I found out through Facebook that Duncan Sheik jumped on as an opener for Suzanne Vega and they were performing in Glasgow while we were in Scotland. So I booked my tickets and headed from Edinburgh to Glasgow on the train (which was super easy and relatively cheap for not planning ahead). We spent the day sight-seeing in Glasgow and then that evening we walked to the Merchant City area, had a great dinner and then we were off to see the show.
If you ever get a chance to see a show at City Hall in Glasgow, then you should jump on the chance. It’s a wonderful venue – great seats, wonderful acoustics and a very cool vibe. Alone, Duncan Sheik came out with his guitar and introduced himself. He then started to talk about “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” – his first song he played – and downplaying the fact that he wrote a little show that was on Broadway and the West End called Spring Awakening. I think there were a total of 3 people in the audience that had heard of the show – me, the missus and someone on house right who yelped a little. It’s so awesome to see a composer actually perform his work. There’s a fiercer commitment to the music that usually isn’t seen when someone else sings it. There’s a sense of ownership that was present in the song that was completely engaging.
Sheik goes on to explain, “So before I was a musical theatre composer, I wrote pop songs for evil corporations. My first example of my indentured servitude is called, “Barely Breathing.”‘ And there it was – my 90’s dream come true. I finally got a chance to hear Sheik perform “Barely Breathing.” I think that Sheik’s first album was one of my first CD’s that I bought as a teenager. I wore that song out on so many mix-tapes it was ridiculous. Finally, almost 15 years later, I got to hear it live.
I really think that it was the first time that many of these Glaswegians had heard of Duncan Sheik. It was an older crowd (they were coming to see Suzanne Vega after all) and I think they just missed his 90’s debut and subsequent writing for theatre. But, Sheik let the audience into what he was working on and talked to us about his songs and the reasoning why he wrote some of them. I found his story about why he wrote “The Tale of Solomon Snell” for his new musical, Whisper House super intriguing.
“I went down to Charleston, South Carolina to do some research for the show because Charleston has a lot of ‘ghost lore’ associated with the town. So, I went on one of these tours of haunted Charleston that take to you various places and tell you these ghost stories — and it’s very cheesy, kinda stupid — but the last place that they took me to was a cemetery where the buried a lot of people during an outbreak of Yellow Fever in Charleston. I guess when the outbreak happened, they would try to get the people in the ground really quick so the disease wouldn’t spread. And, I guess, sometimes they would bury people rather too quickly and when they had to exhume the grave, for whatever reason, they would see fingernail scratches on the top of the coffin. It was terrible. So they instituted a practice of tying a string to the finger of the supposedly deceased that would go through the coffin up through the six feet of ground and it would be attached to a bell. The idea being that if the person would miraculously revive, they would freak out and ring the bell — someone would then hear them and all would be well, I suppose.” He continues, “I’m not sure if it ever actually worked but it did give me the material for this next song. It’s a cautionary tale — the moral of which is: no matter what you do, you’re never really safe.” And then Sheik performed “The Tale of Solomon Snell” from Whisper House.
And it was brilliant. But, I’m totally impartial as I’m in love with the musical, Whisper House.
The first song was about suicide, the second – asphyxiation of various kinds and the third was about death. “But it’s cool, we’re in Glasgow,” Sheik added. He lightened the mood with “For You” from his fourth CD, Daylight. I wasn’t familiar with this song, but I’ve already downloaded it. (Check out the Jamie Myerson remix – very cool!)
Sheik then announced his new album that will be coming out this fall which will be an album of cover songs from the 80’s — think Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, and even Depeche Mode. When he said, Depeche Mode, I almost lost it. Duncan Sheik + Depeche Mode = Perfection. Depeche Mode is my all-time favorite band. He sang, “Stripped” which was the first single from Depeche Mode’s 1986 album Black Celebration. I can’t wait to see what he does with it in the studio, because it was fantastic live. I talked to Sheik after and he hopes to have the CD done for his upcoming tour with Howard Jones: The 2010 UK Acoustic Tour. Hopefully that means there will be a digital release in the US at the beginning of September/October. I’m really looking forward to this one.
Next, he played “Such Reveries”, again from his fourth album, Daylight. Sheik sings, “All of these things, all of these things are just reveries… I don’t even know you, it never happened, just dreams in slow motion, they never happened.” A heart-breaking tale that shows us how we can get lost in our dreams — stuck in sleep. He finished the evening off with a Radiohead cover, “Fake Plastic Trees”.
I think one of the most impressive things about the evening was the fact that Sheik is such an accomplished guitar player. He’s excellent and it’s very noticeable. I’m gushing over only six songs, but it really was a great evening. It was so nice to see Sheik in his element and able to talk to the audience (at the SF Symphony he wasn’t really “aloud” to talk to the audience, though I could tell he wanted to). Also, it was great to be in an audience, knowing that you were one of the few people that knew and understood the “awesomeness” that was happening on stage.
Afterwards, Sheik came out to greet the audience in between his and Susanne Vega’s set. Only a few people went up to him and talked to him, so the missus and I got a chance to have a lengthy conversation with him. We found out that Kate Whoriskey, the Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre in Seattle (also directed The Miracle Worker on Broadway this last season) will be directing Whisper House this spring as a part of their 2011 Season. I’ll definitely be taking a road trip to Seattle this Spring, as it’s the missus’ favorite musical. Also, right after his tour with Howard Jones, Sheik is jumping into writing the 80’s inspired American Pyscho musical — looking forward to that.
It was so wonderful to meet Duncan Sheik and in a way that we could actually talk and not just get an autograph from him. It really was one of the highlights of my trip!
Listen to “For You”