Saturday September 22nd, 2001 at Davey’s Uptown in Kansas City, MO
Richard Buckner & Anders Parker

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For a week before the show I had put myself on a steady diet of Richard Buckner, choosing to concentrate on his most recent album, The Hill. The album is a musical journey through Edgar Lee Maters’ Spoon River and tells the stark and often grim stories of eighteen of its deceased inhabitants. To add flavour to my new diet I decided to reread Spoon River Anthology — you can never be too obsessive. By show time on a stormy Saturday night I was breathing The Hill.

I arrived at the club at 9pm and walked right in. No one wanted to take my money, and I really didn’t want to give anyone the $10 cover the club was asking for anyway. I just quietly sat in the corner reading while Richard Buckner and Anders Parker tuned guitars, tested peddles, adjusted amplifiers and drank. Richard Buckner (or Rick as Parker called him) planned to drink a lot and noted that their hotel was "within walking (or crawling) distance." More on that later.

It was 11pm before Anders Parker walked up to the stage and attracted a congregation of thirty or forty fans. Those familiar with Parker watched as he slowly transformed his last band, Varnaline, from noisy indie rock to an Appalachian folk-influenced contemplative one. It wasn’t surprising then when Parker decided to record his next album under his own name and completed the transition to a singer/songwriter of the folk tradition.

Parker’s set moved from a 12-string acoustic guitar, to a 6-string, to an electric Fender and then back to the 6-string before closing the set. Each brought a little different mood and represented a different point in his career. As he picked his acoustic guitar the strings rang out and Parker exposed his himself in a raw and direct way. Equally as raw were the jerky electric power chords that spoke to his previous life with Varnaline and seemed to resurrect the spirit of Bob Mould. Although the duality seemed a little unnatural, Buckner’s fans seemed to accept the apparent newcomer to their genre.

Richard Buckner took the stage shortly afterwards, having to switch only pedal boards and guitars before beginning his set to a packed room. Again there were three guitars present, again one electric and two acoustic, although Buckner had taken the extra step to set up separate pedal boards for each of his guitars. Where Parker used each guitar to create a different sound, Buckner’s guitars seemed to be variations on his single somber, melancholy mood.

I can’t go any further without saying Buckner’s performance was intense. With eyes closed and head tilted back, he released his voice into the room. His words were slurred or spit out in a fit that was equal parts pain, alcohol and Joe Cocker that stunned the audience. For the first half of his set, Buckner lost himself in the performance and the audience was assimilated as the tears streamed down his face. Unfortunately equipment problems brought everyone back to Davey’s Uptown and Buckner had to step out of the moment and struggled with his gear for the next three or four songs. Visible shaken, he asked if it would be possible to order a whiskey.

Eventually Buckner was able to avoid the damaged gear (a pedal board which supported his Dan Electro electric guitar) and reroute the songs and set toward his acoustics. It wasn’t until the very end of the set that Buckner fully regained his intensity and at that time he was only able to bring 75% of the audience back with him. During a particularly gripping acapella solo at the end of his set, the 25% whose attention had wondered elsewhere proved to be a very vocal minority. Those inane conversations were suddenly in the foreground and effectively destroyed the profound connection between the performer and the audience that creates a great performance. Sometimes it’s that fragile.

After Buckner’s set was over I waited in line to purchase a copy of The Hill. Although I had a copy of the CD already, downloaded from gnutella, I figured I’d trade the $10 for the ticket I didn’t buy in for an official copy and come closer to even with the karma cops. When I explained this to Buckner he was visible upset complaining that he couldn’t believe that someone had uploaded his album. Although I explained I never would have been at the show if I hadn’t found it online, nor would several of my friends who showed up to see him (and purchase his other albums directly), this didn’t seem to mean anything to him and was still disturbed that I had downloaded his CD initially. I paid a pricey $15 for my official copy and snuck outside into the rain, dumbstruck.