I’ve never written a song, but I’ve often heard songwriting described as a “process.” Joe Michelini let us in on a bit of his own process last night as he performed a solo, acoustic set at The Berkeley Bar in Asbury Park. “I love playing, and I just wanted to play somewhere other than my room.”
As I watched and listened, I thought about the fact that a group of my favorite songwriters – Michelini, Craig Finn, Patrick Stickles – also write quite a bit about process in their songs. Whether it’s the process of squaring your religious upbringing with your current set of beliefs, the process of becoming a worthy partner in a relationship, or the process of becoming an “adult,” it’s a type of songwriting that always strikes a chord with me personally.
Bootsy Spankins, P.I. preceded Michelini on stage. The Toms River native did an approximately 40 minute set of witty, sometimes hilariously funny, acoustic folk-pop reminiscent of some of the better “soft rock” of my 1970’s youth. He closed his set with a song called “Arcade Prostitute,” based on the experiences of a friend with whom he worked at the mall as a teen. That mall had an arcade.
Joe Michelini followed at around 11; thanked us for braving the weather; and took his seat, – “This feels like a sitting night” – while much of the small crowd sat cross-legged on the dance floor in front of the stage. He delivered a set that included solo versions of many familiar songs such as “If You Need Me Back in Brooklyn,” “Friends and Family,” and “If I Still Own a Bible.” Michelini even did an impressive falsetto at the end of “The Fall and the Need to Be Free.” He performed “Down, Down, Down” for what may have been the first time live, confessing his ambivalence about what is likely a fan favorite from the latest LP; and he did an alternate version of “Golden Tongue (Thanatopsis).”
There were a couple of new songs and an unreleased song from the Nautical Sabbatical sessions. One of the new songs, only two days old, dealt with fidelity and the road. If I were a better blogger or journalist, I would have taken a video of even a snippet; but it didn’t feel right in such an intimate setting. Michelini mentioned that the new songs would, likely, sound very different by the time they made it to a record but that there won’t be a new record “any time soon.” All part of the process.
The 90 minute set included a cover of Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos’ “A Journalist Falls in Love with a Death Row Inmate #16,” which Michelini called the best song he had ever heard, and closed with Michelini sitting at the edge of the stage to perform unamplified.
I’ve written before about how much I enjoy River City Extension. Last night provided scaled down, stripped down, yet still powerful versions of many River City Extension songs. More interestingly, though, Joe Michelini let us in for a little while on his process of writing about The Process. I’m happy we got that chance.