David Lindley ~ 2008 August 28 ~ Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, MA
I first became aware of David Lindley through his contributions to the music of Warren Zevon, long a musical favorite of mine. Along the line I picked up a couple of the early albums Lindley recorded with his band El Rayo-X, and liked them. Certainly he was a skilled musician and a good singer. But I was not prepared for what I would see when I first saw Mr. Dave live.
The first thing you notice about David Lindley is his clothes. He likes '70s style polyester shirts, the louder and more garish the better. He combines these with striped or checkered or randomly patterned trousers that clash as loudly as possible with whatever shirt he's wearing that night. He's a sight! Combine that with his long wavy hair, dramatic sideburns and a wild, manic twinkle in his eye, and you know the minute he walks on stage (and strikes a pose upstage for a long few seconds so that the audience will have a good long look at his outfit) that this is not your average singer-songwriter.
The other clue you might have noticed, even before he comes on stage, that this is not your average singer-songwriter, is that he has about a dozen stringed instruments surrounding the seat where he is going to perch while performing. There are guitars, a lap steel, a bouzouki or two, a mandolin, and an Arabic instrument called an oud, and there are other instruments the names of which I do not know.
The moment Mr. Dave (as he is known among his fans) starts to perform, you realize this is not your average guitarist. He has big hands, with nimble fingers, and his playing is extraordinary. Look no further, we've found the king of folk/rock instrumentalists. David Lindley could play circles around any two normal players. The typical song featured a long instrumental introduction, leading up to the song. His singing has a sly, lighthearted feel that perfectly matches his look on stage. His playing is so intensely serious that he needs the lightness in his singing to balance the frighteningly good virtuosity of his playing.
His set list consisted of a number of originals as well as covers of folk songs and songs by other singer-songwriters. I wish I was more familiar with his catalog to be able to comment on the songs he performed, but I did my best to keep a setlist, while I was absorbing the wonderful sounds of this extraordinarily gifted musician. My favorite song was his cover of Warren Zevon's "Seminole Bingo." He also did a Bruce Springsteen song ("Brothers Under the Bridge").
In between songs Mr. Dave entertained with some very funny and in some cases educational stories. In his introduction to "Methlab Boyfriend," he told the audience about an early 20th century composer named Harry Partch who pioneered a new type of scale known as microtonal, with more notes (semi tones) than the traditional scale. "Methlab Boyfriend" is written in the style of Harry Partch, and it has a weirdly unusual sound, as if every note is a tiny bit out of tune, but as a whole the music was magical. As for funny stories, I think of one song in particular, "Cat Food Sandwiches," which begins by being about bad backstage food and goes into the realm of things eaten in other countries that we Americans don't recognize as food. I don't want to turn my readers' delicate stomachs with any more graphic details. I'll leave that to Lindley. Let it be said that you should not miss a chance to see him if he's in your neighborhood, if you appreciate good songs, good singing, fantastic playing, and fabulous story telling, all wrapped up in a unique package. Mr. David Lindley is truly one of a kind.
After the show he stuck around to shake hands and sign CDs, and we had a nice conversation about how much we missed Warren Zevon. He was a long time musical collaborator of Warren, and he was his friend. For more on Dave, visit his website, which is almost as colorful and fun as he is himself (there are games there!), at davidlindley.com.
The show was opened by Mark T. Small, an accomplished blues guitarist with a broad repertoire and bright red shoes.