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Grant Sabin: Future Musicology

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Photo by Kara Mason
Photo by Kara Mason

Coloradoan of the future, you are receiving a message from the past. It is 2013, your time, and I trust that neither of us smoke cigarettes, drink till we get weird, or eat fatty and over-processed foods anymore (thanks to our New Year resolve). Moreover, as certain as there is still a dusty Neil Diamond record waiting snugly in every thrift store from here to Fort Collins, we all own a copy of Grant Sabin’s new Blank Tape Records release, Anthromusicology, by now. Right?

I must remind you, good Coloradoan, how far we have come. It wasn’t long ago when this whoop-ass blues musician– who played to us with a guitar hand-made from scrap wood carefully selected for acoustic resonance… who constructed a foot controlled stomp-box for us to dance to when he didn’t have a drummer… who flabbergasted us with his singular vision and subtle fury– was underappreciated by the city we live in and love.  There was a time when venues in Pueblo would only offer Grant wages comparable to what you would pay a child to sweep up a parking lot. Although he loved us, he simply couldn’t afford to visit. How times have changed. Right? Right?

Person of the future, I want to take you on a little trip. If you put your ear to the ground and listen closely enough, you can probably still hear Grant Sabin’s CD release concert performance reverberating through the tectonic plate of Colorado’s music scene. However, you don’t have to get your knees dirty. Citizen of the future, step into PULP’s magic wormhole mechanism and allow me to escort you back in time. Hold steady, this will only take a minute.

Wooowoo wooowoowoo…plop… plop…fssssss.

Welcome to Stargazers Theatre on the fourteenth of December 2012. This is the day that changed everything. Please be cool, do not to talk to anyone, and don’t change anything. I suffer from a terrible self-diagnosed case of paradoxaphobia. Now, you should put on your coat; it is freezing outside tonight. 

As you can see, we are waiting in the cold open air and a white bearded man named Alan is chatting us up. This friendly man, clad in a tasseled leather jacket, colorful flannel shirt, and a bowler hat, is overjoyed to be the first in line. Our feet are frozen to the inside of our shoes. Fog billows from our lips as if our very words catch on fire and leach degrees of our core temperature out into the icy atmosphere. Finally, after over an hour, the doors to Stargazers Theatre open up and we move inside to a ticket table womaned by a friendly lady who is, no doubt, warmer than we are. I find our names on the guest list (hot-shot one and hot shot two… right there), and we are each given a copy of, Anthromusicology. We quickly shuffle into the auditorium to find what we can both agree is ‘the best seat in the house.’ 

Photo by Kara Mason
Photo by Kara Mason

The giant dome ceiling gives the feeling that we are in a cathedral of sorts, leaving plenty of headroom for a holy spirit, or a mystical presence of some kind. There is a massive chandelier hanging down from the center of the dome, and a giant movie screen showing us upcoming events. Alan was just telling us that Stargazers used to be a movie theatre. He saw Bambi here for the first time as a child. Huh! Just knowing that makes me feel better (look, there it is! It is the best table in the house; lets get it). Finding our place at a mid-level table, you thaw your feet, and wait for the opening band to begin. I leave and quickly return to the table with two hot mugs of spiced wine that helps to warm our bones. Sitting down in the seat next to you, I open my notebook and get my pen ready. 

The lights dim, and a giant image of Grant Sabin’s face appears on the movie screen. On the image, the word, Anthromusicology, is laid out across his tongue like a communion wafer. The crowd begins to applaud as the first act, Chimney Choir (from Denver), takes the stage. I begin writing furiously, sending tremors through the table. 

Photo by Kara Mason
Photo by Kara Mason

You seem to be enjoying the band thoroughly, however, after the first two songs, I am getting the feeling that Chimney Choir is composed of modern urbanites trying to articulate some romanticized version of traditional world folk music. It is impossible for the band’s armada of expensive instruments, addiction to egg shakers, carefully curated indoor scarves, and seemingly rehearsed onstage antics and banter to not make a slightly unsettling impression on me. They move from folk/Americana to Parisian gypsy jazz sounding barroom ballads in a way that takes a little too much deliberate sounding effort to come off as effortless. They seem to stretch the more nuanced moments of their set out in a way that feels a bit awkward and invasive… like if I slowly read my bad poetry to you for ten uninterrupted minutes or so. Now, I am not trying to dump on Chimney Choir; they seem like nice people. The piano player is quite adept, and the female vocalist sings with an inimitable and unpretentious passion. The thing is, they are reminding me of either a talented new band that has yet to find a language of its own, or a fashionable caricature of what is popularly considered to be authentic at this exact moment.  Either way, I am looking forward to the Haunted Windchimes set (are you done with your mulled wine? Okay, I’ll get you another one).

There seems to be a lot of stoic looking cowboys, mustachioed hipsters, chubby writers (okay, at least one), proud parents, and first daters in Stargazers tonight, and we are all meandering about as a single organism. A communal yearning is felt in the air as Joe Johnson takes the stage to introduce The Haunted Windchimes. The excitement level clicks a few levels higher as the lights dim and The ‘Chimes walk out on the stage to anticipatory applause.

The Windchimes collect themselves around a single microphone that is protected by the pantyhose of a pop-filter. The set-up is charming and reminiscent of the movie, Triplets of Belleville. Now, I have seen The Windchimes on many occasions, but am finding a newfound appreciation for the method in which they ask kindly for respect by gently holding a hand as opposed to making boastful demands of their audience. The music of the Windchimes, on this night, feels like it is being humbly offered like comfort food in the home of an old friend.  The cadence is conducted with a loose wrist. The music feels more savory then self-indulgent… more conversational than contrived. The members rotate singing lead into the microphone and turn Stargazers Theatre into the secret and dynamic world that I had always imagined existed inside unopened music boxes as a child… when the porcelain figures come to life and make music together when nobody is around. The tension in the room is aroused as the set comes to a close. Soon it will be time for Grant Sabin to take us home. It is finally time. 

Photo by Kara Mason
Photo by Kara Mason

Grant Sabin begins his set with a droning guitar line, and cymbals that rise and retreat as rogue waves in a quickly changing tide. It is only Grant and his drummer, Alex Koshak (Hilltop Mansion) onstage. There is an electric feeling that Omerta will be broken at any moment, and the secrets of the Stargazer music-box will be revealed to the giant eyeballs of the whole wide world outside. His serrated voice cuts through butter as he wails out to his audience, “I feel you behind my eyes when I’m dreamin’.” With a recklessness that can only be inspired by passion, Grant proceeds to tear the roof off from over our heads and expose us to his realm of screaming sheep, angels, devils, and a world simultaniously full and void of remorse and regret outside. With this, Grant Sabin transforms Stargazer Theatre from a show into a concert. When Sam Erikson (We Are Not a Glum Lot), and Marc Benning (Thirty-Four Satellite) join the body of music on guitar and bass, a level of depth and height is achieved. 

The course of the set navigates us through peaks and valleys as dynamic as the storms and topography of Colorado itself. There is an apparent combustibility to every peaceful moment that leaves us bracing onto the rails in anticipation of lightening strikes that send shockwaves of dance through the crowd. I hear the echoes of Led Zepplin, and Black Sabbath beckoning me to write the barely legible words, “this dude likes metal,” into my notebook. I look up and notice that you are gone… you have been swallowed by a sea of heads that are bobbing and quaking as if they are being bullied by a maritime storm. I quickly write you a note on a wine-ringed napkin:

Dear Friend,

I have lost you in time; at least it was a good one. I should have told you this earlier though: I do not actually fear paradoxes (they don’t exist in time travel). I just wanted you to pay attention to Grant Sabin and his new album, Anthromusicology. Check it out when you get home, and for godsakes, next time Grant comes to the Southern Rockies… you’ll know where to be.

I’ll See You There,

Kevin 

P.s. Enjoy your second Christmas!


Listen to Yellow Head from Grant Sabin’s album Anthromusicology.  Get the album at Blank Tape Records’ store.

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