Bern looked stunned. "Thank you. Good night!" he declared, mock-earnest, and then led the band into a relentless rocker with the chorus "I ain't answerable to you." "Could you hear that all right?" he asked afterward, smiling angrily.
Undaunted, he played a set full of New American Language tracks and a new batch of songs that also travel through landscapes wrapped in sorrow. To end the concert, he and the Conspirators unplugged their acoustic guitars, spread out amid the crowd, and sang three songs, including "Toledo," a song that's epic and faux-epic in turn, irreverent and reverential at once, aching with spirituality and alienation. "Standing in the fields," he sang, "Beneath the universe, you hurt / 'Cause as the Milky Way whirls over you / All you got is dirt."
On Sunday, November 10, Dan Bern plays the Blind Pig. That'll give him a better audience for his racing, manic road trips of the mind. Hopefully, the crowd will appreciate the quiet, solemn songs too.
[Originally published in November, 2002.]