Last evening in Red Deer, Sam Baker and Gurf Morlix continued their Freezin’ Our Butts Off February tour of Alberta. A sold-out Matchbox Theatre was the venue hosting the two Austin residents on Valentine’s Day night and the evening exceeded all expectations.
One could be forgiven (I hope since I was one of them) for having expected the evening to be a Sam Baker concert with accompaniment by Gurf Morlix. Instead the audience of just over one hundred was treated to a song swap that lasted almost two and a half hours, including the many stories and song introductions shared by both participants. Spontaneity was obvious at almost every turn. And since I went into the show with huge appreciation for Morlix, more so than even Baker, things worked out for me just fine. I also gained an even deeper understanding and appreciation for Baker.
I purposely didn’t take notes during the show, but the memories remain sharp more than a dozen hours later. With each of the singers sharing (I think) ten songs, most of the favourites were covered with a few surprises intermixed. The intimate venue revealed excellent sound and sightlines, well-living up to the reputation it has earned over the past two years. The only complaint could be that Baker’s guitar couldn’t be heard for the middle third of the show, the result of a forgotten pedal switch. This oversight simply allowed one to even more enjoy Morlix’s contributions to Baker’s songs.
While other Texas (and Texan-based) songwriters that I enjoy- Guy Clark, for example, or even Tom Russell and Morlix- seem to have more male-audience appeal, Baker has that mysterious and tortured poet-thing a-goin’ that attracts the ladies. His songs have qualities that appeal equally to the genders, but they seem to resonate emotionally and even romantically a bit more than other songwriters with women. This was obvious with the attention he received during the break and after the show, as well as in the number of heads cradled on partner’s shoulders during the concert.
Establishing that they would play their sad songs early, and the sadder ones later, the pair immediately connected with their audience. I enjoy Baker’s music every time I hear it on the radio or on disc, but I was a bit jaded after a less than satisfying Baker performance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past August. This time out, everything fired for Baker.
The expected songs were masterfully performed- “Juarez,” “Pony,” and “Orphan,” along with a note-perfect rendition of “Waves” late in the second set. Morlix’s fingerpicking on this final number was incredible- he just pulled us into the song. Baker kicked off the second set fulfilling a request for “Iron,” his finest song in my opinion. Also performed were “Boxes,” “Angel Hair,” and his closer, “Broken Fingers.” Prior to this, Baker made “Long Black Veil” all his own, changing the odd word here and there. By the time the scaffold was high, his phrasing had changed enough to make it a Baker song with all influence Cash or Lefty Frizzell may have imparted falling aside.
I left the venue more impressed by Morlix than I had anticipated, especially since my regard was already so significant. He did a couple Blaze Foley songs, including “Cold Cold World” and most of Last Exit to Happyland including the time-stopping “One More Second.” It was apparent the audience was not as familiar with Morlix as they were Baker, so songs like “Crossroads,” “She’s A River,” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans” were new to most. All were very well received. “Voice of Midnight” struck a powerful chord, not surprising given the date and “Madalyn’s Bones” from Diamonds to Dust allowed one to consider what one is leaving behind. Most unexpected was a tear-through of “I Fought the Law.” While Baker had an armful of requests, Morlix satisfied his single request for what he called his most pure song, “Dan Blocker.” This song (Thanks, by the way, Gurf!) caused the evening’s only uncomfortable moments as it was apparent- even after the introductory story about Scout camp- that the audience wasn’t sure what to make of this one, and perhaps kept expecting it to go somewhere. It didn’t of course, but that is kind of the point.
Closing with “The Last Time,” the pair left the stage forgoing the obligatory encore which would certainly have been appreciated by all in the audience.
An excellent evening of roots music in Red Deer, and those who skipped it for a late dinner or an evening of cuddling missed something special. One hopes that this successful performance will encourage the local promoter to continue to take chances on artists of this caliber.
I hope to link some pictures from the show in the next couple days, so check back if interested.