Back in 1995, Bearsville released a hits CD, compiled by TR, entitled The Obvious List/The Less Obvious List. This is what I was reminded of when I saw the set list. Since 1995, more than a few songs have been recorded that could land on either of those lists (but for the sad state of the music business). Call it what you will, the list looked great to me. I arrived with high expectations.
The Infinity Hall is located in Norfolk, CT, about an hour northwest of Hartford. It's a beautiful old building in a bucolic spot on route 44. The wooden Arts & Crafts style building was built in 1883 and according to one of the employees, completely renovated 2 years ago. With the stained beadboard throughout, stain glass windows here and there, and various small details in woodwork and large details like the enormous fan over the main floor, the venue is impressive. As TR would later say, the hall, "despite it's diminutive size, is a gem." And it is indeed small. Seating 300, it consists of a main floor of about 250 seats and a mezzanine of about 50. The mezzanine is three levels, each level one step above the next, which makes sight lines excellent for all. Food is served at this level and numbered seats are located around tables and counters. Unlike so many other venues with seats and tables, the Infinity mezzanine is actually comfortable seating, there's no cramming 6 seats in an area that would only comfortably fit four.
One word of advice - the venue has a no pictures policy. They explain the policy (and blame the artist) - photos will only be allowed during the first three songs, no flash. After the third song, they request you put away the camera. They are dead serious about this policy. A certain tour manager took a flash photo of herself and her friend at a seat in front of me with a cell phone camera. Security talked to them immediately. Once the fourth song began, a second member of security came up to the mezzanine and stood to my right, down one step and proceeded to use a red laser pointer to discourage those on the floor who continued to snap photos. It was certainly far more distracting to me than any number of glowing camera screens would have been. Thankfully, after the forth song, the laser pointer only made occasional appearances. To their credit, security seemed rather gentle in their admonishments toward those breaking the policy, tour managers and fans alike. Now, on with the show...
The stage is small, somewhat cramped for the players. From the audience perspective, from left to right, the set up is: Prairie, Jesse, Sultan then Ferenzik. While photos of the Bearsville Theatre from 3 nights earlier showed Prairie and Juan on risers, tonight they are at stage level. Bearsville photos also showed a video screen behind the band; no screen at Infinity. TR's mic is front and center. A mic stand - a somewhat static TR? be still my heart.
It's about 8:15, the band takes the stage and as they begin to play Real Man, TR walks on. As much as I like Greg Hawkes, it is great to see Ferenzik back at the keys. His vocals are a welcome addition as well. The band then segues into Love of The Common Man, reminiscent of the 2nd Wind tour. If the great summer day and the warm architecture of the Infinity Hall hasn't put you in a good mood, these two songs surely should have done it.
After those two obvious, TR's first rap begins as he explains he is suffering from a summer cold. It's surprising, as his voice is in good form. It is at this point that he praises the Infinity and then goes into a talk about promoting his Johnson CD, which is a song too early. The band informs him of this and he apologizes, blames it on the irregular regime of drugs and the band continues as planned with Buffalo Grass. Next up is the homage to Robert Johnson, one hundred years old plus dead. The song is Kindhearted Woman Blues, after which the Blues - pffft, gone.
Now comes the rarity - a song TR explains is one of their least performed songs. In the liner notes to the aforementioned Obvious/Less compilation, Todd writes "Oddly enough, this song has rarely been performed live, mostly because I find it so difficult to play the jangly guitar part and sing simultaneously." Perhaps not much has changed since '95 as the lyrics are a struggle tonight. He gets off track about midway through and from that point, the song is a mix and mangle of verses until three days in the rain finishes it properly. Still a highlight (albeit diminished).
Prairie takes a quick break as TR puts his butt down on the stool and they "bring the house down" with Lucky Guy. Another lyrical glitch as verse three comes before verse two tonight. It's less of a glaring glitch than Determination, likely only noticed by anal retentive fans. Prairie returns but the soft sounds continue with a beautiful rendition of Can We Still Be Friends. Things perk up considerably with Espresso. If it weren't for the wood, the stained glass, the comfortable chairs, the great acoustics and the cool air, I'd have thought I was drunk at Toad's Place waiting for a hamster smoothie.
At this point, Todd mentioned they have been having trouble counting in the next song. The band teases as they play the false start to Hello It's Me from S/A but instead go right into Love Is The Answer. Another hit, well received. Next up (a song for the scandinavian tourists perhaps) the bossa nova version of It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference. At this point, we are reminded Lost Horizon is not just the bread of a big Gaye sandwich. Lost Horizon exists tonight all by its lonesome and that's a good thing. I've been coughing for four weeks now; if TR has a cold, I sure as hell can't tell.
The HiM intro tease begins again, fooling many in the audience but this time, Todd give us Flaw. Never have the words "motherfucker" sounded so sweet. We have come to the Liars portion of the evening as this is followed by Soul Brother. For soul, TR gets back on his feet and he gets his groove on. A short malfunction forces a Ferenzik change of keys and they eventually, naturally, follow Soul Brother with I'm So Proud/Ooh Baby Baby/La La Means medley. At the end of this, Marvin gets his due with the bossa nova version of "I Want You."
I don't recall ever hearing the next song as anything but a closer. As far as I'm concerned, it's welcome in any part of any set. The crowd is silent throughout. The band is tight. Todd's voice is strong. The backing vocals are perfect. This is a gem and a great big one. The song is Hawking.
I Saw the Light fills the venue with joy. It's a light upbeat tune after the heavy beauty of Hawking. It's a crowd pleaser to be sure.
Like the fly batters itself against the window, they once again try to get the countdown right. This time, the tease is so perfect it's as if I'm spinning S/A on the turntable. But, the rug gets pulled again as they play Courage. When I saw Courage on the set list, I reacted with a "meh." I was wrong. A song TR once described as uncharacteristic of the songs off of Arena, it is indeed light and gentle on the palate and it fits in perfectly with the entirety of the set list. The show is coming to a close and Drive rocks out. There was another minor switching of verses in this song, but who cares. Couldn't I Just Tell You includes a subdued TR/Kasim kick schtick and ends the set.
Concerned with our need to start the work week in the morning, Todd returns to the stage after only a minute or two and introduces the orchestra. Finally, the teasing is over and with the first song of the encore, he gives the people what they want - with a twist in the middle and was that some swing at the end? Hello It's Me - it may be my favorite version EVAH. And the night at this little gem of a venue ends with the gem that is A Dream Goes On Forever.
Great show. Highly recommended.