Friday, May 06, 2005

Never too old to rock

Back in ‘93, after being a regular listener to the nearby Bowdoin College radio station since returning to the Pine Tree State in 1987, I decided I’d try my hand as a community DJ. Every semester, WBOR allotted a certain number of slots to folks like me—non-students from the surrounding communities—allowing them to produce a weekly programming slot of two to three hours. I’d never done radio before, but knew my way around the independent/college rock landscape, so I figured I could at least approximate some of the shows I enjoyed listening to each week.

Interestingly, when I first showed up for the informational meeting, I sensed an attitude of “why is he here” from a few of the “look at me, I’m so cutting-edge” types with their certain style of dress, or way of wearing their hair. Stereotypes are interesting things and I’ve derived a certain satisfaction in knocking down a few in my lifetime, particularly involving my love of music. Despite the apparent doubts that some of these students had about me, I put on a capable weekly radio show at ‘BOR for three semesters. With show names like “Swimming Upstream” and “Against the Grain”, I played my own unique weekly blend of independent/college rock. At the time, I had an affinity for the lo-fi bands such as Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, East River Pipe and others. I also mixed in some alt-country (Uncle Tupelo, Ditchwitch, Vic Chestnutt), plus adding a good deal of angular guitar-rock.

The time I spent doing these weekly shows brought me into contact with a group of fellow DJ’s, which is where I met Jose Ayerve. At the time, Jose, along with the members of Car—Colin Decker, Alec Thibodeau and Ryan Topper—were playing great music on campus, plus scoring some gigs off campus in Portland. I have fond memories of rockin’ out at Car shows at the old Pub at Bowdoin, as well as some of the shows they did in the basements of the former frat houses (since closed down by the school). Additionally, it helped me to develop friendships with a few of them including Ayerve.

Jose is still playing music, nearly 10 years later, both solo and with his fine band, Spouse. I try to catch a Spouse show, or a solo set, whenever Jose and mates are in town. Last night, it was a Spouse gig at Jack McGee’s Pub on the Bowdoin campus.

It was great to see Jose and catch up on his life and the recent tour he’s been on. What’s nice about friends like Jose is the ease at which we can segue back into conversation and pick up topics from a previous meeting, as if we had talked the week before. Often, we might not talk for months, other than occasional emails.

The show didn’t get rolling until after 11, which was a late night for a geezer like me. I got to meet Jose’s bandmates, Kevin O’Rourke (who also plays in Mark Schwaber’s band, Lo Fine) and J.J. O’Connell. With my afternoon power nap priming me for a night of music, I was eagerly anticipating hearing singer/songwriter Carter Little, who was opening the show. I met Carter and found out that like Jose (Bowdoin ’94), he was also a Bowdoin alumnus (class of 1998).

Little had the unenviable task of starting the Thursday evening’s entertainment card. Like many liberal arts campuses tucked away in non-urban environs, there isn’t much to do on campus (or off) on a Thursday night. After a week of lectures, studying for tests, and living the usual dull life of a college student, Thursday night traditionally kicks off the weekend of drinking and partying.

This night’s crowd had a head start when Little hit the stage at 11:10pm, fueled by cheap beer, courtesy of the “Jacque for President” campaign. Presidential candidate Jacque has learned the important lesson of American life and particularly politics—rather than issues, voters (followers?) can be bought, sometimes as easily as a 50 cent cup of beer!

Little, the troubadour that he is worked his way through an acoustic set of tunes from his new disc, Dare to Be Small. It is a fitting title, as the alcohol-fueled crowd wasn’t about to give Little the attention that a literate, singer/songwriter requires and certainly deserves. I was impressed with his ability to pour his energy into his songs in a less-than-perfect setting. I’m looking forward to seeing him in a more intimate setting at some point. Pick up the CD, as it is excellent and I’m really enjoying it presently, playing on my CD player as I write. (you can preview several tracks at his website)

Spouse hit the stage running and didn’t stop for their 60 minute plus set. I don’t know if Jose possibly altered the set list a bit (I forgot to ask him), but the band ripped through their faster songs with gusto and resolve. Jose’s guitar playing gets better every time I see him play. Playing guitar in a trio puts a heavy burden on the guitarist, but Jose was more than up to the task. O’Connell’s athletic drumming and O’Roarke’s rock-steady groove had Spouse at their rocking best. This was the best I’ve seen the band perform—they were tight, energetic and obviously having fun—playing in front of a couple of hundred sweaty college kids (plus a few older folks). Thinking it couldn’t get any better, Spouse encored with Pavement’s “Cut My Hair”, a favorite song from a band I was very much into a decade ago.

While others were about the important task of providing crack analysis of the British election for Prime Minister, I was involved in a little Thursday night escapism, courtesy of Carter Little and Spouse.

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