Sunday, January 4, 2014
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
We’re so happy that Max, Sophie, and Arlo the poodle are home from their cross-country fall tour! Our friends Ken, Tasha, and Sammie organized a surprise welcome home party for Max and Sophie before his show later that evening at One Longfellow Square. Ken asked us if we’d be willing to play a song or read something either written by Max or Sophie or inspired by them. It was wonderful to get to catch up with the gang and welcome Max and Sophie back in such a creative way. I was so impressed with friends who learned and reimagined Max’s complex songs and Ellery producer Ben Cosgrove blew us away with an impromptu performance (read: he forgot to prepare and it was still insanely good) of “Evelyn O.” on piano
We ventured over to One Longfellow early to grab spots for the show. Ben Cosgrove is a musical prodigy. His piano pieces are layered and interesting. As someone who really loves lyrics (which he doesn’t write), Ben keeps me engaged by talking about the inspiration for each of his songs. He’s regularly inspired by place, he said, and some of the songs he played were “Montreal Song,” “Palo Alto”, and “Abilene”—which is about a cross-Kansas drive and the disorienting feeling of not understanding your place in the expanse. We saw Ben on the second night of his national tour, and he’s ended up in the Pacific Northwest where he’s doing a musical residency for a couple of months. Someone booed when he said he’d be gone a while, and he smiled and said “it’s okay, Mom.” It was a cute moment made better by the fact that Ben’s mom really was in the audience.
Max Garcia Conover took the stage after an intermission and told us that playing a show with Ben Cosgrove is the best and also the most harrowing thing possible. Max told us a few stories about his national tour, including a night where he played a “world music night” in Venice Beach (the Garcia in his name must have done it) so he played a song about his Puerto Rican grandfather for good measure. The centerpiece of the tour was the 1986 Toyota Motorhome that Max and Sophie bought for $2,500 to travel America in. It finally gave out in a Wal-Mart parking lot on Thanksgiving and they had to cancel parts of the tour. Max and Sophie decided they really wanted stuffing, so they waiting in the Black Friday line at Wal-Mart to get Stove Top stuffing. Max said it was a low point of the tour. Sophie wrote about this particular adventure on her blog. They eventually made it home to upstate NY where Max learned Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home.”
Sammie Francis-Taylor performed her own interpretation of Max’s “I Won’t Mess You Up” on piano at the welcome home party and Max said it was awesome and the first time he’d ever heard someone play one of his songs. He invited Ben Cosgrove to the stage and they played the rest of the night together. He played “Home,” which is about where he grew up in Ellery, New York. My favorite song on Ellery is “Wildfires Outside Laramie, Wyoming” and Max was nervous about playing the song there on tour. He told us a story about the day he played Laramie (where they liked the song, by the way) and how he had the strange experience of observing a college kid having an existential crisis starting with perusing women’s purses in a used clothing store and ending in the bar where Max played his gig later that night drunk on gin and tonics with chili cheese fries all over his face.
Max introduced “The Start of Fables” with an actually quite funny fable he wrote (finally) about bears and the bear baiting referendum question during Maine’s last election. I won’t ruin it for you since maybe he’ll tell it again. We sang along happily during the audience participation part, too. Max wrapped his set with an unplugged tune on the floor and then asked Ben to play a last song. I liked “Nashua River,” but also wanted to hear one more from Max. We stomped for an encore and Max took the stage to play a final song. Ben joined him and Max said he’d play a Strand of Oaks song called “Leave Ruin” and joked that he wouldn’t even tell Ben what key the song was in and even though Ben didn’t even know the song he’d still play it better than him.
Max told us how grateful he was to be home and to play for us. He told us it can be exhausting to play for new people every night and it felt so good to be back home with the people he loves. He said, “you need your people.” We’re your people, Max. Welcome home!