Opening shows for other artists is a funny thing. It can be a real master class. For example: Judy Collins. Shawn Colvin. Alejandro Escovedo. Ian Hunter. And it can be a slap in the face of the reality you really don't want to see--the person you don't want to end up as--the music you don't want to be making (no kiss and tell here).
Then there are the acts you open for and you stand aside, not quite as peers at least on the ladder-rung-level of success, but you feel a kind of equanimity kinship backstage in that there aren't separate dressing rooms, they don't have the star thing going that makes you feel like you can only put your bag in the teensy corner of the room that doesn't disturb their shit. The cool folks who share their Rider (i.e., popcorn and bottles of wine) with you, who say "oh, definitely try the Tempeh Thai salad...it rocks! Do you need to borrow some purple eyeliner?" without missing a beat.
I opened for zeitgeist It Non-Couple The Civil Wars last week at The Grey Eagle in Asheville and I'm here to report: wow. Just fucking wow. A) they're the nicest people on the face of the earth. B) Joy recommended the Tempeh Thai salad and she was right C) they're the nicest people ... and D) they BROUGHT it. Two voices and one guitar and they BROUGHT it. I walked out onstage before them to a veritable sea of 20 somethings. The youngest, largest crowd I've played for. Hipsters and hippies, drooling on the lip of the stage. And they were even nice. They didn't yawn through my 45 minute set (which, truth be told, I wished had only been 25 minutes. I really believe 6 songs is enough for an opener. 45 minutes pushes 8 songs and that wears the waiting crowd down, even if you're spectacular. I prefer 25-30 minute openings myself). They actually sang along, got quiet, moved their heads, bought CDs. It was amazing. But then, the Civil Wars walked onstage in their black gothic Americana outfits--Joy in teeteringly high heels and a short-skirted ballgown; John Paul in a black Billy Reid outfit. They looked spectacular. And to be honest (and if you know me, you know I'm a huge critic) they were incredible from the start. Beautifully fluid voices that were meant to sing together. Arty songs that made me wonder how the hell did hipster 20 somethings find these guys, cause although they have a few very commercially obvious (and in a really good way) songs, including well placed TV soundtrack stuff, they also have beautifully elegant almost-Parisian Jaquel Brel like Art songs. I don't get it and I'm so glad that somehow its caught fire, because it IS fresh. Someone said to me, "I dont' believe it", meaning, I'm sure that these two aren't a couple and the chemistry although perhaps underlying is real is perhaps exploited for show...who knows. What I know is what I see. And I saw passion and emotion bursting into flames and dripping all over the stage and I don't care that these are two separately married people making music, having been put together. I woulnd't care if they were the Backstreet Boys' 2nd cousins. I just felt something like a shiver watching them, thinking, wow. I haven't seen this.
That's the thing. Its simple. 2 voices. One guitar. A whole helluva lot of sensuality. Dress it up or not, its pretty cool to watch from the sidelines.