Venue: Tractor Tavern Seattle, WA
Date: November 17, 2006
Opener: Michael Merenda (from The Mammals)
Michael Merenda from The MammalsMichael Merenda just got married two weeks ago to fellow Mammal Ruth Ungar. She's somewhere in the Carolinas now, touring with her other band Sometimes Y, and he's here in Seattle opening for Dan Bern.
Merenda's other job is with snarky political activist folk group The Mammals, but tonight, he's flying solo. His natural stage presence is an asset, as most of his songs try harder than they should for a laugh and a scratch of the head. In his quieter moments, Merenda can be stunning, alternating between an impressive falsetto and his warmer low register. Those songs tend to be more beautiful, personal and revelatory and less ... well, entertaining.
Dan BernNonetheless, the crowd eats it up, and when the night's headliner Dan Bern hits the stage, asks "Did you guys have fun with Michael Merenda," the audience hoots and hollers.
Then again, they'd pretty much hoot and holler at anything Dan Bern bothers to utter. Some of the people at this show were likely at last year's performance by the singer/songwriter, although tonight somehow seems a lot more spirited.
After all, Bern is fresh off the release of his most recent release, Breathe, and most of the songs he plays are from this album. Highlights, naturally, include the title song, during which he's joined by cellocaster player Paul Koone. Also, older tunes like "Hannibal," "Tiger Woods," "Missing Link" incite the crowd to cat calls, applause and sing-alongs. During the latter, Bern even entices his audience into making animal noises most of which wind up being monkey sounds. "This is something we haven't done before," he says and laughs.
Highlights of Dan Bern Live in Concert 11/17/06Newer highlights include tunes like "Trudy," "Suicide Room," and "Another Man's Clothes," all among the strongest songs from Breathe. Considering how much of a departure the album feels like, it's slightly surprising that he's able to transition so well between the songs in concert. This is Dan Bern's art, though, intermingling the provocative with the silly, the political with the personal.
At several points during the show, the group of friends around me jumps back in their skin, their mouths agape in shock from his use of racial slurs and his ignorance of political correctness. Still, as the song progresses, their faces change expression as they start to realise he uses words for effect, rather than offense. Throughout the performance, they move from shock and surprise to delight and amusement. For Dan Bern, this marks a job well done.
By the end of the night, they're sold and Bern has earned every bit of applause they can muster.