Paul Thorn 12/11/10
Old Rock House – St. Louis, MO
Words by Jenkins
Usually I have a pretty good idea what to expect from a concert in advance. I’m familiar with the band, their catalog, the crowd, hell – maybe I’ve even been to a couple of their shows before.
On the other hand, sometimes I don’t at all know what I’m in for and have no idea what my expectations should be. Saturday, Paul Thorn played at the Old Rock House in Saint Louis – and Saturday was one of those nights.
In case you aren’t familiar with him, Paul Thorn is a bluesy folksy songwriter full of southern rock and southern drawl. He is uniquely gifted at writing songs that are both somber and silly. He occasionally is a guest on the Bob & Tom radio show, and for a lot of people (myself included) their first exposure to Paul is “A Great Day”, which is included on a Bob & Tom compilation.
To be honest, there aren’t a lot of fine details about the show for me to share here. I don’t know the setlist, I only recognized two songs, I sat at a table that I couldn’t possibly see the stage from, and as such I don’t have any recordings or video clips to share. That being said, there is still plenty to say about Paul Thorn and company.
I’ll start with the venue. I don’t know for sure, but if I had to guess I’d say that the Old Rock House (ORH) seats more or less 250 people. I had never been there before, and while I love seeing concerts in small, intimate venues, any time seating is general admission or first-come-first-serve it makes me nervous – frankly, I’m feeling a little too old to fight and squeeze my way to the front of a crowd these days. The group I was with arrived shortly before doors opened; once doors opened we made a mad dash to find a seat and just barely snagged one of the last 4 seat tables.
The ORH is a historic building and a neat place, but in my opinion it isn’t suited particularly well for concerts. If you’re not one of the first 75 people there, you can pretty much forget about finding a place to sit on the floor or near the front of the balcony; if you’re not one of the first 120 you can forget about sitting at all, and the stage is practically out of your line of sight. There is a large screen at the balcony level that projects video of the concert from the floor – it’s not as ideal as being able to actually watch the stage, but it’s certainly a better option than staring at the heads or asses of the people sitting or standing in front of you.
The band took the stage promptly at 9:00 and played for more-or-less two hours. The set included what sounded like a mix of old and new material, rocking and mellow tunes, and heartfelt and humorous stories. From the point of view of someone brand new to Paul, the song selection felt fairly well balanced with something for everyone. The set was overall more serious than humorous, but even some of the more serious songs were sprinkled with wit. The band was tight and sounded well rehearsed, and I don’t recall hearing any out of place notes or mistakes the entire night. The band struck me as being great musicians; they performed with skill and enthusiasm and sounded like a band that should be playing for a much bigger crowd at a much larger venue.
Midway through the night Paul took the stage alone for a short solo acoustic set which ended with Paul performing a song with just his keyboard player. I’m a sucker for the quiet, intimate acoustic set, so by default this was one of the highlights of the night for me.
After the short acoustic set the band returned to the stage and performed to what seemed to be a much more interested and energized crowd. The crowd was involved, interested, and singing along for the rest of the night.
At several points during the show Paul stopped to talk to the crowd. Sometimes he talked to specific people that caught his eye, sometimes he had stories to tell about the origin or idea behind a particular song, other times he just felt like shooting the breeze. He made several cracks about relationships, talking about how he could tell when couples were really in love and when they were just pretending (and then talked about the number of people pretending in the audience that night). At the end he talked about two ladies in the crowd that had followed the band for the last few shows around the midwest and brought them dinner each night, and gave them each a Dunkin’ Donuts paper hat signed by all of the band members.
One of the things that really struck me about Paul actually had very little to do with the music: Paul came off as being one of the most sincerely grateful and gracious musicians around. He interacted with the crowd the entire night, telling stories, cracking jokes, and talking to fans. He genuinely seemed thankful for every single person in the room that night and worked hard to make sure they knew it.
Let’s talk about that crowd for a moment. We were probably the youngest four people in the house that night – the average age was waaaay higher than 30. I figured that the crowd would be a little rambunctious given the number of cowboy hats and leather jackets (and even a leather cowboy hat), but it was worse than I had anticipated. It could have been much much worse, but it doesn’t take many jackasses to create a distraction. Silly me, assuming that an older crowd wouldn’t be pushing their way to the front of the room, butting in front of people, squeezing into spots that were way too small for them. Silly me, assuming people wouldn’t be standing in spots that blocked the view of half a dozen people around them. Silly me, assuming that people almost twice my age wouldn’t spend the night groping each other in public. I’m getting too old for this shit – I say that a lot – but not usually at shows with an older crowd.
Admittedly, my knowledge of Paul Thorn was limited to “A Great Day” from the Bob and Tom show (a damn funny song that everyone can appreciate and should hear at least once). I came in only knowing one song that he played on some radio show years ago and had no idea what kind of “real musician” I was going to see. I don’t know why he isn’t bigger than he is – he’s definitely better than 300 seat bars and clubs. Regardless, if he keeps putting on shows like he did on Saturday night, I’ll go see him wherever he plays when he comes through town.
Highlights of the night (in no particular order): Burn Down the Trailer Park, Mood Ring, Pimps & Preachers, I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love, I Guess I’ll Just Stay Married, That’s Life