting how personal the stage chatter was, I think that was the influence of the charity and knowing that kids in an extremely tough situation were watching.

Some of her songs were personal, about lessons learned, songs of strength and self determination like this one:

She had some tasty backing vocals on this and some of the songs, the backing vocals were from another band, but I promptly forgot the name of the band. Sorry about that, I'll edit this and add the name back in if I ever track it down.

Simple, heartfelt, fairly stripped down with guitar and vocal and tasty backing vocals, very nice for the intimate setting.

She finished up with "African Girl" which is also the title track on the CD they had on the merch table. A beautiful song that looks back on her roots and her life, a song of faith and identity. I like how it frames things and lays out what matters to her. Lovely voice, complex lyrics that avoid the endless repetition so common in most modern music, definitely packed full of more ideas in one song than most bands manage to get in a full album. Great match for Damien Jurado, who has similarly dense and meaningful, if challenging, songs.

Damien Jurado took the stage for his headline set next. Jurado is an interesting performer; when I saw him at Bumbershoot he really didn't have much in the way of patter. He often looked down while singing and playing, or looked straight out, above the heads of the audience. He doesn't get much if any eye contact - I can't tell off hand if he doesn't like it, or just isn't concerned, but either way it makes for a slightly introverted yet powerful experience.

As Damien sat down he laid out various sheets of paper on a seat near him and mostly looked at them while playing.
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013
After his first song he said "I'm not going to do these songs, I'm tired of them" and he shuffled through and skipped down the stack to some new songs. He told us he was working on a new album, and that he was going to do new songs. As a result I didn't recognize most of the set, but that's OK since the songs were consistently excellent
I noticed that Damien also was talking a bit between songs, which was a new experience for me. He mentioned his two kids, and told us the story of how "Museum Of Flight" came to be. It was a very personal story involving his adolescent child, and once he told us the story he said "I never explain my songs, so now you're the only group who knows where it came from" or something like that. I think the fact that he had an audience of terribly sick children watching streaming video of the performance was what pushed him into opening up. The audience is there to hear his songs, but those kids deserved more communication from him, somehow, and I really respect that artistic choice.

He continued opening up in ways I suspect he never had before on stage. If you notice in the first picture of him above, his shoes are off. He mentioned that, saying something like "this is a living room show, so I'm getting comfortable like I would in my own living room." Then he paused, and said "Well, if it was my living room, I'd be in my long underwear, which I'm wearing under my pants." After that it didn't take much encouragement before he ended up - after saying "this is entirely age appropriate, I'm not stripping!" which he emphasized by repeating - then he took his pants off. As you can see in the intro to this song, he riffed on that and turned it into a wonderful moment of solidarity with the kids watching from their hospital rooms.

If you look closely, you can see that sure enough, he's playing in his long underwear.

Here's a picture so you can see it more clearly:
Damien Jurado at the Seattle Living Rooms show January 25 2013

As he wound down his set and got to the final two numbers, he gave a sweet testimonial that made us all choke up and made me cry. I caught it on video here:
The other thing I notice about it: he never looks at directly at the audience as far as I can tell, but he insisted on tracking down which camera was operating and looked directly at it, directly at the kids in the hospital watching the show, and spoke to them, thanking them and expressing his love. Mortality hitting the young is one of the toughest things there is to process, and something we strenuously avoid talking about. I feel uniquely privileged to have been there for this, to have experienced the love and pain and emotion in a simple 40 minute set with Damien Jurado opening up on stage in a way I've never seen before, and I suspect in a way he never has before. Wonderful dedication, a compelling example of a show dedicated to those who weren't there, who were watching from their hospital beds.

As if that wasn't enough crying and snuffling, he topped that with his final song, "Cloudy Shoes."

The chorus breaks my heart and makes me cry, even now just listening to the video:
"One day you will be taller, taller than the sky,
Til that day, you will be, here with us, below.

Such a beautiful heart-breakingly appropriate song for this benefit show, and a perfect downbeat ending for a "depressive songwriter" (to use Damien's term) to end the show on.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, I know this is late, but I wanted to say thank you for such a kind write up. I just got to read it.

    I was wondering if I can quote you for my website... if so, how should I credit you?

    You can contact me


    Naomi Wachira