A friend of mine alerted me to the fact that Joe Lally was playing at the Hopetoun this past Saturday night. I had heard his first solo album around the time of its release and wasn't all that impressed with it, but figured I'd tag along anyway. Hell, I was even pretty excited to go. First off, the dude was in one of the most influential bands ever. He's been touring for over 20 years, so it's probably safe to assume he knows his way around the stage. Thirdly, the show was only $12. Most local bands charge at least that much, and any international act coming out charges anywhere from $25-$100. Needless to say, I'm game.
I realized as I was sitting through the openers that I didn't really know what to expect. Is Joe Lally going to play bass by himself? Is there going to be any spoken word? Is he going to cover Fugazi songs? It ended up being a pretty straightforward (see: minimal) setup- drums, one guitar, one microphone, bass. To my knowledge he didn't play any Fugazi songs, or at least if he did I wasn't familiar with it/them. His set simply contained an even mix of songs from both his solo albums.
Like I said, I wasn't all that taken by his first solo album, 2006's "There to Here." But the music made a lot more sense in a live setting. There was no aggression, no punk raucousness. Without that "flair," all that was left were the DIY ethos, the alienation from society, discontentment with consumerism, imperialism, war, etc.
Lally's bass playing is pretty amazing. If you've ever listened to at least one Fugazi song, you know this. But what's more impressive is that he's actually capable of singing while playing. It's one thing to be able to sing while playing some guitar chords, but quite another to play poly-rhythmic riffs while singing an entirely separate melody line. Lally was backed by a couple of dudes in a band called Gallucci. Because Lally's bass was holding down the song, the guitarist was free to explore cacophonic noise, atonal shifts, and lulling squalls as he so desired. The drumming was purposeful if a little minimal, which I'm sure was exactly the point.
The encore was the only time they strayed from this arrangement. First Joe went into the audience to sing an a cappella anti-war song called "Sons and Daughters." It's a moving hymnal about the atrocities of war and the justification for killing people that are a little bit different from us for the sake of furthering our means. It's only more powerful without any music behind it. They also brought a saxaphonist on stage for a song called "Factory Warranty." When it could be heard it was good, but sound problems caused the sax to hardly be heard and the effort was underwhelmed.
Despite the minimal instrumentation, stoic vocals, and lack of stage antics and background vocals, my attention was still captured for well over an hour by an artist whose songs I hardly know. I can't even say that for bands that I really know and love! He's maybe not a guy I'd like to catch a ballgame with, but the show was a real testament to his music and way of life. All for $12.
Here's a performance of Joe doing "Scavenger's Garden" in Spain in late January 2009:
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