Steve Gunn, Julie Byrne
777 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA, 94110
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
Watch & Listen
People have written about roads for as long as they’ve been around. And before there were roads, they still wrote about travel and about landscape. Landscape is the stage upon which our greatest experiences and desires play out. Steve Gunn’s music has always embraced expanse and movement. It springs from the simple and profound relationship between humans and their environment. Eyes On The Lines is his most explicit ode to the blissful uncertainty of adventure yet.
Gunn’s roots in the underground run deep, from his days in GHQ to his collaborations with Black Twig Pickers and Mike Cooper. He’s toured and recorded with Michael Chapman, and released two remarkable duo albums with drummer John Truscinski. His solo ventures, emerging over the past decade and culminating most recently the highly-acclaimed Way Out Weather, have been pastoral, evocative affairs. Here he embraces his urban surroundings through a series of songs that fully showcase his extraordinary ability to match hooks to deftly constructed melodies. Gunn is a consummate guitarist, that rare fingerpicker who can harness the enigma of the American Primitive vernacular without lazily regurgitating it. His playing is inventive and full of personality. His instrumental virtuosity calls upon a vast library of technical skills at will, but he’s never showy — his riffs and runs are always in the service of the song at hand.
And what a pleasure to have this music presented to the wider public.
This song cycle melds thoughtful inquisitiveness with poetic reflection, fully embracing rhythmic uplift, allowing personal stories and impressions to live their own lives on their own terms. Gunn is more narrator than diarist; he pours real-life moments and real-life people into vibrant and evocative tales. Dreams and encounters spiral out – they form their own dramas and illuminate their own truths. Indeed, Eyes On The Lines works like a book of the finest short stories, its songs interlocking with an urgent necessity, forming an ever-questioning whole. In Gunn’s own words: “The music isn’t about me. It’s about characters, either real or fictional. It’s about images.”
And what are lines if not one of the foundational aspects of images? Lines on the road draw one’s attention to the lines comprising the landscape. Gunn’s music runs ahead and twists – like time, like the road itself. Guitar lines are highway lines are lines carved by the view out the window are the lines one waits in to get a quick meal on the way from one destination to another are lines one draws in the van to stay amused. It’s good to be out on the road and it’s good to be home, and each feeds into the other. This record sees lines run together and leap across one another.
He’s honest about the necessity of being comfortable in being lost. His music values the unknown, so it is always born of the present. We lose ourselves to find ourselves. With all of this comes humility. And gratitude. Listen to “Nature Driver,” a statement of thankfulness for the generosity of the plethora of kind souls who welcome travelers into their homes.
“Ancient Jules,” which opens the record, is a travel fantasy of a different sort. Built around a head-nodding motif, the song bobs and weaves its way through a tale which foregrounds the surprising joy that can come with a break – a deep sigh in the midst of an onrush, punctuated by the finest example of Gunn’s electric soloing to emerge yet. A song like “Conditions Wild” also rambles through strange clouds of roving. Interlocking strings, percussion, and vocals join in an irrepressible rush. This record is like that – the songs get lodged in one’s head because they’re catchy, but their atmosphere sends the mind reeling into memory and mystery.
These are songs you can take in quickly, but spend all the time in the world devouring. The very large and the very small are present in equal measure. The inability to categorize them within the avalanche of impotent diatribes that pass for categorization is a testament to their power.
Stories give us ways to discover meaning. They provide us with signposts – when we recognize our own lives within them, we clarify our existence. “Far from the world is the mystic fool,” Gunn sings on the opening track. The fool may be far from the world, but that doesn’t matter. The so-called fool is jacked in to the cosmos.
Matt Krefting Holyoke, MA 2016
Sometimes it can take years to find your calling. Not for Julie Byrne; whose power of lyrical expression and musical nous seems inborn. Often what comes naturally cannot be driven by speed and time. Julie’s second album, Not Even Happiness, has evolved at its own pace. It spans recollections of bustling roadside diners, the stars over the high desert, the aching weariness of change, the wildflowers of the California coast, and the irresolvable mysteries of love. Her new album vividly archives what would have otherwise been lost to the road, and in doing so, Byrne exhibits her extraordinarily innate musicality. Some of the songs on Not Even Happiness took years of fine tuning to reach their fruition. If you asked her why the follow up to 2014’s Rooms With Walls and Windows has taken so long, you’d be greeted with a bewildered expression melted into a smile - as though the strangest question had just been asked. “Writing comes from a natural process of change and growth. It took me up to this point to have the capacity to express my experience of the time in my life that these songs came from.”
Julie Byrne has counted Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans and Northampton, Massachusetts as her transient homes in recent years. For now, she’s settled in New York City, moonlighting as a seasonal urban park ranger in Central Park. Whether witnessing the Pacific Northwest for the first time (‘Melting Grid’), the morning sky in the mountains of Boulder (‘Natural Blue’), or a journey fragrant with rose water; reading Frank O’Hara aloud from the passengers seat during a drive through the Utah desert into the rainforest of Washington State (‘The Sea As It Glides’), Not Even Happiness is Julie’s beguilingly ode to the fringes of life.
“The title of the album comes from a letter I wrote to a friend after a trip to Riis Park’s ‘The People’s Beach’,,,it was the first warm afternoon of the year. I walked alongside the Atlantic as the Earth came alive for the sun. There was a palpable sense of emergence to everything. I felt it in myself too, and remember thinking I would trade that feeling for nothing…not even happiness.”
Julie taught herself guitar, picking it up when her father became ill and could no longer play. She readily admits she can’t read music and doesn’t even listen to it all that much - her own vinyl was the first in her possession. Back to her childhood home in western New York state to record the album with producer Eric Littmann (Phantom Posse), friend Jake Falby contributed strings at a cabin in Holderness, New Hampshire. “Without possessing the right words, I’d describe to Eric and Jake the feeling I wanted a song to evoke, or I would take a shot at singing what was in my head. Though over all, their contributions to the record are entirely their own vision and their own power. I trusted each of them and we chose each other; our songs came from that place.”
Not Even Happiness offers a bigger picture to its predecessor through a wider exploration of instruments and atmospherics, revealing an artist who has grown in confidence over time. This form of self-evolution permeates through the track titles, as the album opens with, ‘Follow My Voice’ and ends with, ‘I Live Now as a Singer’.” “Those two songs are the nearest to my heart, without hesitation. This is an album with a far stronger sense of self, and fidelity to self than the last,” she says.
Her last album was released in January 2014, on Chicago based DIY label Orindal after first existing as two separate cassette releases. Rooms With Walls and Windows went on to become a true modern-day word of mouth success story (it would have to be for an artist who shuns all forms of social media). By the end of the year, it was voted number 7 in Mojo Magazine’s Best Albums, with the Huffington Post calling it, “2014’s Great American Album.” A collection of hushed intimate front porch psych-folk songs, recalling the greats, but strongly emanating the essence of timeliness. Her journey to follow was captured in two summers through Europe, playing the Green Man Festival and End of the Road, as well as lesser trodden tour paths around Italy.
In the live arena she enchants, leaving rooms and festival crowds mesmerized by her voice and warm presence, where many find a real connection with Byrne’s intimate songs. This feeling is often shared: “The most magical thing about performing these songs is that afterwards, so many of the conversations I have escape all small talk,” tells Julie. “Shows don’t always have this spirit, but when they do, every person has contributed, even unknowingly, to creating a space of responsiveness to each other through vulnerability, through our unified experience and honesty about our sorrow and our emergence.”
Julie Byrne is taking Not Even Happiness on the road throughout 2017.
$16 adv / $18 door