This Band Is God
American Music Club, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, 2nd February 2004
I spoke too soon the last time I was around these parts, incoherently choking on a clutch of impossibly brilliant songs at the beginning of American Music Club’s ‘Love Songs For Patriots’ album. Songs which themselves choked on their own existential concerns. The political and the personal: examine either for too long and you’ll uncover concealed motives and interests, a failure to deserve love or trust. This unwavering conviction, and an inability to come to terms with it, has long provided the tension which feeds Mark Eitzel’s songs. Unlike Daniel Johnston, whose great lost love Laurie becomes less and less real with each new record (never what you’d call a well rounded character, these days the ‘snow white turtle dove’ has entirely taken over), Eitzel’s heroines have always been painfully human: flawed and decidedly un-heroic. ‘I love you and you don’t deserve it’ is his refrain. ‘And what does that make me?’

Glasgow, 1997, or 1998. When was ‘Caught In A Trap And I Can’t Back Out Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby’? That tour. Mark slightly in the financial doldrums, with the result that half of the album is without a backing band. He’s on his own for the tour too, armed with a bag of rarities CDs to sell personally to adoring audiences for £7 each after shows. A slightly unfortunate result of this is that the only conversation I’m ever likely to have with him went along the lines of ‘Two please’ (proffers a tenner), ‘They’re seven, actually’. Cue huge embarrassment in front of favourite pop star and ill-advised role model. I know, I know. Like he’ll remember - but I do.

Of infinitely more consequence is the set he played that night. Making sudden sense of those old Melody Maker ‘this band is God’ live reviews, dismissed a little at the time because, well, isn’t that what MM journalists HAD to write? And besides, how much better than those records was it possible to get? Plenty, as it turned out. Eitzel on song, on his own, a small audience. One man and his guitar, all that crap. Singing about how his woman done him wrong. There’s nothing so easy as singing and strumming and nothing as flimsy and nothing as stunning. Everything he played hit home. Tears flooded. ‘Why Won’t You Stay’, in particular, effortlessly transcended its recorded counterpart, itself one of the simplest loveliest recordings you’re ever going to find.

‘What Holds The World Together’ looked like it was going to go the same way until someone in the front row took a flash photo, putting Mark off his stride. Stopping the song, he started to object, realised how precious that made him look, and concluded the song in an improvised comedy version, with the world now being held together by ‘The wind that blows through Mark Eitzel’s butt cheeks’. Which, in case that doesn’t come across outside the spur of an old moment, was hilarious. The whole show was magic, so warm, it didn’t seem real. It was also, as I recall, a tough time for me romantically, and this was the best help a sap like me could wish for. So thank you Mark for doing that amazing thing for 200 people six years ago.

I spoke too soon the last time I was around these parts, because I so desperately wanted to hear something like that solo concert again, and ungraciously berated AMC for not including Scotland on their tour schedule. A second round of gigs saw them putting right this terrible injustice, and I saw them last week. I also spoke too soon because I hadn’t had time to take in ‘Love Songs For Patriots’, which turned out to be less of a despairing cry than it appeared at first. It has redemption in its veins, mostly personal (most obviously ‘Only Love Can Set You Free’, but also ‘Home’ and the wonderful ‘Myopic Books’), but there’s also a guarded hint at redemption through singing, in ‘America Loves The Minstrel Show’:

They love me babe
There’s a line around the block
They love me babe
Compared to that what have you got?

It’s sarcastic of course, but it must come from somewhere. Seeing Daniel last year, he seemed to thrive on the devotion of his audience, so maybe these things come full circle. All that love doesn’t just go nowhere after all.

Mark Eitzel has flu. Literally right now, if I get this sent off fast enough. Is that news? If it is when the Pope gets it, I don’t see why not. The show suffers a bit from this, gets a bit raw at the edges, but it’s a spirited performance all the same. Vudi in a straw hat and a quite hideous green shirt with an all over printed design, his head as ever only seeming to exist in profile. A new keyboard player twenty years younger than his band mates does unspeakable things to ‘Western Sky’ but otherwise fits in OK. Mark (whose shirt has huskies on it) has anecdotes about throwing up on Virgin trains, selling coke to members of the Bush family - indeed, it seems that American Music Club played at George Bush’s recent inauguration, and that ‘Challenger’ is the USA’s new national anthem - and how a girlfriend’s friend’s PCP addiction led him to write ‘Outside This Bar’. This segued into ‘Gary’s Song’, and the glorious sight of a Mark and Bruce heartfelt harmony on AMC’s worst / best ever couplet, ‘I think I just came in my pants / Oh baby do you want to dance?’ Plus a sing along ‘Jesus’ Hands’. By any ordinary standards it was a great gig. But us fools lining up around the block to see American Music Club don’t have ordinary standards, thanks to this most remarkable of bands. Is there any chance you could come back in the summer?

© 2005 Chris Fox