Gig Notebook: Travis Barker, James Coates at the Mandolin Café

Last Saturday night, I joined some friends at the Mandolin Café to hear Travis Barker and James Coates do their respective and collective things. I should’ve remembered that concerts always make we want to write. As it was, all I could dredge out of my woefully empty leopard print bag was a return envelope with a window. Better than napkins, but still, precious little real estate!

I could attempt to write some sort of formal review, and maybe next music night I will. But for now, well… What follows is basically a straight translation of cramped notes (minus the boxes and asterisks and mapping lines) with perhaps a little tweaking to make it all stick together. We’ll see how it goes.

Travis Barker of the Black Sails. Saw him play last at the Swiss with the Matt Coughlin Band, and loved his voice then. Nice to hear it for an entire set. It’s like pastels—his low-ish straight tone lays a smooth, unswerving line, but you can still see/hear the texture marks (aided mostly by the just-dirty enough guitar slides under it all). Travis does this funny headshake thing… I can’t tell if he doesn’t quite like the note that slid out or if he absolutely loves it. Like when you can’t help squeezing your eyes after the first taste of chocolate mousse, and you can’t believe you forgot how good it is.

Travis is the kind of musician you want to hang out at your place for coffee or beer, or just be “around” when you’ve got friends over. He chats into the mic as he goes. “I like it when an audience engages with the performer. And I’m the performer. So we could all get singing… and then who knows what might happen?” What happens: About 20 people nearest the stage raise their arms (as asked) and “oh-ay-oh-ay-oh-ay-oh-Ohhh” their way through a smooth acoustic chorus of Blackstreet and Dre’s “I like the way you work it, no diggity…” (yes really).

Side note: The college girls here are so cool and messy—has there been so much sexy, long, uncombed hair in such abundance since the 70s? Did they all get off some phantom lineup of hip retro scooters outside?

James Coates. After Travis calls for “Coatsie” a few times, James takes the piano, and the two of them go into a nice little mini-duet set. First combined tune, and James sings and plays piano on. I’m  reminded me a little of the Frames, mostly because of the almost keening in what is decidedly a love song. James’ piano makes me think… a Mozart aficionado taking a honky-tonk turn. [[Googled the lyrics later: Ryan Adam’s “It takes two where it used to take one.”]]

If Travis is pastels, James voice is definitely artist’s chalk. Still smooth, still straight and pure, but catching on the rough spots a little more. Nice. (What is it about these two laidback, cap-and-sweater guys that reminds me of Sunday school teachers?)

Next song: “Sweet Carolina” [[also Ryan Adams, I later learn]]. This too is so hymn-like, and incredibly romantic, in a warm tea and wrist-stroking kind of way. Why so romantic? Maybe b/c you immediately think of who want to sing this song for you. (Not that either of the se guys would be a bad choice.) And why “hymn-like?” Aren’t they all hymns? Songs of faith and hope and adoration. Hymn to the creation of sound?

I think I want to invite them both over. Their little chat session is so cozy, so comfortable as their tuning and adjusting, filling time.

Travis: I wrote this song.
James (interrupting): You wrote it, but I could have written it.
Travis: Yeah, you could’ve, but I got to it first. You snooze, you lose, right? You snoozed, and I woke up early.
James: Yeah, but I got more sleep.

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