Weeks late, I know. It’s not like I’ve been doing anything
77’s frontman Michael Roe teamed up with former bandmate David Leonhardt for a little tour on the road that reminded me a little bit of the “It’s For You” tour they did 15 years ago. Whereas that tour was mostly unscripted, taking requests from the audience for most of the show, this tour had a much more fixed agenda. Supporting a double-album (or triple-album, depending on how much you wanted to pay) re-release of the 77’s classic album Sticks and Stones, Roe stuck mostly to reinterpreting this album that had been out-of-print for many years.
Billed as an “unplugged concert”, Roe ended up playing mostly electric guitar for the songs. Many of the songs had not been played in years, decades even, leaving some room for reinterpretation. The show was the first of the tour and it was clear that Roe and Leonhardt were still learning the songs as they tentatively played out some unfamiliar work. Playing without a drummer they supplied all of the drum tracks via an iPod that Roe jokingly named “Britney.” The drum tracks provided a necessary backbeat to the electric guitar, but were a pale substitution for a live drummer. The material from Sticks and Stones is some of the strongest of the 77’s library and that came through a little bit in the show, even if the show felt a little like a live rehearsal. To their credit, Mike and David handled the show with humor and kept the crowd involved so that it felt like a very intimate, personal affair. Roe told many personal stories from the era of the album. The era was a trying time in his life where he had lost his job, saw his band disintegrate, and go through a divorce. His candor shed some light on some of the songs and added to the personal nature of the show. It would interesting to hear this show again after they have played a couple nights on the road and gotten comfortable with the songs.
The show was hosted by the Area 251/Reallife church in Dallas, Georgia in an old furniture store in the middle of town. I thought I recognized the MC who introduced Roe and Leonhardt, and indeed later discover that it was Mark Blackburn, one of the creative minds behind the 90’s band Jacob’s Trouble. Now I understood the connections as Jacob’s Trouble toured with the 77’s. I really liked the coffee shop venue and it was nice to drive only 20 minutes to nearby Dallas instead of across Atlanta to go to a concert. They have The Choir on their schedule for April and I hope they host some more shows in the future. The show was very well attended for an obscure band (my friend David and I estimated somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 people.) that I’m sure was encouraging to the venue and the artists.
I came away with some thoughts from the concert. The first was that it took a lot of healing and acceptance for Roe to spend such time unpacking a very creative, but also very painful part of his life. 20 years helps put a lot of perspective on sad events and helps a person look at struggle with a little more objective view that allows a person to see the good things that came out of that era. I’ve thought about that a lot with past events in my life and even in struggles that I’m going through now. How will I view things 20 years from now? I’m glad these wandering musicians came through our little backwoods suburb to share a little bit of their lives with us on a Saturday night.