by Nathan Wall
The blue lights of the Fillmore in San Francisco mellow the crowd even more for Gregory Alan Izakov to play another, a little slower this time. So far each song has cast a different kind of spell on the crowd, as good sets do. Yet there's something else going on here, something elusive.
You can whisper to a neighbor now, and Dustin leans in.
"Hey man. We're going to have a beer together on your 70th birthday right here at the Fillmore. It's a done deal. Put it on your calendar."
"That'll be 2050," I say, trying to picture the years between now and then, getting hung up on the idea that I'll be 70 and wrinkly. "OK. I'm in."
We cast our attention back up to the stage, though mine is now divided. What if I die before 2050? That would be a shame. What if the years make enemies of us all? What if this tall guy in front of me shifts his weight one more time and I have to drop him on the parquet, perhaps by stepping on the back of his knee? Hmmm.
Gregory sings, Come to me clear and cold on some sea / Watch the world spinning waves... like some machine.
I totally get what he's saying...I think. Or at least I really dig the imagery. His lyrics narrate and show and unfold. His melodies do the same.
I notice the tall guy in front of me looking around, scanning the ballroom. He seems alone. Well with a head literally in the clouds, he can't very well relate to us down here in the troposphere. I quit the idea of being able to see the stage and look up. The chandeliers float up there - like this trio of girls beside me who seem a bit too high, but maybe they are just struggling with divided attentions, too.
It occurs to me how likely it is that most of us in this room are at once mesmerized by the sounds and words we hear, and completely distracted by the thoughts and memories they conjure.
“Yo, check your phone,” Dustin says returning to our spot with a couple of fresh drinks. I find a new calendar invite for the year 2050 entitled “70th birthday beer.” Cheers to that.
Something difficult to express, having an event planned so far into the future. I look to my right at an empty spot on the floor and memory stirs. I see my wife's face, tinted pink from the lights, turning to me years ago in that exact spot. I was bringing the drinks then, trying to win her, trying to keep my divided attention on her and the joyous ramblings of Father John Misty.
I blink back into the present. I believe.
I'm either drunk or this music has magic in it. Or both. Regardless, I seem to be experiencing time like paper folding into an accordion: 35 years in the future pressing down, comforts of the past pushing up, and this elusive present expanding and contracting with the pulse of this band...all of it, right here on the floor of the ballroom. I'm starting to think that Izakov is a dark wizard.
He begins a song titled “Amsterdam” and the vibe in the room shifts again. Longing. Like you might be getting somewhere. Focus. Even if your eye-contacts are dry and smudgy.
He sings, She's got my back / She'll follow me down every street / No matter what my crime. The ceiling of light above us turns yellow and turquoise, as do the edges of the faces around me.
Suddenly Izakov conjures the ability to make us all hold our breath, and attention. The sound pours across the crowd like a slow train, all voices on stage singing as if alone in the shower.
Churches and trains / they all look the same to me now / They shoot you some place / While we ache to come home somehow.
Dustin and I exchange a look as the room exhales. “Holy shit,” we seem to say.
While applause morphs into encore, I know I haven't been the victim of boredom, or a full moon. What was so elusive seems simply to be master craftsmanship and a performance by adults who don't need us to hang on every breath and clap at every crescendo. They love playing music, this music.
Music deserving every bit of our attention, yet mature enough to (magically?) create space for us to wander off and come back as we need.