Harper Simon—Paul Simon's incredibly talented son—brought a small army of high quality musicians to Mississippi Studios on Friday. They showed up late (bad weather in NorCal) and started at 11, while Portland music fans barely showed up at all—there were only about 30 people in the house. And that's a shame because Harper has a serious backing band. I practically spilled my beer when, Harper (who was chatting with friends pre-show, behind me) introduced Money Mark, keyboardist for both his band and the Beastie Boys.
Money F-ing Mark! (Full disclosure: I'm a huge Money Mark fan. He has created most, if not all, of the most memorable Beastie Boys keyboard riffs. His 2007 Brushfire Records album Brand New By Tomorrow is one of my favorites. I was able to buy him a beer and told him "Mark, you are the Booker T of our time.") Besides Money Mark, Harper's band also included Mike Bloom (Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis, Rachael Yamagata) on pedal steel and guitar, Russell Simins (John Spencer Blues Explosion) on drums, and Erik Paparazzi (Cat Power) on bass. And if that wasn't good enough, the Chapin Sisters (daughters folk singer Tom Chapin—do I detect a theme?) added lush, soaring female backing harmonies.
Simon played all the songs from his recent self-titled album, but in the live setting his songs were far richer, and significantly more on the rocking side with layers and layers of tremolo, vibrato and soaring pedal steel. I would love to have the soundboard bootleg from this show. One friend who was there commented, "It's like his album meets The Basement Tapes." For example, Simon's opening number—the normally hymnal-like and solemn-sounding "All to God"—was tranformed into a foot-stomping, all-out refined roots rocker.
So rocking that two over-served ladies who were dancing wildly, crashed to the floor while attempting a tipsy dip. One of the capsized dancers began openly wailing, holding her ankle. The music stopped and the whole house watched the girls being attended to by security. Simon comments from the microphone, "Do you want Money Mark to take a look? He's a doctor. He could take you back to the dressing room." The place burst into laughter as Simon continued, "Um I'm not sure what I should do here". Heeding the crowd's advice, he launches into a full boar rendition of "Shooting Star." Ankle snapping casualties aside, the dancing continued.
Despite the low attendance scattered around the room at Mississippi studios, one of the attendees was Eric Early of Blitzen Trapper. Early and Simon met through a mutual friend, and the Blitzen Trappist plays piano on Simon's "Back in My Arms," a song that did not make his album but is on iTunes as a bonus track. The last time Simon played was in Portland he played Doug Fir with a trio that included Early and Josh Hodges (from the Portland band Starfucker/Pyramiddd). They actually performed three shows that week, including opening slots for for Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and Fleet Foxes.
Later in the evening Early was called up on stage for the final song, and the lone cover, Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You." It was quite a night.