About five years ago at a small hotel in the cornfields in the Midwest, two artists sat outside on the balcony of a hotel and talked late until the evening and until the sun came up and a friendship took root. Michael Roe and Michael Pritzl had each long been in the music business. Roe, the frontman of the 77’s, had logged over 20 years playing rock music. Pritzl had a mere 12 years as the head of The Violet Burning. Each could commiserate with each other for their place in life now. Each had been rejected by the Christian media for “not being Christian enough”, but ignored by the mainstream media because of their outspoken faith. Worst of all, in an age where rock musicians plaster the faces of magazines in their good looking 30’s, each had long passed that age.
Yet, something profound came out of the conversation. Pritzl later said that he came to the realization that, like the boy that Jesus encountered, all they had to give to God were some loaves and fishes, “stinky, smelly, scaly fishes”, but God took their loaves and fishes, their music, and passed it out from person to person. Somehow, the music kept getting passed along, like the loaves and fishes, long after it seemed it should be over and people were blessed by their offering. The conversation for Roe and Pritzl each was encouraging at a time where each were wondering what they were still doing playing music anymore.
So, now here in 2006, this tour has become the fruition of that late-night hotel conversation. Michael Roe and Michael Pritzl joined together for a short tour across the United States. Each musician is normally associated with driving rock and roll, but tonight there would only be two acoustic guitars. The changed sound of the songs, plus the short time that these two musicans would be performing together made this impossible to miss.
Michael Pritzl began the show, playing a new song from the upcoming Violet Burning album Drop Dead and then after that took requests for the rest of his short set. He played beautiful classics like “Goldmine” and “Underwater”, some of the most heart-wrenching songs of all his body of works, played the aptly named “Gorgeous” and “Song of the Harlot” and dedicated “Halo” to his father. The concert was a unique opportunity to strip the songs of all their sonic power and powerful beat to discover that underneath, these are well-written songs.
Michael Roe followed, playing many songs from his solo album Say Your Prayers It wasn’t quite so hard to imagine Roe on acoustic guitar as many of these songs were recorded that way on the album. Roe also played the title song from his tounge-in-cheek-named album, Michael Roe – The Boat Ashore One might associate Roe with electric guitar fireworks, but there is a subtlety to his skill on acoustic guitar as his hands never stop moving across the fretboard through the deliberate songs.
The highlight of the evening though, was when the two took the stage together, performing unique arrangements of each other’s songs. Roe introduced a beautiful chiming melody over The Violet Burning’s “Undone” and Pritzl added harmony vocals to the 77’s “The Rain Kept Falling In Love.” The two guitars provided the choral intensity neccessary for the incredibly beautiful “Oceana” and one of the high points of the evening was when they traded vocals on a dirge-like but powerful version of the 77’s “Can’t Get Over It.”
Not that the evening was dry or without humor. Pritzl amused the crowd by borrowing a candle from the crowd so he could read his chord charts. “This is gonna be like that bar that burned down during that heavy metal show”, quipped Roe. When the two exited the stage before the encore, Roe walked immediately over to a small curtain, covering himself with it illicting laughter from the crowd with his antics as the curtain shook and moved around while we cheered for the encore. After the two musicans returned for the encore, Roe remarked “a certain drug company” wanted one of his tunes for a commerical, but he couldn’t bring himself to sell the song. However, he could imagine what the commerical would sound like and proceed to play the tune of “The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes and The Pride of Life” with a voice-over, “I’ve been restless. My wife said I should call my doctor. I haven’t been sleeping well. He said I should try…” all to howls and laughter from the crowd, but the best part of the joke came when Pritzl quietly started speaking the disclaimer, “side effects include nausea, rubber legs… may cause drowsiness..” when the music stopped, “what a minute?” asked Roe, “may cause drowsiness? Isn’t that the point of the drug?” The two then pulled it together for a serious take of the 77’s “greatest hit.” The two then finished off the evening with Pritzl’s worshipful “As I Am”
Afterwards, the two stayed talking with the crowd as they had many friends in the Atlanta area from Marty Bush who used to promote so many shows at The Strand to former 77’s guitar player David Leonhardt, who now makes his home here. All of this makes me eager to see The Violet Burning when Pritzl returns in a month and to go to Cornerstone later this year where like this show, there is a unique fellowship between the artist and the fan.