Two Feet Thick @ EV in Nashville

by Kathy Davis on June 18, 2009

Hold on kids.  Two Feet Thick was at Ed’s solo Nashville show. It’s gonna be a looooong ride, believe you me – pun intended.

I was creating a name for this writing in Word, and I chose EVRyman1 (standing for EV-Ryman-night 1).It kinda struck me – EVRyman- Ev(e)ryman. That’s the thing about Ed.  When you’re in the room with him, before he starts singing, he draws you in. You feel like you know him, yet at the same time know he’s like no one else. Singularly unique, yet one of us somehow. How does that happen exactly? How is it possible? I guess trying to answer that question keeps me coming back time and time again. Saw the entire 2008 solo tour except Vancouver and San Diego 2, and then saw Chicago shows in the second leg. The black curtain that had been drawn across the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville after the most excellent Liam Finn’s opening set was dramatically thrown open, the sounds of “Tuolumne” swelled up. And out came our boy Ed, in blue jeans, white T-shirt, good old Boy Scout Troop 365 button-down shirt and shit kicker beige boots. Everyman gear.  He sat on the stool, settled in and said “If you don’t mind, I’ve never been here so I’m gonna make myself at home, I suggest you do the same.”  Cheers swelled and calmed, Ed said “We all in?” and he launched into “Walking The Cow”.  The Ryman is such a legendary building, a former church that was home of the Grand Ole’ Opry for many years. Colored glass windows in the back of the very wide room lend a spiritual atmosphere, and the seats are old wooden church pews.  The wideness of the place and the curved seat layout, coupled with the wooden slatted ceiling make the room feel warm and intimate and the sound came alive immediately.  I was lucky to be in 4th row directly in front of the stacks, yet in the nook of a curve that made the sight line of the seats equivalent to 2nd row. Best of both worlds as far as I was concerned.  

 

The white electric Fender sounded so rich before Ed began “The lunatic is in the room…” The snippet of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” plucked and sung before “Sometimes” was received with such enthusiasm you’d have thought Roger and Dave were performing it themselves.  I still get a kick out of the lovely quietness of “Sometimes” that Ed delivers, and it was particularly dynamic as he was clearly “feeling” the room, seeming to be drinking in the history and vibe. My cursed fangirl eyes were drinking in the trinkets on stage, and I spied a red and blue EV sticker next to a red and blue “Cub Power” Chicago Cubbies bumper sticker stuck on the inside  lid of one of the suitcases Ed keeps on stage to his right, fabric of the lining pinned with his target-style red white and blue EV button. Damn your eyes, geek girl! The building urgency of the song sucked me right back in; his foot stomping on the apple box during the guitar break are just so compelling, we have no choice – we all start clapping and stomping along.  Ed sung “I can feel you god” as he softened at the end of the song. 

Naturally some yelling started in after the cheers died down, some meathead 2 rows in front of me blasted out “I LOVE YOU EDDIE” and some other bullshit.  Ed said in a quiet low voice, “It’s a little early to get loud and boisterous” and that there are “spirits and energies” in this building and “I choose to attenuate my receptors to the musical energies” alive in the room “rather than to some guy that got two-for-one drinks at Happy Hour”, looking directly into the eyes of  that particular dumbass.  To which I silently said “amen brother.” “Trouble” seemed appropriately placed after that.   

  Ed told us “because of where we are, I just might try a couple of things that I haven’t tried in while” which was met with great cheers, and he added “which means they might not be that great.”  He delivered “Thumbin My Way” just fine, thank you.  Before the next offering, our boy said “If you feel like singing this would be a great time to try your voice” because the “chorus gets kind of high and I could use some backup vocals.”  After a couple of beats he added “Union wages.”  And then we were treated with “Gone”, and we did do some singing. My goodness, that’s a beautiful cathartic piece to begin with, the chorus tears at my heart. Tonight was taken to another level, and to be sure Ed was a part of it but the emotion for me came indirectly from him.  A couple of rows ahead of me there was a hearing-impaired woman there with a hearing friend or relative of hers, and an interpreter sitting in front of them signing. The interpreter was fantastic, illustrating the beats and feel of the music with her body along with the delivery of the sign language. I found out later that the interpreter actually went on the web and printed out a bunch of lyrics to songs she thought would likely be played so she could more fully re-create the concert for the deaf woman. Amazing.  So what really got to me was seeing the woman’s friend so overcome with enthusiasm for “Gone” that very quickly on, she turned away from Ed and signed along while she sang, and the look of joy on her face was pure joy. She wanted her friend to get it, and the hearing-impaired woman was nodding along vigorously, taking in the rhythm from the interpreter and the words from her friend. The interpreter smiled broadly and shared the passion for the music.  

 Post song, I noticed a backdrop change; the backdrops Ed had on the 2008 solo tour were once again in place, and after “Gone” the scene switched from the “outside in the alleyway” backdrop to the “reverse view of painted stage scenery” backdrop.  Ed asked the crowd if  Lily was here; he told a story of meeting a young girl before the show with her Mom and asked if she was in the house – he told of how Lily asked him to sign her book and Ed picked the page “right after Mickey Mouse” to sign. Cute!  He said Lily was “this high” holding out his hand to about 3 ½ feet, and explained that while Lily’s mother likely won’t have to worry about raising a disenfranchised (paraphrasing grossly here) youth, but here are some songs about a young man who was, identifying the next few as songs from Into The Wild. I like the way they’re presented in blocks.  “Far Behind” with vigorous playing and stomping kicked the group of tunes off.  Dangit – for the life of me, every time I hear Ed start “No Ceiling” I forget that it’s not called “Reason I’ll Be”, which Ed related in Berkeley last year was what his daughter Olivia called it. It makes me chuckle!  It’s humid in the south, and the room was comfortable but all that foot stomping got Ed moist and he motioned for a towel, and toweled down with black terry cloth.  Too much detail? Sorry. Just trying to give you a “next best thing to being there” kind of feeling. Roll with it, eh? 

Our man spoke again of Lily – “Is she here?” which the couple that stepped forward as her parents claimed she wasn’t, and Ed asked “Can she come tomorrow?”  Then the couple came clean saying it was a different Lily, which made Ed let out a frustrated roll of the head; he said I guess you “got me on a technicality since I don’t know her last name.”  FINALLY the right mother appeared, and Ed was about to miss her standing until a bunch of us called to Ed and pointed. He caught sight of them, waved and said “meet me after the show. We’ll have a beer” to much laughter.  “Guaranteed” – lovely, especially the urgently delivered “I’m alive.”  Golly, I dig the anthemic “Rise.”  I’ve been caught off guard when I’ve heard the song used as the theme music for a breast cancer fund-raising advertisement in my local movie theatre and on TV.  It is a good fit though, the chorus is just so empowering. The mandolin seemed miked or the sound mixed a little differently, sort of a subdued echo if that makes sense.  After Ed took a sip from his cranberry-colored beverage, Moron Drunk in front of me yelled “What are you drinkin’ Ed?” to which Ed snappily replied “Not as much as you” to much laughter. I must say that of all the solo shows I’ve seen, the Ryman crowd as actually the least chucklehead-laden and there was a LOT of self-policing of shouters as the night wore on. It was quite lovely.       

After “Rise” Ed switched to the little Martin guitar, and talked about his mandolin, saying “I’ve only known that mandolin for 2 ½ years”, imagining the mandolin complaining “some guy comes along” and takes me out and messes up songs and “obviously the guy doesn’t know what he’s doing”, and that Ed has said “just stick with me kid” to the mandolin.  He added that  the instrument was “never more excited” than it was tonight since earlier Ed made a trip “next door” at Gruhn Guitars looking at other mandolins, and maybe the mandolin thought it better rise to the occasion. Look at him now, “playing the Ryman” Ed said proudly.      

Next, Ed said we were getting one by John Doe, one he’d “never played before” (it was played once with Pearl Jam at The Showbox in 2001, never solo). He told us he’d been “thinking about John and Exene a lot lately”, I reckon since the news broke that Exene Cervenka was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a short while back. And off he went into “Poor Girl” (you know, the  X cover recorded with The Supersuckers for the Free The West Memphis Three benefit album back in 2000) 

Earlier in the night, Chief Drunk Chucklehead yelled out “Johnny Cash!” to which Ed replied that he had a story about Johnny in a couple of songs, and it was time.  Indeed there are many musical spirits floating around the Ryman, and one in particular to which Ed connected was The Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash.  We were treated to a little story, which Ed began by talking about how fortunate it was “to end up here” being alive during a time when Johnny Cash was alive.  He took us back to 1992, when he and Mike McCready played “Masters of War” at Madison Square for the Bob Dylan Tribute. One of the people he met for the first time that night was Chrissie Hynde, who approached him pointing a finger saying “Oh are you that guy” who sang Masters of War? He said he was, and Chrissie said she didn’t get to see it in person but was listening in on the radio on the way in and it sounded good. Ed said he mumbled back something like “oh…was it?” and “I couldn’t hear myself” and she just looked at him and said “I just gave you a fucking compliment” incredulously.  He said she is not a woman who suffers fools gladly, and pointed to the drunk idiot in my section (who was still yelling on occasion) and said “remember that”. 

Ed continued, saying that he and Chrissie had been talking in a corridor backstage and down the hallway comes this imposing male presence, who apparently wanted to speak to her and said “Hello Chrissy, I’m Johnny Cash.”  When Ed spoke the words, he did the best low impersonation of Mr. Cash, and we all hooted and hollered. Ed said he didn’t even want to meet Johnny after that, that hearing those words spoken up close was enough.  He said another woman who didn’t suffer fools gladly was (Johnny’s wife) June Carter, and donned the uke to play a passionately delivered “You’re True”. The Cash/Carter presence was felt and respected, magically, as you could hear a pin drop throughout, Ed even leaning back off mic for the loud “woo hoo” and a couple repeats of “You’re true” near songs end.  The quiet was ruined by a couple of shouts (favorite shout from behind me, repeated a couple of times: “Believe You Me”)  with a final, inevitable “Freebird” from a man in the balcony causing Ed to immediately blurt and point, “Throw him OUT! Seriously.”  Loud applause from the agreeing crowd. Our singer added “that joke was old before I was born, and the song hadn’t even been written yet.” 

Ed told us that in keeping with the history of the room, he wrote the night’s setlist in calligraphy; he turned to show it to the front row, actually getting out of his seat and showing it to a few people in the crowd for inspection.  He sat again, explaining how “not only did I spend an hour” picking out the songs to play, he spent “another hour and a half” writing it out. So “I’m not taking any requests” at this point, thank you.  Ed shared that he was talking to someone who asked him what he does after a show, what does he do with all that built up energy, and Ed answered “I go back to the hotel and do calligraphy.”  The guy nodded skeptically, saying “Oh so that’s what you call it.”  More laughter. And then some “Driftin’”  Goodness, I love how he sneaks in that “alright now” before the harmonica solo. And oh, how blessed I feel to be in the room with those often laser-beam like blue eyes of Ed’s, especially when he plays the one he’s been “borrowing for a while”, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.”  The crowd loves the song, Ed seems to love the connection, not only swelling up the house lights for the “HEY” in the chorus but using his gaze to connect with every part of the room. He scanned the floor crowd, drawing us all in, then looked up to the balcony, moving his sight across the section just like a searchlight.  The final chorus he gave away, saying “it’s all you” and we sung on our own with passion.  

We were good and receptive after the lovely sing along, so though Ed had switched to the white Fender again after the acoustic of “Hide Your Love”, he took it off and switched to the little Martin once more – what would he play now? Ed told us about reconnecting with a friend he used to work with 20 years ago, some job in the “music business”, and the friend was living and working in Nashville now. The pal told Ed how a lot of greats played the Ryman, including Van the Man, Van Morrison.  (Ooooooo a Van cover! I thought)  The friend related how disappointing it was that “the man” played a bunch of songs nobody knows. Van the Man? If he was Van the pussy he’d play “Brown Eyed Girl” or something, but he was Van the Man.   Ed mentioned “another legend”, King of Country Music Roy Acuff, said people come here, pay money to hear the songs, “play the one that got you here.”  So our boy said he was gonna do that, only on “Nashville tuning” and launched into the alternative “Better Man”, as done previously in Chicago last year. People still sang along, though the tune is 100% different. Well done, Nashville. 

“Here’s another one that got me here” says he, and Ed launched in to “Let My Love Open The Door.” He played us a couple extra rounds at the end so we could keep singing. The momentum continued as Ed launched in to “Elderly Woman” right after. Again, something about those sing-along, crowd participation-heavy tunes that gets Ed really connecting his gaze with all parts of the room. That to me is the gift of the shaman/singer that is truly unique to Ed and keeps me flying across the country and around the world to see him sing and participate and connect.  The man is gifted at setlist creation, truly, as “Porch” just sealed the deal.  We were finally on our feet, raising the wood-slatted ceiling.  How Ed can make an acoustic, strummed song breakdown accompanied with some passionate apple-box foot stomping silence a room and take place of an entire band jamming for five minutes is beyond my comprehension.  But we were transfixed.  The song crescendoed, and over our cheers Ed said “thank you, thank you, thank you, you’ve really been very kind.”  And the man was right. A tiny smattering of drunk morons didn’t supercede the respectful and passionate peeps in the Ryman. 

Coming back for the first encore, Ed explained that when “one of the things about doing (music) for so long” is there aren’t “many things left to do” but that playing the Ryman was one of those things he’d dreamed of doing since he was young.  

"Howwwdeee!"
“Howwwdeee!”

 He talked about how I kinda hit home when he was backstage, looking at pictures on the walls in the dressing room; there was a picture of a young Minnie Pearl (do you remember her, often on Hee Haw back in the 70’s,  with her flowered hat with the price tag hanging from it?)  and Ed was looking at it and said, “She’s kinda hot.” He said she was very young in it – either that or he’s been on the road too long.   Jerry Hannan is introduced as another who’d dreamt of playing the Ryman, and joined Ed for “Society.”  Funny moment at the point of the solo….Jerry thought Ed would do it, and Ed thought Jerry would do it, so neither of them did…so a couple of silent bars beat on before  Ed mouthed “you want me to?” to Jerry, and he played it while Jerry strummed..  Ed pointed out how most musicians would be saying “I’ll play the solo.” “No, I’LL play the solo!”  Next duet: Ed and Liam, who traded verses of “Throw Your Arms Around Me.” (Number of places kissed: 196).  Final duet: Eliza Jane Barnes for another John Doe song, “Golden State.”

One last go ‘round, and who could possibly have predicted we’d get a verse plus of old school EV/Bad Radio song “Believe You Me”?  After the first “I do believe”m Ed sang “I….I….I…don’t remember the rest.” A spicily tempoed “Wishlist” rounded out the show, and I love how Ed “ooooing” and “ooohhing” nicely replaces the usual e-bow guitar part.   “Arc” was truly an appropriate hymn to put a period on the night. I sat respectfully in my pew, the tears coming to me easily as Ed gave himself over, track by track, loop by loop, to the musical history that breathed from the walls of the Ryman.  That’s my boy. I feel it…I feel it…I feel it. An enthusiastically delivered “Hard Sun” with Liam and EJ sent us home.  

A small group of us remained in our seats after everyone left, listening to the exit music, a lovely string quartet that was at first just background music but very very soon had me transfixed and not talking to anyone while I realized what I was hearing. I blurted “Brian, listen” to my seatmate.   I’m a geek, I know. A woman taken by Pearl Jam in 1992 and not yet given back to the world. So you know I’ve heard that recording circulating of the new song Ed played in Philly and Baltimore, the one people are calling “The End”.  So guess what the string quartet exit music song is?  You better stay and listen to it after the show is over. It’s “The End”. 

Thanks for hanging in there with me.  Guess what? I’m going tomorrow night. And to Memphis. I feel it. 

Merch Notes:  The unique Nashville show poster is a fecking HATCH PRINT. 20 bucks. Did you know there is an EV wallet for sale for 25 bucks? And that it has a little built in spot for you to put a guitar pick?  And that each one comes with a Dunlop guitar pick? And that some of the guitar picks are different for a very special reason? Buy one. Trust me. No matter what it’s a super cool thing to have.  Oh crikey and the blue Dickies jacket with the tastefully embroidered 23 on the pocket, EV on the sleeve and EV Tour 2009 on the back of the neck? You’ll be wearing that for the next 60 years – a buck per year is a great investment. 

 

 

 

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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