David Pajo is no stranger to Cork, due to his years notched up with voracious touring, and has covered his fair share of defunct venues in the city – arriving with a nascent Palace Brothers for 1993’s Jazz Festival – actually Jazz Me Bollix – in the Shelter on Tuckey Street; a few years later showing up in Tortoise at Nancy Spain’s, and in 2000 playing as Papa M in the Lobby. Judging by this track record, we can expect the Crane Lane to close its doors for the last time any day now (jaysus, the curse of David Pajo! – ed.).
Pleasantly ignorant of this impending doom, the Crane is tipping away for an early evening, the hot sun bolstering drinking and yammering in the smoking area. But the Theatre venue tonight is curtained off, side doors are locked, and a ‘listening gig’ is proclaimed, i.e. shut up and pay attention. And it’s worked: the back venue is an oasis of calm this evening, even as the voices outside the glass grow more frantic as time passes.
When I first heard M and Aeriel M, music like Wedding Song No. 3 sounded like a great unheard coda to Slint, a band who had left everyone wanting more by breaking up before anyone except Steve Albini knew who they were. With Papa M, it felt like Pajo had finally developed his own style and stepped out from a shadow of his own making. Live From A Shark Cage in 1999 was the best expression of that style, and tonight that’s where the gig begins.
Everyone in the room is happily ensconced in their wide comfortable chairs and the dimly lit vibe is suiting the set at hand. Pajo is seated and flanked by just one other player, a bassist standing stage right. Aside from an imposing bass amp, that’s it. And that’s all that’s needed. Apparantly the touring band lost a member before setting off, hence no drums, but listening tonight there is no sense of anything lacking.
The start is almost a medley of great instrumental tracks from his M past – and though it’s a while since I’ve actively listened to these songs, there’s no questioning the sustained beauty of pieces we’ll hear toight like ‘Up North Kids’, ‘Arundel’, ‘Plastic Energy Man’, and the centrepiece ‘I Am Not Lonely With Cricket’.
We also get some vocal stylings tonight, including ‘High Lonesome Moan’ from 2005’s Pajo, which he preceeds with an understated cover of The Misfits ‘Where Eagles Dare’. Glenn Danzig is one teenage influence Pajo’s never shaken off, nor wants to. “I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch,” he coos softly, “you better think about it baby”.
Pajo’s own ‘Ten More Days’ is next, before another cover, ‘Lullaby’, by Leonard Cohen, from this year’s Old Ideas. “Well the mouse ate the crumb / Then the cat ate the crust/ Now they’ve fallen in love, / They’re talking in tongues”. It’s typical Cohen, but it could just as easily be one of Pajo’s own, with its slightly off-kilter imagery, and the simple-as-hell arrangement he gives it tonight.
Then, back to Shark Cage and a little bit of midi nonsense with ‘Bups’, and its wonky piano, shaker percussion and wooping. Then into ‘I Am Not Lonely With Cricket’ – echoing, sonorous, and that classic precision playing of his, without which the term ‘math rock’ would still be a twinkle in a lazy journo’s eye. The bass feeds back harmoniously through the piece, which culminates in a new atonal ending of noisiness and some bass slappin’. It’s a nice twist towards the end of the set, definitely adding a quality to these songs which was not present before.
On the final song, he rings every slow note carefully from the guitar neck until it’s like there’s not a drop left; and then, after the deferential silence gives way to applause, he’s off the stage fast, and an off-mic “That’s all” lets us know there’s no hope of an encore. It seemed short, but many songs are surprisingly long and it’s actually been well over an hour.
The overtly simple nature of the songs he sings on gives lie to Pajo’s ability to forge something complex and beautiful when he wants to; and tonight was a reminder of some of the great music he has made in the past. But the more recent (well, seven year old) songs sit comfortably in this set as well, and he has always produced the music he wants to. Long may he continue, and while a trip into the past is nice, I’m going to revisit 1968 and Scream With Me, two of his more recent albums that I skated across originally – the curse of the mp3.
And perhaps Pajo’ll return to the Crane Lane to play some of those songs, and finally break his own Cork venue hex.