“Dammit . . . she stood me up,” my thoughts sulk.
Earlier, before thinking the five undesirable words, I was excited to prognosticate what the night had to offer: “I’m going to see ‘Midnight Reveille’ with a pretty girl,” I thought as I walked around St. Louis’s Central West End in an effort to find tonight’s venue (Nathalie’s). I had been so hopeful. But now my date and the prognostication have both turned into a chimera of Jane Doe and me sitting by myself—my only comfort being my new friend Sulk. Remedying my cold thoughts with healing qualities, I order a pint of Guinness and strap in for an evening of music, beer, and newfound solitude.
“All you want to do is use me,” the singer (Erik Sims) does his best Bill Withers impression. Adding to their cover of “Use Me,” Erik’s voice is a bit grittier and bluesy—the Delta side of the soul, not the R&B side. Regardless, the band supports him with that groovy ostinato riff that goes something like, “DoDo-Da-Do—Da-Do etc.” And now I’m following in sync by swishing the beer around in my mouth and tapping my feet to the rhythm of the bass guitar. I figure it’s a better alternative than dancing by myself, especially, considering the small size and intimate setting of tonight’s venue; the square-sized bar takes up over half of the tiny room we’re stationed in.
“I’ll take a Stella Artois,” I say to the bartender; he’s struggling to keep up with the mere half-dozen-or-so patrons perched up on stools lining the square perimeter. Thankfully, my attention distracts to hear an original tune called “Devil’s Daughter:”
First night I met her it was the hard way
She was smoking a big cigar down on Broadway
She looked me up and down I nearly turned myself around
And walked the other way it was my first mistake
Cuz I bought her a drink
Who woulda thought to think she was the Devil’s Daughter
Sweeter than holy water
I myself would have turned around; I prefer my female acquaintances to be smoke-free. And what Broadway is he talking about? Broadway in Manhattan? North Broadway in St. Louis? Perhaps the Devil’s Daughter is hanging out in the northern part of St. Louis city, much evil has persisted there in recent years. More accurate, the Devil’s Daughter is a past love—perhaps unrequited—that has “done wronged” tonight’s singer/songwriter. I’d like to go up and ask him the name of Satan’s offspring: Ask him what went wrong? What bar they were at? How long it lasted? And how the bitter end unfolded?
Unfortunately, the stock lyrics of this bluesy tune don’t paint a picture in my mind. For example, I don’t know the color of the coquette’s hair (probably fire red), the color of her lipstick, or, less visual, the practice of her tantalizing ways.
Finding the balance between music and words is a problem for a lot of Blues musicians. For instance, I can tell that Erik is a great singer and guitar player, however, his lyrics don’t implant images in the listeners mind. All we get is a series of words replicating lyrics of the old Delta Blues artists. It’s not so much that the lyrics don’t paint a portrait in my mind, it’s that we already know “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” We’ve already heard the story of a man buying a woman a drink and suffering later consequences. The story line is ubiquitous in lyrics sung by chanteuses and troubadours dating back to unrequited loves provenance with Beata Beatrice in the 13th century! Essentially, beatific Beatrice wouldn’t give it up for poor, dejected Dante; tonight we celebrate their seven-hundredth centennial.
“Eh, I’m probably just bitter because my date has turned ghost and, therefore, any musical content related to women only paints the color blue in my mind at this point,” I realize my sulking ways.
But the band really is good. The drummer’s brown curls bob to the four-four beat he’s embellishing; the guitarist chunks the bluesy chords adorned lightly with jazz flavors telling the listener, “Yes, this was written in the nearest century”; the bass player bob’s in sync with the drummer, walking the primitive blues changes from Georgia, all way across Busch Stadium, and arriving somewhere deep on North Broadway; the keyboard player fills in with B-3 accompaniment; and, Erik closes his eyes and tells us about the bitch he should have walked a way from years ago.
“I like their music. Guess I’ll forgive the lyrical transgressions and end things on a high note,” I think to myself. I’m several-beers in now and the show is coming to a close. Perhaps I’ll take a walk down Broadway and get my fix of pagan solicitations. After all, it is Well Before Midnight.