Bazaar Cafe, San Francisco

The release party on Sunday was great. I arrived early to do a soundcheck, pulled out my guitar and played a single chord unplugged, and it sounded so good on its own I decided to play the whole set without the PA. It’s definitely my favorite way to play live, but it’s rare I get the opportunity. It’s just great to be completely in charge of the dynamics, and to know that what you’re hearing is the same as what the audience is hearing.

A nice crowd of friends were there, I played pretty well, and we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, eating and drinking. A memorable way to launch the new record.

Then yesterday, it was an early wake-up and the LIRR to JFK. From boarding the train, it was a model trip. No lines at security or check-in, and Delta treated my guitar right (as they always do – between their wireless connection and their care of my instrument, I pick them every time I can), even though the plane was packed and the overhead bins were completely full, they found room in a first-class closet for my precious cargo.

We touched down early, and I hopped the waiting BART to 24th Street in the Mission, my old (and still favorite)¬†neighborhood. I’m lucky enough to have a good friend with a spacious apartment there, and a few years ago he gave me my own set of keys as I so frequently come here on tour. I walked down the familiar streets past the taquerias and offbeat bars, let myself in and had a long, long shower. It’s great to start off a long trip like this in a place that feels like a second home.

Then it was time to connect with people, and a frenzy of texting and emailing commenced. I made a plan with a good friend for dinner at one of my favorite old sushi haunts, Kitaro on Geary Street. It’s not the most refined Japanese experience – all of their signature rolls are deep-fried – but it’s cheap, and cheerful, and fun. I endured the bus ride from the sunny Mission to the freezing-cold Richmond (ah, those familiar San Francisco micro-climates!) and warmed up with a spicy tuna roll and a big bowl of curry udon. Great gig fuel.

We walked over to the Bazaar Cafe, and while warming up, I had a bit of a chat with the booker. There were only a couple of people there to listen at that point, and he expressed, in as many words, that more crowd had better show up soon. Though I shared his concern – of course, I always want to have more people to play to – it’s a terrible thing to hear just before going onstage. At that point, the only thing I want to have on my mind is the music I’m about to make, and there was obviously nothing more I could do at that point. (I’d chosen a night where all my friends, it seemed, were having rehearsals). It unsettled me, and my set didn’t start out so well. I neglected to remove my wedding ring and put it on this special chain I have (it’s only my second gig as a married man!), so I had to actually stop my first tune dead in its tracks, then start over. And things just seemed to be coming out sloppily…I was glad that Ziva and I were trading short sets, as I was able to take a break after five tunes and compose myself.

Things went better in the second set. Bazaar Cafe is an all-acoustic room – no PA whatsoever – which meant that for the second night in a row, I was able to fill the room just with my own sound.¬†More people had arrived, and I was feeling more relaxed and comfortable. I pulled out a new vocal tune which I just finished a few days ago, called Stainless Steel, and it got a good reaction which was nice to hear, I’ll definitely be including that in the set for the rest of tour. Then I did Shenandoah, as I almost always do, and after Ziva’s second set I came back and played Over and Over Again, which is something I’d never usually put at the end of a show, but tonight it felt right, like a homecoming.

Afterward I chatted guitar stuff for a while with a new pal who’d come out, dissected the evening with the booker (who said he’d be happy to have me back, but would work more with me to try to pull folks out), then went for a nice beer with an old friend. Said goodnight to him, went to the extremely comfortable Dovre Club with a couple of other friends where we pumped up the Clash and Bad Brains and the Jam on the jukebox, then home for more catching up before a very late bedtime, practically sunup NYC time. Not a bad way to start this tour, at all.