Friday August 30th, 2002 at Daveys Uptown in Kansas City,
It's strange how the most ordinary of things have become extraordinary. Richard Bucker plays simple songs on his simple guitars and fills them with emotion and power and all the sorrow and pain and longings of two lifetimes. One hundred years ago we might sit around a fire or on the porch and the elegant honesty of Buckner's music might be heard in the songs of our mothers and fathers or an extended family that would surely have gathered on a Friday night like this one. Buckner evokes organic images, but ones of such directness that they have completely foreign to us, and as a result, his music seems either anachronistic or magical.
For this tour Buckner is traveling light two guitars (a Spanish-style, nylon-stringed acoustic and a Dan Electro Electric), a handful of pedals, and an amplifier. In this way he furthers our imaginative persona of Bucker as some sort of western troubadour. Recent tours have seen a drummer, or at least a stack of guitars a mile deep, and although the reasoning behind both is sound, it's the intimacy of Buckner's performance that has won fans, not volume. Although Buckner seems almost oblivious to his gift, there is more power in the delicate warble of his voice than any amplify can ever grant. Or maybe Buckner does understand this and the surges of distorted, deconstructionist guitar work are merely Buckner's way of backing off from his own exposed nerves.
The show this evening was very typical of others Buckner has played at Davey's Uptown: a crowd of under one hundred, hip, 30ish midtowners gathered around a darkened stage while Richard Buckner, somewhat self-consciously, opened his soul up for inspection. At one point Buckner indicated that a particular song was too hard to play live, and that all songs were hard enough to play with the audience staring at him. A helpful fan lied for us all when she replied we would all turn around to ease his fright. Although the extraordinary sentiment in Buckner's music may leave him exposed, he is always in good hands. The first several rows of the audience could all be seen silently mouthing Buckner's thoughts and, with only the utmost of courtesy, occasionally asking for a particular song to be sung. Out of spellbound respect the audience was nearly silent while Buckner performed and, until he neared the end of his set, the audience remained wordless in the short breaks between songs. Buckner himself seldom spoke more than "thank you" (which was often just a gesture and not spoken at all).
Also harkening back to other appearances at Davey's, there were moments where his hold on the audience was abruptly cut and his status as untouchable storyteller was softened. Near the end of the set Buckner's mind began to wonder. Not by autopilot, but rather by muse, Buckner's songs melded together, three songs became one with music and vocals shifting to accommodate this impromptu and entirely unintended recombination. If this musical exploration happened organically, it was stopped quite clinically. Buckner must have snapped back into the present and a queer look overtook his normally pensive and remote face. He stopped strumming and then apologized incredulously for his "mistake." The audience protested his dismissal but Buckner went on to explain he has had only two rules: first never play a pizza parlor, and second, never play a medley. Although Buckner admitted he has lately been playing pizza joints (which is just mind blowing how could you eat while held under Buckner's spell?) he wasn't sure he was ready for medleys.
After this humanizing derailment (although to be honest, if you speak with Buckner he is very much an Aw Shucks', down-to-earth man), the audience seemed much more at ease with Buckner, and Buckner with the audience. In what he indicated would be atonement for the earlier error, Buckner changed tunings to play 22, a request he had earlier dismissed. With this long, particularly distorted and dissonant version, Buckner would end his set. While his guitar still rung its final howl, Buckner thanked the crowd and attempted to leave the stage.
Again, as if in a moment of sudden consciousness, Buckner returned to center stage, picked up his acoustic guitar, and said "Michelle [the booking agent for Davey's Uptown] said there were complaints that I didn't play long enough last time." He continued that although he was flattered, he didn't want anyone to go home feeling slighted. He then began a four or five song encore (or sorts) that would predictably end with Buckner standing several feet behind the microphone, head tilted skyward, eyes squinted closed, and lungs exorcising an a cappella demon. On this night it was the wrenching Fater.
With that Buckner set down his guitar, picked up his glass, and bolted from the stage, the room, and ostensibly the club. Despite a room full of admirers, or maybe because of it, Buckner must to have left to decompress. So at a little past nine Dana and I left the club wondering what to do with the remains of a slightly used, but already complete, Friday night.