Syracuse, we have had this conversation before.
I am sorry we have to have it again. I know what passes for entertainment media in this town… well the best that can be said is that it is catch as catch can. But I have been telling you for over thirty years, in THIS town you have to dig for the nuggets of greatness that come to our fair city. Our local media, what there is left of it, is not going to help you. (As I write this essay, one of our local media stalwarts just tweeted out a story about Kanye West.) Instead of thinking, “I never heard of this guy” you have to think “maybe I would like this guy, I’m going to find out” . What with You Tube and streaming services there is no excuse to be ignorant of new talent anymore and no excuses for not catching something wonderful on the way up because once they get to a certain level of prestige, they aren’t going to book shows in our awesome and charming smaller venues anymore. You have to get away from the TV once in a while. I know life is busy but the key to life is experiences. Get your asses up Syracuse, I know you have that in you. There is nothing like live music and look, I can see you out there, going off to various events and seeing music in parks and bars. You have the hunger. Lets all get together and get to some of these shows that are appallingly ignored. We have to spread the word ourselves. The Syracuse Media Group is NOT going to get better. The Syracuse New Times Is NOT going to get better. We have to do It ourselves.
I can remember other shows where I was embarrassed and horrified at the lack of turn out. The Pretenders playing to almost nobody and competing for attention with the foosball tables at a local club. The Police at the height of their power(before Sting became an incessantly mid-tempo sanctimonious wad) playing to maybe 20 people at the long lamented Firebarn downtown, and of course the topper, U2 playing to a half empty gym in Auburn. (yes, THAT U2) So we have been here before, my beloved salt city, but I have been defending you to naysayers, I have been promoting the renaissance of this town, a rebirth that is real and amazing. But you guys have GOT to step it up. I’m tired of going to shows where half empty would be an IMPROVEMENT.
I feel better that we have had this talk. Anyway..you missed something special last night. One of those shows that in a few years or even less, you will wish you had been there.
Last night I went to the Westcott Theater to see Rayland Baxter.
Turnout was horrible but I have to tell you, Rayland took that big room with the small turnout and created an intimacy like few artists can with a uniquely chilled out vocal style that filled all the spaces and gaps of open air where all the people should have been, and transformed the Westcott into a house concert, one of those cozy and warm affairs where people invite traveling coffeehouse troubadours to perform in their homes. Last night however, the house was all Rayland’s who along with his dead solid band, whose bass players looked a little like David Foster Wallace filled the room with stories of people who have made bad decisions, taken the odd fork in the road and one story about Jesus in a dream with a cooler full of Stella Artois.
If you ever find yourself in a room where Rayland Baxter is singing “Yellow Eyes”, “Mr. Rodriguez”, my personal favorite Bad Things or any of his amazing song stories you should count yourself lucky. I sure did. Opening with “Marjoria” from the excellent Feathers & Fishhooks following up with a mix of songs from that album and his latest the spectacular Imaginary Man. The band behind him did not miss a step even when Rayland chose to call an audible off the set list. The band is anchored by keyboardist extraordinaire “Mr. Jimmy” Rowland but I have to tell you , in the words of the great Joe Strummer, a band is only as good as it’s drummer and Baxter’s group has one of the best I’ve seen.
Between songs Baxter regaled with stories of searching for spiritual enlightenment in the war torn Gaza, returning from that war zone and going into another when he was the house guest in a home which included 2 young boys who constantly attacked him in the playroom converted to his crash pad. He told us of the time when a younger Rayland scored a goal in the Carrier Dome as a freshman lacrosse player for Loyola. We learned that they “dabble” in the Americana scene but never feel fully embraced by that community because they don’t wear quite enough denim. We also learned that poor Rayland was suffering from the flu and full of Tamiflu, but like a trooper was still delivering a kick ass show to a sparse crowd.
An amazing voice and a charming way with the crowd, Rayland Baxter is a troubadour in the truest sense of the word. This show was one of the best I have seen this year. If you weren’t there, you blew it.
Hey Rayland? Keep that band buddy. As I watched them I was reminded of other “backing” bands that are so, dare I use the word “tight’? Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers come to mind.
I’m usually a pretty good judge of these things and I am here to tell you, this wont be the last you’ve heard from Rayland Baxter this is an artist whose star is definitely on the rise.
The guy showed up and delivered even with the damn flu! Too bad more of the town couldn’t have shown up as well.