july 2001 - the diary
Heading north to "where it all started". And who knows, maybe tonight I'll witness the final chapter of the story of the Blake Babies? If they manage to come up with something remotely like what took place last night it will be a very worthy ending indeed. I find the last M6 of the tour in Danvers just north of Boston. Weather is still hot and sunny and I've decided that the only "cool" way to end the journey tomorrow will be going on a whale watch. I grab some brochures and make a reservation at the Cape Ann whale watch out of Gloucester.
|Arriving In Cambridge I'm able to get rid of the car at a meter just 100 feet from the Middle East so that turns out to be pretty easy. It's only 5 PM and there's plenty of time for a walk up Mass. Avenue to Harvard Square. It's my first time in this area so this is a nice opportunity to sniff in the atmosphere. One thing becomes clear, it's not too hard to find a record store around here. Most shockingly it seems that HMV is the one that carries most Juliana and Blake Babies stuff on the shelves. The most exotic experience however is the "Out there" shop, with amongst other things a curiously huge collection of "Krautrock".
Of course I also have to grab the chance of shopping in "The Harvard Bookstore". I leave with an item that has no connection whatsoever to the famous university: "Adrian Mole - the cappuccino years" by Sue Townsend, which I'm sure will provide great entertainment for the flight home. Most recommended if you want to take a peek at good English humor.
|The Middle East doesn't open the doors before 9 PM, so for the first time I end up standing in line outside. Inside is of course Steven having captured his usual stage center front row spot many hours ago - hope you're convinced now that he's worthy of the "Ultimate BB Fan" prize.
Wheat does seem a bit influenced by the occasion, but they deliver yet another good show. John has decided to watch everything from the side of the stage, and soon enough he gets his hands full as a guitar roadie, when a string breaks early on. I can't help thinking of all the stories in the music business about how openers are deliberately treated to lousy conditions, to make sure they don't steal the show, but this is certainly not the case here, John shows them a lot of respect and helps them in any way he can, even offering his own guitar as a replacement while restringing.
|As the Blake Babies get ready to play you hear the usual shouting from the audience: "Julianaaaaaaaaa". This is promptly followed by another guy shouting "Fredaaaa". It had been exactly the same the night before, where John had taken up the thread, yelling "Daniel!!!!". It does make you wonder how John has been feeling about this tour. He seems to be by far the most enthusiastic of the four, followed by Freda. Counting out Daniel this makes for the pretty ironic situation that the band member who shows least desire to be there is the one that has by far the most attention from the audience.
This can never be a healthy situation in the long run. And it's not that I am very different from most of the people surrounding me. Without Juliana in the band I would never have been here in the Middle East on this occasion. I say this not without hesitation, since I do have a lot of respect for John and Freda and the energy they have put into this, but to me Juliana is an outstanding talent and (thankfully!) only she can make me do dramatic things like crossing the Atlantic for a couple of shows.
|I guess my general selection of pictures is also quite revealing on the issue of who I came to see. Standing quite close to Juliana and with some good stage lighting I manage to take some of my best pictures of Juliana ever. Apart from her obvious good looks, she also has an ability to come up with a new gesture or pose on every shot. A full roll of film ends up lasting only 2 thirds of the show.
There is definitely a special vibe present this evening. Quite early in the show John mentions that this could very well be their last show ever, and it is clear that the audience wants all that they can get. John also talks about how happy they are to be able to do a "new last show", since for 9 years the last one was a performance in Belgium that they really weren't very proud of. They "really didn't get it at all" as he puts it.
The same can be said of the member of the audience who keeps requesting "My Sister". Both John and Juliana are clearly annoyed by this - Juliana puts it this way "You're in the wrong club at the wrong time!". Couldn't agree more!
When I saw Juliana play in Boston last year it was evident that being in front of a home audience had an effect on her, she seemed more nervous on stage and cut away most of the in between songs comments. This impression has also been confirmed by her statements in a couple of interviews. This evening she seems much less affected by this - maybe it's just that she feels more at ease with being just part of a band, instead of the front figure.
Overall I think that tonight the band comes closest to being just that - a band. They're all up there to give us the best experience possible, and they do this very well indeed, going through what has become more or less the standard set list. An interesting fact about the repertoire is that all of the old songs can be found on "Innocence & Experience" - someone obviously knew how to pick their favorite songs for that compilation.
Before the first encore Steven gets his well deserved minutes of fame when John praises his T-shirt initiative and mentions how embarrassing it is that they didn't manage to make an official shirt.
|They carry on with what has also become the standard encore routine. John starts out playing "Girl in a box" and gradually the rest of the band reenters the stage and joins in. This is followed by "Let me roll it" and "Downtime". John has a guitar solo in "Downtime" and during this I can't help noticing a minor incident that does detract a bit from the great mood of the evening. Juliana probably tries her best to hold it back, but out comes a very noticeable yawn. One probably shouldn't put too much into that, I mean maybe she's really very tired, but it's a very weird thing to watch in this situation, and back comes the doubts about her overall enthusiasm for this project.
There's still plenty of enthusiasm to be found in the audience, and of course, one encore is not enough on a special occasion like this. After a short break the band reenters the stage to play "Barstool blues", which Juliana announces as "ending it on neutral ground" and this being ""the Switzerland of songs"! John responds ironically with something like "lots of pressure out there". Just before that Juliana had managed to come up with the most bizarre remark of the show. Holding forward a glass of (hopefully) water she challenged the audience "Who wants to drink my urine - it's still warm?". Freda took the offer and John yelled out for ice!
|Being called out for a third and last time, they end up playing another rendition of "Brain damage" with John sitting in for Evan. Technically it sounds better than last night, but of course only Evan and Juliana can do "Evan and Juliana"! This by the way makes Juliana a liar since she had sworn last night that we had heard the last version of "Brain damage" ever.
|Summing up the Middle East show, this really did turn out to be THE historic occasion that I had thought might arrive. They delivered a near perfect show, and both the band and the audience seemed very happy about the way it had all ended. 90 minutes with a very healthy mix of nostalgia and great musicianship. A dedicated band playing for a dedicated audience. Could you wish for any more than this?