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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mark Olson & the Creekdippers at the Borderline

Another night in London, and another music venue.

Monday night I headed to The Borderline, conveniently located a short walk from Leicester Square. To find the venue, just walk up Charing Cross Road, turn left on Manette Street, and a few steps up to your right, there in a little court called The Orange Yard you'll find something straight ahead of you that looks like a garage door when it's down. When it's up it's actually the entrance to the club. (If it's not open, don't inquire next door about gigs as the door to your right is actually the back door to an entirely different pub.)

I arrived pretty much as the doors opened to find a seat. (Sitting has become my favorite body position after two days of 4+ hour walks in London have left the soles of my feet literally blistered.)

I was glad to have arrived early to catch Danny George Wilson (of the band GrandDrive), who just happened to be releasing his debut solo CD The Famous Mad Mile on Fargo Records this very day. I found Wilson's opening set to be the perfect, reflective start to the evening of Creekdipper's music that was to come. Bob Harris (who has also played tracks from The Twin Cities' own Ashtray Hearts) has been playing tracks from Wilson's new disc on BBC Radio 2.

Mark Olson and the Creekdippers' (tonight Mike "Razz" Russell and Ray Woods) began with "Eyes on The Window," and the trio damn near broke my heart right from the start. As the strains of the first song wafted over the extremely attentive audience (even by English standards), I felt as if someone had just pulled a warm blanket over me after a long, hard day. (I understand now what Cyn Collins meant by "cozy" in her review of the Creekdippers show at Lee's Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis on March 23rd.

Through 20 songs and two encores, the Creekdippers took me on a trip through their discography featuring songs from December's Child, Zola and the Tulip Tree, and a nice helping of songs from Political Manifest. The band switched instruments seemingly on every song, Razz going from fiddle to guitar and bass, Mark from bass (which he admitted is his favorite instrument) to acoustic guitar even to dulcimer. At one point, drummer Ray Woods even took a turn on bass. (Apparently, he had expressed an interest in not having to sit down for the entire set.)

From the start it was sweet hear the voice (Mark Olson's) that I'd totally fallen in love with on The Jayhawk's album Hollywood Town Hall. And there were a few songs tonight (though all Creekdipper's songs) that sounded like they could have been outtakes from that period, which is just another way of saying that Olson's voice and songwriting are truly distinct.

"Still We Have a Friend" from December's Child -- which reminded me a bit stylistically of Robyn Hitchcock, who also took a dig at Condaleezza Rice on his most recent album -- morphed into "Condaleezza's Pride," a chilling indictment of the current U.S. Secretary of state. I myself have never understood how someone (Condy) with the sensitivity to be an accomplished classical pianist could be so terribly misguided in her worldview. I'd have to actually call her evil, if I believed such a thing existed. I found this as yet unrecorded song to be troubling as it at least attempted explanation (or not) in story format.

Olson's political songs, indictments of George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and others, come across with a deep undercurrent of sadness. Some are bluesy, some have an up-tempo funky feel. But none are self-righteous. Perhaps that comes from an understanding that some of us have taken wrong turns (really, really wrong in some cases.) And some of us (like George, Donald and Condee) sadly just kept on going. Olson seems to approach these people's lives at times as if they were Greek tragedies instead of fodder for condemnation. But these are exactly the kind of songs, which if heard by the right ears at the right time, could really make a difference.

Olson introduced "Pacific Coast Rambler" by saying it was their "bum walking down the highway song" and alluded to the often lonely life of even reasonably well-known musicians on the road. When Razz Russell took up the vocal on the second verse, something about the timber of his voice came together with the rest of the music in the mix and broke my heart. Honest. I nearly broke into tears right then and there in my front row seat at the Borderline.

It was a truly sweet show, and I had a chance to chat with each of the band members afterwards. I didn't expect Mark to remember my mug, but he was one of the first people I actually met when I moved to Minneapolis in 1988, along with Mark Perlman back in the days when you'd still frequently find the likes of the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum still hanging out at the CC Club on ocassion.

And cheers to the new friends I made at the gig: Lisa from New Jersey and John from Dover, who were quite possibly the biggest Mark Olson fans in the room. (John had driven down from Dover for the gig and Lisa had arranged a layover in London just to see the show.)

Razz and Ray tell me to expect a Minneapolis visit from the Creekdippers in early September. HowWasThe Show will keep you posted.