Saturday, May 14, 2016

Concert Review: Francis Dunnery @ Tin Angel - Philadelphia, PA 05/07/16

I've been listening to Francis Dunnnery since Tall Blonde Helicopter was released. It's strange to me that I can't recall the song Philadelphia's Public Radio Station, WXPN, was playing at the time. He was a guest on their afternoon show World Cafe'. He seemed to project a magnetic personality, even over the radio.

Tall Blonde Helicopter is a fantastic mix of sophistication and somehow manages to capture a very honest DYI vibe. The sign of a great teacher is to bring complexities within a range that can be reached with a reasonable challenge. Jazzy chord choices for three chord sing songs that can be deeply self analytical, deprecating, and hilarious. That, or they turn his view outward to social observation and spiritually driven searching. I was also wondering if I was crazy for hearing some touches of Genesis, Frank Zappa, and Pink Floyd.

As a student of guitar I was blown away! Francis Dunnery has TONE!!!!! Oh my god!!! His phrasing is second to none. His delivery is so smooth that as a student his level of mastery of music seems attainable. In a way it may be, but the man has a voice on guitar that is inimitable. He is also a multi-instrumentalist. You'll see this if you check the album notes. An interesting note; he invented an instrument called the tap board. I was totally unaware of his former band It Bites.  All the while he never seemed to take  himself too seriously. It's my favorite record of his but only because it's the first I heard. His song "Immaculate" resonates to something personal that was going on at the time.

For me, all of his releases are as good as the one before or after.  It's funny, I used to hate the first two records. Not only do I not feel that way now I can't imagine why I didn't like them in the first place. They do have a slightly more commercial vibe but they where way to thoughtful to be huge commercial successes in the sea of BUUUULLLLSSHHHIIIIT (stay tuned for an upcoming article on that subject gentle reader) that was the '90s.

His name showed up as a regular at the Tin Angel in those days and somehow (because i was working like an Egyptian at the time [another article!]) I never saw him live.  Eleven years later, on Mothers Day, I would finally get the chance. This was a solo set armed with a wired up acoustic guitar.

I'll start by saying this, the man's voice has not lost it's quality one bit! Live setting, his voice sounds as good as it did when I heard him in '95. He kicked off the set with" The Gulley Flats Boys".

His set ran through a good mix of his entire library, though I don't believe he played anything from 2004's Man. I can't speak for Frankenstein Monster either.  I haven't been able to track it down so I have only heard the title track. I have yet to yet hook up Vampires as well.

Reflection. Looking into the past to make better the future, was the theme of the night. " not be calcified in the past." The point was driven home by "Give up and Let Go" and "Autumn the Rain Man".  The song "Who Ever Brought Me Here" took on a different and even deeper contemplative perspective as the notes rung more spaciously in the ether deepening the question asked. "American Life in the Summertime" was always a song I skipped. I stupidly never even looked into it. As it turns out it isn't the candy ass pop song I thought is was. Its written by FD after all and I should've known there was more to that book than the sugar coated cover would lead me to believe.  It will never be my favorite from a sonic stand point but it does encapsulate the vacuous '90s!

I can't remember the whole set so as I write this I am surfing his library. The Johnny Podell Song and "Riding on the Back" were unexpected. His between song, self effacing humor kept things light and the crowd laughing and engaged. There is no dead air when this guy takes the stage. He is a fantastic entertainer. For my money, it let his above mentioned message sink in. I think at least half of the set were requests which is impressive if you know the size of his catalog. The way he chooses to compose and rearrange his songs to accommodate an acoustic guitar is impressive in itself.

The reflective vibe of the set list had a powerful effect on me as I mindlessly snapped off some pictures during a sing along. Francis, at this time, was standing right in front of me prodding me to sing. Though the camera was in my face I was deep in the memory of my own hurly burly past. Francis, if you are reading this, this is more of a compliment and testament to the power of your song writing and delivery in the live setting.

Keep the windows down and your eyes on the horizon!


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