Review by Ron Beffa


As I've said before, I love the Palms.  It really is an old converted barn that used to sit out in the fields but is now being surrounded by houses and Kaiser complexes.  A rusting tractor sits alongside the entrance.  I've been going there for almost 20 years now... a lot of memories lie within those walls...  Kate Wolf singing John's "Some Kind of Love," Bill Staines singing "Spanish is the Loving Tongue," John Gorka with a most appropriate "Houses in the Fields", a song about building houses in the fields, just like around the Palms, Tom Rush with "No Regrets," Dar Williams, many more, and of course John.  Memories of John and Nick Reynolds, when Nick was coming out of retirement and more than a bit rusty, but made up for it in enthusiasm.  John alone many times, and more recently, many times with Buffy.  If a club can feel like home, the Palms is it for me.  A lucky horseshoe hangs over center stage.  I hope it stays there forever catching and holding the good things that have passed through that place.

The Palms is small.  The Roadman guessed about 150.  After all these years I never tried to count.  Whatever the number, it is small and intimate and absolutely the best place for someone to see a performer, because wherever you are in there, on a barstool against the wall, or in the front practically on the stage, or in "the back" in the raised seats, it's like you're in a big family room.

I got to the Palms a little later than I wanted to be, maybe 45 minutes before showtime.  There was a line traveling back from the door.  Right up near the front I could see the Roadman and as I got closer I recognized, from those Motley photos from Stewartfest, John the Triofan.  I had barely said my hellos when behind me the line begins to applaud...  John was driving up.  What he said when he arrived cracked everyone up.  He was late because he had driven by the place and missed it.  "Dave" always drives there.  But there was no "Dave" tonight. Truth be told, the area has been so built up with roads going every which way that it is easy to get lost trying to find the place.  I say that from personal experience.

John did a quick setup and warm-up ... he brought both 6 and 12 string.  As sometimes happens ... maybe it was the muggy heat, the 12 string gave some later tuning troubles, but sounded excellent. The 12 string also provided some entertainment as John fiddled with the tuning and Buffy and the audience voted on the tuning. At one point Buffy suggested he just use the 6 string and John declined because it sounded so much better on the 12. On one song though, John did give up on tuning it and reached for the less fussy guitar.

I did not keep a setlist.  John began with "Turn of the Century" and followed with "Dreams of the Starman," and then Buffy came out.  I'll try and cover some of the highlights of the night. It was a nice mix of songs. Of course there there were the classics like "Irresistible Targets", and the almost ones like "Strange Rivers" and "Ticket to the Stars". There was a good selection of recent material and a sprinkling of seldom heard nuggets.  What was remarkable about this show was that it was fun and relaxed. As Roadman commented, the love between John and Buffy as they sing their songs throughout the night is a wonderful thing to see and impossible probably to capture. You just have to be there. John just beams at his miracle girl sometimes.

Anyway, a few highlights for me.... "Coal Tattoo". This old Trio gem was paired with Santy Anno. I think they are doing it for the Darwin's Army CD. I hope so. I've heard John do this song several times in the last two years or so, but last nights was the best. Smokin! Another favorite moment. A song I've wanted to hear for a long time... John asked for requests. I asked for "Josie". One of my all time favorite songs done remarkably well on a moments notice. Another treat... a new song of sorts. This one is for the Darwin's Army CD, the Joe South classic "Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home".  We've been waiting a long time for this CD. I think it is going to be worth the wait. Dave Crossland has joined John, Buffy, and John Hoke in Darwin's Army so the group is now a foursome. John mentioned they had redone several tracks with Dave Crossland.

One of the songs from "Havana" that I have been particularily drawn to is "Who Stole the Soul of Johnny Dreams". I was a little worried when there was talk on the line a while back that John was reworking the song. One of my very favorite lines in the song, and NOT just because I really have seen and heard him (at the Palms no less), is the "singing dog named Pee Wee, star of the neighborhood, sings songs from Oklahoma..." John HAS reworked the song a little bit, but I'm glad those lines are still in there. Something about them helps capture the soul of Johnny Dreams in that song.

Thanks to audience requests a number of oldies but goodies were heard for the first time in a looong time... "Friend of Jesus" and "Willard". 

Best song of the night? That's an easy one. Close to the end, John did "Star In the Black Sky Shining". The applause after that thundered for perhaps a full minute. John said, and here's one for you Tuesday Trivia buffs, if he could only sing one song of his, his favorite song so to speak, that is the one. Buffy then said, that her one favorite song by John, if there was just one, was "Wilderness", which she sang beautifully. Does Buffy ever NOT sing beautifully?

Other stuff?  hmmm. John is a grandpa again with a new grandson. John then recounted a funny story that certainly every parent could identify with. His son Luke is 18 now and moved out on his own. A few years ago Luke played bass with John and Buffy on occasion, but then found his own music style. When John asked Luke what he thought of his dad's music, the answer was something like... "It's OK ... for what it is." Luke meanwhile began playing what John called straightedge punk. Doesn't sound like music to John... there are few discernible lyrics... mostly sounds like a growl. So now Luke is out on his own, and is driving with John's daughter Amy. Amy is in shock at the tapes Luke is listening to. So what is Luke listening to, unknown to dad? The Village People... you know, the "Macho Man" and "YMCA". That late 70's disco stuff like "Hot Stuff". John can't figure it. There was no middle ground between the straightedge punk and The Village People. Luke doesn't know that John knows. I think they will have an interesting talk one day.

Fun stuff. John said "no Bill Clinton jokes" at the beginning of the show. He could not help himself. He was in much too good of a mood and was cracking the audience up all night with all sorts of Stewarty jokes about everything.  An example: Buffy did "Accross the Milky Way" which is featured on the "Live at the Turf" CD. It was recorded in Scotland. Trying to recall when, two years ago John asks? Four years ago Buffy replies. "Four years ago... Monica Lewinsky was "16" four years ago." The audience cracked up.

When John and Buffy were out for the encore, Buffy had a request for John. An unusual one. She prompted John... "The dog." John then recounted an amusing "tail" about this beautiful dog they had found. Where did they find it? Outside the diner at "Wild Horse Road." Been there for a couple of days. Someone must have dumped him was the consensus from the diner folk. John and Buffy had then begun a quest to find it a home, for it was not welcomed by the two dogs they already had, especially the "hyper" as Buffy put it, Jack Russell terrier Pee-Wee. You know him, the star of the neighborhood, sings songs from Oklahoma...  Tutti-frutti is awfully good. Well, after near-death experiences at the animal shelter and hiding in his daughter's place, John and Buffy wanted to find it a home. They were flying down to LA the next day to pick him up. So a plea was made to the audience, and to John and Buffy's delight a home was found. It put one of those nice warm and fuzzy feeling endings on the night.

The whole show had a very good, loose and fun feel to it. I wish all the Bloodliners could have been there.  I did get to play "Dave" at the CD table and enjoyed meeting many people and hearing all these stories that "Dave" must hear all the time. It was fun. I suspect we'll have a few new liners joining us. John referred to the Bloodliners very affectionately during the show and invited people to join. Heck, we can't keep all the fun to ourselves.