on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2014 1 Aug

Townes Van Zandt: Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas

von: Manafonistas Filed under: Blog | TB | 1 Comment

Some music cranks would undoubtedly pose the argument that everything’s gotten too ‘big’ these days; that the Radioheads and the Animal Collectives of the world are carrying on the same form of musical classism flaunted by bands like Yes and Led Zeppelin thirty-five years prior.

Alas, those were still the toddler days of the music biz, and that argument no longer carries much water for anyone but the most diehard purists. If anything can be gathered from nearly sixty years of rock and roll, it’s that no matter how big or small you are good music owes less to the ebb and flow of trends than it does to chance, chemistry and inimitable talent.

Live At The Old Quarter, reissued this year on vinyl by Fat Possum Records, is a simple document that bristles with just this sort of magical ‘right place, right time’ energy. Townes Van Zandt, alone on the stage, strums and picks at his guitar in front of a rapt audience somewhere in Houston sometime in the early seventies, and the product is nothing less than heartbreakingly gorgeous.

Van Zandt spends his time at the microphone proving to his audience that he can live up to the promise of “Pancho & Lefty” and succeeds admirably, peppering blue jokes between a set of originals and covers by the likes Doc Watson (“If I Needed You”) and Bo Diddley (“Who Do You Love”) and never once slipping from his disarmingly honest demeanor.

“Living on the road my friend / was gonna keep you free and clean / now you wear your skin like iron / and your breath’s as hard as kerosene.”

Townes chose these words to describe the down-and-out bandit Pancho, but he’s really imparting a little something about himself. To know that the man met his own untimely end, likewise a victim of drugs and booze, is as sad as it is unsurprising; even on laid back, jokey tracks like “Talking Thunderbird Blues,” the singer’s voice betrays a plaintive fatalism.

Townes did make big studio records, but here the man shines with his own easy glory. It’s in our own good fortune that someone was there that night to put it to put it all on tape.

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