july 2001 - the diary

Thursday 19th

Heading for Philadelphia I choose the slower but more scenic route down along the west coast of the Delaware river. I don't really know of anything that I need to see in Philadelphia so I'm in no hurry - I end up arriving at my motel near the airport at around 4 PM. Another Motel 6, but just to make sure that you don't suspect this whole diary is sponsored by a motel chain, I should warn you that this was probably one of the worst Motel 6's I've ever stayed at. Turn on A/C and nasty smell starts spreading - turn off A/C and melt away! Anyway I probably shouldn't complain at all, thinking of Steven who after the Philadelphia show set out to find a campground in the middle of the night!

Before arriving at the motel I spend a few hours driving and walking through some of the central Philadelphia areas - not too exciting really - "been there done that" I guess.


Finding the club of the evening - the North Star Bar - turns out to be not so straight forward. Everything seems fine until I realize that N. 28th simply doesn't go as far south as N. 27th and suddenly I'm on this road going north along the river and doing nothing but that for a long while. When I finally get a chance to make a right turn I've gone several miles too far north and I'm heading straight into an area where for a couple of reasons you really don't feel like stopping and asking for directions (I guess one of the reasons is having read "Bonfire of the vanities" ). After driving around on intuition for maybe 15 minutes I finally run into one of the numbered streets and from there it's pretty easy to get back on track, so just after 9 PM I arrive at the club.


My fears of arriving too late to get a decent spot in the audience, like last night, turns out to be unfounded. This place is a little bigger than Maxwell's, but only a handful of people has arrived already. Amongst them was of course Steven, who I'll have to select as the ultimate Blake Babies touring fan for this last leg of the tour. Being on a crazy driving and "camping" schedule never prevented him from being one of the first to turn up at every venue, always securing himself a place in the first row at the stage center. He obviously should had brought some extra shirts since quite a few fans came forward and asked where they could get one.


For this and the last 3 shows the opener is Wheat. Since both Juliana and John has spoken warmly about them I have gotten hold of their "Hope and Adams" CD, and it is indeed very good, so I'm looking forward to see what they might come up with live. Especially since the loose arrangements should lend themselves to some improvisation. They certainly don't disappoint here in Philly. One thing that is not that apparent on the CD is that both the bass player and drummer are really outstanding, and of course that's a nice foundation for a great performance live. Not quite as much improvisation as I had hoped for though. John spends most of their set watching from the front row in a very enthusiastic mode.


So once again the Blake Babies enter the stage and kicks off with another Cesspool. This time things are starting to sound better, Juliana still has problems with some of the high notes, but she definitely has more stage presence tonight. Still she's not in the best of moods, complaining about someone doing a lot of flash photography at close distance. I can well understand how annoying that might be but then again I've seen her being subject to worse things than this without making any comments.


The third song is "Baby gets high" and Juliana suddenly realizes that "Hey guys, I left my - something downstairs, I'll have to go get it - I'll be right back". The "something" turns out to be her capo - for the none guitarist let me just explain this as a device used to clamp down all the strings at a fret, thereby transposing everything up accordingly. While Juliana pops downstairs John takes the opportunity to play his own little cover version of "Hospital" by "The Modern Lovers". After the first verse Juliana is back and they make a very smooth and professional transition into "Baby gets high". These guys are not babies when it comes to knowing how to deal with unexpected situations on the stage, that's for sure.


On the subject of that song - since the possibility is there, I just can't help it, I have to compare the Blake Babies version with what I heard last year where it was also a constant part of the Juliana Hatfield set list. I'm almost sorry to say so but last years version is a clear winner from my point of view. Jon Skibic is very good at doing background vocals, and he did a great job on "Baby gets high", but I also must admit that I do have a problem with Freda's drumming on this song - it just doesn't work for me at all. A few things does come out in favor of the Blake Babies version, like the fact that Juliana comes up with some new vocal variations in the second verse. This is not the case in the recorded version, but that one I enjoy a lot simply because it's such a good recording of Juliana's breathy vocals at their best.


Summing up the North Star show it certainly came out OK - if the final 2 turns out as good, I'll be more than happy about the whole trip. Just for fun I try to pick my favorite songs of the evening in 3 categories: Old, new and covers. The old one is probably the hardest to call - I'll go for "From here to Burma", something very fresh and at the same time subtle about it. And I do rate "Civil war" as one the best songs on the new record, so even though the live version lacks a bit of dynamics it's still a pretty clear winner. The quirky tempo of this song fits Freda's style of drumming perfectly. Finally I might even consider "Walk a thin line" the best song of the show! Giving that prize to a cover is something that is bound to make you think! Also reminds me that I simply must get hold of the Japanese version of "God bless..", which have the covers as bonus tracks.


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