Grayson Capps had really blown me away the first time I heard any of his music, and continued to do so with his most recent release, Rott 'N' Roll. Then in August of 2008 I had the chance to spend some time with Grayson on the phone for an interview and that only confirmed all the good opinions I had formed about him from listening to his music. You know how it is, sometimes a person might come across a certain way on record, but then when you talk to them you find out it was only artifice and they aren't anything like what you had heard. Well, that's not the case with Grayson Capps. What you hear on the records is pretty much what you get when you talk to him.
A while back I came across a concert that he had recorded at the Paradiso club in Amsterdam that you could watch online. I had liked it so much that I had gone to the trouble to embed a link to it on the front page of my blog. Unfortunately I went back a short while ago and discovered the link no longer worked as the concert had been removed. Thankfully it turns out there was a good reason for it no longer being available online, as Capps' label, Hyena Records, has now released it on a new DVD, Grayson Capps Live At The Paradiso.
The concert was filmed in May of 2008, and features Capp playing solo and unplugged. Over the course of about 110 minutes he sings 25 songs and regales the audience with stories about people he's known and some of the places he's been. Some of his songs tell versions of the stories that's he's just told us, versions that take us inside the story so that instead of being an observer, all of a sudden we're sitting in that bar with him and Bobby Long on a Saturday afternoon in Alabama ("The Love Song Of Bobby Long").
Watching Grayson Capps perform is almost like attending an old fashioned revival meeting. He's a commanding presence on stage, and not just because he's a big man but because of the force of his personality. Whether he's telling a story, singing, reciting, or leading the audience in a sing-along, he exudes a life force that has to be seen to be believed. He sings with a voice that sounds like its been carved from the wood of a tree that's been around as long as the Tennessee mountains he sings about in his song "Arrowhead". Yet for every rough-hewn song about some strange and tragic character who has crossed his path, there's an equal number of songs that express his joy and wonder at the world.
You get the impression with Grayson there's always a great big laugh just waiting to burst out even when he's at his most serious. It's like he can be serious if he has to, and knows there are times when it's important, but there is so much about life to enjoy that he can't hold it in for very long. In the song "A Love Song For Bobby Long" he talks about a character who was a friend of his dad when Capps was a kid. At one point he compares Bobby to Zorba, the character played by Anthony Quinn in the movie Zorba The Greek, who teaches a young English school teacher how to enjoy life to its fullest. You get the feeling that Grayson received similar lessons and took them to heart as he pours all of himself into all of the songs he performs that evening on stage at the Paradiso.
The set list pretty much covers his entire career as a solo performer, with songs from all three of his recordings, plus a couple of covers including a version of the traditional Scottish ballad "Barbara Allen" and the Tom T. Hall song "Fox On The Run". He alternates between playing an old battered Gibson acoustic, and a wooden resonator for when he switches to playing slide guitar. Interestingly enough he doesn't use a pick-up on either instrument, so he stays seated for most of the concert in order to keep in range of the microphone. However, unlike a lot of folk who stay seated while playing, you never get bored watching Grayson. He's got to be one of the most animated people I've seen. Even when just playing an instrumental on his guitar his whole body is involved, from his toes tapping out the beat to his eyebrows furrowed in concentration as his fingers strum, slap, and pick at the strings or fly over the fret board.
After having listened to a few of Grayson Capps' discs and talking to him on the phone for about an hour or so, I'd thought I had begun to get to know a little about him and his music. However, watching him perform, and seeing how the music brings him to life and how he brings life to the music, I realized that to really appreciate Grayson Capps you have to see him. He is such an integral part of his music — his personality, his zest for life, and, most of all, his spirit — that just listening to his songs on the CDs you'll never fully experience him or his music.
Which means if you're like me and live in some small city where the chances of Grayson showing up to give a concert are minimal (people usually only stop in my town to give concerts because the wheels on their bus fell off while traveling between Toronto and Montreal) your best bet is to find a good recording of him in concert. Grayson Capps Live At The Paradiso is a great recording. Excellent sound recording and expertly shot, there's an intimacy you'd very rarely feel even if you were at a concert in person, let alone watching one on DVD.
Perhaps part of that is Grayson Capps himself, as without trying he brings the audience into his world by breaking down the usual barrier that exists between him and them. How many performers do you know are going to bum cigarettes from their audience during a show? You could almost believe you were sitting around on his back porch watching the sun set on the Tennessee hills around his home.
If you've never heard Capps before, this DVD is a great introduction to the man and his work. For the rest of us, its a chance to see him doing what he does best — entertain, enrich, and exhort those watching to appreciate the wonder of being alive.