Saturday, April 28, 2012
Frontier, Brunswick, Maine
*I wanted to be sure to get this post up today in honor of Max’s 25th birthday! Max, you’re one of the greatest guys I know. Happy Birthday!*
I think you all know by now that I’m one of Max Garcia Conover’s biggest fans. I’ve sort of written the book on Max and how awesome he is, so I’ll try to keep my comments about him brief. I even stayed home from the second annual Belfast Free Range Music Festival so I could catch Max’s show in Brunswick at Frontier—but it was also because I really wanted to see Morris and the East Coast live. I first learned about Morris and the East Coast through Max’s “Sunday Sessions.” He records a new song every weekend and fans can download it for free for the week. A couple of months ago, Max released “Hundred Mile House” by Chris Morris on “Sunday Sessions.” I love the song. I am drawn to Chris’ voice and his catchy and intelligent lyrics. Max and Chris met through a mutual friend, and Max recently went to Providence (the home base for Morris and the East Coast) for a show. The show at Frontier was Morris and the East Coast’s chance to come to Maine in return.
Max let me know that they were planning to do a bunch of mini-concerts throughout Brunswick to advertise for the show at Frontier later that night. He asked if I wanted to join them and do some singing. I loved the idea and was totally in. I met everyone at Wild Oats. Morris and the East Coast (MEC) has quite an entourage, and everyone I met was lovely. The band is Chris Morris on vocals and guitar (he’s a sixth grade English teacher in real life), James Rutter on guitar, Ryan Crowley on bass (who didn’t have an upright bass to play acoustically on the mini tour, but carried the sandwich board beautifully), and Dave Davignon on drums and vocals. We toured Brunswick, stopping next at Gulf of Maine Books, Big Top, Gelato Fiasco, and Bowdoin College. People were receptive and I saw people tapping their feet and even singing along. We amassed quite a crowd at Gelato Fiasco, and lots of little kiddos were excited for some live music with their gelato. The famous Ivies Weekend concert was happening at Bowdoin at the same time, so campus was eerily deserted. We recorded a song next to the Bowdoin Polar Bear, though, just to prove we were there.
We made our way to Frontier for a delicious dinner and sound check. The guys decided to do one more mini show for early diners at Frontier. They sounded great, and had a full house for their show at 8. MEC, much like Max, has a devoted fan base, and there was an enthusiastic crowd that came up from Rhode Island and Boston to support the guys, sing along, and dance rowdily. I’d heard the guys playing acoustically all day, so I was a little surprised that their sound got a lot more rockin’ when they were all plugged it. It was great to hear Ryan on bass, too. He adds great depth to the music. I liked every one of their songs, and they also did a beautiful cover of “Harvest Moon.” I think MEC was a little caught off guard with how quiet we were overall. The loyal Max following is used to really listening to his lyrics, and we extended the courtesy to MEC. Chris said they’ve gotten used to playing in bars, so having a show in a listening room was really different for them. MEC played almost a dozen songs, and I was sad because I could only take seven of them home with me on their fantastic album, Wolf City. I’ve listened to this album dozens of times since their show, and I like it more every time. A number of people remarked (since I sold merch) how funny it was that their album has white birches on it. If you know Max’s music, you’ll get why it’s perfect, actually.
I was going to tell you my favorite songs on Wolf City, but I’d be listing essentially all of them. I do particularly like “Four-Hundred Ninety-Five,” “Summer Sweat Blues,” and “Fortune and Fate.” MEC wrapped up their set with two great songs—“Telephone,” which they’d played all day and is super catchy, and ended with a really powerful song, “Fortune and Fate.” I love the lyrics—“I know that there’s a difference between my fortune and my fate. . . I don’t you owe you nothing/I don’t owe nothing to anyone. . . And I’ll still be able to sing/And I’ll still be able to sing/And I’ll still be able to sing/And I’ll still be able to sing/And I want to bite the bullet/But I hate the way it tastes/And I may not got no money, honey/But the money don’t got none of me.” There’s a swelling instrumental section and a final, almost desperate, but also powerful refrain of “But you would take my name/And give it up for money on the stage.” The crowd got involved and sung that part along with the band. I think it was the perfect way to end their set. I know they brought fans with them, but they earned a bunch more at the show. I hope they’ll be back in Maine again soon.
Here is my sincerest attempt to speak briefly of Max. I told him I’d essentially write a set list. Let’s see. Max took the stage and played two songs unplugged from the floor. He opened with one of my favorites, “In City Light,” and then did “The Marshes.” He played “The Wide,” which has quickly become one of my favorites because the guitar part is so interesting and fabulous. Max pulled out an electric guitar and played “Hide,” “Evergreen Cemetery,” and “Burn.” I was surprised to see Max on an electric, and he confessed it was the third time he’d ever played it. He said that group of songs was about the process of making art and he mentioned that one of his role models who’d inspired him to write songs had put out some really bad albums lately, but also that art roots us in the world we live in. He asked Chris from MEC to come up to adjust the amp because he didn’t know how. It was precious.
Max played “Thatch House” and “For Blackwater Woods,” and then joked about how he’d plugged “The Creek Woman Poet” into software that analyzes songs to determine their market value, and that one had zero market potential. Sammie Francis joined him for “As Much a Rising Sun as a Setting One,” and literally tap-danced while waiting for Max to get his guitar in tune. Our friend Chris Bartlett also took the mic at some point to deliver a knock-knock joke while Max tuned. We’re those kinds of helpful friends, I guess? Max covered Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which he’d played a lot that day during the traveling tour. He asked Chris and Dave from MEC to join him onstage to sing it, too. He closed his set with “Spiral Through the Wheat,” which I love because of its brashness on the “I won’t ever be done!” parts of the song. We asked for an encore, and Max obliged with “Barn,” which slowed us down and probably gave Frontier the only chance they were going to get to start to get rid of such an enthusiastic audience. We hung out for a while after the show, MEC fans and MGC fans intermingled. I think they’re a great pairing, and I know we’re all excited to see them share the stage again.