Sometimes you just get lucky. I was flying out to Albany to see Phish at the Clifford Ball. On a whim, I decided take a bus to Borders at Westlake Center to look for a book to read. I didn't find a book there, but I did see a Stage Diving poster. "In show appearance 8/22 1 PM " it said. Seeing how I would be back in town by then, I was stoked. Seeing how he just played at the Backstage a few weeks earlier, I was shocked. Regardless of my emotions, I made a point to go see this.
When I arrived there I discovered that this show was just the teaser for the free show later that night. What i didn't discover was Peter Himmelman. He was running late and didn't get there until quarter after 1.
After working to get his kind of makeshift guitar going, he started with an impromptu song about Borders and hoped we wouldn't get in trouble for being there. I was a tad worried about getting into trouble about taking a long lunch and said that I might get fired :-). After a call for requests, we got 11th Confession. Before playing Woman with the Strength, he told the story of his uncle in great detail.
This show was not about his real songs though. He seemed unsure as to what exactly he was supposed to be doing; he asked at one point if people wanted him to play or sign autographs or what. The show closed with 4 straight improvised songs. In there was a song about a little girl who was eating some cinnamon. Her name was Madeline, and the inspired line in it was "Madeline, you're paddling..." The show closed with a song about me taking notes for the internet (He wanted me to explain exactly what the song Madeline was about) and how I would lose my job for seeing this show. He even signed my poster "Good luck on the new gig" :-)
However getting fired is not what was going to happen to me. It seemed fate was conspiring to get me to these shows. I actually managed to get the evening off on no notice and made it to Westlake Center in time for the soundcheck.
The Westlake Center is basically a city block in downtown Seattle that is covered with a sidewalk, with the occasional fountain to break it up. It's the center of the retail district and is surrounded by Yuppie stores; the irony of singing Impermanent Things there was touched upon. The stage itself was just a big block type thing in a corner of the park. I don't know if it is there all of the time or not. It did have steps on it though, so anyone could just walk up there... and someone quickly did.
There are things Peter Himmelman does that I love, things that I am amazed by, and things that impress me, but never had I really seen anything that made me wonder how in the world he was able to do it. That changed during Love of Midnight when a homeless man, giving the impression of being completely trashed, walked onto the stage. What would you do in this situation? I would be the type to get security to remove him from the stage right now. That is not what happened. First he tried to get him offstage by letting him know that he was merely the opening act. Soon Eric (the homeless man) would be called onto the stage and we would go wild. Himmelman was just "warming up the crowd for the main act." When that didn't work, he asked his name and wrote a song for him. The resulting improvisation was perhaps the definitive Peter Himmelman song, focusing (as I recall) on Eric's eventual redemption. I only hope that the person who was taping mails Peter a copy of the song so he can consider working with it some. This was easily the best improvised piece I have heard him do (even better than the Spawning Salmon one) because it wasn't just played for laughs. It was clearly the highlight of the show.
However it didn't have the desired effect. Eric decided that he would play the keyboards during Impermanent Things. Finally, after 3 songs, a limit of sorts was reached, as Peter informed the people at the mixing boards that "Subtle disconnection of the AC will help" After the song he tried one more time to get rid of Eric by bribing him. The show series was sponsored by a local Chrysler dealership. Peter made a joke about the free cars they were giving away and then told Eric that, "In order to get a new Chrysler you have to stay quiet for the entire set"
Just when we were beginning to wonder if this was going to be the Peter and Eric show, Eric suddenly left stage, escorted by some people from the mixing board. So your show was just given a bizarre turn by a random homeless person. How do you get it back on track? If you're Peter Himmelman, you stage a circle dance to Haveinu Shalom Aleichem. (Forgive my butchering of the Hebrew; I just remember the song from Hebrew School from my youth :) ) This worked very well; at least 40-50 people got into the circle. Woman with the Strength of 10,000 Men followed and the show began to rage again.
The open stage was just too much of a temptation though. After Mission of My Soul (complete with backup singers from the audience) a girl came up. She and her boyfriend Greg had a fight and she wanted to tell him that she loved him. Peter, of course, made up a song on the topic (a singalong song that would have made a good 50's sitcom theme); the couple ended up smooching near the front of the stage during Rania. This was followed by I Still Don't Know What it is You Want From Me. As in the Backstage show a few weeks earlier, I was reminded of one of the Allman Brothers' instrumentals; this is a great song and I hope it's on the new album.
Towards the tail end of the show, Peter got to do a Chrysler ad. I wish I wrote down what he was saying, because it was amazing. It was a mock early days of the company kind of ad. "Imagine someday having electric horses. Imagine going 60 or 70 miles an hour, where permitted by law. Some people say that travelling at such high speeds is dangerous, but our engineers at Chrysler lab have customer safety as our top priority" It went on for quite some time during both the tail end of the set and the encore.
The encore was shaping up to be pretty simple, the second ad and Rania. However Eric suddenly reappeared. True to his word, Peter announced Eric's presence and they did some piano duet thing. He kept making comments along the lines of "Some people think (Eric's) playing is way out but true hipsters can appreciate it". Based on a comment he said to me as he wandered off stage for a bit ("If only he could play, this would be great") I assume he was being sarcastic. I have a much higher tolerance for weird music though (must be my Bard background; what with Music Program Zero et al) so I actually liked it.
One thing definitely was brought to my attention during the three August 96 Seattle shows. Peter Himmelman is a much better musician when he has someone backing him up. Both of the "real" shows had a drummer; both of these shows were far better than the two solo performances I have heard. The Borders set, while interesting and fun (not to mention free :-) ) was not half as good as the Westlake one. Some of that might be due to the nature of an in store performance, but I think some of it was because he was solo. The reviews of the other shows I have read seem to back me up on this; few people in other cities have been blown away. In Seattle though we got lucky. Two amazing shows in the space of 3 weeks and a very intimate bonus set. Why do people live in other cities anyway? :)
Get Up Stand Up
Love of Midnight
One Shot at Love
Haveinu Shalom Aleichem
Women with the strength of 10,000 Men
Wild Woman (improv about a dancing woman)
Mission of my Soul
Singers from the Court of 4th and Pine (improv about the backup singers)
Message to Greg (improv)
I Still Don't Know What it is You Want from Me
Shadow's Speech (improv from when a girl came on stage and made a speech about how not all teens are in gangs)
I Love You In Whispers
Chrysler Ad II
Eric (reprise) (improv)
Eric Keyboard Jam(with eric on keyboards, duh :-) )