Jeff Buckley Tribute Concert (Boulder Weekly 11/12/09)
Boulder Musicians Band Together to Honor the Late Jeff Buckley
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly
For someone who released just one album, enigmatic and gifted singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley — who memorably created wonderful alt-rock somewhere between Astral Weeks and Jane’s Addiction — has cemented quite a place for himself in American music history.
Out swimming alone in June of 1997, then-30 year old Buckley drowned in Tennessee’s Wolf River, a channel of the Mississippi, before finishing his second collection of originals (to be titled My Sweetheart the Drunk). Legendary Television frontman Tom Verlaine produced the unfinished sessions for My Sweetheart, but at the time of his death Buckley was reportedly frustrated with his sophomore album’s progress. Mary Guibert, who mothered Buckley with troubled 60s/70s folksinger Tim Buckley (victim of an overdose at age 28 in 1975), told Rolling Stone in 1998:
“I think the primary issue for Jeff is that he had not really been able to develop the songs, the album, in the shape of the concept going on in his own mind. Taking artistry into a commercial world can challenge even the strongest character: there is a fame and notoriety dumped on you that is outside of any real, human realm. Jeff had problems with that.”
1994’s Grace, Buckley’s only proper studio release, was immediately a cult hit with the U.S. and European college-rock crowds, which loved the dramatic and tender exploration of the talented young singer’s poignant spirit. The album bombed commercially when it was first released on Columbia Records, only hitting #149 on the American charts. As often happens, Grace has sold millions in the United States since Buckley’s untimely death three years after its original release; it’s even gone platinum six times over in Australia.
What’s more, Buckley is now considered one of the most influential rock artists of the past twenty years. Buckley’s hero Jimmy Page called Grace his favorite album of the 90s, and Bob Dylan told the Village Voice in 1997 that Buckley was “one of the great songwriters of this decade.” Countless modern singer-songwriters cite Buckley as a key inspiration, and his former contemporaries (from Radiohead to Elliot Smith) have repeatedly remarked that their careers were enhanced and informed by Grace and the slew of live recordings and demos that have been released since Buckley’s passing.
In Boulder, the ever-present onslaught of folk-pop singer-songwriters has long found inspiration in the music of Jeff Buckley. However, a good number of youngsters only know Buckley from his transcendent version of Leonard Cohen’s timeless ballad “Hallelujah,” which was featured on Grace but unexpectedly became an international hit for Buckley last year.
To celebrate what would be Buckley’s 43rd birthday, many tribute concerts will be held around the globe this month. Notable in Boulder on Tuesday is the Laughing Goat’s evening of Buckley covers and apropos originals by local up-and-comers such as Ego Vs. Id, Nate Antar and multi-instrumentalist Dechen Hawk, whose soulful music is strikingly similar to “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and other remarkable Buckley tunes.
“I’ve been greatly influenced by Buckley [and] listened to his music constantly” Hawk told me. “I would mimic his vocal style as a way of training my voice, learning his songs on guitar and experimenting with lots of open tunings. This all led to my own musical creations. For a while there, folks would come up to me after my shows and ask if I know of Buckley or if he was an influence.”
Asked what has kept the Buckley legend and the late singer’s impact growing since his tragic death, Hawk was quick to nail the obvious:
“Posthumous fame is something our culture seems to embrace whole-heartedly,” he said. “I think the combination of [Buckley’s] incredible talent, his father’s last name and his similarly young death helped spread the word of his greatness. Plus, the hopeless romantic quality expressed in his music helped to make him a martyr.”
Naropa University senior and Pennsylvania native Nate Antar, who is opening Tuesday’s show with his take on “Hallelujah” and a few of his own debaucherous acoustic tunes, actually isn’t a huge Buckley fan at all.
“I’m not quite sure why I was even invited to play,” Antar admitted. “Surely I’ve listened to Buckley, heard Grace passively, but never sat down intimately with it. [But] I was honored to be invited and am looking forward to being a part of an event that has been going on for at least a decade in different cities around the country and world.”
Leave it to Naropa to provide such a character, but the highlight of the commemorative evening could prove to be arguably Boulder’s most promising unsigned band, Ego Vs. Id. Along with a headlining spot at the B.side Lounge on Saturday, the charismatically dirty young rockers are also emerging from self-imposed hibernation (aka recording their first full-length album) to play a set of Buckley covers and originals Tuesday.
Ego vs. Id co-frontman and guitarist Robbie Steifel is a longtime Jeff Buckley fan and couldn’t be more excited to pay tribute to his idol, whose music Steifel says is affecting for many reasons.
“It’s dangerous to think you know him just from Grace,” Steifel commented. “It’s really everything that made me love him. It’s the whole body of work [and] he played live like a freak. I look forward to seeing what everyone does with this thing.”