The life experience of an artist will often times be the determinate for the quality of their work. Many art mediums from literature to painting to dance are affected by the biographical element of the artist’s life, and music is definitely not excused. When it comes to Peter Case, his life experiences have undoubtedly colored his musical presentation; in him, the maxim ‘interesting artists make interesting art’ rings true.
When Case played at Out North Theater on Saturday, September 10, this maxim became more obvious. His opener however, proved this saying true in the negative, that uninteresting efforts are generally provided by uninteresting individuals. The artists was a solo guitarist who lives in Girdwood, he was lack-luster, showcasing songs with lyrics about going drinking with his wife once a week and other bland Alaskan stereotypes. While he was very proficient in musical technique and able to play the guitar with an exceptional ability, the lyrics were shallow, and swiftly forgotten afterwards.
On the flip side, Case sang with fire in his voice, and played his electric guitar with fervor; it was obvious that he and the opening act were of different breeds. Case switched back and forth between electric guitar and two different acoustic guitars, each with varied tuning. A definite highlight of his performance was when he brought out his harmonica and neck rack, and howled away like a Delta blues pro.
In addition to his music, Case read from his memoir between songs, and with it weaved together personal details of his life. Born in Buffalo, New York in the 50’s, Case’s life was blended with music early on; his mother bought him a Mickey Mouse ukulele when he was around four years old. Case also recounted his two older sisters, and the way that they would play early Elvis, Fats Domino and other blues and classic rock, as well as how they left the albums to him once they left home for college. When they returned for visits, they brought back new music such as Bob Dylan and other folk albums, which colored Case’s influences further.
Case dropped out of school just after ninth grade and caught a bus heading west all on his own, with little more than his guitar and green Army duffle bag with him. He traveled across the United States for a while, playing various shows including, Case mentioned, one in which he and a fellow traveler he happened to meet began to play in the lead cab of a train they were riding through Colorado. While playing, other passengers tipped the musicians, and they subsequently proceeded to expend these funds at the next stop’s liquor store before just barely making it back on board before the train once again departed.
Case said that such a life is not for everyone, however.
“It’s only for people who feel like they have to do it,” he said.
During his set, Case read an account of this trip straight from the pages of his book, As Far As You Can Get Without A Passport, conveying the experience of drifting travel and independence that changed his life for, he believes, the better. He played on the streets to get by, spent “at least one night in a bus depot,” and basically got there on his own, for better or worse, to become the experienced musician he is today.
Drifting became his lifestyle after he left home in pursuit of music. Such hardships undoubtedly harden a musician, something that definitely benefits those wanting to sing the blues with passion. Many of the greatest blues musicians from Robert Johnson to B. B. King also lived through trying times like these. Case eventually wound up playing on the streets of San Francisco, and was included in the Bert Deivert documentary “Nightshift,” which drew attention to the street musician life.
Out North was the perfect venue for someone like Case to do a show. The venue has an intimate setting and Case’s audience of around 100 people sat in close proximity to him. This not only aided in his reading from book, but also the sound of the music was delivered on a somewhat personal level, able to be felt more precisely than someone yards away on a bandstand.
He performed without a set list, and so was free to navigate his repertoire with whatever he felt like playing, as well as audience shout-out requests. Included in the set were both new and old tracks, as well as covers from Bob Dylan and Willie McTell, and several other pieces. Whether it was his well-known tracks delivered with passionate execution, or even just his banter in between songs, the receptive Anchorage audience was absorbed for the whole set.
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