What I Did Last Summer (and Spring and Fall and Winter)

R.E.M. Westpark Amsterdam

Performance Highlights of 2008:

R.E.M. at Westerpark, Amsterdam. July 2

By: Sean Nelson, January 9th 2009

The first date on this European tour was a magnificent show already: 29 songs, including many of my all-time favorites, including “7 Chinese Brothers,” “Driver 8,” “These Days,” “The One I Love,” “Orange Crush,” “Pretty Persuasion,” “Ignoreland,” and way more. The band was on fire, confident, ambitious, inspired—even the 9 of 11 songs from Accelerate sounded vital and right at home among the classix.

But the real highlight, for me anyway, came during “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” which I was singing along with when I looked over from my spot in the wings (I was lucky to be spending a couple days as a band guest) to see Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey giving me the nod to come join them onstage.

Chloe, standing with me, tells me to get out there, and so out I run, and share Scott’s mic—as I have so many times before with the Minus 5 and the Venus 3—to sing the chorus harmony on one of the 3 or 4 R.E.M. songs that has meant the most to me in my whole damn R.E.M.-loving life…WITH R.E.M. (M. Mills singing lead, M. Stipe way across the stage singing harmonies) AT an R.E.M. show in front of 10,000 ecstatic Dutch people. Not a thing I am likely to forget, ever.

Oh, and then I met Radiohead backstage.

They were mostly wee (Ed O’Brien was taller than me, however) and strangely beautiful, and looked the most like a band of any band I have ever seen up close. Anyway, YouTube is here to prove it really happened!
1:36 or so:

Harvey Danger Anniversary Shows At Triple Door, Seattle. March 5-6.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of our first album’s major label release, we performed all three of our albums, plus a huge complement of rarities, B-sides, and covers over the course of two nights at the nicest room in our home town. Playing the songs in album order made it a bit tricky to establish a proper show momentum (also, my back was seriously fucked, so I had to perform with a cane; I had surgery two months later), but there was an inordinate amount of love in the room to compensate.

Playing songs we’d never done live before, along with many we hadn’t done in many years was a powerful emotional ride. It was surprising to learn what still played and what really didn’t. The best part was being in the room with the people (quite possibly every single person) who had a genuine attachment to the band’s whole body of work. Also my family, who had never really seen me play music except on TV, came to town for the shows, too. Which was nice.

More Information Than You Require Book Launch with John Hodgman, Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick at Town Hall, Seattle. November.
To share the stage with these three incredibly funny and talented gentlemen (each of whom represent a distinct stratum of the Nerd phylum) was a pleasure and an honor. It’s hard to say what the best part was, though doing “Only Living Boy in New York” with John R. again for the first time in five years, our Roderick and Nelsonfunkel vocal blend filling majestic Town Hall, was as stirring as ever.

I’m also fiercely proud of the largely improvised bit in which Hodgman replaced Coulton with “feral mountain man” substitute Roderick and Coulton countered by introducing me as a surrogate “tweedy literary type.” Funny. It was a great night that could only be capped by fancy drinks and heavy food at 13 Coins.

More video proof: me singing the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song.”

Robbie Robertson Award Gala/Fund Raiser at EMP, Seattle. November.

In many ways, this was another in a long series of surreal, sub-showbiz evenings I have spent since I went semi-pro. But, I did get to do a very strong rendition of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in the piano/vocal style in which it was written (accompanied by the great Jason Staczek) as well as the lesser-known (and lesser) “Last of the Blacksmiths” right in front of the man who wrote them, which was pretty great.

I also got to participate in what can only be described as an all-star jam, including Robbie Robertson and billionaire collector Paul Allen, as well as a bunch of my talented friends, each one of whom was as bemused as I to be trading verses and solos on “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “I Shall Be Released” like we were doing some d-grade remake of The Last Waltz. Surreal, but kind of amazing.

Jon Brion Show at Largo, Hollywood. July.

Speaking of all-star jams… As JB’s shows usually do, this one involved a lot of unannounced/unplanned guest performers doing a lot of impromptu stuff.

This particular show included me (in town to play a show that wound up being cancelled), bass virtuoso Sebastian Steinberg (ex-Soul Coughing, whom I hadn’t played with in 10 years), Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek), David Garza (former Seattle mainstay), and, as the night wore on, piano wiz Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame).

We did a bunch of covers, including about 15 requests in a row—based on the premise that we would muddle through at least a verse and a chorus of any song the late night crowd could think of. Nothing happened that I’d necessarily want to hear a bootleg of, but as for spontaneous musical happenings, it was one of the best, most fun (for musicians and audience) I’ve ever been a part of.

Harvey Danger (Piano/Vocal-style/Guitar) at Largo, Hollywood. August 2.

Just a perfect show, performed on a wonky upright piano and a single mic in a dark, quiet, tiny-but-stately room, in front of an audience small enough to make eye contact and have a conversation with, but big enough to be bolstered and enthralled by.

Peak moment: flinging open the door to serenade La Cienega Blvd with “Maybe I’m Amazed,” then coming back in as Jon Brion, who had run upstairs to fetch a guitar, bounded back in the room in time to play the (killer) solo.

Evidence that Largo is the best place in the world to do a show, and that small stakes often yield the very finest results. Some video, which is good enough that I’m posting it even though I look like complete shit in it. Alas…http://AxeZen.com/guitar-lessons-online/

I may be forgetting some, but I am not forgetting the nights on the cruise ship between Florida and Jamaica or the night in Aberdeen, because they were not, strictly speaking, that awesome. Though they did generate some excellent stories.

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