Was it just me, or were fewer people gabbing during last night’s residency finale? Even though it was, appropriately, the most celebratory-feeling show of the run, people seemed to be paying attention. Maybe it was because most of the curious-onlookers and make-the-scene-sters had been filtered out and the room was full of people who wanted to be there and loved the music. Or maybe it was just really loud, and I was close to the stage. Whatever the case: gratitude.
Another factor: guest artists representative of the various shades (oops) of Juniper Tar. Suave party animal Trapper Schoepp appeared with his Shades, pretty much whipping the room into frenzy from the get-go, even though he interrupted the best Black Sabbath song ever on the record player (no hard feelings!). Schoepp covered the twangy country/rockabilly spectrum and brought the choice vocal harmonies; BJ Seidel brought the introspection and heartbreak. It was a tough three songs, bringing home the fact that Decibully is no more, and that voice is chillin’ somewhere all the time, largely unheard. Tough, but triumphant; BJ hasn’t lost a step since that final show, and hearing these tunes live again (particularly “Tables Turn”; it was tough to keep it together for that one) was the best kind of painful.
And then they introduced Shane Hochstetler, as everyone wondered what on Earth J-Tar would sound like with the drummer from Call Me Lightning, playing a CML song. It was immediately clear that there could only be one song with this lineup; we’d be lucky if Tuc Krueger’s kit could handle this type of assault for a whole tune. It was “Soft Skeletons”, a frequent set-closer for CML, and it was kind of like a tidal wave crashing down on four unsuspecting seaside villagers. The guys pummeled their guitars and Aaron Schleicher did a fine job of screaming the vocals, but this was all Hochstetler. If it were most other drummers, you might be annoyed with the lopsidedness of it all, but with a beast like Shane you just stand there in awe and let it bowl you over.
True to form, the guys who put this all together showcased all these sides of themselves. “After The Tremors” is probably the closest thing J-Tar has to the CML sound, although it’s actually more of a Tom Petty-style rocker (but with better harmonies). The Townes Van Zandt cover, “Rex’s Blues", might have encapsulated the boys’ sound as perfectly as any of their originals; they play it so lovingly and with such vigor, it’s impossible not to get swept up in that enthusiasm.As if the final night of “The First Waltz” residency wasn’t bittersweet enough, we were right on the heels of the revelation that Levon Helm is nearing the end of his battle with cancer. The dedication of “I Shall Be Released” to him had to be done, but it barely had to be vocalized; it had been hanging over the whole night and then it welled up from the crowd to the stage, a bizarre juxtaposition of tragedy and comfort. When it was over, the only comfort was that this community singalong will happen one more time, next Friday at Turner Hall. That’ll surely be awesome too, but nothing can ever take the place of these past four Wednesdays. Sorry, Hotel Foster: I had to steal the poster off your wall. Thanks for everything.