Stan Ridgway at the Great American Music Hall

Last night, Peter and I went to San Francisco to see Stan Ridgway perform at the Great American Music Hall. It was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve seen in a long time, and the acoustics at the Great American Music Hall (which I’d never been in before) were great.

I haven’t really been in a going out to San Francisco mood ever since gas prices took a stratospheric jump, and I was even dragging my feet on this concert. I generally dislike having to see opening bands, and I remember many a show not even beginning until an hour after the scheduled show time. Peter reminded me I was still in a 90s frame of mind. I had to remind myself that this decade in music concerts in much better: the opening acts aren’t always an insult to the audience, and most shows start on time, instead of having the band you wanted to see finally appear 4 hours after the scheduled start.

The opening band (and there was only one) was Penelope Houston, whom I didn’t know, but whom Peter recognized vaguely as the lead singer from a seminal San Francisco punk band, The Avengers. By the time we arrived, she’d already gone on stage, and she surprised us both (pleasantly) with how amazingly good she was. She’s evolved into an alt-country singer with impressive musicianship both in herself and her band. And the lyrics were edgy, like these from one of my favorites among those I heard, Pale Green Girl. Penelope Houston’s playing a zither these days, and she kicks musical a**.

She was a good opener for Stan Ridgway, who opened with “Factory” and joked that he was going to bring us all those feel-good songs of the New Wave era. He followed that up with his film noir song “Peg and Pete and Me,” which is still going through my head. The show followed that vein throughout the night, with Stan Ridgway occasionally singing out “Walking on Sunshine” to remind us that there was never anything frothy about his songs. Unfortunately, though Peter’s been seeing Stan Ridgway since the late 80s, I’d only seen him once before when he played at Slim’s in 2006. I had to ask Peter if Ridgway had always been as quirky as he was on stage, and Peter said he’s pretty much been the same kind of guy, but his fans are getting a little more eccentric (us included, probably.) It seems to be a tradition for someone (or perhaps a tradition for a small group of fans) to send Stan vodka martinis. Does this only happen in San Francisco, or does he get vodka martinis all over the world? He received three drinks while he was performing, though he only had time to take a polite sip from each.

This show was set up with chairs and tables for the audience, which was a surprise, since I’m used to open venues in which I’m shoved about near the front of the stage. But the Great American Music Hall is a small venue, so even seated, the show had a pleasant, intimate feel, and the people who wanted to dance just gathered on either side of the stage. And as I said, the acoustics were great: I could hear both Stan Ridgway and Penelope Houston clearly, and I’m used to having to decipher lyrics through garbled sound.

So in all, the concert turned out to be even better than I expected: it was a nice crowd, an intimate feel, great acoustics, and even a worthy opening act.

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