The extraordinary human qualities that make “So Tough” by David Greenberger and A Strong Dog so arresting — respect and empathy, observational acuity, perceptiveness, theatrical ingenuity and lyrical tools of repetition and rhythm — reach way beyond mere music and meaning.
They perform on Friday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs), framing verbal gems that Greenberger has salvaged from real conversations within sturdy if sometimes dreamlike musical atmospheres that intensify without sentimentalizing or otherwise distorting them.
Like all of Greenberger’s projects, “So Tough” springs from actual conversations he has had with aging individuals in nursing homes, activity and meal centers. The key is “individuals,” as Greenberger avoids aggregating and assumptions: He talks with old folks, but does so in the here and now rather than merely mining their memories. These are people to him, not human tape recorders or “back-in-the-day” recollection machines, turned on for easy and obvious quaintness.
Of course, some folks do tend to look back, but Greenberger, a Greenwich resident, seems to encourage them instead to look around, at life today. The prismatic effect of long perspectives sometimes colors their observations, yet the right-now vividness Greenberger elicits by simply accepting everything at face value gives everything an elegiac immediacy.
Greenberger doesn’t affect dialects or even gender-ize his delivery. He simply speaks what was spoken to him. He lets the content shape his inflections, to a degree; but never condescends by insisting something is funny or poignant, confused or confusing. He lets his monologues find their own responses, and earn them, but he also lets the music shade and shape things. He has chosen an expert cast in the crew he calls A Strong Dog: dobro player Kevin Maul, multi-instrumentalist Matthew Loiacono and guitarist Mitch Throop — multiband collaborators.
In combining monologues with music, Greenberger has been amazingly prolific and open, collaborating with XTC, Terry Adams of NRBQ, Robyn Hitchcock, Birdsongs of the Mezozoic, 3 Leg Torso, Paul Cebar, Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius and many others. However, working with A Strong Dog over the past year has launched Greenberger’s work into a new realm of collaborative chemistry — no, alchemy. This stuff is gold.
David Greenberger and A Strong Dog perform at 8 p.m. on Friday at Caffe Lena; William Rees opens. Tickets are $15, $12 for members, $7.50 for children under 12. Phone 583-0022 or visit www.caffelena.org.
Willie Nile returns
Willie Nile returns to WAMC’s The Linda on Saturday fronting a trio — Willie playing guitar and piano with bassist Johnny Pisano and drummer Alex Alexander — and armed with new New York City-centric but nationwide songs from his “American Ride” album.
“It’s a ride all right — on foot, on horseback, with the occasional roller coaster thrown in,” said U2’s Bono of the new album, due for release in late June. “There are a few Americas here to discover. The mythic, the magic, the very real. One of the great guides to unraveling the mystery that is the troubled beauty of America.”
High praise, from somebody who knows plenty about the ambition to rock the whole country, and the skills to manage it. Nile is simply one of our greats — like Bruce Springsteen, Alejandro Escovedo, Patti Smith, Lyle Lovett, Rosanne Cash, maybe Steve Earle on a good day and NRBQ any night — because he means his music from the skin (style and sound) all the way in to the soul.
Nile told me by email: “The band is on fire these days,” after a month-long European tour. “I promise anyone who comes won’t be disappointed.”
I’ve seen Nile play a dozen or more shows since the late 1970s — from cozy bars and small halls to Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Tanglewood — and I’ve never been disappointed.
Willie Nile plays at 8 p.m. on Saturday at WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany). Tickets are $23. Phone 465-5233 ext. 4 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Putnam Den roots
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Anders Osborne’s geographical roots are in Sweden, but he’s lived and played in New Orleans since 1985. He has mastered the city’s swampy and soulful bluesy spirit so comprehensively that his collaborations include a rocking outburst with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians, and New Orleans music doesn’t get more authentic than that.
Osborne plays Putnam Den (63 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs) solo at 9:30 p.m.on Friday. The Tim Herron Corporation and Clarence Bucaro open. Admission is $15 in advance, $17 at the door. Phone 584-8066 or visit www.putnamden.com.
On Saturday, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds take over, a horn-accented groove powerhouse, primed to rock the funk and excite the soul. MaryLeigh Roohan opens, at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $8 in advance, $10 at the door, $5 for fans under 21.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.