Buckman Bash: Malkmus and Mercer at Jupiter Hotel, April 11, 2008
In a white tent outside of the Jupiter Hotel, a bustle brewed on Friday in support of Buckman Elementary School. The school's annual art show and sale has been going on for years, but never has it been done on this large of scale, or outside of the actual public school building.
Following a silent auction (that wasn't so silent) came a film montage—a short clip of students and their artwork that was made by a parent. When it was over, Stephen Malkmus graced the stage for a set of covers, covers and more covers. How did he make his entrance? With a MacBook, guitar and some gracious words:
"Shut the fuck up!"
Instantly he had our attention—at least the un-inebriated of us whose spirits weren't yet won over by the $5 fee for well drinks. At least I think the drinks are what made people continue to talk incessantly throughout the night with no regard to the musicians on stage.
"I'm just kidding. I'm not ready. Continue talking."
And so attendees did, only to be met with another "Shut the fuck up," followed by another pledge that he was kidding. I imagine the joke polarized a few and there was definitely some uncomfortable laughter that could be heard.
So of course Malkmus' guitar playing produced some lingering chords. I'm still on the fence over whether it was gratuitous or not, but the set flowed. He kept his eyes closed for a majority of the time, opening them only for a well-kept gaze at things other than the audience. Not only was he lovably lazy, but pretty loose; imparting words of wisdom on the crowd (surfing classes should be part of the budget, Malkmus says, just behind teachers salaries). He took a jab at the Catlin Gable school and worked the land-locked state of Colorado into his rambles before exiting the stage.
I was rather surprised by how suburban Tara from KNRK appeared when she hustled onto the stage to auction off a few more items before Shins frontman James Mercer closed out the night as the headlining entertainer. The voice I listened to for years (back when I still listened to the radio) totally conjured a different image. But her auctioneering was an event within itself. The final item she conducted bidding for was the $800 guitar signed by both Malkmus and Mercer. The bidding began at $200. Her selling point?
"This guitar has been touched by Stephen Malkmus and James Mercer, a Shin and a Jick. And me"
Bid met. Now she went after $225.
"This guitar has been touched by Stephen Malkmus, James Mercer and me. And this hand," referring to her own, "has touched Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, so it's like he has touched this guitar."
Of course the bid was met—given it was still $600 below the guitar's value.
"This hand," once again referring to her own, "has touched Bill Belmey from Muse, so it's like he has touched this guitar," she said touching the guitar.
Unfortunately, the bids only increased in $25 increments. Yeah—that's a long ascent.
"This hand," she said, her hand on continual display throughout the process (nearly more prominent than the guitar itself) "has touched more rock stars hands than anyone in the room will ever touch."
Ummm, that's a pretty bold statement and one I'm sure I, my editors or even say Malkmus or Mercer could argue...but wouldn't because making such a statement is just a bit tacky. A bit more than just a bit.
Tara did indulge in a moment mockingly desperate, entirely facetious questioning of whether anyone actually listened to the radio. That bit of industry awareness and acknowledgment was endearing. So I won't turn my back on her because of "the hand."
James Mercer seemed to embody the antithesis of Stephen Malkmus, both in appearance and performance. Dressed in a plaid button-up, crisp jeans and cowboy-esque boots that made me want to sit him on a haystack, Mercer took his set seriously without being serious. While Malkmus relied on a set list scrawled on the back of a benefit schedule, Mercer paged through a small black book that he kept in his denim pocket. He joked about his little black book and mentioned that he was lost without band-mate Marty Crandall there to write out the set list for him. And where Malkmus performed cover after cover of a range of artists, Mercer performed acoustic Shins song after Shins song, though two Neil Young covers wove their way into his set.
Though there was still a five-foot gap in between the stage and the audience, the mob of supporters definitely inched a lot closer for Mercer's performance and there was even faint singing along to a few of the songs. He broke out a harmonica and moved around the mic without ever getting too close, putting on an intimate show fit for the hefty fifty dollar asking price (remember, it's a benefit). Mercer's set was flaw-free, save for a few Shins lyrics somehow escaping his mind.
When he made his way up onto the stage after a brief break, Mercer admitted he didn't know what else to play (even though "New Slang" sat unplayed, yet crossed out in his pocketbook) and I yelled for the Shins' Postal Service cover of "Such Great Heights." He didn't go either route, choosing instead to return to his previous cover territory for the second of his Neil Young covers, "Tell Me Why." He said he played it for his child before he played it for us. And when the final string of the tune was strummed, the bash was done.
(the guitar arriving onstage)
Photos by Nilina Mason-Campbell
Bonus YouTube footage of Mercer playing "Girl Inform Me" (and a chatty crowd—video courtesy of YouTube's "divineguitar"):