Saturday, 30 May 2009
I walked into the old church on Tenth Avenue, saw a lot of empty seats, and my first thought was, "Luka's not going to fill the place."
It has been fifteen years since his last pilgrimage to this beautiful coastal city. The St. James Hall seats roughly 230 people, wooden pews and balcony benches included, and at twenty minutes to eight I was able to stroll up and get a seat at the second table from the stage. In a few minutes I felt the sweat beading down my chest and, looking around the hall, noticed many of the empty seats had a jacket or handbill reserving them. Leaving my coat on my chair I went for a juice and stepped out with it into the cooler air. I noticed, around the side of the church hall, groups of people gathered, chatting. Okay then, just a westcoast aversion to sweating unnecessarily. By showtime, the hall was full. I'd estimate that two-thirds of the audience was female, but then, it took me so long to count the beautiful women in the crowd that the lights went down before I could count the men.
Steve Edge of the Rogue Folk Club introduced Luka and the man came bounding through the curtains in black t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Two guitars bookended his place on the stage, Rudy not one of them. Someone asked, shortly into the show, about his missing guitar. "A few weeks ago," Luka said, "coming back from Australia, through London, he got demolished." He grimaced a moment, then added, "If you can, avoid going through Heathrow with a guitar." In place of his black guitar, Luka had a new steel-string Taylor cutaway model, which he played in the later part of the concert. It sounded bright and warm, and he obviously loved playing it.
I don't know Luka's songs the way I know his older brother's work. I have Riverside, Tribe and Eleven Songs, but have registered the feel of the songs on these recordings more than their titles. The Man Is Alive is the Luka song I know best, a song Christy mentioned once in an email, prompting me to send him a 'live' version from a show Luka did in Switzerland. It has lyrics that connect Newbridge and Vancouver, speaks of strangers connecting over the loss of fathers in early childhood. It compels the singer to be present in both memory and moment, the child and the man. I hoped he would sing it.
Luka began with 'I Am Not At War With Anyone', and the sound man had it right from the start, the guitar clear and rich, Luka's voice natural and with just enough reverb to set it off. The third song Luka sang was 'Tribe' with the St. James Hall choir in full voice. He introduced 'Acoustic Motorbike' by exclaiming how on this tour of the west coast of North America he'd seen more people riding bicycles than ever before. He covered most of the material on Eleven Songs, including 'Eastbound Train', 'I Love The World I'm In', 'I'm On Your Side', 'See You Soon', 'Everyman', and 'Don't Be Afraid Of The Light That Shines Within You'. Oh, yes, 'Sunny Sailor Boy' was another, and the rap-like song where he sings, "I need love..." Introducing the one about love being a monsoon ('Monsoon'), he told a story about listening to a radio feature describe how Indian women would grow particularly wild and amorous at the very peak of the monsoon season, then joked that this is an everyday occurrence in Ireland.
Eight or nine songs in (he also sang 'No Matter Where You Go, There You Are', 'Gone To Pablo', and did the instrumental 'Peace On Earth') as Luka retuned his nylon-stringed guitar, we heard one of the men in the audience ask, "Do you take requests?" Luka answered in the affirmative, and the man called out, "Lisdoonvarna" to disdainful sniggers from just about everyone else in the place. Luka poked fun a moment, feigning (I think) disgust, but then began playing his guitar and sang a most heartfelt 'City Of Chicago', meeting the now-shrinking gentleman halfway. After the Lisdoonvarna miscue, I began to think there'd be no more requests, but a few songs later a woman sighed out a song title and, a song or two later, Luka sang the one she'd named, about the ballerina, for her, beautifully at that. His voice had begun to open, take on more shadings.
We were all sweating, Luka more than the rest of us, given the energy he was expending and the heat of the lights upon him. The colour of his t-shirt changed to a darker shade. About ninety minutes into the performance, he switched to the Taylor cutaway, and the vitality of his performance went up another notch as if he'd caught a second wind. He sang a song inspired by his three-day drive from Amarillo, Texas, to Vancouver - his first time to Vancouver ('Dreams In America'), and from there kept firing, one after the other, demonstrating his guitar craft, going for high notes, singing without reserve, spittle flying on the consonants. Visceral, commanding, with people shifting to a more upright posture in the audience.
At the two-hour and ten minute mark he finished a ringing chord, removed the guitar strap, bowed and said "Thank you, Vancouver." Before the words were out of his mouth, the entire audience was on its feet. I haven't seen quite so immediate a standing ovation at a gig in this city for quite some time, at least since the peak of our last monsoon season, haha. It was great to witness, and well-deserved. Luka had brought not only his music, but his conscience and heart, and people let their love for him show. Some ovations demand nothing more, are pure appreciation; this one felt like that.
When Luka came out for his first encore, fresh t-shirt on, someone called out for a song, and as he pondered their request I heard my own voice surprise me and softly say, 'The Man Is Alive'. Luka looked in my direction, and closed his two-song encore with the song for his father, Andy Moore, resting in the arms of the song, his breathing deep, his voice duskier with feeling. He thanked us all again, and the standing and stomping began, and he came back out and sang two more, including the aforementioned 'Don't Be Afraid...' with full St. James choir again.
I went outside for air. It was hot in that old church, the ceiling fans as slow as spoons in blackstrap molasses, and the night air was refreshing. After a few volleys of conversation with a city policeman that I know through my baseball business - a beloved cop, if there is such a thing - I walked around the side of the hall toward my car. Outside the back, second-floor window a small crowd had gathered and I heard sweeping gales of laughter. I walked around the crowd and looked up to the lighted window to see what was going on. There was Luka, naked to the waist (at least), leaning out the window, his toweled-off hair going in six directions, carrying on an animated conversation with the folks below.
"Don't wait another fifteen years, Luka," someone said. A woman said something in Irish and Luka returned the favour and laughed.
"Brilliant show," said another voice.
Yes, it was. Brilliant, full of spirit. The man is alive...
— Doug Lang