Last Wednesday night was a landmark. Silver Jews made a visit to Berlin.
We arrived by train to Berlin. As we walked to the Venue, I noticed a fellow I'd met weeks earlier at a show in Prague. He was a Czech, though when I had heard him sing (he was the opening act for the band I'd come to see), I was certain he was North American. It took me a moment to place his face. I made the connection and started to approach him to voice my excitement on what was to come and the circumstance of our coexistence. He was there with three others including his eight-month-pregnant lady. I introduced myself and reminded him of our brief encounter a few weeks earlier. He recalled the meeting and the group of us soon sharing our hopes and expectations from this increasingly surreal moment. I asked the group if they thought we would get a chance to meet Berman (something I was determined to do), where it soon became evident that Ken- one of the friends of my acquaintance- was Berman and Malkmus' roommate at UVA twenty years earlier. My heart palpitated while I coolly repressed my childlike mania and the adrenal surge that was flooding my being. An eternity of time passed in the seconds between Ken's telling and my recognition of all that it meant to be there befriending a distant friend of an even more distant hero. Ideas of sugar plum fairies danced in my head- They waltzed with Bob Nastanovich and David Berman, while I looked on from the corner of the imaginary ballroom. I believe it was the palace of Versailles... A barrage of questions about his seasoned wisdom soon rolled out of my mouth, and, as expediently as I'd repressed my initial surprise, my heart went loose. With a mind searching for something to pass the time, Berman's presence grew to spectacular proportions while my daydreams flirted with a reality to soon be. There we stood in front of the Columbia Club waiting for signs that the show would begin. The crowd gathered in front was modest to say the least- a hundred or so. We soon saw Jew's/Pavement drummer Bob Nastanovich emerge to smoke a cigarette with the guitarist from the opening act Monotix, an Isrealian trio. The anxiety mounted. When we entered the venue, I grabbed a beer for myself and a water for my lady and made my way over to the souvenir station. I ended up with a rad shirt; sold to my by Bob Nastanovich himself. The dominoes were falling. As Bob gave me the shirt I'd requested, the opening act came out. Bob then said, "This is going to be loud."
The first riffs were struck and the bashing of drums began while Monotix, led by an actual caveman posing as the lead singer, began to run around the club and create a scene of mayhem unseen in my concert experiences. From feeding the drummer a banana from the trash can poured over his head moments before, to pouring beers from the audience's hands down his pants and blowing snot rockets, he proved that gall was indeed enough to be a star. Berman emerged during the set and watched from the audience as Monotix made the Germans rethink their commitment to social order. It was more egregious and punk than most Silver Jews fans could expect from an opening act. But that may have been Berman's plan.
Soon after the Monotix mania was over, the Jews took the stage. I had secured my spot in the front easily, given the venue and location of the show (Germans dig the Jews, but aren't too savvy to the importance of such an event). Berman wasn't playing guitar due to a sprained thumb as he told me later. He manned the mic and began his welcome. He admitted that he expected a lot of "between song patter" from himself. Then he introduced "Dallas" as the opener. The sound was perfect and he was unexpectedly on key. Sharp. The Jews played a total of twenty songs from the entire discography. A few times Berman had trouble reading the setlist he'd written for himself because of his bad vision. This caused three mistakes that gave the concert a more intimate feel. He would introduce the wrong song and soon be corrected by his bandmates. There was even one instance where he began to explain the next song and the meaning of it to himself. Then the others spoke up and, again, corrected him. Bob Nastanovich, said "Just let him play what he wants and we'll come back to the others." It seemed like Berman was at times a child in their care. He was in jovial disbelief that he miscalled the song again. It caused more discussion and conversations with the audience, who at this point, would have followed him into oncoming traffic if he'd of led. To see him play was to be part of his world, and he to be part of yours. There was an intimacy and vulnerability that was evident from the onset. The complete lack of egotism coming from a cult hero was more of a surprise than anything to me. He was a normal guy, worried, thankful, and happy to have the opportunity to be there with us. His presence on stage was gracious. The fact he'd injured his hand lent him to the audience without a guitar. This was a somehow a blessing. Many artists use the guitar as shield or conduit to the audience. He stood awkwardly adjusting his mic stand throughout the concert. He was without any guise or armor from the scrupulous crowd. Another highlight was Berman singing several songs to Cassie. He stood there and watched her- even going so far as to rest his chin on her shoulder during a song.
Several songs from Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea were played, including: San Francisco, D.C.; Candy Jail; My Pillow is the Threshold; Aloyisius, Bluegrass Drumer; Strange Victory, Strange Defeat; and We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing. Perhaps more... Some of the old Favorites played were: Smith and Jones Forever (Which rocked hard); The Wild Kindness; Pet Politics; K-Hole; I'm Getting Back into Getting Back into You; Horseleg Swastikas, and the two songs played as an encore, Tennessee and Punks in the Beer light.
Needless to Say, the volume of songs played and the proximity of the club gave us the experience of a lifetime. If it wasn't enough, I hung around after the show and relocated Ken and my friends from Prague to see if getting back stage was a possibility. Before I could do so, D.C. Berman emerged and began talking to the few people left at the club. I grabbed my copy of Actual Air and made my way over to him. We were soon talking. The brief conversation consisted of "Great Shows, and Thank Yous", but I was at least able to make reference to being from KY and we spoke about Tennessee and KY. He signed my book. It was all I'd hoped for in the preceding months, and I'd like to say it was enough to meet him, but the intimacy felt with his work can't be satiated with five minutes of distracted conversation. It was truly a landmark, and yet, a hollowness set in while walking back to the pension where I was staying. It was a realization that one is rarely able to freeze time and communicate all that is racing through his mind, especially while being in a state of excitement that made it hard to know where to begin. I wished to have time to really meet him. I felt like a kid next to him. Maybe because he's wise, or maybe 'cause he's so tall... Regardless, he was genuine and kind. His appreciation was equal to that of the crowd's. That was the greatest thing, and perhaps, the most telling of his personality. He felt like we did. It was a mutual experience. I realized that I was somehow opened then and there. The emotional intensity did it. Now things move forward, because for so long they were waiting for that moment. It is like a future has been realized. Thanks D.C. Berman.