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Hello Frank Black, Goodbye Pleasant Street Theater (Northampton Blog)

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Frank Black Closes Out the Pleasant Street Theater

Northampton’s Pleasant Street Theater Has One Last Hurrah

The Pleasant Street Theater. Photo Matthew B. HarrisonThe Pleasant Street Theatre gave us one last dance on July 13th before permanently shutting its old-fashioned doors to mark the end of an era. And it did so in grand fashion, staging a bittersweet farewell to remember it by. In the downstairs theater, down carpeted stairs, through the air which was sharply tinged with aged elements and honorable dust, Golem, the black and white German expressionist movie was playing to the original soundtrack that Frank Black had composed for it.

And upstairs was the rock legend himself Charles Thompson, otherwise known as Black Francis or Frank Black of The Pixies. He now lives in the area after having moved East from Oregon to create the up and coming record label titled The Bureau. He was to honor the occasion with a fifteen song set. It was a special occasion indeed as the upper theatre is small, only seating about one hundred people, giving the performance an intimate feel. Accompanying Charles on the drums was Jeremy Dubs, a good friend. Jeremy Dubs has from a young age lived with brittle bone syndrome, which made his legs delicate and disabled him from walking. He is wheelchair bound but has not let this disability dampen his sweet-natured affect. Jeremy has always used music as a way to refocus his energy and find meaning; listening and playing still allows him to travel into a new realm. Because of this he is the epitome of a Do It Yourselfer. He isn’t one to complain, is one of the most genial men I have ever met, and a handy drummer. Unable to use his legs, he flips the bass drum so that its front faces the ceiling, and uses his left hand to play both the snare and the bass drum.

The two musicians share a level of closeness that is unique. It is rare that a fan is able to be more than just a fan to his idol. But Jeremy Dubs and Charles Thompson were once strangers. In 1998 Jeremy went to a Frank Black and the Catholics concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After the show Jeremy was outside when Charles walked past. Jeremy said hello to him, and they hung out for a while, discussing music and hitting it off. And then a few nights later Jeremy ran into Frank at another of his concerts and the two began an email exchange, which laid the path for a friendship that has bloomed to the point that they are now close confidants. Jeremy was surprised with the offer to play for Frank Black, and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do a show with the songwriter for the Pixies whose music he praises. He had to cancel another show, but for great moments sacrifices had to be made, and Jeremy was more than willing to oblige.

Frank Black. Photo Courtesy Rotten TomatoesThe duo opened up with The Pixies classic “Nimrod’s Son”, a fast thrashing song about incest. Nimrod was the son of Noah, bred of incest, and when Frank yells “You were born the son of a mother fucker,” we hear the echoes of a tragic bible story. The effect of his voice in these moments is paradoxical; his cadence and volume push forward with great force but his tone is nearly flat as if he is merely addressing some objective truth. That’s not to say that he can’t sing as throughout the night we were treated to his ability to hit both high and low nights. Frank Black’s diversity of sound is what makes him a great musician as he can belt out choruses, but also softly serenade.

As the show went on, the audience was treated to great banter between each song. Frank Black was more than willing to divulge details about how some of his song’s inspirations. He described the origins of the song “Cactus” by referencing a movie that he saw at the Pleasant Street Theater when he was a young student at Umass. In that movie there was a scene in which Michael Fassbender receives a cactus as a gift and hugs it in thanks to the giver, and ends up “all cut up.” Frank Black then described how the song “Cactus” has nothing to do with that movie, but that he had to tie it in somehow since he loved that scene so much. Listening to his reasoning between songs was great as it gave one a sense of the meandering routes through which his creative channel flows; often the base idea for the songs would have no direct connection to the final product, which illustrated the kind of collage of influences that builds his creative framework. “Cactus” was really about his experience with an ex-girlfriend who broke up with him. He describes having been on Umass campus and found a scarf on the ground, which he picked up and smelled. It bore the aroma of his ex-lover, which made him miss her, a sentiment that the song’s lyrics allude to. In the song he sings “So run outside in the desert heat, make your dress all wet and send it to me.” Frank’s comfortability with the weird makes him a novel genius who does not spare any detail for want of fitting in. Instead, he expands on simple rock grooves while adding into them some element of the unknown which makes his music strange but still relatable.

Some songs in the set were new ones, which one might presume will be Pixies songs at some point, including “Andro Queen” and “Greens and Blues.” Both of these tunes are slightly melancholy rock ballads. “Andro Queen” is carried by a very soft and longing guitar line which strums back and forth between sadness and hope as Frank Black sings about his lost lover: “for what’s missing I’d sacrifice my flesh, only kissing you is so hard in this wild flesh.” Jeremy Dubs plays the bass drum on all four beats and hits the snare drum only between breaks of Frank’s singing; Frank Black likes to keep his instrumentation simple, but it is amazing how full a sound he achieves with so little. “Greens and Blues” is a goodbye song to the audience, one in which he sings of knowing his place as a musician, and his perception of being needed/not needed. The song regards his relationship with the crowd that does not require him to talk. He sings “I’m wasting your time just talking to you, maybe better that you go on home, I’ll leave you alone, fade from your mind, slip into the greens and blues.” It is this self-consciousness that makes Frank Black not only a great person but a great musician, and perhaps the two are more connected than I am giving them credit for.

The concert ended with The Pixies classic “Where is my Mind?”, concluding an unreal night with a question that seemed fitting. I think that most of the crowd’s minds were on how special an experience they had been privy to. What made the night so great was that it seemed to have an equal amount of importance for each person there. Frank Black himself was saying goodbye to the theatre. He explained to me that it felt like he had come full circle as he used to see movies there as a college student, and now was playing a show to kiss it goodbye. In a time where progress in technology seems to damn the cherished ways of the past it was good to be able to give Pleasant Street a proper burial. Those that were lucky enough to be there witnessed some historic rock and roll, and then walked out knowing that they would never walk back in and that all good things must end.

Ezra Prior is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

 

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