Tuesday, November 5, 2013
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
What can I say about Max Garcia Conover that I haven’t already? Max is a dear friend and a fantastic singer-songwriter. I’ve seen him play so many times, but each experience is different and wonderful. I love watching him grow and develop as an artist. His first major show for the release of his first EP was back in 2011 at One Longfellow Square opening for David Berkeley. Max sent David a copy of his EP when it was finished and wrote him an email to let him know how much his music had inspired him to become a songwriter. David replied kindly and asked if they might play a show together. And then they did. How amazing!
Max opened with “In City Light,” which is about living in a city. He joked that even thought he’d like to live in the wild, he’d definitely die if he tried. Actually, that’s something new I can add about Max’s live show—his banter has gotten a lot more confident and he told funnier stories! We laughed a lot that night with Max (not at him). For example, Max told a story about taking Sophie out for her birthday dinner in Portland on their new scooter and a guy who hollered out to him to give him “mad props” for a getting a girl like that with the scooter! It was hilarious.
I really love Max’s newer song “Wildfires Outside Laramie, Wyoming.” He talked about it being about a national tragedy and two sides that can’t communicate with each other. Max also talked about how people at shows like to hear banter (I know I do!) and how he’s a quiet person (although he said a lot more at this show than he usually does). It inspired “Say That You Know Me.” I think “The Wedding Line” is my favorite song off of Max’s newest album, Burrow. I’m excited to report that Max is recording his next album this winter, too!
Max told us about his very elderly grandmother in New York who has encouraged his songwriting from the very beginning and always wants him to play his songs for her whenever he visits home. He went to visit her in her assisted living apartment last time he was home and she wanted him to play with the door open so others could hear. She can’t hear very well, so she didn’t realize another resident was playing the organ just outside the open door. The organist and Max had a little unplanned competition for the attention of folks walking by in the hallway.
Max wrapped his set with “As Much A Rising Sun as a Setting One,” which is one of my favorites, and “The Start of Fables,” which included some audience participation. Max likes to ask the audience to sing, and since his twenty best friends come out to all of his shows (including me), we always oblige and really go for it. He always reminds the crowd that sing alongs can be awkward or awesome—so just to go for volume over quality. Max recorded a set with Sofar Sounds in Boston a few nights later and you can see they sang along on “The Start of Fables” with him quite happily. Always great to see you live, Max! Until next time.
David Berkeley took the stage after intermission joined by Bill Titus on guitar. They opened with “Angelina.” I like how the song reminisces about an old love and wonders how she feels about it, too—“I hope you don’t regret me.” I’m a big fan of “George Square,” which we learned is in Glasgow, Scotland. David and his family have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico since August of 2012. It never rains there, David told us, which inspired his most recent album, The Fire In My Head.
I appreciate David’s crystal clear voice. As someone who is interested in lyrics, I really appreciate being able to hear each and every word that he sings. He covered Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” and it was the first time I understood all of the words! I really liked “Wishing Well” about a man who was left by his wife and finds solace in the construction of a bridge. I especially liked the lyric “build me a bridge that’s forever between two heads and two hearts.”
David got a request from someone in the front row and realized they were asking for a song he’d written for someone else. He told us that he tries not to get attached to those songs and doesn’t play them live. He’s also found a calling as a marriage proposal singer. He’s literally played during someone’s marriage proposal. He thinks it’s kind of weird, as do I, except then my friend and singer-songwriter Taylor Carson mentioned doing the same thing just a few days later. It’s apparently a thing I didn’t know about.
David played “Glory” for Max. I especially like the lines “And I’m sorry I’m not all those things/But I’m doing the best that I can/So don’t let go of me.” In thinking about what I like about David’s songs, I appreciate the emotion they evoke. We’ve all loved and lost, so they are easy to connect to. “Fire Sign” is one of my favorite David Berkeley songs and I was glad to hear it live.
David gave a shout out to his friend he’d gone to high school with who was in the audience. They’d sung together in an a cappella group, and he credited this friend with making him really like music. Lucky us. He also told us that he and Bill had been stopped by police in NYC on this leg of the tour. Bill was driving a rental car with Florida plates and pulled over to pick up David who was wearing a backpack and had just climbed up the stairs from the subway. They couldn’t actually figure out how to roll down the window for the police officer, either, and David eventually had to play a song to prove they were musicians on tour.
I am truly lucky to be part of a marvelous friend group. Max is in it. There are about twenty of us. We do things like go to Max’s shows (we took up the first few rows at this one, for example), spend weekends at Sugarloaf snowshoeing in the winter, and enjoy Friendsgiving together. One thing that has become part of our vernacular since the first time we saw Max with David Berkeley is the use of the phrase “hard merge.” We use to describe times we’re struggling. Most weeks, someone will send out an email inviting the girls in the group to wine time in Portland. If one of us is having a bad week, we might reply, “Can’t wait for wine time—this week’s been a hard merge.” We’ve borrowed the phrase from David Berkeley’s song “Willis Avenue Bridge.” I mentioned it to him after the show and he didn’t seem offended that we’ve incorporated “hard merge” into our lives.
David talked about vinyl and how excited he was that his music was available on it now. He started to wrap up his set with “Shelter,” which I really love. He played “Jefferson” and without pause, went right into a cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” At least that’s what I think happened. I was a bit mesmerized at the power of the songs woven together and forgot to write it down and now that was over two weeks ago and my memory is fuzzy. For the first time I can remember, I got a migraine during a show. I couldn’t actually see Max at the end of his set or David and Bill at the beginning of theirs.
It’s always nice to see David Berkeley play those beautiful songs of his live. One of my favorite moments from the last time I saw him was when he read “Empty Tank Denial” from his book 140 Goats and a Guitar—essays about what inspired his album Some Kind of Cure. “Empty Tank Denial” is a hilarious true story that sets up his song “Parachute.” It’s worth a listen. Thanks again, Bill and David. See you next time!