Songs of love and death and inadvertently stumping the band: an evening with Dixon

Finally, after all these years, last night I met, live and in person, the incomparable Don Dixon (Web site and MySpace). He played a fantastic solo show at The Evening Muse in Charlotte, with a set list that included much of his new CD (The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room) and plenty of older favorites, and ranging from the achingly beautiful to the fall-of-your-chair funny. Afterwards we went over to Brixx Pizza with some folks and just hung out. Great night all around.

(If you’d like a little more insight into the guy and his music, have a look at “22 Questions with Don Dixon,” an interview I did with him six years ago.)

A few observations about the show:

1) The solo thing works. I was a little surprised at how well Don’s stuff translates into the one-guy-with-a-guitar format. One of the strengths of his music has always been spot-on, organic arrangements and production strategies, and as great as the songs and his singing really are, I’ve always figured the larger, full-band context was critical for him. I don’t really like solo shows, as a rule, but it was remarkable how little I even noticed the absence of full instrumentation. This was especially true for the material from the latest disc.

I suppose this says something even more impressive about Don’s production skills. It seems to indicate that everything he does in the studio perfectly serves the song, huh?

2) Take my wife. Please. The solo environment shines a light on the humor in the music (and his personality in general) that you don’t get with a full-band show. In places it was almost like watching very funny stand-up.

3) Stump the band. You don’t usually expect to trip a guy up with his own song. Especially a very recent song. Hell, I couldn’t stump Adam Marsland with “I Touch Myself.” But last night I requested “The Night That Otis Died,” an outtake that was originally ticketed for the new CD but which was left off for licensing reasons (however, you can download it for free here). Don apparently hasn’t played the song in awhile, and about halfway through the first verse he started blanking on the words.

What followed was a pretty funny sequence where he’s strumming and trying to remember what he’s supposed to be singing, while me and a couple others are shouting out the next lines. He then does the next line, blanks again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Very funny stuff, and a very entertaining moment primarily because Don is just so completely in his element that he was able to roll with the situation.

So he stops, finally, and turns to his notebook of lyrics (which he kept on a stand the whole show for reference) in an attempt to find the sheet that has the words for “Otis.” As he’s doing so, the comedy routine continues unabated. He noted that he’s written several hundred songs, and I think the crowd was enjoying the interplay here almost as much as they would have enjoyed the song.

Line of the night: “I’d be really embarrassed right now if I cared.”

4) Moment of the night. His performance of “Renaissance Eyes” last night was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in over 25 years of concert-going. I don’t know when I’ve ever watched a singer commit more to a song – it was passionate and heartbreakingly intense, and when it ended you knew he’d given you absolutely everything he had. I saw Michael Stipe do the same thing in closing a show with “South Central Rain” in 1989 – by the end his voice was shredded, and I don’t know how he had enough left to say goodnight. As emotional performances go, this was like that.

So thanks to Don for letting me be a part of it, and thanks to The Evening Muse for giving him a stage to perform on.



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