While some might consider The Call's best days behind them, the compelling, urgent set delivered by Michael Been and company at the Subterranean Cafe and Cabaret Thursday night decisively proved otherwise. Playing without a bassist (but with original members Scott Musick on drums and Tom Ferrier on guitar), Been wowed the standing-room-only crowd with a balanced mix of old standbys and thoughtful, new originals - including the hypnotic, steam rolling, "All You Hold On To" a bonus track on the just released "The Best Of The Call".
In strong voice through 17 songs and a generous encore, Been held nothing back, bringing a biting rock brilliance to the group's semi-acoustic lineup. He's also a spiritual, anthemic songwriter who flows easily between the searing and the soaring, and the night's set offered strong evidence that The Call, unsung or not, may well be the closest thing America has ever had to its own U2. No wonder Bono, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Cockburn are Call fans.
If pressed to pick a highlight - the entire night played like the crest of a wave - this reviewer gives a nod to "Everywhere I Go" from 1986's "Reconciled". Ferrier and Been stretched the songs middle with atmospheric solos long on emotion and absent of cliche before hammering home the song's thunderous tag. Likewise, it was impossible to resist "The Walls Came Down" - especially when Been, clearly taken by the crowds enthusiasm, let fly a mighty, celebratory whoop at the end of the song. Rock shows may come bigger, flashier and costlier, but they don't get much more immediate and passionate than this.
Thanks to Eric Coleman for the review
Here are some notes before and then my comments from after the show ...
So from all appearances it looks like we are in for an acoustic show. They are setting up stools and the drum set seems pretty minimal. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I was hoping for an electric show. But we'll see. It looks like no keyboards, which also does not bode for good things. That means that there are several things that we probably won't hear tonight. The idea of The Call as a power trio is kind of amusing. Especially seeing as how Michael Been tends to get carried away and frequently forgets to play the bass.
So enough speculation. The Actual Show
It was three members. Tom, Michael, and Scott. Electric guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Drums. I was very worried about there being no keyboards but I shouldn't have been. The sound was as lush as one expects from a Call show. Michael amazes me. He was playing acoustic guitar yet he managed to fill in the sound with both the middle and the bass as well as tossing of some really fine solos. The rest of the band watches him and takes all of their cues off him. He goes off on a tangent (rarely on this show, really only on the first song) and they follow. When I saw them some years ago I accused him of musical Tourette's Syndrome and I was very worried when he went off on a very long tangent during Everywhere I Go. But the rest of the set was rock solid and rocked like a demon (an odd phrase for a band as concerned with faith as this bunch).
Judging from the lyrics on the new album (haven't heard it yet but I took a look at the lyric sheet) Michael's songs are going further and further inward. And the live show was very introverted. Tom was the only one who really spoke to the audience. Michael said a couple of words here and there. But mostly just played and sang in that glorious voice. And what a voice. They did my favorite Call song Into The Woods. And when he hit the high notes ... WOW!
Here is the set list: Everywhere I Go, You Run, What Happened to You, Tell Me What You've Seen?, All You Hold On To, Into The Woods, Heartbroken, In The River, I Still Believe, Let The Day Begin, Walls Came Down
A good set of classic material and three new songs that (with one exception) were as good as the old stuff. It is great to have these guys back. Met them all afterwards and got all my stuff signed. I walked up to Tom and handed him all the CD sleeves and he held them up to Scott and said "We've got one of these!" I told him that I had all the vinyl too. I have met a lot of bands (It's hell being shy) and I think that I have never met anyone more gracious than Tom Ferrer.
In case you're interested, here is the set list from the show in Columbus, OH on April 30th.
Into The Woods, You Run, Memory, Oklahoma, What's Happened To You, All You Hold On To, Everywhere I Go, Become America, In The River, Heartbroken, I Still Believe, ***ENCORE*** Love Is Everywhere, Let The Day Begin, As Tears Go By (Rolling Stones cover), The Walls Came Down
Michael Been's music is personal...intensely personal with an exploratory edge. It's intelligent without being pretentious or coldly cerebral; emotional, but artistic with spiritual overtones. His former band The Call created music that was driving and rhythmically oriented; subject-wise, their songs were full of gripping and gritty images of conflict, compelling portraits of cataclysm and deliverance, making their music genuinely provocative.
Now, unfortunately for the group of discriminating fans that held The Call's music in high regard, the band as a band no longer exists. With eight albums to their credit-such as their unacknowledged masterpiece Modern Romans (a hard-hitting raw musical essay of singular power concerning the spirit-numbing violence of contemporary culture), Reconciled (an album chock-full of potential radio songs left inexplicably unreleased as singles by their record company), the hauntingly introspective Into the Woods, and the sparkling Let the Day Begin showcasing a variety of musical moods-The Call as a band will be sorely missed.
Fortunately for The Call's fans, lead singer and songwriter Michael Been is continuing his music career as a solo artist. Two members from his former band-drummer Scott Musick and guitarist Tom Ferrier- are continuing their musical association. Both are featured on Been's new solo release On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthroughand played on the accompanying tour.
With the addition of guitarist Ralph Patlan, On the Verge takes on a predominantly heavy guitar sound. Except for the undifferentiated grunge of "In My Head" (which doesn't really seem to put the song across in an interesting way musically), the new guitar lineup seems to pay off with a lot of new vitality.
The opener chugger "Us" sets the mood for a series of hammering rockers with its keening guitar volley and tense rhythmic guitar intercutting. The musicians really let loose with an all-out barrage on "When You're With Me." Its exuberance is matched by the roiling guitars and telling and moving vulnerability of "Nearly Fell": "Deep are the wounds that shaped me/I was vain/Struck by the hand that shaped me."
The catchy boogie behind "This World" is a rumbling mix of resonant spasmodic bass runs and high-pitched nervous guitar feedback. It's definitely the most distinctive hard rocking cut, with great lyrics to boot: "I look high through the trees/To the depths of the seas/Will I find me a place in this world?" Just to add a little vintage variety, On the Verge includes a kicking cover version of the Yardbirds' "For Your Love."
AFTER THE RELEASE of The Call's last album in 1990, Been wrote and performed the soundtrack to filmmaker Paul Schrader's Light Sleeper (1992). His music wells up throughout the film, the backbone to a night tableau of florid city images that serve as the backdrop to the story of another one of Schrader's troubled cinematic pilgrims. The soundtrack, only available as an EP in Britain, is full of fiery mid- tempo songs.
The new solo effort features a significant mix of the same type of slowed-down ru-minations in mid-tempo that are-with few exceptions- very effective. One of the songs, "To Feel This Way" (in two different versions), was actually slated for the Light Sleeper soundtrack, but found its way onto On the Verge . Been's husky vocal theatricality comes off with almost stunning effect on a couple of slower moody atmospheric gems-"This Way" and "Lumi-nous"-when he sings about the specter of a past relationship rearing its head, and the sense of losing and finding himself in the clarity of a transcendent light.
With his voice filtered and some electronic flourishes, "Now I Know High (Part 2)" is another hypnotic mid-tempo song that is extended out almost eight minutes with some spacey dreamtime guitar play. The languid theme of falling asleep and dreaming in the arms of grace is some of his best new work.
With the anthemic rockers of The Call behind him, Been needs to get a little more daring than he does on On the Vergeso that he can continue to create powerful music which is more unpredictable and stylistically varied. Some nice surprises are to be found in this particular mix of hard rockers and slower songs, but not enough of them to create a fresh feel in terms of its musicality.
Bringing a distinctive counterpoint to his more hard-driving songs, while continuing to expand his repertoire of dramatic mid-tempo songs, Michael Been's edgy intelligent musical introspection shows stylistic spark. With a string of flat record deals for The Call and a series of record management changes, Been's current recording label Qwest (headed by Quincy Jones) hopes that Been's solo career will provide the fresh start he deserves.
BRENT SHORT is a free-lance writer living in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.
The Call to a Solo Career. by Brent Short. Sojourners Magazine, March- April 1995 (Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 60-61). Reviews.
(Source: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm? action=magazine.article&issue=soj9503&article=950332e)