Kathy McCarty, (the aforementioned rock star goddess) performed last Saturday at the Orange Show in Houston. Also, a surprise guest appearance from Daniel Johnston, eccentric songwriter and artist who wrote the songs for her earlier critically acclaimed album, Dead Dog’s Eyeball.
I had first heard her music while a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania. McCarty has this off-the-wall style of singing that makes you never quite sure what genre she’s supposed to belong to. In Golly Gee and Desperate Man, she sings slow songs with a jazz piano. Other songs Wild West Virginia and Creature have more of a rhythm-based edge. Two other pieces, Running Water and Baby in My Universe, are just lovely minor pieces that once heard will never escape your head. McCarty inherits from Mr. Daniel Johnston a semi-paranoia and even a tinge of sadness (Desperate Man Blues), but McCarty gives the lyrics an upbeat even consoling touch (When she says the line , “so empty–so empty,” the music almost halts and we feel it, the momentary emptiness, and then the moment is gone, and so is the sadness and the melody lands gently and pleasantly, as though our troubles are long since gone and forgotten. (Amazon has a free mp3 of Worried Shoes (mp3)from her Sorry Entertainer album).
A few notes about the concert. McCarty sang Desperate Man Blues with an almost comic tone (she messed up on a stage movement to introduce the song). Living Life, a song included at the end of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” seemed on the CD a small simple song, but McCarty played it big like a rock anthem (which surprised me, but actually made sense). (Personal Note: I mentioned the song to her before the concert, and she dedicated it to me; that was definitely a heart-goes-pitter-patter moment for me!). Others songs like Baby in my Universe could only approximate the minimal claustrophobic beauty of the CD version (though it is nice to hear it all the same).
Ok, her stage performance was a bit–shall we say?–rusty; lines forgotten, let’s see? what key was this supposed to be in? But the audience played along; this was after all, the Orange Show, as informal a venue as you’re going to get. After opening with Walking the Cow, (a peculiar though engaging Daniel Johnston song), she alternated between Dead Eye and her latest album, which contains many original McCarty songs). Basement and City Song start out as straight bluesy rock numbers and veer into atonality and dissonance by the end. Not your traditional rock songs at all.
The real treat was hearing some old songs (back when she performed for Glass Eye in the 1980’s). Glass Eye CD’s are just about impossible to pick up these days. One song, Christine (?) was particularly electrifying.
When you know CD versions of a song so well, it’s interesting nonetheless to hear live versions. McCarty’s CD’s have great production values, precise sound effects and great expressive instrumentals. Live, it’s easy to miss these subtleties, easy to overlook the slow ballads amidst strange acoustics and audience distractions. In the live performance, there’s more attitude and big finishes; it’s easier to dissect the music and trace musical influences (I was struck for instance that some songs have a country twang, a thought that never would have occurred to me while listening to the CD). Not better (or worse), just different.