Aaron Lee Tasjan – Live at the Cavern

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Last I saw Aaron Lee Tasjan, the alt-country-rock-something-or-another artist was rocking Louisville’s Forecastle Festival.  The result was I became an immediate fan.  His previous two solo albums, though not as aggressive as the stage show or with the same musicians, likewise caught my ear and yielded a number of favorites. 

Fast forward a bit, and my concert buddy found that he was playing for PBS’ “Bluegrass Underground” at The Cavern, a walk-in cave about an hour west of Chattanooga.  This is a new venue for the series, having relocated from an underground cave in nearby Cumberland Caverns. 

Tasjan took the stage, rock star slim and essentially unrecognizable from nine months prior.  Or, maybe it’s just a jacket and a shave…

Now:

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Then:

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In any case, the assembled crowd was largely gathered to hear the Sam Bush Band, a renowned bluegrass artist for a renowned bluegrass show.  Tasjan plays a lot of styles, but not that.  Yet, anyway.  So he plays a few songs – the crowd warms to him over any initial misgivings, the applause increasing.  They’re good songs.  He’s in fine voice; the band is solid. And then he drops one of his best songs, “Dime.” 

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People are paying attention now. Great tune, great lyric, a rock punch to lift it up.  He sprinkles in some conversation, funny musings and recollections.  Is it for TV?  We’ll see – a little banter wins audiences.  “Ready to Die.”  The opening verse is solo acoustic, Tasjan’s voice the most expressive of the day, making a persuasive case that “pyre” is actually two syllables.   Punch up the band, throw in splendid lead guitar from Brian Wright, and the crowd is off their seats. 

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Tasjan mixed in some new songs (one possibly called “End of the Day” stood out), but from “Little Movies” to the closer “Dangerous Kind,” it’s clear that his touring band makes Tasjan’s music much more than it was on his recordings.  Even better, they’re playing on his new album, said by Tasjan to be released around August.  I think “this year” was implied.

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For an artist that’s been around a while in various bands, it’s clear Tasjan’s best is yet to come. His lyrics are often perfect, and even when somewhat less so, he has an abundant tunefulness to shift musical styles and shape the songs to be their best.   His lyric for “Dime” is perhaps telling:

                1.                            They tell me all the time
        1.                            I’m worth at least a million
        2.                            And I barely have a dime
        3.                            That’s alright

Hopefully, this is the band that will get him there.  He’s worth it.

About the venue:

Interesting.  This was roughly the third concert since the opened the same week.  Getting there is memorable as a respite fromHipstamaticPhoto-543765137.006613 traffic jams to venues in the city – crops, scattered houses, horses – a beautiful countryside en route to parking in a field helpfully sprinkled with fresh granite gravel… which turns out to be the overflow lot.  No worries, the guy directing cars to the lot while playing a mandolin also drives a bus to the welcome center, where online tickets are curiously exchanged for “real” tickets, and where one can browse the merch or take a short walk to the cave. 

Ah, cool.  Functional folk art!

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And from there, it’s off to the cave:

Entering the cave the first thing that strikes you is not claustrophobia, but sulfur.  The cave’s natural odors linger in the entry areas and the bathrooms (prompting incense in the men’s room which may have helped?  In the women’s… the odor was reportedly more impactfully upsetting), but the concert area was fine.  And at least there is plumbing in a cave.

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Temperature?  No need for blankets.  When people fill the room, it’s comfortably warm.  Food and beverages are reasonably priced as well.  All the people who usher and support the endeavor were very polite and helpful.

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So, let’s not forget this was a double bill show for the PBS recording. 

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The mechanics of the recording were not upsetting – cameramen up front stayed on the move, not blocking anyone for a lengthy period of time.  In fact, the floor has an incline well suited to viewing over the heads in front of you. The boom arm moved fairly constantly but not in a particularly distracting way.  Sound quality seemed to start off somewhat narrow in range, but shows usually improve sonically as the sound crew makes adjustments and/or when one’s ears adapt.

As the people working on the clock undoubtedly increase operating costs, the show started right on time… with audience reaction shots.  This was humorous, but they’re serious about it.  There was a tiered escalation from polite applause to rock show fist pumping, to be inserted after the recording as needed.  It also makes sense that they do it at the beginning because, sadly…

…everyone is in their seats at the start.  So it sucks to be the Sam Bush Band, playing at roughly the beginning of the third hour in the cave, with people going back and forth to the rest room or just… going.  The band was really good, their leader extremely personable.  But, a late Sunday equates to a work night, and many of those attending live on Eastern time, with miles to go when leaving the rural venue.  And besides, what you miss will probably be on TV?  A 2:00 CST show might suit everyone a bit better.

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Yo, Tasjan.  Atlanta and its northern suburbs want you.

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