Sunday, January 29, 2012

No. 858 – Pavilion

Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriters: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Venus Isle
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: I have a bootleg from one of Eric Johnson’s shows from when he warmed up for Rush in 1991 that has a killer version of this song on it.

I’ve seen Eric Johnson four times, and I’m not sure I’ve seen him do this song. He definitely didn’t do it the most recent time or the first two, but I don’t remember whether he played it the third time I saw him, which was shortly after Venus Isle came out.

What I do remember about that show was that it was very mediocre. He was playing a small bar in Cincinnati, and Scott and I were looking forward to it after the experiences we had seeing him warm up for Rush. By this time, we had become total Eric Johnson geeks.

But the show was lackluster, mostly because he didn’t play much that we knew—meaning his own stuff—and what he did with a few exceptions was instrumental, when his songs that include vocals are at least as good if not better.

So, it was with much trepidation that I agreed when Laurie suggested we go to see him at House of Blues earlier this month. She knew I liked him, and she liked what she had heard, so she wanted to go. The tickets were all general admission and not much—less than $40 in this day and age is not much.

We were supposed to get our first snowstorm of the winter that day, so, because we’re old and don’t feel like standing either outside in line or for the whole show any more, we paid extra to have dinner there ahead of time and then have seats.

This time the show was great. In a certain sense, it was like going full circle: I discovered Eric Johnson at a Rush show when I had never heard of him. This time, his warm-up act was Andy McKee, a solo acoustic guitarist. If you haven’t heard about him, I would advise you to immediately (as soon as you’re finished with this blog, of course) get over to YouTube—before Google’s privacy policy changes—and check him out. It’s some pretty amazing stuff.

So, I already felt that we got our money’s worth, even if Eric Johnson sucked. But he didn’t. This time, he came out strong with a few songs off his latest album, Close Up, and an incredible cover of Dear Prudence. At this point in the show, I texted Scott and told him to forget 1996; this was like seeing him again in 1991.

Although he again played almost nothing I knew, this time it was OK, because I was kind of expecting it, but also because what he was playing fit in with his general sound. It was mostly his material or, in the case of Dear Prudence, cover songs that if you didn’t know better, you would have thought he wrote.

He closed the regular set with Cliffs of Dover, which he always closes with, but the song of the night for me was the one before it—When the Sun Meets the Sky. It’s an oldie from Venus Isle, and although it wasn’t one of my faves, it stuck with me, because it is a good atmospheric song. He made it sound great at House of Blues. I told Laurie his guitar in that song sounds like the winter sun on a snowy day—cold and shimmery—and she loved that analogy.

I’ve been listening to it a lot in the weeks since then, and I’m convinced that were I to start the 1,000-song countdown now, it would be on there, so this is my first A/B moment of a song that I discovered, or rediscovered, after starting this countdown. All the information is the same as above, except that Stephen Barber co-wrote the song with Johnson, and there’s no definitive version, although if you find a bootleg from 2011 or 2012 somewhere, that would work.

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