Tom Brosseau at the Stateside Theater: Live Review

Tom_Brosseau_at_Stateside-6Tom Brosseau is an authentic folk troubadour. Austin’s Stateside Theater was something of a time machine on Wednesday night, and if you were inside, Brosseau served as your captain, transporting you to an era more than half a century ago. A solitary, wooden stool sits in front of a microphone that looks to be from the golden days of radio. Brosseau enters the almost barren stage, takes a seat, and addresses the crowd in his reserved demeanor. From his even, calm speech pattern to his combed hair, Brosseau exudes a classic sense of refinement.

Tom_Brosseau_at_Stateside-5Brosseau announces his first song, one from his new album Grass Punks called “Cradle Your Device,” which draws appropriate laughter from the crowd. When Brosseau starts to sing, he takes all the air out of the room. His voice is immaculate. The song is a socially incisive tune about a person ignoring the intimate needs of another in favor of their addiction to their electronic device. The song addresses these changing times yet hits on a universal sense of loneliness. It’s not unlike Dylan singing “I called up the operator of time, just to hear a voice of some kind, / ‘When you hear the beep it will be three o’ clock’ / She said that for over an hour and I hung up,” on “Talkin’ World War III Blues” from his second album,  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Brosseau possesses an understanding of both tradition and modernity, and the song is lent even greater power sung from a male perspective, which successfully subverts our typical concepts of gender and desire. In short, it’s a powerful opening statement.

Tom_Brosseau_at_Stateside-3After he finishes, Brosseau takes his time, wets his lips, and begins to tell a story. He explains he’s from North Dakota–specifically from Grand Forks, named for being the location where the Red River and the Red Lake River fork. The city, prone to flooding, was also the site of a particularly bad flood in 1997–an event that serves as the content for a concept album from Brosseau. The songwriter prattles a moment about the river’s currents, about how pets swam in the river, dogs, but no boy, no boy ever swam in the river. The crowd is silent, held in awe. It’s this kind of storytelling that truly makes Brosseau feel like the traditional troubadour he is. Throughout the night, this alternation of candid talk and pristinely constructed, simple folk guitar plucking and transcendent singing holds everyone in its spell. Tom Brosseau is a performer unlike most others making music today. He’s an under-appreciated American treasure, but everyone familiar with his work you’ll find to be a passionate fan. Once you’ve seen him, you’ll know why. If he’s in your town, we advise being there.

See a few photos from the night below. All images © Bryan Parker & Pop Press International; all rights reserved, Click any image to open in slideshow viewer.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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