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Saturday, June 23, 2012

heading to Philly for Francis

Okay, so following the Rhett-New-York-double-play "planes" portion of this concert week extraordinaire was a delightful 90 minutes on Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly's nostalgic 30th street station to see a rare public appearance by our other musical love, Francis Dunnery.
at his second home, the Tin Angel

30th Street Station is a beautiful step back in time when train travel was THE way to go. It's reminiscent of Grand Central with three-story high ceilings, vintage chandeliers and a train board whose letters still flip.

can't you just imagine this room
filled with soldiers and sailors
home from the war

Until recently Penn Station in NYC used to have a similar board. The gentle flipflipflipflip sound used to be a welcomed audible cue, alerting passengers to arrival times thus enabling one to chat, read or people watch without fear of missing their gate number. Now you actually have to pay attention to the stealthy electronic board. I miss that old relic. It added a touch of romance to an otherwise mundane commute.

all aboard!

Note: Amtrak's travel lounge is uber civilized, y'all. There's actually a waiting area exclusively for Amtrak riders with seats, televisions, and refreshments. An inner sanctum to laugh, point and look our noses down at the pathetic peasants sitting on the hard, filthy floor in the common area.

It also has pigeons.
who let this asshole in?

Slowly ascending the escalator to the main concourse of the 30th Street station, I was suddenly completely awash in Deja Vu. I had forgotten I'd been here before. Roughly 32 years ago, several college friends and I hopped on the train to visit our Philly friend, Hank for the weekend. At that moment, I swear I saw a flash of him casually leaning against the escalator, arms crossed, fuzzy hair illuminated from behind. My heart actually skipped a beat at the memory. It was so peculiar. The experience was so vivid, it felt tangible. Weird. And kind of wonderful at the same time. Hank lives in sunny California now. I sent him a photo immediately (thank you modern technology) and we reminisced in the cab ride down Market Street.

P.S.: I had a huge crush on him in college. He was quite the ladies' man. You know the type, super attentive, soft spoken, big, blue laser beam eyes that bore a hole right into your soul, could charm the pants right off of ya.

Yep. There they are, right on the floor. I thought I felt a draft.

But our relationship was classic J. Geils... she loves him, but he loves her, and she loves some asshat named Rick, but we won't go there. Except love doesn't stink. I found Geo, he found Cindy. Happiness fucking abounds. Hooray for love, Muthafuckers!!


Sorry. I had gone so long without swearing I was starting to sweat and loose consciousness a little. Actually, dropping copious amounts of f-bombs is befitting a Francis post since fuck is his utility word for every fucking part of fucking speech.

Aaaaaanywho, back at the ranch...

Geo was driving in from Pittsburgh to meet up for dinner at 5pm before the show at 7:30. As luck would have it, I barely took a sip of my freshly made Mojito before he rounded the corner to join me for a cocktail in the summer heat. It was steamy out, yo, but those icy cold concoctions took the sting away. Second Street at Market is a pleasant neighborhood. Lots of eateries, street musicians and plenty of interesting throngs of humanity to watch.

retro at it's best
the kabob spins
We met up with Francis' merch guy, Tony for a delicious dinner at Serano's below the Tin Angel to celebrate his birthday before heading upstairs for the show. We ended up seated right in front. Nothing between us and Mr. D except a monitor. The in-your-face-proximity made it impossible to be inconspicuous shooting video, but there are so few opportunities to preserve his performance on tape (he doesn't allow photography at house concerts), I just went for it and tried not to be a spectacle. I think I got some good ones.

Typically in such intimate venues, the artist ends up dropping the curtain, so to speak, and banters with the audience. There were several inebriated people who shouted out comments or requests hoping for a response, but Francis kept that fourth wall in tact until he started rifting on Tony about his birthday. It was interesting to watch him block all the ridiculousness out. He still told stories and made eye contact with us and others in the front, but he didn't cave to the drunkards clamoring for attention, including the doofus behind Geo who kept banging against the hub's chair and calling Francis Frankie.

Really? Frankie? Not in a million years, Dude.

It's no wonder why Mr. D. prefers house concerts.

The show was fantastic. He sang songs sequentially from all of his albums, performing many rare gems from his catalog. So many great songs! The crowd singing backup for most of them. Sunshine, Ava's Song (for his daughter in the audience), Heartache Reborn, American Life in the Summertime, and Geo's favorite, The Only Thing.

His latest, Made In Space, is needlessly overwrought with Auto Tune which I find distracting as all Hell, but the songs themselves are terrific. If you can get past the fucking Auto Tune, that is. I guess he's been getting a lot of grief about the album because he commented several times during the evening how fans hated each of his albums when they first launched, then ultimately loved them after time.

Um...Guilty as charged. I admit, it took me a bit of time to fully appreciate each new release because they were all different styles from the last. Now I have embraced them all mainly from hearing him perform each number live. I'm not a record purist anymore. At this point in my life, I prefer the fluidity of live performances.

The Only Thing is a classic example of the backlash factor of Francis' albums. This beauty was originally a disco arrangement, which I kinda like now after a many spins, but hearing him perform it stripped-down live sealed the deal. The quieter arrangment revealing the beautiful sentiment of the chorus, "the only thing you get to keep is what you give away." I fully expect the same will be true with his latest. He finished out the set with the title track, Made in Space, proving what we believed all along, that the songs are amazing live, without the effing auto tune.

As with Rhett's work, it's Francis' ability to explore a variety of musical genres that keeps me coming back for more. As a fan, whatever direction either genius wishes to venture into is fine by me. They're artists. They have to stretch to grow. I'm just damn ecstatic they keep churning out poignant music to touch our lives.

As always, we left The Tin Angel with lighter hearts and buoyant spirits. Francis is in a really good place in his life right now. He has a strong relationship with his daughters having reconnected with his eldest. He has a solid relationship with his better half, Erica. And he is the sole commander of his musical career. His positive energy is contagious. He's learned to roll with life and embrace it. He's even on Twitter now (@Dunnery), dispensing his wisdom and talking football. Life is very good for him now, and it shows.

It was a heck of a fun (albeit exhausting) week. This is going to sound silly, but I feel blessed these two gentlemen exist. The world is infinitely better with them in it.

May the Muses continue to drive and inspire them to share their gift forever more. Amen.