“You’ve got to leave things messy and wide open,” sang Allie Moss in her brand new song, co-written by Amanda Duncan, which she dubbed ‘Room For My Mistakes’ five seconds before the first chord was strummed. “There’s a beauty in what’s broken.”
The chorus crooned by Moss on Wednesday evening could not have summed up what took place in Asbury Park’s Rock N’ Roll cathedral, The Saint, any more perfectly. The resurrection of Rick Barry’s A Night In Progress was more than a communal exaltation of this beloved music series, but also a celebration of imperfection, of five artist’s willing to bear the flaws of their unmastered music, nervously stumbling over bridges and lyrics, gingerly making their to the end of a 30-minute set in front of a live audience, a rare type of performance indeed.
This showcase was billed as a “one night only” performance and although its curator, Barry, has not yet officially announced whether this date will have marked the first in long line of future performances, or instead, was the grandiose send off his acclaimed series never received in the past, he was overheard on several occasions throughout the night claiming that “if it does happen again, it won’t be for a while.”
That being said, if the final curtain was lowered on A Night In Progress, Barry certainly collected a stacked supporting cast to help close it down. Aside from Moss, who’s talents are well known on the boardwalk and beyond, Barry called upon the sugary sweet Folk-Pop songstress Amanda Duncan, local legend and inspiration to this next generation of Asbury song writers, Glen Burtnik, and the soulful Rock stylings of James Dean Wells, also known as Clark Westfield, front-man of The Gay Blades.
“By the way, I don’t know if you understand how hard this is to do,” said Wells while lifting a glass to his fellow musicians. “The writers have sacrificed a lot to do this, because, you have to get really fucking intimate if you’re going to find any kind of sense of inspiration, so, kudos to my brothers and sisters that take this stage.”
Wells was by far the most confident of the bunch, singing and strumming upon the first stage that ever saw him play live, he was quick with a boast and even faster with a joke, commanding the audience’s attention to a level unattained by any other artist on the card. Having seen Wells mesmerize the most raucous of audiences at past performances, literally turning a riotous New York City basement into a Rock N’ Roll scripture reading, the question did cross my mind, how would one of the most seductive showmen around captivate a crowd that was forced to remain silent from the start, as stated in the bylaws? And yet, he brought the room to a new tier of quiet and stillness.
The mystical tranquility was most evident after Wells strolled through his “old love” song, the meat of his love song sandwich, if you will, which rested between “creepy love,” the story of an obsessive stalker that was, much to the delight of the song-writer, demanded to be played first by the audience, and his “new love” song.
As the sound of last plucked string faded into space so was all sound drained from the universe. Beer mugs ceased to clank. The retched growl of traffic speeding down Main Street, which plagued the sets of others, was suddenly muted. Even Robert, a pastoral patron of The Saint since the early ‘90s who was battling a nearly debilitating sinus infection was not moved to clear his throat. The power of Well’s songwriting had overcome the environment…and suddenly, all was lost, when he urged the congregation to break its code of silence during the final number, and its members happily took part in a sing-along.
And that wasn’t the only track that evoked crowd participation as Glen Burtnik took the stage and proceeded to dethrone The Decemberists’ “Calamity Song” as the catchiest tune of 2011 about the impending doom that awaits the world on December 21, 2012.
Toes tapped and hands clapped to this poppy Piano-Rock track in which Burtnik suggests we all sit back and welcome the end by eating ice cream at Carvel and playing with toys made by Mattel. The audience, seemingly, could not help but agree as applause, like the hell-fires he sang about, rained down upon this elder statesman of the scene.
“While writing this song I pulled out my rhyming thesaurus,” admitted Burtnik to the intrigued audience. “The secret behind the success of this track is to find words that rhyme with ‘twelve,’ and Carvel and Mattel came up, so, there’s your explanation.”
Amanda Duncan led off the night with a series of unfinished and unpolished ear candy, often stopping amidst the tunes to reiterate that lack of gloss to the mass of onlookers.
“This song is cool,” said Duncan about a track named ‘Second Best’ for which she was joined by local musician Joanna Burns, “but it won’t be nearly as cool tonight as when its finished. The message behind this one is, just know you need nobody’s approval to do what you do.”
The uncool version of this song was great, so, stay tuned for its upcoming cooler form.
Like most of these artists, Duncan was on edge, self-conscious, and unaware that we were honored just to be in the same room with her, and the other performers, as they unveiled these brand new works.
Even Allie Moss, a road warrior and world traveler as a member of Ingrid Michaelson’s band, felt the need to justify her lyrics on a song that may, or may not, be called “How I Felt Today.”
“A lot of these words are place holders for something more genuine,” said Moss, “this isn’t the completed product…but, I feel like when this song is done it will be more heart felt.”
Finally, by luck of the draw, the night ended with the man who started it all.
“The point of this night,” explained the Master Of Ceremonies, Barry, “is to just write stuff. To literally write things, get through the set, and then you’ll never have to play these songs again and everyone will pretend to like them for a little while…in fact, I want you all to boo me right now.”
As the mass of Saint patrons played along Barry prepped a set of songs that could not fairly be referred to as “stuff” and/or “things,” namely the all too vivid, heart shredding, nightmare disclosed about love found and love lost to a fiery car wreck all in the same night.
Finally, Barry sent the mass of music enthusiasts out into the Asbury darkness with the A Night In Progress theme song.
“Who the hell am I to interrupt your social debate?” Belted Barry, addressing an imaginary couple chatting at the bar, refusing to abide by the rules. “You paid to have fun tonight. But you’re wrong. You paid to hear us all play, all these works in progress.”
Hopefully these wonderful nights of music continue to do just that…progress.
NOTE: I do have videos…but I want to clear it with the musicians before I post them.