Because I Found Out Already What Makes My Heart Sing:
The Jazz Butcher, Wetlands, NYC, September 23, 1999
I got to see this show because of a vision
I had. I know that sounds mad, but I can't think of a better
word. During my lunch hour, one day in late August, I was walking
to Chinatown in Boston, listening to the Jazz Butcher song "Rosemary
Davis World of Sound" on my headphones. I suddenly had
an image in my head of being in New York with my friend Jerry
and Pat Fish (a.k.a. the Jazz Butcher). When I got back to work,
I looked up the Jazz Butcher web site and saw that he was playing
several shows in the US, including one in New York City. I told
Jerry and he got us tickets for the show.
I'm not going to attempt to give a full history
of the Jazz Butcher; there's a wonderful web site (actually,
it's pretty much the only worthwhile thing I've seen in my limited
use of the Internet) at jazzbutcher.com.
He's been around since the
early eighties, but stopped playing as the Jazz Butcher a few
years ago; currently he's not on a label and nearly all of his
records are out of print. His music ranges from silly drinking
songs to social commentary to gorgeous romantic guitar numbers
- guess which ones are my favorites! He doesn't play in the
US very often, and I really never expected to get to see him
We got to the club around the time it was
supposed to open, and of course it didn't open on time. I could
hear the tantalizing sounds of the Jazz Butcher's sound check
coming through the metal curtains covering the entrance; I recognized
"Mr. Odd." Wetlands, on Hudson Street, has the appearance
of an abandoned warehouse, but Jerry had bought the tickets there
so we knew we were in the right place. We positioned ourselves
on the ramp near the entrance and amused ourselves people-watching
and singing "All Tomorrow's Parties." Quite a few
cute people in the crowd. Eventually they opened the curtains
and turned on the lights and made us line up and wait some more.
As we were waiting, a tall, gaunt man in a suit came over the
chains at the opposite side of the entrance and went into the
club. Jerry said something about him looking like he was dead.
Finally they started letting us in. The club
was small but well laid out. To my right as I entered were the
stairs to the bathrooms downstairs and a DJ booth made out of
a wrecked van; to the left were steps up to the bar. Further
back, the stage was against the right wall, with a dressing room
area in the back right corner and seating along the left wall.
Jerry and Sophie got places in the back left corner and then
Jerry and I went to the bar. While he was buying drinks, I noticed
the tall, gaunt man we had seen before. He was signing autographs.
It was Max Eider, the guitarist.
I couldn't sit still, so I found what I hoped
was a good spot near the right-hand corner of the stage, and
stood against a pillar drinking my beer. I happened to look
over my right shoulder and saw Pat Fish. I felt my face light
up in a big grin, and he smiled at me. At that point, I didn't
care what the rest of the evening was like.
There was a long wait before the opening band
played. They had the unfortunate name Asseaters U.K. Their
singer seemed drunk and embarrassed, but they didn't play very
long. Someone said that the last song that they did was a Mekons
song, but it wasn't one that I knew. Immediately after they
left the stage, a red-haired woman in jeans and a short-haired
guy in a red t-shirt began setting up effects boxes and other
equipment. The club was quite full and I was glad that I had
claimed my spot early.
Finally, Max Eider and Pat Fish came onstage,
to tremendous applause. Someone helped Max over to a stool,
right in front of where I was standing. Pat was a little to
the left. I had a great view, except that the stage lights weren't
on. Pat said, "I'm comfortable with my sexuality, could
we have some light up here?" He talked about how he just
found out that Wetlands donates any profits they make to environmental
causes, and said, "What a good room to be in!" They
started the show with "Partytime." As Pat sang, "I
could look at all the girls that are in this room," he looked
around at all the girls in the front row. He was extremely attractive,
although not conventionally handsome. Dark hair, dark eyes,
great eyebrows, several teeth out - very British. He wore a
dark blue suit over a grey cotton knit shirt with buttons at
the neck, and soft-looking black leather shoes. Max was wearing
a suit and black Doc Martens. Max was playing a hollow-bodied
electric guitar, Pat a solid-bodied one with a sticker of a head
of a cat wearing a rhinestone collar and winking its left eye.
Several times during the first part of the set he made comments
about them playing "pussy music." He also told the
audience "Relax, we're going to be up here for hours,"
and referred to the show as the last Jazz Butcher show of the
century (Wetlands billed it as the last ever.) After "Partytime"
came "Too Much Falling In Love," then Max Eider sang
his song, "Raking Up the Leaves." He seemed horribly
nervous or something, but his singing and playing were gorgeous.
They were then joined by Owen Jones, who with
Pat and Max played on the earliest Jazz Butcher recordings, through
1986's Distressed Gentlefolk. He was dressed more casually
than the others, wearing a striped knit shirt, and had sandy
brown hair. Pat thanked someone at the club for lending them
the accordion which Owen Jones was about to play, and said that
theirs had gotten smashed by United Airlines - "Boo United
Airlines!" He urged everyone to fly Delta. He then introduced
"Girls Who Keep Goldfish" as a song about small gold
fish. The previous weekend I had bought a pair of costume-jewelry
earrings for fifty cents from an eccentric old lady at a yard
sale; they were strings of gold-colored fish. I took them off
the earrings and put them on safety pins, and thought that I
would give one to Pat Fish if I got the chance to speak to him.
As soon as I heard him say, "Small gold fish," I took
off one pin and tossed it onto the stage. He looked at it and
left it lying there. Pat also told what he referred to as a
joke and said that he was testing people's reactions to it -
"In Seattle there was dead silence." He said that
when he was about eight, a kid came up to him on the playground
and said, "You know your dad?" and he said yeah and
the kid said, "He drives with his brakes on." Later
on in the set, he finished up a song by saying, "He drives
with his brakes on, ladies and gentlemen, the Jazz Butcher."
After "Girls Who Keep Goldfish,"
Pat switched to bass and handed his guitar to Owen Jones, who
sang his song "
Don't Let Me Keep You
," which was very
sad and lovely. Max then sang "Who Loves You Now?"
Then Pat switched back to guitar and introduced Patrick Byrne,
who he said had flown all the way from London that day to play
with them. He was wearing a light-colored suit coat over a dark
shirt, and had a rather peculiar haircut with shaved sides; we
had noticed him outside the club before the show. He played
kazoo and harmonica. Max sang "D.R.I.N.K.," with kazoo
accompaniment by Pat, Patrick and (I think) Owen. Pat then introduced
Steven B. Ballantine, who joined them on bass. He was someone
whose name I didn't recognize - he looked young and a little
shy, and was wearing a suit, I think. Near the end of the set,
Pat thanked him especially and said that he drove the van on
the West Coast, played bass "and is also the band's attorney."
Following the drinking theme, they played "Soul Happy Hour."
On the recorded version, the introductory lyric is "The
best things in life are free/But you can give them to the S.D.P."
(the Social Democratic Party). When they played the song, Pat
sang, "The best things in life are free/But you can give
them to Spacemen 3."
As I mentioned before, most of my favorite
Jazz Butcher songs are the woozy, romantic ones from his later
albums. Since they were all recorded with a different band,
I didn't really expect him to play them, and he didn't. The
one song I was really dying to hear was "Angels," from
Distressed Gentlefolk. (Regular readers of Feedback
will recall my paean to "Angels" a few issues back.)
After "Soul Happy Hour," Pat sang a couple of lines
from "The Sandman," and then broke into "Angels."
I was ecstatic. Superlatives fail me. In the verse that begins,
"I can see them..." he added the lines, "They're
up in heaven...I know because I've been there." Possibly
the closest thing I've ever had to an orgasmic musical experience.
Kevin Haskins joined the band on drums, wearing
a black shirt, with black hair in a sort of quiff. Pat Fish
picked up the string of fish I had thrown onstage earlier, held
it up and said "Thanks for the fish," then put it in
the pocket of his suit coat. He introduced the next song as
about being on "the wrong side of the Carpathians"
- "The Jazz Butcher vs. Count Dracula." Toward the
end of the song, Pat's amp stopped working. The roadies came
up on stage and started trying to fix it. People were yelling
out song titles and suggestions. Someone said he should play
through Max's amp and Pat said, "You don't want me coming
through there," and Max looked horrified and shook his head.
Someone else said, "Break up," and Pat said, "We
tried that." After the same person yelled about four song
titles, Pat said, "Honey, I'd be happy to be able to play
you ANY FUCKING THING right now." He then announced that
they would take a short break while "the Cathy and Rob show"
tried to fix the amp, and then more or less ran off stage, very
Eventually, the roadies got the fuse changed
in the amp, possibly the only time I've ever participated in
an ovation for roadies. Incidentally, the crowd at the show
was one of the most good-humored and positive crowds I've ever
been in. Clearly everyone was there because they really wanted
to be, and most of the audience seemed to know most of the songs.
One person kept yelling, "Stop mucking about!" but
I think they thought they were being funny. After the second
or third time, Pat said, "Go see a band that didn't break
up four years ago."
Pat came back onstage without his suit jacket
and said something about having his coat off now. They played
"She's on Drugs" and "Mr. Odd," two of my
favorites from 1990's Cult of the Basement. Pat then
introduced "Walk With the Devil" as "having been
written during the Cold War, when writing about St. Petersburg
was supposed to be ironic." They played "President
Reagan's Birthday Present" and "Caroline Wheeler's
Birthday Present." Then Max played his song "The Long
Night Starts," which was quite lovely. Pat sang a verse
of "Purple Rain" as the intro to "Rain,"
a song that I'd never heard, yet which sounded oddly familiar.
Next was "Girlfriend," another favorite of mine -
"Well, it's funny cause I thought that it could have turned
out quite romantic/But it isn't like that, which is fine, cause
it means I can stand it." At some point in here, someone
brought a beer up to the stage and tried to hand it to Pat.
He had his back turned to the audience and Max Eider tapped him
on the arm and said, "Pat, someone's trying to give you
a drink." Pat introduced "Old Snakey," from 1995's
Illuminate, as being from "a record that never even
got released over here," and referred to it as "a newer
old song." He made great snake movements with his hands
while he was singing it. His moves were great - he danced and
did great stuff with his feet while he played, and ended a couple
of songs with Max standing up and Pat falling to his knees at
the end of the song. It sounds cliché when I describe
it, but it looked very spontaneous, natural and cool while they
were doing it. "Bigfoot Motel" was next, followed by
"Zombie Love," which Pat introduced as being in "the
saddest of all keys, A minor." I found myself liking the
goofier songs a lot more when I saw and heard them being played
After "Zombie Love," the band left
the stage and returned, after much applause, to play a cover
of Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinheads Bowling,"
which Pat dedicated to "my close personal friend Curtis
E. Johnson," in whose band, the Stranger Tractors, Pat Fish
plays drums. They left the stage again, and returned again.
Pat sang a verse I didn't recognize about "a thing of beauty
is a joy forever," and then said that the next song was
about a particular section of highway outside Northampton, Pat's
home. He then said, "It's not what you think," and
chanted the "One-two-three-four-five-six!" intro to
the very special Jazz Butcher version of Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner"
with a section about "Maximilian Eider did not know it,
but he was entering the Twilight Zone/That's where he went/Said
I wouldn't live next door to one if I were you...Rock and roll
vegetable live next door to you/Rock and roll vegetable, vegetable
This ended the show. I went over to Jerry
and Sophie. Sophie immediately said, "I loved him, he's
so cute!" which would have made her my friend for life,
except that she already is. Jerry said that I looked so ecstatic
that he thought my facial muscles were going to cramp up from
smiling (they did get sore toward the end of the show, but it
was a small price to pay.) Part of me wanted to stay and try
to meet Pat Fish, and part of me was scared to, and Sophie wanted
to go home, and so we left.