coffee. more coffee.

We kept in touch with Nick and Dots Will Echo.  After Nick released Get Your Hands Off My Modem, You Weasel, I had a similar reaction to the one I had in 1993 with Footstone, where I promised myself I’d never doubt him or his judgement again.  And that sort of enabled me to listen to their music with a whole new attitude; even the stuff on that CD, and the demo tapes that preceded it, sounded better to me when I tried to understand Nick’s process, rather than just listening to the music on the surface.

Nick performed a lot, occasionally with the full band and very frequently on his own.  He billed both types of appearances as Dots Will Echo, so I never knew who was actually playing.  He communicated by email (actually, he was one of the first artists I knew who promoted shows to a list via email, and to this day I still get them), and the emails were always super-brief (they still are today).  They’d read like this:

Dots at the Sidewalk Cafe, this Saturday night.  Show starts at 7, we’re on at 9, stick around for Lach at 10.

Literally, that’s what they’d say.

Getting to the Sidewalk Cafe, with a 4-year-old and an infant, was near impossible.  So every time I’d get one of Nick’s emails, I’d respond and say something like “Play a show closer to my house, and I’ll come.”  Secretly I’d hoped that the band would get another one of those gigs at Borders Books, so I could bring both Sandy and the kids.  Nick would respond with a wise crack, telling me to move to Brooklyn or quit having kids or something like that.

Then, one day I got an email from him that said he was performing at a coffee shop in my town.

At first, I thought it was a joke.  But he responded and said, basically, that he’d gotten tired of me telling him to play in my town, so he actually just looked in the yellow pages to see if there was anywhere in Boonton to play.  And he found this coffee house, called them, and booked himself a show.  Just like that.

I promised him we’d be there.

On the night of the show, Sandy and I were more pumped than I ever remember being for a show.  We’d never been to this particular coffee house (although we both drove past it every day and from the outside it looked like a cool, bohemian type of place), and we were having this fantasy of walking into a place that was perfectly suited for live music, that could draw a decent crowd of people who liked the easy-on, easy-off location of the place, which was right off Route 287.  And most of all, we couldn’t wait to see Nick, who we hadn’t seen in years.

We arrived at showtime and opened the door, and could hear Nick playing a song just off in the distance.

We looked around the shop: it was a really cool place, draped with tapestries and candles, with all sorts of scents and weird mood lighting.  The shop actually had two rooms; the front room had a few tables and couches, where you could order a coffee and a pastry and then sit and eat.  The back room was similar, only there was a small performance space and there were more couches.  There was also a library of new agey books that you could borrow, and a few rooms where you could go and get a massage from the licensed massage therapist that worked there a few days a week.  It was a really, really cool place.

Only one thing was missing.  People.

Sandy and I were the only people in the place.

Nick was in the middle of a song when we arrived, and he was literally playing to an empty room.  When we walked in, he stopped playing and yelled “Hey!” when he saw us.  The two of us walked up and gave him a hug and we chatted for a few minutes.  We bought him a cup of coffee.

Gradually as we spoke, he started strumming his guitar, and then said “Hey, I just wrote this song I want to play you.  Tell me what you think.”

And then he proceeded to play us a song.

After that, another song, and another.  Each song he played was punctuated by a brief conversation between the three of us, or a quick story about how a song was written or what it was about.  He sounded tremendous; he plays these rich, fat guitar chords and his voice is so expressive and has such range, and from a writing standpoint he has an incredible sense of melody.  I could listen to his music all day.

At one point, Sandy looked at me and said “He’s such a great performer.  He’s so personal.  He really makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room.”

I looked around.  We were the only people in the room.

Nick played until they were ready to close the shop, chatting with us inbetween songs and during set breaks.  It was an evening like I’d never experienced before; this outstanding songwriter and performer, playing a show just for Sandy and me.

There were two things about it that, to me, were incredibly cool.  First, his enthusiasm.  He was playing a show for two people, and the two people were his friends.  Yet he stood up there on the stage and played his guitar and sang, told stories and talked, just as he would have if the room was full.

Second, the length of his set.  He actually played for longer than he was supposed to.  He was still playing while the staff was cleaning up and getting ready to close.  In front of nobody.

At one point I said something to him, suggesting that he didn’t have to play for just us; he could sit with us and chat.  His response was something along the lines of “Al, I’m in Boonton.  What the hell else am I gonna do?”

As he was putting away his guitar we thanked him for a great night and hugged goodbye.  On the way out, I dropped $40 in the tip jar.

That night was probably the most special concert experience I’ve ever had – one of Sandy and my favorite songwriters, playing a show just for the two of us, and talking to us throughout the entire night.  It was great.

~ by Al on December 4, 2009.

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