Café Du Nord
January 18, 2004
The More Things Change
Review by Shannon Coulter
At three in the morning on October 30th, 2001, sixty or so people were still stretched out on Persian rugs and pillows that had been arranged around a candlelit warehouse deep in the heart of the Mission. Stylish, bombed and charming as Chuck Barris, the master of ceremonies had staggered off to locate more booze or blow or both, and random performers had begun to take the stage. A small, drunk nun sang an old-timey revival tune, then dragged out an actual prie dieu while a bishop materialized to place miniature Snickers bars on peoples' tongues. "For your partially hydrogenated lifestyle!" he bellowed. "Amen."
The junk food communion dispersed and three musicians wandered up on stage. When one started bowing a saw and I heard its innocent, spectral soprano live for the first time, I not only stopped talking--I think I may have stopped breathing. Suddenly everyone in the room was as unaware of themselves as kindergartners hearing their favorite story. The guitarist folded a Piedmont tenor into the saw's melody: "The moon," he sang "...is on..the rise... The light...is in...her eyes," shifting to a minor key on the last word. The slow, simple phrasing exactly matched the pace and purity of a rising moon. No one moved. For several minutes, we were caught in almost hurtfully perfect moments of epic benevolence.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Sean Hayes.
Though the sold-out Du Nord show was for the release of his third album, "Alabama Chicken," Sean started the set with some brand new tunes--all of which showed a deepening mastery of his distinctive sound. Like those of the album, these were darkly sweet, subtle grooves, new and old at the same time...rootsy acoustic trip-hop with a reseda green patina. One of the new songs was called "New Year's Day," and it occurred to me that a lot of Sean's music relates to the marking and measuring of time. "Did you forget to remember what the end is?" he asks in "Rattlesnake charm (Dream Machine)," a song Mark Farina remixed into a track that's become one of influential KCRW's most requested. "Here we are" is the ambling soundtrack to a series of encounters the desert; it steadily clasps and releases each moment like a heart muscle clasping and releasing the body's blood. "Things keep changing," he reminded us in one of the new songs, "don't hold on, don't hold on--it's already gone."
The new songs he played at Du Nord mean that it's going to be hard to wait for the next album, but in the meantime I'll stare into the eyes of the "Alabama Chicken," and try to learn its secret: how to admire the present without minding its relentless transformation into the past.
Sean's Du Nord performance was alternately accompanied by Ara Anderson (Iron and the Albatross, Boostamonte, Tom Waits) on trumpet and electric piano, Dan Cantrell on accordian, Mark Growden on electric guitar, Will Waghorn (For Stars, [the] caseworker) on drums and Garth Wells on bass.