Sometime in the future, maybe 20 years from now when I’ll probably still be propped up behind some sort of machine that’s used for writing, I’ll look back fondly on O’Leaver’s and recall last night’s show as a prime example of that tavern’s golden age. Maybe 40 people were there last night, plenty of room to walk around, grab a beer, talk to fellow drinkers/music-goers as we waited for The Silos to get started. And the whole time wondering why more people weren’t there, no crowd anyway. Here was a band that is arguably one of the inventors of what’s come to be known as “alt-country” — veritable legends — playing in a bar with a capacity smaller than a mid-town Denny’s. I shake my head in disbelief. While every local rube is whining about the hundreds they doled out and the personal ordeals suffered trying to glom onto a pair of U2 tickets so they can be corralled like cattle into a blimp hanger and assaulted by shitty sound while watching a band well past its prime perform on big-screen monitors — for five bucks they could have seen a band that is as good — if not better then — they were 15 years ago while standing mere feet away from the lead singer.
But I digress. The Silos were nothing less than pristine last night. Every aspect of the trio’s performance was honed to pure perfection; playing music that was more rock ‘n’ roll than anything I’d consider “alt country.” Frontman Walter Salas-Humara played an amped acoustic guitar and sang like he’s been doing it for 20 years but with a passion of a kid playing his first gig. The burley, bespeckled bass player seconded on pedal-steel, and also happened to sing perfect harmonies on almost every song. And then there was the drummer — at least 15 years younger than Salas-Humara, he was some sort of rhythmic god, a super-realistic portrait in precision, a wunderkind of dynamics so freakish in talent that the crowd just stared in awe.
Was it the best performance I’ve heard at O’Leaver’s? Probably. The sound guy, who’s been through countless nights of shows there in the past couple years, said so. We chatted afterward, wondering why The Silos never made it big like Uncle Tupelo only to admit that Uncle Tupelo never really made it big, either, at least not while they were still together. They were big only to the people that knew them. And to a certain extent, so were The Silos. It was only due to the later success of Wilco that Tupelo is now considered a legendary band. Meanwhile, as the ’90s waned, The Silos were quickly forgotten, though the band continued to soldier forward in one form or another all these years.
They played a lot of songs off their new CD, When the Telephone Rings, but also a few from The Silos record (the only one I own) that I recognized, including “Caroline” and “Commodore Peter.” (While buying a T-shirt in the back of the room after the set, I noticed among the stack of CDs a plain-packaged one that said, “The one with the bird on the cover” which, of course, is The Silos. I asked Salas-Humara what happened to the artwork and he said RCA still owned the rights. He was unashamedly selling bootlegged copies of his own record.) In addition to my old favorites, the highlight was a song called “Let’s Take Some Drugs and Drive Around” — the title says it all. And the set closer, a solo number called “Susan Across the Ocean” that featured that amazing drummer, up from behind the set singing harmonies — a real goose-bump moment.
It’ll go down as just another special performance at O’Leaver’s, another in what’s become a series. It’s a shame that none of these shows have been recorded, if only for posterity’s sake. It would be nice to have a Live from O’Leaver’s CD to remember all these great shows, but I guess my memory and these blog entries will have have to do.
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