Making my way to the table, I dropped into my seat, trying to collect my thoughts. Within minutes I had company. Joined by my daughter Kari and her husband Aaron, I was grateful for their companionship. Having children that love music is a blessing.
I hadn’t seen David Wilcox in a few years. A few too many. On Sunday he strode to the mic at Richmond’s best new venue, the Tin Pan, and took the sell-out crowd through a soul-cleansing twenty song set that showcased his catalog. In the process he reminded those present that his lyrical observations were as intricate as his jazz and blues inflected melodies, and that, when he is on his game he has few equals.
The evening set sail with “This Tattoo,” the first of six songs he featured from his 2000 release, What You Whispered. The paean to individuality in the face of corporate culture rang true to the Tin Pan faithful. Addiction, a recurring theme in Wilcox’s work, surfaced next on “Chet Baker’s Unsung Swan Song.” In the moments before Chet Baker’s fatal fall we see what he could not, that Wilcox has left the door ajar, and we are free to slip the trap of the open window.
A couple of new songs popped up early in the set. Wilcox confided that the first one, about friends walking in Spain, was written just two weeks ago. It was followed by another walking tune. On this one Wilcox taught the audience the chorus and, in true Pete Seeger fashion, turned the Tin Pan into a living room sing-a-long. As the audience sang “We make the way by walking,” Wilcox laid down a fine bass line, his pristine picking ringing with authority.
“Inside of My Head,” demonstrated Wilcox’s ability to illustrate a deeper truth with a generous dose of self-deprecating wit. The audience responded with appreciation and laughter, and, as Van Morrison might say, “the healing had begun.” With the deft hand of a skilled artist-therapist, Wilcox nudged the crowd off the ledge with “Deeper Still,” introducing the by song saying, “Human hearts don’t work until they’re broken, broken open.”
From there he produced the joyous ode to rescue, “Rusty Old American Dream,” in which the central character is a “tail-finned road locomotive.” The old car calls to the young man in the showroom, imploring him to buy the vehicle of his dreams and “get me out of here.”
Two songs later Wilcox slid his way into a familiar riff and revved up “Eye of the Hurricane.” The story of a girl who settles for less than love works on multiple levels. Two decades later the Hurricane continues to reveal new layers. Wilcox manages to subtly fill a three minute melody with more insight into human nature than seems possible.
Throughout the evening Wilcox dazzled with his fretwork, making the complex tunings and intricate finger picking look ridiculously easy. Within his folkie framework it was easy to discern elements of jazz and rock and roll.
The evening was cathartic for the audience and they responded by giving the troubadour a standing ovation. From there he went out into the lobby to mingle with his fans and share stories. In the span of ninety minutes David Wilcox had taken a group of strangers and created a family room where everyone felt welcome. I stepped out into the October night air freed of the burdens I brought with me, having reconnected with my spirit. I don’t remember the drive home at all.