Flagstaff = mandatory.
I've learned that over the last few years. I’ve had enough great times in Flagstaff that I just can’t stay away for too long. There's a vibe so unlike the desert, it clears the head remarkably.
And what better reason to brave the getting-cold Northland than a Dan Bern show (seriously check out the Web site, there's lots of sound clips and lyrics for the curious). It’s a shame this guy is so damn far under the radar, but political-humor neo-folk for some reason just isn’t in high demand. But c’mon, anyone who calls his band the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy has a lot up his sleeve.
Saturday began by swinging through Mesa to pick up Z, then off north. A cup of coffee and some walking around Downtown, then off to Flag Brew for beers, dinner and Game 1. We met up with Stu LeBlanc and his pal and headed to the show.
Two openers were medium- to low-level open mic guitar duos. Then Dan Bern hit the stage, just a guitar and harmonica. I had no idea what to expect, the only albums I really know are full-band, folk-rock affairs. But what a hell of a show.
He opened with a Woody Guthrie tune and then got political. Much of the show drew from his new album, heavily influenced by the 2004 presidential race. The songs were topical, but avoided the usual trite traps and are actually poignant as hell, and hella funny.
One song ran through the glorious first days of a Dan Bern presidency - statehood for Cuba and Mexico on day one, a ban on gasoline engines for day two, collective farms for the third day, all the troops come home on the fifth day, the death penalty is gone on day six, legalized pot on day seven, free universal health care on the eighth day, giving more dough to public schools on day nine, and day 10 it became legal to marry anyone you want. Funny on so many levels, the song parallels the creation myths with their wide-sweeping daily pronouncements, and the grand presidential 100-day agenda.
Then there’s the soldier’s lament with it’s heart-tugging chorus: “ But who do you think will push my chair / After the parade is over.”
Just one song from my favorite, New American Language, leaving off too damn many gems, I thought, but that’s all I could muster in the way of a complaint.
But we did get the classic “Tiger Woods,” with half-shock opening line of “I got big balls, big ol’ balls.”
I’m not even sure where all those songs come from, but the show was phenomenal. Bern closed with the all-too-simple singalong: “Bush Must Be Defeated.”
From there Z and I met up with my cousin and headed off to the Mogollon Brewing Company and the Mad I, Flagstaff favs that finished the ruination.
Sunday’s return journey took the stunning 89A south of Flagstaff, down from the Mogollon Rim to Sedona, then through the magic redland to the erie Jerome, a curious near ghost town clinging to the side of Mingus Mountain. Switchbacks galore and a European-style village, it’s just another example of Arizona’s remarkable strangeness.