Art Bergmann & Viper Juice At The Wise HallTuesday, July 02, 2013
|From left, Tony Bardach, Randy Rampage, Art Bergmann and centre bottom Zippy Pinhead|
Everybody who knows me, will know I am an absolute fan of Art Bergmann, the man, his music, his lyrics, his guitar playing and anything else not included in the above.
So after his concert this Canada Day Monday at the Wise Hall I received a few phone calls of protest from people citing articles about the concert that denigrated his artistic talents.
I would not even bother to mention the publications involved as most now routinely do interviews of city folk by phone or worse, by email. And in publications like the Vancouver Sun if writer John Mackie would stand up and randomly squeeze both triggers of a double-barreled shotgun he would not hit one single human being.
Nobody in this 21st century of whose mantra is, “The best price is free,” or “Good enough is good enough,” could possibly survive in this city as a rock critic. So I would take whatever such a rock critic said or wrote with an extremely teeny-weeny grain of salt. A rock critic in this city could not possibly make or break any musician, bad or good.
I am not writing the above alluding that indeed with handsome payment I would be a good music critic. That is not possible.
I write the above because if have had contact and indeed worked with very good rock critics. One of them was Les Wiseman whose In One Ear column in Vancouver Magazine was awaited monthly by a young man who now is in charge of rock music at a popular Vancouver weekly. Wiseman was uncommonly good. He almost was assigned work by Rolling Stone and Esquire (but did contribute to the legendary Trouser Press) but suffered the indignity of having seen the folks in New York when the best Canada had to offer was Red Rider. In fact Esquire editor Adam Moss (now editor of New York Magazine) told Wiseman, “I like your writing. Pity all you have to offer is Joe Clark.”
The other rock critics (not in reality just that) as they were arts critics were Globe & Mail writer Christopher Dafoe and free-lance Globe & Mail writer John Lekich. The excellence of all three blasts into a supernova with comparison to anybody who may be writing about what they wrote in our contemporary Vancouver media. Another great rock writer, Lenny Kaye even contributed to this model blog here..
It seems that the music critic in question was critical of Bergmann’s supposed drunkenness while admitting that he himself was under the influence.
Since I happened to have been back stage for most of the show and hours before I can attest to a few things that might clear the air.
For one, this last week, Kevin Lucks (the band’s bass player and organizational genius who managed to get people to show up for practice six times) found a temporary fix for Bergmann’s severe arthritis, curvature of the spine and everything else that has the man in chronic pain. This elixir is viper juice (the real snake oil!) which energized Bergmann so unlike his last appearance in 2009 when he was unable to even pick up his guitar. This time he played it from beginning to end.
Before the concert, Bergmann and company had slices at a pizza joint. Back stage they had a huge tub of iced water bottles. I did not see Bergmann open any of the beer but he did want as soon as the concert began a can of cider. I know because I was standing (and you may have seen me in my poor choice of a white T-shirt of the Odds.) behind Adam Drake the drummer when Bergmann asked for the cider.
Backstage Bergmann and Stephen Drake (who played fantastic guitar ) conspired with glee to make an issue of tuning their guitars at length. If you had seen Drake’s fine sneer you could understand that this pair was on the same wave length. And indeed they made the issue of getting the right G something very funny only if you understood the mind of the man.
Anybody who has been to an Art Bergmann concert, and I am one of those, will explain that throwing stuff, breaking microphones (as far as I know he never broke a guitar on purpose) will know that his persona is just that. Drunk or sober, on stage he will always seem drunk. In normal talk, the very shy Bergmann talks with an almost-American-from-the-South slow drawl as if he were on constant downers. This is not the case. He talks like that. In a short chat I had with another virtuoso Vancouver guitarist, Colin Griffiths, he made the comment that Bergmann was uncommonly introspective now.
The duo of Kevin Lucks and Stephen Drake (with the help of his solidly solid drummer Adam) gave Bergmann and opportunity (which Bergmann immediately understood was an offer he could not refuse) to perform when the original plan to come to Vancouver with his wife Sheri was to visit her ailing father.
I had chats (on the phone) with Stephen Drake who said that he was able to play his guitar like Bergmann and that Bergmann had noticed that. Then Drake told me something that floored me.
It went something like this, “Art tries to hide all the theoretical stuff he knows about chords and notes. He tries to make us all think it is purely intuitive. This is not the case. He understands it all deeply and we were able to communicate musically.”
What this means, from my vantage point is that every movement, every chord, every note, every lyric, every gesture, every indication of apparent drunkenness (it was once true), his violence, it is all planned or preconceived if I may insist on clarity here.
Monday night’s concert was none of that. Four very good musicians who have been playing for many years got together for two weeks. They played in rehearsal exactly six times. One of the players, Kevin Lucks told me, you won’t hear too much backup singing as we had little time to learn them.
Monday’s concert was one of sheer brilliance (from my amateur point of view). And specifically as I listened to most of it from very near and behind drummer Adam Drake on the side of backstage I had his precision drumming for the beat and I could hear both guitars and the bass loud and clear.
Of all the songs they played that night two stand out for me. I have always loved the whimsical lightness (until you really read the lyrics) of the Hospital Song. The version I heard was the best I have ever heard. Another favourite is Remember her Name . Because of Bergmann displaying some histrionics on the latter, it had one long and very wonderful beginning with bass and drums. It was a killer.
There are at least two thoughts I came out of after the concert. One was that the audience and Bergmann’s band have pumped him up with enthusiasm to come back and play at a larger venue. The other is that at 60 Bergmann has more brilliance to show us. I hope I am around to see and hear it.
And rock writers should realize that lucidity and listening to the music is paramount to good criticism. After all in spite of the snakes and blood good critics did note Alice Cooper’s brilliance.
Since I have yet to process all the film I shot during the concert (I still shoot film) a Fuji Instant snap that I took of the day before on Elliott Street will have to do.