Tag Archives: Daniel Knox

Daniel Knox and the “more interesting vegetables”

Daniel Knox opening for Langford et al at Southgate House Revival

Daniel Knox opening for Langford et al at Southgate House Revival

Before I saw Jon Langford a couple weeks ago at the Southgate House Revival, I had read that Daniel Knox was going to open the evening. I went to Knox’s website to orient myself, but as often happens, I was interrupted before I could listen to anything. The night of the show, I wasn’t paying attention when an unassuming guy walked onstage and sat at the keyboard. I didn’t even notice until he began to sing. His gorgeous, haunting voice rippled among the waves of his musical score, working the tension between fancy croon and despair. Daniel Knox has alarming range in his voice. I don’t know what type of person I would expect to have brought those musical bones to the stage, but the contrast between the guy I saw and the revelation of his music added to the wonder. It was one of those moments of discovery when I learn there’s another entire world that has just casually walked into the room.

His set in Newport included the keyboard, supported by four overturned milk crates, and himself. After he played, I stumbled over some compliment to Mr. Knox at the merchandize table and bought his CD Evryman For Himself. On the ride home, I read the CD liner notes: Ralph Carney and others play with Knox. (“Ralph Carney?” I said to my husband. I know Carney from his work with Tom Waits, icon.)

The sound of Daniel Knox is theatrical, so I was not surprised to see he has collaborated on stage productions. Some of his songs make me think of Kurt Weill, some of Fiona Apple (Extraordinary Machine is her album I’m most familiar with, but Knox and Apple also seem to share a certain strain of hopeful bitterness), and there’s certainly some Waitsian sounds involved, too. Knox is another of these fabulous interdisciplinary aestheticians, whom, if I were hiring, I would invite to join the IA dream department. After finishing each song, he would toss the pages of music (which I suspect might have been props) to the floor behind him, a floor salad of inspiration.

Maybe because I had no idea what to expect, the milk crates supporting the keyboard added a layer of secrecy to the moment. It was a little like sitting in a basement in college, listening while a friend reads from her journal, finding perfectly-formed gems of humanity inside each line. Knox’s songs are like little sad 70s movies, minimal but complete stories with haunting soundtracks. His work is raw and fragile, but also strong like a metal building, an eternally-surviving frame surrounding a tiny, exquisite flower of pain. I scribbled some of these notes in the semi-dark as I listened, and one thing I wrote (my memory between the moment of going to his website weeks before and being interrupted and that evening at the church was so blurry), was, “and I don’t even know his name—I sat through the whole set not knowing his name!”

There was once a humble Vietnamese restaurant nearby our town. I used to like to get the noodle bowls there. On the menu, with the listing of choices, there was a note: For 50 cents extra, you could order “more interesting vegetables.” I always ordered more interesting vegetables, and although I can’t now recall which specific vegetables came for that half-dollar splurge, the term became shorthand in my house for more interesting anything, usually to do with books or movies or art or people.

Daniel Knox is one of those who deals in more interesting vegetables.

A live encounter with Jon Langford’s Here Be Monsters

On April 9, I had the pleasure of seeing Jon Langford and Skull Orchard rock the stained glass out of Newport, Kentucky’s Southgate House Revival. (Okay, I’m exaggerating. The windows are still there, or they were when I left the church/club, as evidenced by this photo.)

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Jon Langford and Skull Orchard at Southgate House Revival

While waiting for the bill at a pizza place nearby, I worried that by the time we got to the club, it would be packed. When my husband and I got to the church (on time, after all), Langford was in the bar, and we had a moment to say hello and chat. I’ve met him before, and it’s always a treat. Langford is irreverent, generous, and funny, full of the best of what humanity can be.

As an artist, Langford knows about layers. His paintings echo memories of musical icons, ragged images full of heart. Ragged like most adult humans, beneath the veneer. Langford knows there is a crack in everything, and he knows that’s how the light gets in. Doing a Waco Brothers song that night, they were “walking on hell’s roof, looking at the flowers” in a former church, adding layer upon layer. I blogged about Jon Langford and his work another time over here. That night’s was a “small perfectly formed” audience, Langford said. I guess for a weeknight, it wasn’t shocking that the place wasn’t full to the choir loft, but I wish the world were different and I wish that a guy who makes stuff like Langford makes would be valued over, say, (insert manufactured popular music icon of your choice here).

It might have been my ears which have been recently more attuned to how we cheat and don’t cheat death, but Langford tapped into something that keeps haunting me lately: We don’t have much time. Do something now. Do something you care about, something you can live with. Drain all the juice, stop equivocating (okay, he didn’t say all that, but he showed it), go. No point saving the good china for good. (I might be imposing ideas from other sources I’m colliding with right now. Like how you see a specific number everywhere, once you start to notice its importance.)

Stained glass window, reflecting.

Stained glass window, reflecting.

But it does seem that Jon Langford’s songs are about how to be alive. How we decide to be, while we’re living. They are all about waking us up.

The Newport lineup included Bill Anderson, who I know from The Horsies, which was cool because, well, you can go watch The Horsies here. The cumulative power of the musicians in Newport (Langford, Anderson, Jean Cook, Joe Camarillo, and Ryan Hembrey) created something complicated and rich and decadent and shhh, secretly fragile, because it’s so rare. Whatever you want to call it, it was perfect, the air between those stained glass windows. And we of the small, perfectly formed audience were treated to a kick-ass set, uncensored stories, and other hijinks, perhaps because it was the final show on this part of the tour. The band were like ridiculously talented children, up on stage, playing for sheer fun.

That night felt like the best kind of party, celebrating sound, story, and full-on-why-go-halfwayism, and it’s just the kind of party that spring needs, and that I need, to blow out the cobwebs of winter and remind me that

I

am

alive.

 

p.s. Daniel Knox opened for Langford & Skull Orchard.  The experience of seeing Daniel Knox is another story, which I will write about soon as I can.