Sometimes, if you're really lucky, though, there are the nights -- as happened last Saturday at Caterina Winery -- when four sets of fans come to a singer/songwriter event to catch their respective favorite balladeers and crooners under the silly assumption that all the other singers will have the same neuroses, hang-ups and vocal style. When that happens, things get hilariously tense.
The show in question was Mark Ward's CD release party. Ward wouldn't play until around 10:30, but by 8 the place was fairly full of young people and a smattering of baby boomers. Some were locked down for the long haul; others were just in from Whitworth to watch their classmate Dane Ueland's (class of '09, holla!) presumptive downtown debut.
Full of golden-throated moans, layering biblical allusions amongst tales of modern tragedy, Ueland's set was an odd, gorgeous way to start a night (it would have also been a good way to end one). The crowd reacted well to the way he paralleled the Garden of Eden narrative with the way some foreign exchange student had toyed with his heart. "She thought pretty highly of herself," he said, the crowd chuckling. "This is my payback." His set was also the most enthusiastically received, finding a middle ground between the clench-jawed cynicism that would hit next and the overwhelming positivity to come later.
The rifts in the crowd started to show with the second act. Melody Moore, the Spokane-by-way-of-Louisiana-by-way-of-L.A.-by-way-of-Spokane singer, brought the baggage and laid it on, pointy ends down. Beginning with a song about failed adultery ("It's heating up your sweaty neck / it's burning down your picket fence") and ending with a song about what an emotional cripple she is ("I f--ked it up again. / I do / love you / I just can't say it."), Moore's coterie -- who had seemed to materialize moments before her set -- was totally into it. It made most everyone else, especially the boomers, squirm like children.
The crew that had come for Ms. Moore, expecting to see harder-edged fare -- or perhaps just a beautiful woman onstage -- quickly tuned out after her set, talking loudly, treating the couch area by the door as though it were their own living room. Patrick Kendrick, manning the bar, would shout things like "touchdown, 49ers" at the couch-dwellers between songs in a smart-ass attempt to get them to shut up. It didn't work: Blurts of drunken dude-ness often overshadowed Thomas Bechard's delicate, articulate guitar work and impossibly optimistic, yearning voice.
Perhaps inevitably, by the time Mark Ward stepped to the plate, the dudes had gone. About half the Whitworthians had gone. Credit their perseverance, most of the boomers had stayed. Ward's set was well-executed and earnest, thankful of people's attention and wanting to provide a good show in return. He told jokes, he played covers, he repped his new CD. He played ukulele. It was a nice, light, reflective set that gave back the evening's sense of equilibrium. Most people, though, still left feeling a little off-balance. Not the way you want every Saturday night wine bar show to go, but it's was one hell of an palate-cleanser.
Melody Moore: myspace.com/melodymoore; Thomas Bechard: myspace.com/thomasbechard; Mark Ward: myspace.com/markwardmusic. (Dane Ueland doesn't seem to have a MySpace page yet, but he will; they always do.)