As I climbed the Macdonald bridge earlier in the day (seriously, and yes, it was awesome), I found myself climbing a ladder in one of the cramped, sun heated-iron towers and that was suffocatingly hot. Last night, the North Street Church was even hotter. The church was like an iron lung: as soon as a set finished, the crowd quickly exhaled onto Fuller Terrace, ran to the corner store across the street for freezies and orange creamsicles, sucked them down and went back inside for another round.
The Church was jam packed with people sitting cross-legged on the floor, to see Calm Down It's Monday, Calvin Johnson, Rick White, Julie Doiron and Mount Eerie. The room had a wonderfully quiet, summer romance atmosphere where the audience stares inwardly at the performers as if they were campfire flames or fireflies.
In all his time in Beat Happening, Olympian Calvin Johnson never made it to the Seattle of the East (um, Halifax in the 1990s). This was his first time, piggybacking on this show as a late invite courtesy of fellow Washingtonian Mount Eerie. Johnson is compelling viewing. He gyrated, did the hand jive and played guitar and sang in a charismatic baritone with no amplification. He played for laughs, he tested the limits of what an audience might accept as a song. He carried his notes too long or stopped mid-note or purposefully fell out of key. Likewise, his guitar playing was completely off-kilter. His lyrics get repetitive, like an ye olde troubdour or beatnik. Come to think of it, he is totally beat. Is that an annoying or endearing trait? I fall on the "it's endearing" side. He's got all the romance of an Jonathan Richman that won't do what you want. Ever.
Rick White played hits aplenty and several covers, too: Simon & Garfunkel's "A Most Peculiar Man," Three Dog Night's "One is the loneliest number" and great version of "Different Drum" by Monkee Michael Nesmith. Oh, and so very aptly, he finished with Fran Brill's Sesame Street classic, "In Your Imagination." White sucks you into the world of his songs, full of fantastic creatures and dreamy internal logistics, better than just about any other songwriter I can think of.
Fashion note: every performer wore flip-flops except Rick White. Who could imagine him in anything but his trademark black chucks?
I think Julie Doiron polished off a litre of water under the stage lights. She played "heavy snow" by request and it sort of cooled us down. She was quiet, intimate, with her songs full of everyday confessionals that helped me lose sight of the heat for a moment or two. Unfortunately—-given the extreme heat in the church—-about a quarter of the crowd left when Doiron finished. Even though Mount Eerie went on late, Phil Elverum was worth staying for. Accompanied by Doiron and Fred Squire, Julie sang, Squire filled in with atmospheric guitar and Elverum even led a sing-along.