Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


Jeff Buckley/Paleface

Knitting Factory, New York, NY

I'm still not 100% sure this is the show that I attended, even after multiple attempts at research. But here are the facts that I am certain about. The show was at the Knitting Factory, and I dragged my then-girlfriend Christine to the gig specifically to see Paleface perform. I vaguely recollect that the show was being broadcast on WFMU, but I couldn't say that without doubt.

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I had become fans of a number of musicians from the East Village anti-folk scene after seeing my friend Danny Vermont perform standup comedy at Lach's open-mic "anti-hoot" at the Chameleon bar on E. 6th Street. I eventually performed there myself on a fateful night.

Paleface was one of those musicians. I played the hell out of his 1991 self-titled album. I can remember laying on the beach in Belmar, NJ (where I lived in '91) on many a weekend afternoon with this record coming out of my headphones. I had met his manager Danny Fields and had almost, if not for my lack of access to proper audio technology, beat Beck to the punch; I told him that Paleface's lyrics were so rhythmic, it would be great if someone made a remix of one of his songs with beats behind it in a sort of "acid folk." I didn't even realize then that Paleface and Beck were former roommates.

But I had never seen Paleface live, so when I saw this gig and was free I had to go. Although I was excited to see him perform, I didn't realize that I would be so blown away by another musician on the bill that I would practically forget about Paleface.

I had no knowledge of Jeff Buckley before this night. I had heard of his father but didn't really know much about him. Shortly after he started singing, though, I realized that he was a ferocious talent. I've always heard the phrase "you could've heard a pin drop" bandied about for various things but this performance might be the only time I've ever really experienced what it truly means.

Buckley's dynamic range was his not-so-secret weapon. As anyone who's ever heard Live at Sin-E knows, his voice was just as capable of Robert Plant-style caterwauling bombast as it was of whisper-quiet expressions, and he knew how to alternate the extremes for often hair-raising vocal drama.

He ran through his set with the small audience gazing on trancelike. It felt almost unbelievable, like I had dreamed it. It's hard to describe but his performance seemed afterwards like movie soundtrack music would be experienced by the characters in the film.

I later tried hard to locate further info on Buckley, never an easy task in those pre-WWW days. There was a music industry trade magazine that mentioned in a gossip column that he had been signed to Columbia, but a phone call to a contact at the label failed to turn up any concrete facts.

And then, finally, Live at Sin-E arrived. I finally met Buckley in February of 1994 when he came by WHTG for an interview. I had left the station to get lunch and Buckley came in while I was out. I heard the interview taking place as I was driving back to work, leaning a little on the gas to make sure I didn't miss him. He had just gathered up his things to leave when I returned, carrying not only his guitar but a boombox he had brought to tape his own interview. I stopped him, introduced myself, and briefly told him the story of seeing him at the Knitting Factory and being entranced. He thanked me warmly and seemed genuinely grateful for my sentiments. He juggled the stuff in his arms to shake my hand with his left hand, due to his encumbrance. That was the second and final time I ever saw him.

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