The Oak + The Ax, Biddeford, Maine
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
My friend Mark posted on Facebook almost exactly two years ago to highly recommend people check out a Run On Sentence show at Frontier in Brunswick, so I went. I was so caught off guard by the power and beauty of the music that I cleared my schedule so I could see them again the next night at Mayo Street Arts in Portland. I’m so grateful that Mark introduced me to ROS, as those were easily two of the best shows I saw in 2010—and when I say that, given the sheer quantity of shows I see, it means something.
Dustin really is ROS (with occasional help from other musicians) and he started a CSM (Community Supported Music) drive on Kickstarter that I joined. The idea is that we paid up front so he’d have funds to live and tour and write music, and in exchange, we’d receive a song in our email each month from him as a thank you. The songs have been diverse and experimental, and I’m really happy to support music I really believe in. Dustin is not a salesman and is incredibly humble about his gift, but I am confident he will be playing Bonnaroo and will have an Austin City Limits special someday when the right person happens to see him live. Dustin emailed that he was coming to Maine, so I made sure to be there. I encourage all of you to do the same if you see Run On Sentence on a poster in your town.
I can’t remember now why I was a little late to the show, but it was a bummer because I liked the incredibly mellow, simple folky songs of Portland-based Tin Ceilings who were mid-set when I arrived. The Oak + The Ax is set up so that people enter the room just next to the stage and I felt like I was interrupting the whole operation when I got there. Dustin was sitting in the front row and I joined him there to take in the rest of Tin Ceilings’ set. I had tried to find out some information about them online, but they are definitely more about the music than social media. Randy has a unique deep voice and simply strummed his guitar while Eric played banjo and provided some harmonies from time to time. I liked the sparseness of their sound. I was able to chat with them between sets and it seems like they are both involved in a lot of projects. One of them, Hersey State, will be playing at The Oax + The Ax Fest on September 30. Randy was kind enough to email after the show to share Hersey State’s bandcamp site with me and invite me to another show.
Trio Hello Shark came all the way from Burlington on a Wednesday night to play for a pretty tiny crowd. Two guys were on electric guitar and one played drums. I really liked “My Life” (check out the video) and their cheeky song about being a “Nashville name dropper.” Their songs were generally very mellow as well (definitely a theme of the evening), and I’d say there was a slight Nirvana undertone to their stuff. I chatted with the guys at the end of the night to see if they knew one of my former students, Tristan, who is a musician in Burlington—they did—and we chatted a little about how they were visiting Maine because one of them had just moved here, making band life a little more complicated.
It was time for Dustin to take the stage, so I said goodbye to Eric and Randy of Tin Ceilings who stayed in the back in order to snag my front row seat. I told them to expect a transcendent experience. Dustin told us that he was in Maine for a month (heading all the way up to Van Buren, actually) to work on a film score for a friend who is making a movie and was working on some solo stuff and would play a bunch of it for us.
He opened with “Albion,” a song about the town in Nebraska where his mom is from and went on to play “Forever Shout” which was the second song in the CSM. Dustin definitely has some songs that are playful and quirky, and the next song he played was about a bear that talks. He told us a story after that about how a friend asked him if he was planning to ID3 tag his songs before sending them out to us in the CSM. He said he’d never heard of an ID3 tag and polled us and we hadn’t either. It’s apparently the thing that tells iTunes the information—song name, artist, album name, genre—when importing a song. His friend showed him how to tag his music and he decided to spice it up by inventing a new genre for every song. The fourth song he played he listed as “desert pop.”
Dustin told us about Simon Joyner, his favorite songwriter and someone he’s gotten to play shows with in Nebraska where they both grew up. He said he didn’t appreciate Nebraska when he was growing up there, but has come to appreciate it now. Dustin asked us to sing along to a country song about getting really messed up (my edit, for my teenage readers) and sang a pretty song about a flower.
Since he’d said earlier that he was going to play mostly new stuff from the CSM, he asked if any of us had other requests. I’d chimed in to be sure he was planning to play “I Am The Blood” (check out this video of “I Am The Blood” recorded at SXSW) at some point and he assured me he would. That song knocks me out. Dustin’s voice is so strong and imploring that I get chills whenever I hear it—but it’s especially incredible live. He unplugged his parlor sized acoustic guitar from the amp and put away the cool foot pedals he’d been using to fill the sound earlier and played it acoustic for us. My favorite lyric in the song is “Will you think of all the other ways that this life could have gone/Or will you marvel at the way that it has been?” I am sure everyone else in the room felt it, too, because there was a moment of stunned silence before the hearty applause started just after Dustin finished playing.
We definitely wanted to hear more at that point, so Dustin obliged us with one more unrecorded song to end the night. The thing I realized then is that I am always a little sad to see Dustin play live because I know that the night will eventually end. It’s such beautiful music that I could listen to it indefinitely. Please, please check out Run On Sentence. I am already looking forward to the emails I’m going to get thanking me for introducing him to you. You’re welcome. I’ll let you know when he’s back in Maine, too, since he currently lives on the west coast. Thanks, Dustin! Amazing as always!