john lilley at steel city coffeehouse, phoenixville pa

soooo…after saturday night, i’m left with the nagging notion that john lilley should be playing bigger rooms.

john lilley at steel city
john lilley at steel city

this was our second consecutive sold out show, and people were showing up, expecting to get in, but there was simply no more room.  all the tickets were gone, and we didn’t have anywhere to put anyone – literally.  and it sucks to have to turn people away when they’ve made the effort to come to the show…but the bottom line is that advance tickets were available for some time before saturday, and there’s an element of chance in the “wait and see” gambit.  sadly, sometimes when you wait too long, you end up going home while those who anted up prior to the day of the show make it inside.

some people have a love affair with those two tiny words…”sold out”.  i don’t know if john is one of them, as we haven’t really had that conversation, but i’m of the mindset that i’d rather have a couple of empty seats in the back and be content with the knowledge that everyone who wanted to be there was, in fact, in the room than to know that someone went home disappointed who might be less likely to make the trip next time.

jesus, give me strength...or at least a breeze.
jesus, give me strength...or at least a breeze.

when we did kennett flash with dan may last month, dan got no less than thirty emails the following day from people who said they had planned to come out, but weren’t able to get tickets.

now, there’s the thought that this is a good problem to have…but i do have an unsettling fear that some fans might be alienated in the process.

i know that it was weighing on johns’ mind before the show on saturday night.

one of the issues surrounding playing your hometown is managing the friends and family situation, and making sure that everyone shows up and leaves happy.  john handles it with the finesse of a master, but i could tell that the fact that the show was sold out (and, as a result, was infringing on his ability to do anything about last minute cell phone distress calls and the like) was wearing on him a bit.  that, combined with yet another stressful soundcheck and a less-than-optimum monitor mix, had him a bit frazzled when we left for dinner.  thankfully, some good food and pleasant conversation seemed to have a calming effect on him, and he was sufficiently pumped for showtime.

handsome devil, ain't he?
handsome devil, ain't he?

after the flash debacle, john decided to hire a soundman to represent the best interests of the band for these shows, and settled on an old acquaintance of mine, sparky costello, for the gig.  it has to be said that sparky did a great job of tweaking the system at steel city to handle significantly more than it was set up to handle, and although none of us walked offstage after soundcheck feeling terribly optimistic about how things would hold up for the show, sparky did a great job of containing things (i only remember one instance of squealing or howling during the whole set), and really made the old girl sing once things were underway.

my friend and brother-in-arms dennis rambo stopped by during soundcheck to bring me a ’63 danelectro reissue – a redburst one like the one david lindley plays.  he had bought it and decided shortly thereafter that he wasn’t enamoured with it, and offered it to me…and i gladly took it off his hands.  i told him that i liked owning guitars that had belonged to my friends, because there’s a little something special about them – nostalgia value, i guess – that doesn’t come with an eBay guitar.  so now, in addition to my bob stirner strat, i have a dennis rambo danelectro. 🙂

with my trusty baritone jaguar
with my trusty baritone jaguar

dennis stuck around for a bit of the soundcheck, as well…we arrived to load-in at around 3pm and were generally ready to start checking by 4:30.  sparky did an admirable job of dialing everything in on a system that was designed, by and large, for acoustic acts and smaller, much lower output bands than the one it had to handle on saturday night.  i know john was concerned at the point that we broke for dinner, but sparky is pretty intuitive, and he did a good job of navigating the waters, and by the time we were finished, i think he knew where the hot buttons were and was poised to react if he had to.

so some of us (not all of us) went to dinner…john, tommy and myself, along with wendy, curtis and beth kretz, billy (our tech), suzanne gorman and sparky.  rick and freddie sat it out, although i’m not sure why…and i never asked.  we walked up the street to the columbia, where they had a private room upstairs reserved for us.  we had a great meal, good conversation, and left relaxed and ready to play.  well, some of us, anyway.  i went back and walked downstairs and kicked back on the sofa in the dressing room and came very close to falling asleep.  i was in the intermediate stages of food coma, but it came and passed rather quickly.

one thing we did that i hope becomes a ritual for the band was to get dressed for the show well in advance of showtime and we all congregated back in the back, behind closed doors and away from the folks who tend to disregard the “performing artists only” sign at the top of the stairs, and we reviewed the set list, talked about the show, and asked any questions that we might’ve had at that point.  it was something john kinda insisted on, but i think it definitely had an impact on the show…in terms of minimizing mistakes and shedding light into any grey areas that would’ve existed had we not taken that time.

my vote is that it become an official band ritual.  worth doing every gig, believe me.

with john and suzanne gorman
with john and suzanne gorman

i broke first, walked up and did a quick tuning spot check on my instruments, and then did johns’ as well, and took Blackie (his main telecaster) back to him downstairs where he was waiting for his introduction (done, as has become habit, by WMMR’s pierre robert…one of the nicest guys i’ve ever met, and a real joy to be around…a HUGE fan of the band).

when john came on, it was as if all his frustrations from the day were unleashed in the first song, and it was all an easy coast downhill from there.  having bodies in the room seemed to eradicate any issues that we were having with monitor EQ or levels during soundcheck, and i could hear everyone onstage clearly.  the second song, “born yesterday”, has been a bit of a stumbling block for me, because of some arrangement hooks that keep getting lost in my head on the way from the beginning of the song to the point where they’re played, but today i seem to have nailed everything.  “lucky kinda guy” was next…john played a new intro to that one that allowed more than enough time for me to get from 12 string electric guitar over to dobro.  and, after that one, the songs started to run together, they went by so fast.

dobro at steel city coffeehouse
dobro at steel city coffeehouse

highlights of the night for me were songs that will probably hold into that title for a while:  “second chance” and “lullabye”…but i was really happy with “safe in your arms”, “in the drivers’ seat”, and “deeper down” at this show, as well.  the songs flowed together nicely between johns’ bursts of banter, and people ate it up.

one other thing john did that was a departure of sorts from the usual routine was to come back out for the encore and do “i could’ve loved you more” by himself with just an acoustic guitar.  after doing “second chance” with the band and making an assload of noise, then walking offstage to a roomful of screaming people, he put everyone right back into the palm of his hand with that song.  then we did “ordinary lives” from the most recent hooters record and we were done for the night.  we had “stay a little longer” on the list as well, but the opener ran long and we had to cut it…i’m thinking there’s probably not much chance of that happening again. 🙂

afterward, it didn’t take long for a tangible sense of superiority to develop, in terms of the reviews that we were getting in comparison to the other shows we’d done…some of the folks who were there were positively gushing about the show.  there were a lot of faces there that have become familiar over the course of this handful of what john likes to refer to as “soft opening gigs”, and everyone loves everybody after a sold out show.

so…as usual, i was the last one to finish packing up my gear (being such a social butterfly takes a lot of time and effort, ya know), but we were in the car with the engine runnning at 12:34am and ready to drive home.

One thought on “john lilley at steel city coffeehouse, phoenixville pa

  1. Yes, I waited until the week of the concert and was unable to get tickets. I travel alot and did not know whether I would be able to attend. John Lilley is worth seeing and hearing. I will not make the same mistake again.

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