Pete LaBonne Performing Live 4 Hours Away? Road Trip!
Last Saturday Berke swung by my house at about 7am and we headed out to Troy, NY to see the one-of-a-kind Pete LaBonne play an extremely rare gig at Jimmy Barrett’s fabulous River Street Beat Shop in Troy, NY. We were both home by 10pm. Zip in, zip out.
I believe Pete may have played a show in Rochester, NY earlier this year. Other than that, I’m pretty sure his last few shows were those we did together last year at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs and Valentine’s in Albany. The opportunity to see Pete play a full show, as long as he wanted, without having to worry about getting off the stage for the next act, was just too great for us to pass up.
We were not disappointed.
What we and a handful of music fans witnessed that afternoon was funny, touching, subversive, and a more than a little nuts. There was a subtlety to Pete’s performance, especially the first set, that I had not really noticed when I had seen him in the past (I’ve been fortunate to see him perform at least ten times). The first set seemed to be almost stream-of-conscious, one song leading into another, lines in some songs referring back to earlier songs in the set, stops to tune sometimes feeling as if they were in the middle of a song, it all ran together in such a way that it felt like one thirty minute piece. Yet I know it wasn’t – I have Pete’s complete collection, “Gigunda“, and many of the songs in the set were separate tracks from different albums. The final piece, the title track from his latest CD EP “Portrait of Stalin”, wheezed along with quiet accordion backing and some sort of crazy whistle between the lines of the song. It was, in a word, sublime.
The second set was more oriented towards separate songs – and great songs at that. He played many of what I think of being his “hits”: “Toothy Ruthie”, “The Drivin'” (“If you’re gonna do the drivin’, I’m gonna do the drinkin’. If you’re gonna do the drinkin’ baby, I’m gonna do the drinkin’ too.”), “Sound of Doom”, “Turning the Page”. He even pulled out the song that caused some consternation at Caffe Lena last year, “Sack of Potatoes”. When those of us realized that the show was over, we demanded an encore, and the whole thing ended with a shout-a-long chant of “Down With It! It Must Go!”, the title of his track on last year’s Bubbles in the Think Tank record for Record Store Day, “Eponymously Entitled“.
So many people want to pigeonhole musicians into categories. Once while singing with Chandler I had a person come up to me on the break between sets, someone who had been there for at least a good portion of the first set if not the whole thing, and ask me “what kind of music do you play?” Pete is truly one-of-a-kind, but if I had to compare him to someone, I guess I’d go with a solo version of Captain Beefheart. He’s definitely weird in many ways, but he understands the pop hook. There’s an underlying aspect of the blues, yet there’s a freedom of stream of conscious-sounding lyrics, a poetry to many of Pete’s songs. Finally, there’s some serious musicianship. He records at home (solar powered!) and plays everything – drums, keyboards, guitar, bass, vocals.
One thing that impresses me about Pete LaBonne is that it seems that he is fearless in his music. I get the feeling it’s OK with him if you don’t like his music or don’t get it, if you think it’s crazy, if you think it’s crass, if you think it’s poetic – or some remarkable jambalaya of all those and more – just don’t be neutral about it. He wants you to have a reaction. At least I think that’s how he feels about his music – it certainly seems fearless to me.
Bottom line – if you’ve never seen Pete perform and you like your music at least a little on the weird side – and you hear that he’s playing remotely near you – I think you owe it to yourself to go see & hear him at least once. You might hate him, but I bet you won’t forget him. And if you love him, you’ll be hooked.
Set 1 (“a special set for those who showed up on time”):
- The Pearly Gate
- Time Capsule
- Why Was I Born
- Featherhead Jones
- Fine Amnesia
- Why Was I Born Part Two
- Portrait of Stalin
- She Used to Walk
- Toothie Ruthie
- The Driving
- Sound of Doom
- Turning the Page
- Sack of Potatoes
- Down With It
Remember … “a little infinity goes a long, long way”