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charlieparrWhile watching Charlie Parr play a show on Wednesday night, I tried to count the number of people at Club Cafe. If there were 40, including bartenders, and only two of them wouldn’t stop talking, I estimated that humanity is doing pretty well. Hell, the bartender/waiters didn’t even pester during the show. For a darkened-corner, tiny, dark, acoustic venue, the level of silence was pretty damn impressive. That, sadly, made the two girls in the back and their constant buzz of conversation a lot easier to hear, and to think homicidal thoughts about.

This is not to say that the show was so dull I resorted to counting tables and then multiplying. Charlie Parr gives you a hell of a show, especially for someone armed only with guitar and occasional banjo. And the Club Cafe dug him. I haven’t seen such enthusiastic applause in a while. As my mother says, there is something awful and off about many Pittsburgh crowds. The one at X was nearly asleep. They’re too cool to clap, and too cool to shut up. At X, I never in my life had to work so hard to encore a band. And this is a punk band, people!

Ohio blues singer Roger Hoover opened, with his wife providing some strong harmonies. Hoover wasn’t as special as Parr is, but still had a lot more heart than your average white dude with acoustic guitar. He played a song about his uncle being caught in the perfect storm, which was pretty epic. Either that or my friend hadn’t yet appeared, and I was sipping the nostalgia-fuel that is Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale for the first time since halcyon Reason magazine days. But Hoover also noted that someone said the blue are inoculation against greater sadness. I dig that. And I dig that beer. And I do like the blues.

Friend R.F. showed up a little into Parr’s set. Parr has great, sophisticated blues guitar. There’s some Doc Watson elements there, but he doesn’t sing friendly like Doc often did. Parr is more huuguh, in the guts thing. His voice actually sounds more powerful and more beautiful live than it does on record. Like Willie Watson, the only other person I have seen at Club Cage, Parr can fill the room with just himself. That is a rarity. And the enthusiastic crowd response was a constant surprise, not because it wasn’t earned, but because, again, Pittsburgh.

Parr is scruffy and uncomfortable looking, with a longish beard and balding head. He dropped out of highschool in the 1980s, but he looks older than that. He’s pathologically deadpan in his delivery of in between song banter. The crowd really enjoyed his depressingly hilarious dead cat story. He never smiles.

He’s not dour, though. Now, listening to Charlie Parr on the bus has diminishing returns — not unlike Greyhound buses themselves. At first it goes with the scenery, but if you fall asleep and wake up to something called “Hogkill Blues” (which Parr played — it’s a union tale) the ache can become too much. (Old Crow Medicine Show’s Tennessee Pusher album as 4 a.m. in Baltimore soundtrack has similar problems.) But seeing him demonstrated why it’s worth it to go see someone live. They’re, you know, live. A-live.

Anyway. I can never quite be an atheist because the two girls with their endless crawl of conversation decided to take what I assume to be a smoke break right before Parr played “1922 Blues.” Judging by crowd response and Spotify listens, that’s his number one hit. It’s a good one.

On the other hand, I am merely an agnostic because the crowd wasn’t as interested in my second favorite tune, “Bonneville” from the same album. This heralded the return of the chatty twins. I had hoped they were just that bored and left.

Parr played a version of the murder ballad known sometimes as “Delia’s Gone.” He, as I had hoped, also played “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold my Body Down” as his final song before encore. He did it a cappella, which was gorgeous and powerful enough to shut up the whole cafe.

Some people might be bored by this sort of show*, but besides bringing up a pleasantly archaic shadowy corners of cafes singing the blues thing, it was also just good. Undeniable guitar, and Americana as filtered through a Minnesota man and his beard. Anybody can plug in and break enough eardrums to get folks’ attention. Doing it with just one instrument and just one man remains a particularly impressive type of incantation.

It was kind of like this, but also different.

*These people are wrong.

JohnExcene2Man, that guy is tall. We thought we were so sneaky approaching the stage from the side. But he’s just standing right in the corner. Literally everyone behind him is a foot and a half shorter. Oh well, he doesn’t seem like he’s actually a dick, just a tall guy who doesn’t realize he’s blocking eight people who he could see over anyway. But, like, how far does that tall person obligation go? He shouldn’t be sent to the way back of the room simply because he can see over 98 percent of the heads here. That wouldn’t be right.

Oh, hey, X. Yes, they’re old now, A. Old punks happen. Hey, Billy Zoom is like two feet away. He’s staring a lot at the crowd. Ugh…so…much…eye…contact. Doesn’t he know the rock star rule about not looking at anyone? This is funny, but also I don’t even look in my loved ones’ eyes, so I am going to look away. I hope A. can’t tell he sort of looks like her creepy ex. But he’s awesome, so that’s not fair.

BillyZoomOh, hey, there are a bunch of X albums in the middle I missed. Ugh, Billy Zoom is so good, that I feel guilty even liking that album that contains “Fourth of July” because he’s not even on it. I can’t hear vocals that well, maybe I should take this cotton out of my ears. Oh, never mind. Loud. Hey, vocals. Awesome. Still odd and wonderful, this clashing, cawing mixing of John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s voices.

Hey, it’s Scott Mervis from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, standing right behind me! Can he tell who I am? Maybe if I mouth the words “Scott Mervis” and “Steigerwald” he will get the idea. Hey, tall guy doesn’t seem to mind that I am kind of in front of him now. Damn, that punk couple could not be happier to be here. Neither could that older lady punk couple. So cute, the four of them. There are a lot more older people here than at any of the middle aged punk rock shows I have attended — this includes Jello Biafra, The Slits, and Stiff Little Fingers. I hate people who think it’s embarrassing that middle aged people play punk (or old people play rock and roll). I hate them. What a horrible way to live, thinking that way. Nobody should ever be embarrassed on someone else’s behalf. If I hadn’t already known that, I would have learned it from an endearing Rolling Stones article in Time a few years back. Rock until you drop dead, gentlemen. I salute you.

Hey, I kind of know this song. Hey, I don’t know this song, but God damn Billy Zoom is good at guitar. Hey, “Los Angeles”! Point of interest: Jello Biafra no longer sings “niggers” in “Holiday in Cambodia.” X keeps the word in “Los Angeles.” I had wondered.

JohnDoeMan, this crowd is so weak. Pittsburgh crowds mostly suck. I can’t believe Altar Bar actually had a no moshing sign. But then, if people really wanted to mosh, they would mosh right now — damn the man!

That movie where John Doe rides a motorcycle a lot is weird and okay, in a subpar Jim Jarmusch sort of way. That mediocre movie where Jewel played June Carter was definitely mediocre, but the casting choice of John Doe as AP Carter was inspired. I wish that was the entire movie.

Exene is a punk rock witch. I’m feeling her Rogue hair and her dress and boots. It’s all just enough, and not too much. I wish I could sit her down and explain to her that being a libertarian is awesome, but she shouldn’t believe in (baseless, Youtube-y) conspiracy theories. John Doe badly needs a haircut. If he had a bit more of a would-be rockabilly hair situation, I definitely wouldn’t be trying to gauge his handsomeness levels. (They would be clear.)

Their “Soul Kitchen” is way better than The Doors original. Man, X should totally tour with The Knitters. That would be so convenient, touring with themselves. I hope A. is having a good time. Man, maybe this is a weird bachelorette activity. At least I can constantly make the joke that if she and C. ever divorce, she can have Viggo Mortensen’s child afterwards. But look, divorced people in a band! It’s fine!

Oooh, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”! It is is so catchy, and is also like three times as disturbing live. But then, part of the disturbing quality is how hot John Doe is in this video:

Yeah, John Doe is now attractive because I am remembering this video. This is uncomfortable. Rape is not attractive. Not even fictional song rape. I think this song now makes him seem more attractive because he’s all sweaty and attractive in that video. He’s kind of sweaty now, too. I think that’s okay with me. Also, I think he’s now singing “no” at the end, as kind of a refrain. That’s new.¬†Maybe that’s progress.

exceneI totally once read something about how John Doe brought flowers to his new wife and to Exene because they were both having babies in the same hospital at the same time. So, he’s probably nice in spite of the rape song.

“The last Paulene wouldn’t cooperate” is such a shoutable line, and so awful. So catchy. Fuck you, song. You’re great. (Also I gleefully sing “crushed little kids!” and “let’s lynch the landlord!” but that’s just, like, the Jello Biafra experience, man. This is more awkward for reasons.)

I don’t know a lot of these songs well, but they’re all short and rough and so good. Oh, it’s over. Oh, fuck you, Pittsburgh crowd. I have never had to work so hard to make an encore happen in my life. You paid 30 bucks for this. Enthuse, you fuckers. Enthuse.

I don’t know any of these songs, but they’re still good. Aw, John Doe leaned against Exene and it was adorable. Oh, it’s over. Damn, their songs are too short. I guess Los Angeles the album is only like half an hour long. I’ll stand aside and let the worthy people snag setlists. Man, even though there was no pit, I hope I don’t smell as terrible as I feel I do. No, I do.

Man, that was great. Let’s go again. See you in like four years, when you remember Pittsburgh exists again, X. Bands always do that: “Sorry we’ve been gone so long, Pittsburgh! This is such a great city, we’ll be back soon!” Lies.

God damn, everything just sounds good with that Billy Zoom guitar. I love punk rock. I love this controlled cacophony. I love how after a few listens, when it clicks — if it’s your music — you’ve cracked the code. It’s noise, and you can hear everything underneath it. Rock until you drop dead, fellows. Let nobody make you feel ashamed.JohnExcene

Staunton, Virginia

Staunton, Virginia

Lewis and Clark National Forest, Montana

Lewis and Clark National Forest, Montana

Oakland, California

Oakland, California

Philadelphia, 2011

Philadelphia, 2011