Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spirit Hands - Steve Poltz

In my many winding roads of bumping into bizarre, crafty musical folks, who float down nymph-like vapour trails into darkened forests of self-discovery and illusive artistry, I have nary met a soul as bright or as wild or as mad or as powerful as Steve Poltz.

I only spent chunks of two days with Steve in 2012 when I was shooting some social media videos for Joel Plaskett and his crew at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. In the five-night stint, Poltz was the opener for the first two nights, and I had never seen him live. I had only heard of his wild, untamed musical mane and his manic but beautiful and tender delivery.

When I first shook hands with him, he was sitting at the back of the Horseshoe staring into his phone with the screenlight reflecting back on his black-rimmed glasses. I was a bit intimidated, as I'd heard many larger than life stories about his mythical persona, but he was warm and inviting and chatty from the get-go and asked me about my connection to Joel. Later that night, before the show, we ventured next door to the Rivoli and ate dinner with Joel. I barely wanted to speak, as these two well-traveled and deep storied performers traded tall tales and insider tips. Their riffing was otherworldly, as Poltz used his words like weapons. They were bombs of consciousness exploding in the ether above our dark dinner table.

With a furious acoustic style and a voice that sounds like a rugged, raspy cowboy who's been drenched in a cold Kentucky rainstorm for weeks, he's a living legend. He can talk like nobody's business, and he can create rhythmic, hilarious and mentally twisted strings of rhymes for days on end.

In one of his first sets at the Shoe, he paused between one of his songs and said laughingly and with naked honesty '...I've been sober for eight years and I'm basically a massive fuck-up'. Sometimes, he would make the lady computer voice on his phone say perverted things to the audience, and just laugh his ass off on stage. I immediately adored this guy.

He is part comedian. Part troubadour. Part nomad. Part disgustingly skilled songwriter and singer. Part classical guitarist. Part surfer. Part cowboy. Part beast. Part spirit. Part wild light energy purveyor.

But in a weird way, I understood him. He is who he is, and he makes no apologies, and he has been a solid musical inspiration to me since we met. His songs are transparent, clever and catchy.

Before his first show, I asked him on camera if he had any pre-show rituals - and he merely clasped his hands together, in a prayer motion, closed his eyes, nodded and smiled politely at me. He could have been saying 'please don't talk to me - I'm meditating' or 'I don't talk before shows' or 'silence is my ritual' or all of those things, or none of those things - but all at once, I got it. On the second night, with Snicks the sound man and Matt the lighting guy, we made a joke about hipsters and 'whisper rock', and it still makes me chuckle to this day.

This was the first song of his first set, and it blew my mind from the first chunky Drop C strum-pick. It's called Spirit Hands, and I didn't even know the title of it (until I sent him a text yesterday and asked if he remembered, and he wrote me the answer within seconds):

I haven't seen Steve since 2012, and I know he's had a few recent health blips on his spiritual and physical radar, but we exchange two or three word texts every few months - and it's always nice to know that he's out there. Doing his thing. Laughing. Touring. Jumping. Twisting and bending minds. And never stopping. I look forward to the day where I can see him grace a dark stage again.

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