Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh, I’m Feeling Much Richer, Thank You…

As real as a daydream gets…
What a perfect evening. What a perfect show. On so many levels, this was a Nashville Sunday Night at its very best — with the main emphasis on ‘Nash.’

There’s a lot of great music in this town, and as I’ve mentioned many times before, my favorite outlet for tapping into that marvelous natural resource is a wonderful music venue called 3rd and Lindsey Bar & Grill and their weekly concert series, Nashville Sunday Night.

The series itself is made possible by Nashville’s equally incredible jewel of the airwaves, shining in the midst of an otherwise mediocre radio market: a truly GREAT radio station, WRLT, Lightning 100. The venerable progressive rock station has sponsored the Sunday evening concert series since 1996, broadcasting each week live on the air as well as via the web from

I've attended more NSN shows than I could possibly count over the years and have seen some incredible national, regional and local talent.

And last Sunday night was one of the absolute best.

The opening act was the wonderfully talented Trent Dabbs, doing forty-five minutes of his exquisite amalgam of power pop and folk rock. In 2005, Dabbs spearheaded the formation of the popular and critically-acclaimed Ten out of Tenn consortium of Nashville-based singer/songwriters. A pair of compilation albums and national tours later, Dabbs’ brainchild has gone a long way toward finally dispelling the hackneyed notion that Country is the only kind of music happening in Music City. As usual, Dabbs onstage Sunday night sported his trademark black blazer, decorated on the back with the hand-painted names of each TOT artist.

However, the evening’s true highlight (and rightfully so) was the return of Leigh Nash and Sixpence None the Richer.

Sixpence None The Richer Reunited - April 2008
Sixpence Reunited
This photo, fresh from the band's new MySpace page may not have been taken last Sunday (although I’d bet it was), but Leigh wore ‘The Dress’ onstage that night. She was quite proud of it don’tcha know...

Image courtesy Matt Slocum/Sixpence None The Richer
If the name sounds familiar, it should. Sixpence’s first hit it big in 1999, with the signature hit, Kiss Me — a belatedly-released single from their 1997 self-titled album. The song made it to #1 on U.S. charts and the album went platinum, thanks also in large part to their cover of The La’s 1990 alternative pop hit, There She Goes. Not only did the latter tune receive plenty of radio airtime back in ‘99, but it also that year found its way onto in the soundtrack of the film, She's All That and later in two episodes of the TeeVee series, Dawson’s Creek. Their back-to-back hits vaulted Sixpence to the Pop stratosphere as the new millennium dawned.

And even if those two songs don’t jog your memory, chances are you’ve heard Sixpence other times on the radio, in movies or on TeeVee and perhaps didn’t even know it. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, SNTR became the quintessential commercial cover band, spinning soundtrack and compilation send-ups and putting their own touches on popular hits; everything from You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch (from the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) to Crowded House’s Don’t Dream it’s Over, to ABBA’s Dancing Queen.

Little did I know...
Aside from being aware of them as a local band that made it big, my experiential history with Sixpence was rather shallow until just a few years ago — well after the band had faded from the top-of-mind position they occupied so consistently on the pop music scene for five or six years around the late 90s. Prior to now, unfortunately, my most direct involvement with their music had been relegated to a singular circumstance that occurred sometime between late 1993 and early ’94.

On the occasion of my picking my daughter Amy up from an after-church party one Sunday afternoon, I was waiting for her to tear herself away from the giggling little girl mayhem that still ensued throughout the house when I arrived. So I happily struck up a conversation with the Father of her friend hosting the event.

The guy turned out to be a record company executive (and may have actually been the label’s owner for all I can remember) for an indie Christian label called REX Records. We talked a little record biz shop, as I was still at the time involved — though sparingly — with record packaging design. I remember the man being personable and particularly excited about one of his new artists’ upcoming first release. He handed me a pre-release cassette with the image on the cover of these two very young, fresh-faced teenagers. They were the band’s principals: songwriter and lead guitarist, Matt Slocum and lead singer, Leigh Nash.

They didn’t exactly strike me as rock stars — and more accurately, with their somber, serious-looking pose for that first album cover, they looked more like they’d just been called into the Pastor’s office for passing notes in church.

To be honest, I remember being fairly unimpressed. And what was up with that name, anyway — Sixpence None the Richer?

Well, after nearly 15 years of wondering, I finally took the time to find out just what the significance of that unusual moniker actually was.

From the official Sixpence None the Richer website:
Time and again, from Regis to Leno, the members of Sixpence have found opportunity to speak their faith by simply answering questions about the literary reference that birthed their name. With each encounter, they patiently tell once more the story that Nash recounted in her appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in August 1999.

Although Nash has never completely overcome her youthful nervousness on stage, she bravely walked over to a chair on the “Late Show” stage following her band's performance.

After asking where the band's name came from, Letterman teasingly interrupted Nash to ask if he could stop by her hotel room after the show. Nash's blank silence stopped him cold, chastening him into an apology. With that, she proceeded to finish her story.

“It comes from a book by C. S. Lewis...called Mere Christianity,” she resumed. “A little boy asks his father if he can get a sixpence — a very small amount of English currency — to go and get a gift for his father. The father gladly accepts the gift and he's really happy with it, but he also realizes that he's not any richer for the transaction...”

“He bought his own gift,” Letterman responded. “That's right,” Nash continued. “C. S. Lewis was comparing that to his belief that God has given him, and us, the gifts that we possess, and to serve Him the way we should; we should do it humbly...realizing how we got the gifts in the first place.”

“Well, that’s beautiful,” Letterman stammered, with uncharacteristic earnestness. “If we could just keep that little sliver of enlightenment with us, things would be so much better...”

World-renowned theologian C. S. Lewis provided a fitting foundation for the impressive platform Sixpence None the Richer built to change the world. Following in Lewis' footsteps, Sixpence understood that to reach people, one must communicate in their language, and do so with honest imagination. And each, in word or song, gained the ear of their generation, conveying orthodox truths to a waiting, watching audience without ever compromising art or thought.

And here, thanks to the magic of YouTube, is the actual Late Show conversation from that ’99 appearance (sans the bio writer homogenization, yo):

At any rate, you’d have to agree, that’s a pretty heady mission — even for a Christian band — but ultimately I’d say they’ve been extremely successful in crossing over into the secular music world, yet never compromising their values.

Trouble in Paradise
But even with their considerable success, fairly soon after the turn of the millennium, the band hit a wall. On February 26, 2004, Matt Slocum announced that the group had officially disbanded.

In the wake of SNTR’s initial breakup, lead singer, Leigh Nash, left Nashville with her husband for the promise of a new solo career in Los Angeles. Apparently the changes in her life were just beginning.

Nash, whose signature ethereal voice made SNTR’s unique sound what it was, became pregnant with her first child, a son, shortly following the breakup of the band. Little Henry would serve as the inspiration for many of the songs she would subsequently pen for her first solo effort, Blue on Blue, as well as that of Nash’s own record label, dubbed, One Son Records, through which the CD was released in August of 2006.

And as much as I enjoyed Sixpence’s music, it had always been in passing. It was only at the point that Nash began releasing music on her own that my causal curiosity became somewhat of a wistful obsession.

I LOVE this woman's voice! Hers is the type of sound that literally places me in another dimension. But as is my inexplicable custom, even in her earlier days with Sixpence, I loved what I heard on the radio, but never got my ass out of the chair to go down to the record store to buy any of their CDs.

That won’t be any problem for me now. This guy’s on a mission.

It all began late in the summer of 2006, after hearing on Lightning 100 the first single from Blue on Blue, Ocean Size Love, I discovered Leigh’s MySpace page. I read a bit, listened to a few more of the samplings featured from the new album and instantly fell in love with it. And of course I subscribed to her blog!

I have since followed her career for the past two years almost exclusively in that vein.

But as with so many other friends that I’ve met and followed here in Blogland, connecting with Leigh through her blog has given me a tremendous and much rarer appreciation for the person as well as the artist.

Apparently life hasn’t exactly been all fun and games for her these past five years or so.

From within her MySpace sanctuary, Leigh has revealed the circumstances for some of the changes in her tour schedule and/or lack of activity: family difficulties, the untimely death of her Father last November, and the grand adjustment that being a Mother continues to make on her life.

Her blog posts come across as genuine and eloquent as her music, and I feel extremely privileged to catch the glimpses that she grants to us of her innermost thoughts. It truly adds a dimension of truth and clarity to the emotion she expresses in song.

In addition to her solo pop effort, Leigh had also begun to spread her wings in other musical directions. At around the same time she was working on her solo album, she was also involving herself in another more eclectic project, providing the lyrics and vocal tracks for another album of recent vintage released last year. It was a long-distance collaboration with fellow production company colleagues: Nettwerk Productions musicians, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of the Ambient group, Dellirium.

The album is called Fauxliage, and it’s outstanding; a project to which Leigh’s hauntingly lilting vocals are a perfect compliment to the electronic beat-melodies of Delirium’s dreamscape sound.

Having my musical tastes influenced significantly by the late 80s/early 90s New Age Music movement and my time at Mesa/Bluemoon, this was a real treat. As if Leigh’s regular solo work wasn’t awesome enough already, this one just put me over the edge.

Having somehow missed all of Nash’s local appearances (I believe there were at least two or three of them) from her solo tour during the latter part of 2006, I was now extremely anxious to hear her live, hoping desperately that another opportunity to see her locally would avail itself soon. The next time, I vowed, I would NOT miss.

Then on January 17, 2008 came Leigh’s best blog yet. She announced that she had pink eye.

Oh, oh yeah, and one other thing: they were getting the band back together!

Leigh revealed that she and SNTR collaborator, Matt Slocum, had met for coffee last November and acknowledged that they had both experienced somewhat of a void in their lives since the breakup of the band. She said they realized that “the two of us were more powerful than one of us alone...” So they decided to revisit their musical relationship and begin writing and touring on a limited basis...indefinitely!

That decision spawned their recent engagement to critical acclaim at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas in March, which gave them the juice they needed to pursue a full-fledged reunion tour.

And much to the delight of the hometown Nashville fans, they decided to kick it off with an appearance here, and at my fave venue, 3rd and Lindsley to boot!

I’ve gotta tellya, I haven't had a musical experience so totally satisfying in a very long time.

Leigh's voice has a quality that defies description. It cuts through your soul like a hot knife though butter. The travail of her recent life's travels are now apparent in her once flawless complexion, but as she sang, you could just see the healing release the music injected into her countenance.

Ohhh, and the crowd was feelin’ it too, folks. It was a packed house and the crowd was hanging on every word out of Leigh’s mouth, and taking in every tasty lick wafting from Matt’s guitar.

She seemed so content; so alive. It was awesome to experience it en masse with her and the 400 or so other SNTR fans in the room.

They played most every famous Sixpence tune (well, DUH), along with a few from Leigh’s solo album, including the incredible Ocean Size Love, which made me a very happy camper.

I was at my traditional corner-of-the-bar seat, about 12-15 feet from the stage, taking it all in. Wow. What a great show. Wait...did I say that already? Well, sorry.

Partyin’ like it was 1999
Another kind of interesting sidebar on the evening’s experience was the age demographic of the crowd. As I looked around, I didn’t see a whole lot of gray hair. The bulk of the patrons appeared to be in their mid-to-late twenties. As the bright, twentysomething gal sitting to my left confided, “This is a trip back to my high school days for me,” and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one there looking forward to the same thing, as the heyday of the band was indeed around 8-9 years ago.

Now of course I wasn't in high school in the late 90s, but I remember the music as fondly as if I was. And it's interesting to think back on it now, but the music of the 90s was so good, I really thought it would continue on that way forever. I thought the incredibly variant and eclectic variety of alternative jam and power pop would continue to evolve and dominate the music scene. And I suppose that even more I believed that access to that wonderful cornucopia of music here in Nashville would continue on as well. Unfortunately it didn't last; but that’s a story for another time.

Sunday night, however, everybody at 3rd was partyin’ like it was 1999.

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