[Note: This is the second in a series of ‘Three Shows in Four Days.” The first show is described here.]
When Elton John tickets went on sale for two shows in Washington, DC in February, my friend Meg and I immediately agreed that the Friday, September 21st show was best, so we bought tickets for that night. At some point in June, it was announced that Steven Page was going to tour the US, and a show was announced for The Tin Pan in Richmond. I was very excited to read this, until I discovered the date for that Richmond show was (you guessed it) Friday September 21st. For a day, I was bummed that one of my favorite artists was going to play one of my favorite music venues, and I was going to miss it. After a day, I checked Page’s tour itinerary and found that he was playing Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, Maryland on the following day. And, the bonus was that, unlike the Richmond show, the Maryland show listed Wesley Stace (AKA John Wesley Harding) as the opening act. I immediately bought a ticket, even though at the time of purchase, I did not know a) How I was going to get to Maryland, b) Where I was going to stay or c) How I was going to get back to Richmond. None of that mattered at that moment. I figured things would work themselves out.
Meg was kind enough to drop me off at my friend Kurt’s apartment in Northern Virginia after the Elton John show, so thanks to the both of them (and Kurt’s wife Valeria), I had accommodations for the evening, plus Kurt had bought a ticket to the show, so we would travel to Annapolis together. Things worked themselves out, as I had hoped, and the stars were aligned for what would in fact be a ‘dream show’ for me.
‘Most people think matinees are weird, but The Beatles used to do them regularly. For me…it’s just weird.’ – Wesley Stace
With that opening line, said while tuning his guitar, Wesley Stace began the afternoon’s proceedings. This was a 1:00pm matinee show, and it seemed no one affiliated with the show had any idea why it was scheduled in the afternoon instead of the usual 8:00pm.
Now, I must provide a bit of history. I have been a fan of Wesley Stace, who at the start of his career worked under the moniker John Wesley Harding, ever since I heard a song of his on a mix tape that a mutual friend made for Kurt in 1993. I was in Kurt’s car the first time I heard ‘July 13, 1985’ and, from that moment twenty-five years ago, I was a fan. I went out the next week and bought the CD that had ‘July 13, 1985’ (‘It Happened One Night’), and from that point on tried to stay up to date on his releases.
I really really like Steven Page…but I attended this show primarily for the opener. I had been waiting 25+ years to see him in concert, and, as expected, he did not disappoint.
‘The last time Steven and I toured together was in 1992, when Barenaked Ladies were an unknown band…and they were my opening act. So, I figured I would play songs from 1992 today,’ – Wesley Stace
The first song of the afternoon was a cover (Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’), followed by other favorites of mine (‘The Person You Are’; ‘The Truth’). Next, the time-travel was put on hold to play a re-written, politically-tinged lyric to ‘My Favorite Things’ re-titled ‘My Least Favorite Things.’
Then the moment became truly surreal.
After checking his phone to see what time it was (he set a hard stop of 1:30 so he could then drive home to Philadelphia to see his son’s 4pm soccer game. ‘Totally doable,’ he quipped.), Stace began to talk about the next song.
“This song is me making fun of something that happened in 1985…’
I thought to myself, ‘No! He never plays this! He’s said repeatedly on Twitter he’s forgotten it. He’s not gonna play that song, is he?!’
Now, Kurt and I both had tickets to this show, but the venue was one that had reserved seats at tables, so while we both attended the same show, we did not see the show together, and it was obvious that almost everyone else around me had no idea who Wesley Stace was, or what was about to happen.
To be able to witness Stace performing ‘July 13, 1985,’ a song I would never have dreamed to hear live, that was a truly wonderful and surreal moment. Stace even tacked on a different ending from the recording that I have heard for the last 25 years. Hearing that song live will rank as one of my all-time ‘Glad I Was There’ moments.
“There’s a reason songs like that are stored away and forgotten for decades,’ said Stace while preparing to play his last song. ‘My twelve year-old daughter is here today. She has no idea what that song’s about, but it does confirm that her father has used drugs.’
Wesley Stace’s Set List:
Like A Prayer
The Person You Are
My Least Favorite Things
July 13, 1985 (The Live Aid Song, as noted by the artist on Twitter)
The Devil In Me
There was all of that surreal nostalgia, and I still had a set from Steven Page to look forward to!
Kurt, Valeria and I had the pleasure of seeing Steven Page with The Art of Time Ensemble in February at The University of Richmond. That set however consisted primarily of songs that meant a lot to Steven, and were songs mostly by other artists. It was great to hear Page take a turn on a Leonard Cohen vocal and sing Radiohead. As great as that was, I was really looking forward to seeing Page sing some of his own songs.
The band is officially called ‘The Steven Page Trio’ and includes Chris Northey on guitar and Kevin Fox on cello. The set opened with ‘There’s A Melody II’, a track from Page’s 2016 solo effort “Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct” and then seamlessly the song segued into the BNL classic ‘Jane’, assuring me that we were going to hear some of the old songs even though Page just dropped a new album earlier this month (“Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt II”).
BNL made news in March when the current lineup reunited with Page, who’s been doing his own thing since early 2009, to mark their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Even before the last note of “If I Had $1000000″ had stopped ringing, there was talk of a ‘BNL Reunion Tour.” That may or may not happen next year. As I watched a confident Page sing his songs, I thought to myself, ‘As great as a reunion would be, he doesn’t need it, and at least outwardly seems totally sure of himself as the sole focus of attention.’
Along with the ‘classic’ tunes, Page also performed the lead single from his new album, the politically-toned ‘White Noise,’ which contains lyrics like this:
“Apparently, to fix your nation
You’ve got to run it like a corporation
The kind you don’t mind burning to the ground
I’ve had to learn to bite my tongue
Or they’ll send me back where I came from
I’ll tell you as an immigrant and a Jew
I’d be more than glad to replace you”
Here’s Steven Page’s set list, from setlist.fm:
There’s A Melody II
A New Shore
I Live With It Every Day
War On Drugs
The Feelgood Strum (improv)
Linda Ronstadt in the 70s
It’s All Been Done
Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel
I Can See My House From Here
What a Good Boy
The Old Apartment
The Chorus Girl
Call And Answer
The true icing on top of the cake was the fact that Page sang the chorus to ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ not once but twice! The first was during the improv piece ‘The Feelgood Strum,’ where the trio sang lyrics to many classic songs over the same chord progression. ‘My Girl’ was featured and the KISS ‘Klassik’ was played before segueing into ‘Linda Ronstadt in the 70s.” He played the chorus of ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ again as a slow piano ballad during the intro to ‘Call And Answer.’ Those moments, along with hearing ‘July 13, 1985’ served as proof that I was supposed to be at this specific show. I don’t know if Wesley will play ‘The Live Aid Song’ again soon, or if Steven will be moved to play a portion of ‘The Rock And Roll National Anthem’, but I was ecstatic to be able to witness both of those things on Saturday.
Thanks once again to Meg for getting me to my second destination, and special thanks to Valeria for ‘holding down the fort’ Saturday so that Kurt and I could go have fun. That I got to share this show and hear ‘July 13, 1985’ with Kurt, that was a very ‘full circle’ moment.
You don’t get those too often in life, so it’s important to take note when they happen.
Thank you very much for reading.
(PS: Wesley confirmed via Twitter that his son’s soccer team tied 1-1.)