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February 22nd, 2006 MARK BAUMGARTEN | Riff City
 

Out And A Doubt

Searching for songwriter solace on a cold winter's night.

     
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IMAGE: LUKAS KETNER
It's 20 degrees out, and the one-block walk between Food Hole and Valentine's seems like a crosstown trek. Your hands are numb because you didn't buy gloves this year. Your hoodie's up and the wind is lashing your face, but you're warm because you had the forethought to wear your winter jacket tonight, despite the fact that four days ago you were wearing a T-shirt and walking by the river.

"I didn't move here for this," you say to no one and look up into the inky sky. You make your way to Valentine's and squeeze past a couple leaving. "It's only gonna get colder," she says, and wraps her mittened hand around the crook of his arm. You slide into the club and push past the scarves, stocking caps and beards to the back. You try to listen to Jessica Jones sing her quiet songs, but some asshole is chuckling behind you. You manage to hear her sing something like, "Maybe death gives other people life," and then the set is over.

While you wait 10 minutes for the counter jock to take your beer order, you think about the 15 minutes you spent outside Food Hole earlier in the night with your cell phone pressed against your ear.

"How do you know?" your girlfriend asked from 1,500 miles away, after you told her everything would be all right. You remember calling her a pessimist and her ending the call.

You remember going into the club and listening to the Morals sing one of your favorite songs, a singalong. You remember sending your girl a CD with the song on it months ago and how she thought it was sweet, how the chorus made her smile.

You sang along. "Everybody's going to want to hold your hand and make love to you, but don't let it go to your head, shake it off and instead, find the truest heart you can find, it might not be mine." The words exploded from your mouth, but your smile was pasted on.

Back at Valentine's, you sneak upstairs, away from the crowd, and begin jotting notes in a pad. Brine Mumford takes the stage as Dragging an Ox Through Water. He sings a 15-second song called "Werewolf Antibiotics." Everyone laughs, and you bristle because the song is silly and means absolutely nothing. All night you've been waiting for a song that means something so you can stop thinking about that phone call.

Before he leaves the stage, Mumford plays "Aces," a song from the 7-inch record he just released. He emailed it to you earlier in the day, and you've listened to it at least 10 times. This is the song you came to Valentine's to hear. Mumford's amp crackles as he repeats the same three notes on the acoustic guitar. He sings, "We are set apart the moment we use more than what we are." His voice is even warmer than on the recording. In a noisy and flawed set, the song is a moment of grace, the type of empathetic sad-bastard music that makes the winter blahs feel universal. You can hear that, but you can't feel it.

The set ends and you push back through the crowd, thinking about how you're going to get home. You think about how damned cold it is outside. You tell yourself it's going to get warmer soon. But how do you know?


Dragging an Ox Through Water and Jessica Jones play Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Food Hole. 9 pm. Cover. All ages. Listen to "Aces" at www.myspace.com/dragginganox. Listen to "The Singalong Song" by the Morals at www.myspace.com/themorals.
 
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