Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Proclaimers


This being my first blog post, I'll start out with something that touches on many of the more prominent elements of my personality. Last night I saw The Proclaimers! I know many of you out there (unless you're my immediate friends and family) probably only know the Proclaimers from their uber-feel-good early 90's hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" which was launched into the American consciousness through the Johnny Depp film Benny and Joon (check it out if you haven't seen's better than you probably think it will be...if only for Depp's spot on homage to Buster it on a Sunday afternoon). But, they have been putting out albums since 1988 and just released their 8th studio effort, Notes and Rhymes. Anyway, my sister bought their album Sunshine on Leith in order to get "I'm Gonna Be" in 1993 and we both soon fell in love with the record...well, cassette. It quickly became a permanent fixture on any car trip my family took lasting over a half an hour and my sister and I memorized and sang (I in a pseudo-Scotch accent) every word and noise. Listen to the song "Oh, Jean" and imagine my sister and I singing at the top of our capacity in the backseat of a Ford Taurus as the beigey-green landscape of Minnesota as it fades in to Iowa blurs past the window and you will understand why these are memories that will never leave me! Anyway, I remember my sister getting the Proclaimers' next album for Christmas one year (Hit the Highway) and not really getting into it (it was not a time of my life where I was poised to jump into folky Scottish pub rock n roll).
Flash to 2003 and I found myself in London, England on a four month study abroad program with UW Madison. Looking through Time Out one evening I noticed that the Proclaimers were playing the next night in a small club. I was incredibly excited and ran around telling the others in my flat, but was met with "I bet not one of us could name one other song besides their famous one". To which I immediately responded "I can name two albums worth!" But, alas no one wanted to spend the time and money to risk the show based solely on my assurance so I wound up not going. However, I was reminded how much I loved Sunshine on Leith and I started reading up about the band and find out about their other albums. Since that point I had gotten my hands on only one other of their releases (the great Persevere)'s actually harder than one might think to find their stuff (pre my involvement with Amazon)...Anyway, this is getting long so I'll just say that on two other occasions I tried and failed to see the Proclaimers.
Then, last week I happened to see in the paper that they were coming to Bottom of the Hill. Having just freed myself of a situation that would have made entertaining free time nearly impossible (perhaps I'll get in to that more later), I called up my wife and bought the tickets.

The Proclaimers are the last logical extension of Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis and they are Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band without the corny arena grandeur. They have the emotion and cleverness of singer songwriters and a pitch-perfect sense of what's beautiful and unifying about balls-out rock n' roll. They say in the new song "Notes and Rhymes": "I love rock n' roll. It took my hand and it touched my soul" and it's clear that they mean it. The combination of the brothers Reid's incredibly powerful voices and their top notch backing band created an irresistible atmosphere of positive energy. There were songs of loss and oppression mixed in with the more raucous, full bore pub-rock, but sad doesn't mean quiet and their treatment of such subject matter always results in a collective strength as opposed to one of grief. The audience was fully behind the band's every move and it didn't require anything fancy to hold our attention, just incredibly solid, well-honed rock n' roll music.
The set list drew from their entire career with special attention being paid to Sunshine on Leith (which made me very happy). Each song was dedicated to a friend or relative which just cemented the feeling that this was family on stage and we were all momentarily a part of it.
I realize as I ramble on about this that it's hard to describe accurately without sounding like a pretentious music critic so I will wrap it up by saying that The Proclaimers show why rock n' roll is what it is and how effective it can still be. It is the infectious joy but with a little more thought behind the lyrics. They play with soul and draw from Chuck Berry and Roger Miller (they closed the show with their rendition of "King of the Road") adding their wisdom and experience to rock music's collective history.

In other words, it was one hell of a rock n' roll show.


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