Chris Pureka @ Slim’s. 4.20.09

chrispurekaIt was 4.20 in San Francisco, and this all-female audience was far too busy undressing Chris Pureka with its eyes to celebrate the miracle of marijuana. Can’t say I blame them. Years had passed since the Northampton-hailing folk singer first caught me in her web of deep, emotive vocals, well-penned lyrics, and deft guitar skills—and no, I don’t mean just for a girl. Pureka can play, goddamn it—and her picking patterns prove it. Pulling heavily from “Dryland,” “Driving North,” “Chimera” (her new EP), and a wealth of fresh material intended for the new album, Pureka presented the perfect recipe for heartbreak pie.

Although one can’t help but appreciate the lone guitar that stars on her two full-lengths, for this tour she augmented that stark sound with a pair of highly competent ladies who lent their lungs to harmonies and their hands to the bass and fiddle. Both women engaged in an eerie duel of strings during a tune I assume was titled “Hangman” based on the repeated invocation of the word, and one of the highlights of the night. Stripped to bare bones but full of minor chords, this sinister descent into the depths of the human soul was a song I can’t wait to get my paws on once it’s recorded.

But let’s discuss Pureka’s existing repertoire. While in the spring of 2007 I was forced to archive “Dryland” after I played it like a broken record to get through a breakup (misery loves company, right?), I was recently able to resurrect it sans association with my former lover. Let me tell you, nothing is as indulgently sympathetic to love lost as this album, and seeing Pureka perform a good portion of it provided a sort of closure for me. “31 and Falling” began as it always does on the record, steeped in sadness, timidly reflecting on a relationship that isn’t quite over: “You call again, as if I don’t know what you’re going to say.” But this time it built even more dramatically until culminating in the most majestic crescendo of a chorus you could dream of, made even more spine-tingling with the lush backing harmonies. When the refrain came around for the second time, regret washed like a wave over the room, leaving only sorrow in its wake. From there, Pureka launched right into “Momentary Thief,” my personal favorite, the fiddle expertly executing the deliciously chaotic downward spiral that precedes the chorus.

She sure knew how to cater to her Bay Area fans, closing the set with “Swann’s Song,” bound to be a crowd pleaser with a mention of “the shores of San Francisco town,” along with the song “California.” Both elicited the expected applause, but make no mistake—this crew didn’t come for a laugh. We came to wallow. Which is why when she covered “Wagon Wheel” I didn’t shed tears of joy like I did back when I saw Old Crow perform it back at Bonnaroo 2007. She has mastered the art of melancholy—why mess with it? Although I’ll admit her anecdote about the CVS casino in Reno left us all in stitches, and it was refreshing to learn that as a person she reeked of humility—despite being the most lusted-after woman in the room.

Which brings me to my next point. Although my friend and I were clearly the only straight females in attendance, when she half begged, half remarked “I wish you would stay” during “These Pages,” I kind of hoped she was talking about me. Chris, if you’re reading this, I’d like to offer you a beer and my body next time you’re in town.

One Response to “Chris Pureka @ Slim’s. 4.20.09”

  1. Aspen Says:

    Chris Pureka accompanied by a bass AND a fiddle?? Be still my melancholy heart. I’m surprised at your tepid reaction to the Wagon Wheel cover, though. Not that I was there (I WISH!), but I would have expected you to burst into flames at the melding of two of your favorite things! Then again, I love bacon and I love ice cream — but I wouldn’t want bacon ice cream. So you know, I totally get it. Great review, Stella!

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