it was a beautiful, still night in brooklyn when this fledgling music critic and his wife made their way to spike hill in williamsburg. after a car journey of about 1200 miles, from minnesota, the last 5 were covered on bicycles thanks to the new bike share citi bikes, which were located near our departure and destination points.
spike hill is a smallish venue with brick walls and a full bar and restaurant next door. while waiting for the show to begin in side bar, I was introduced, for the first time, to JBC sideman max eider, coincidentally my favorite living guitar player. luckily, I didn’t stutter and max graciously excused himself as the duo, dressed in suits which could loosely be described as “english,” was about to take the stage. I made my way to the front of the room and the show began.
it began with an oldie, “holiday,” as in english speaking gentleman on…. although odd to hear without the typewriter rhythm behind it, obviously a good one to warm up with, I remember thinking while watching max, “hey, I could play that!” that thought was a fleeting one as the set began in earnest.
this is as good a point as any to give my impression of pat fish, a.k.a. the butcher or just butchie to his friends. clearly enjoying himself, he was seated on a low chair playing a borrowed ovation acoustic guitar. a better frontman they simply do not make as he put the crowd, and just as importantly max, at ease with his pithy and hilarious banter. for instance, coming to max’s rescue later in the set when max sang the wrong first verse to his own composition “who loves you now?” with a comment to the effect that he (pat) was always the one to mess up. on another occasion telling the crowd if they wanted to sing along with a chorus – “please don’t.”
the set was front-loaded with songs off the new album, the last of the gentleman adventurers, kicking off with the title track. these new songs too benefited from brief intros from pat as when he revealed later in the set that the song “shame about you” was inspired by involuntarily uttering the phrase after seeing himself in the mirror one day, and when the identity of “black raoul” was definitively revealed to be his cat. the crowd, less familiar with these new songs, waited patiently, but with rapt attention, for the fun to really begin, and they weren’t disappointed.
the set then moved into what could be described as the glass era, the peak years of pat and max’s collaboration together. the first one, “southern mark smith” caused me to sing, a little too loudly, along with the line “I’ve found out already what makes my heart sing!” much to the irritation of nearby revelers.
then came max’s own tour de force, the aforementioned “who loves you now?” before the song began, max made reference onstage to an interview I conducted with him where it was revealed to the world, and remembered by himself, that wes montgomery’s version of “polka dots and moonbeams” was his inspiration for the song.
I asked myself, “how can my life get any better than this?”
after a rousing “girlfriend” came the sublime “betty page,” with max’s virtuosity, now in fifth gear, on display for all to hear. after a brief return to the new album for “shame about you,” max lent his hand to “shirley macLaine,” a post collaboration song from the 1991 album condition blue. the favor was soon to be returned.
the set had seemed to last for about 15 minutes when eider walked, a little mysteriously, off the front of the stage, as there was no backstage option. fish, looking perhaps for the first time a little unsure what to do, just stayed on stage as the crowd, almost better described as an unruly mob, demanded more.
the butcher graciously put max back in the spotlight for the closing two numbers, “partytime” with its genre-defining major 7 chords and the best guitar solo of the ’80s and “drink”—max’s own song, effectively giving the sideman the last word.
like love, perhaps musical collaborations are lovelier the second time around. If that is the case, and it appears to be, the future looks bright for jazz butcher fans such as myself. I only wish you could have been there.
postscript – for guitar players (nerds) only after the show I asked max way too many questions the first one being, naturally, what kind of guitar were you playing? “a gretsch” was his answer. when pressed for a little more information he told me it was a “double” anniversary. favored more by country players than jazzbos. the “double” anniversary features hi-lo-tron single coil pickups.
as I was standing near the stage I can attest to the fact that max plugged directly into a fender deville 4 x 10 amp. fiddling with a couple of the knobs during the show. the chorus effect made no appearance, apparently banished to a bygone era.