Welcome To A Blast From The Past.
These articles are archives published at BluesWax as the Blues Beat,
we hope you enjoy reading them.
Originally Published June 30, 2004
Doug Macloud Live At Cambrinus Café
By Vincent Abbate
One guitar, a capo, a slide, a bagful of tunings, these are all the tools New York-born, Southern-bred Doug MacLeod needs to convert the curious visitor to one of his European shows. Each time the Southern California resident comes here, people who’ve heard of him, but never heard him, turn out. Often, it’s by word of mouth: “Hey, you gotta check out this guy!” The newcomers can usually be found congregating near the bandstand at halftime to shake Doug’s hand and buy his latest CD. I’ve seen MacLeod play at a Sunday afternoon brunch, inside a movie theater, on large festival stages, and in cramped pubs and never have I noticed an audience walking away disappointed. He might not grab everyone. But for those who listen, a MacLeod concert can be one of the most moving experiences in the Blues.
His four-week European spring tour led him to seven different countries – and to the Cambrinus Café, a cozy, candle-lit, small-town pub near the Dutch-German border with a huge menu of imported beers neatly writ on a chalkboard taking up one wall of the room. Jan, the Cambrinus’s manager, likes artists to be able to perform undisturbed and takes the stage prior to each performance to inform the audience about the rules of conduct. Ordering of drinks is to be done discreetly – and God forbid you forget to switch off your mobile phone. He had a snappy comeback for the owner of the phone that rang while he was making his announcement, “If that happens during the concert, you’re buying everyone a round.”
If those sound like the makings of a sterile, deadly dull evening, then you’ve surely never been to a MacLeod concert. Doug is a consummate entertainer and storyteller who lets an audience into his head as he puts a show together for them. He doesn’t use a set list and rarely takes requests. Instead, he lets the moment – the spirit, he would say – guide him to the next song, the next tuning. His two sets at this sold-out Thursday night show encompassed roughly half of the songs from his 2002 Black & Tan CD A Little Sin, but also previewed his next Black & Tan release, due this fall. My guess is we’re going to hear a more somber MacLeod on that disc, because his playing and singing at the Cambrinus show were darker than I can remember. Even his body language suggested he’s gone deeper into exploring the wounds of the past – both his own and those he may have inflicted upon others. MacLeod can visit those places and still have a good time. Or, to paraphrase something he admitted onstage: Only a Blues singer can spend four minutes singing about what a sorry individual he is, then be applauded for it.
During the first half of his opening set, the guitarist treated the crowd to some bareknuckle fingerpicking on his National resophonic guitar. The rapt attention of his audience allowed him to stretch out on titles like “Big City Woman” and the Robert Pete Williams-inspired “Walking While I Bleed.” The hip crowd laughed right along with him on “A Little Taste,” a humorous drinking song in the tradition of “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Then, a drastic change of direction. “Should I?” MacLeod wondered aloud before electing to play the sole instrumental of the night, a song dedicated to his late friend and Blues Revue associate Maureen Del Grosso. Every note of this elegiac piece seemed to come from Doug’s place of remembrance. The love-gone-bad story “Cold Rain” was followed by some pointed shot taking at the misguided governments of the world. The refrain to “Dub’s Talking Politician Blues,” a cheerful-sounding Blind Boy Fuller-inspired complaint, suggested the earnestness behind the jokes: “Somebody get me my beebee gun / I don’t wanna kill ‘em / But I’d sure like to hurt ‘em some.” The set closer – and the clincher for the first-timers – was the wonderful narrative of “New Panama Limited Blues.” MacLeod did precisely what he told himself was necessary: He got out of the way and let a masterful version of this ten-minute train song flow through his hands.
The second set began around 10 p.m., as the overcast skies outside the café finally gave way to night. MacLeod still had a few sunny-sounding titles up his sleeve – “Sugar Babe,” “Plaquemine,” and a straightforward “Dust My Broom” encore – but two songs conjuring a barren, rain-washed urban landscape at midnight were what made this performance truly memorable. The sleepless narrator of “Night Walking” is condemned to wander the streets in search of a peace he never finds; the song contained some of the most sorrowful slide I’ve ever heard from MacLeod. On the equally as chilling “The Devil Beating His Wife,” you could practically see the storm clouds and hear the hiss of bad things going on behind the good – the “rain in the sunshine,” as MacLeod sang. After finishing this song near the end of his set, Doug felt compelled to give his listeners a bit of light for the dark ride home. The exuberant “Rise Up” was his solution.
The tiny Cambrinus Café boomed with applause when MacLeod thanked his audience and left them with his standard homily about green grass and the same dog biting you twice. He stayed a while to chat with friends and fans at the bar and to drink the long-awaited beer he denies himself while performing. By midnight, the place had cleared but for a few stragglers. My companion and I heard some sad news on the ride home. Ray Charles had died earlier in the day. I wonder if MacLeod knew this prior to going on, and, thus touched by the loss of a musical giant, had created this somewhat somber, yet stirring evening of remembrance.
Or maybe the spirit had told him.
By Vincent Abbate
About the Author: