J.D. Souther at the Triple Door
March 9, 2019
Some people are born tobreak your heart. For me, the songs and voice of J.D. Souther do just that. Two years ago, at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma, CA, he kept me weeping for nearly two hours as he went through his library of sorrow: Best of My Love, New Kid in Town, You’re Only Lonely, Faithless Love, White Rhythm and Blues… if the words don’t get you, that haunting, chilling tenor will.
And he broke my heart Saturday night at Seattle’s Triple Door, but for a different reason: there was something obviously wrong which rendered him incapable of performing. From the first moment on stage, when he approached the mic seemingly oblivious to the enthusiastic welcome of the sold-out house, fumbled a bit with his guitar, and hit the wrong chord (I know he did - the song was in D, and he hit an Eb), and began singing in the wrong key, only to correct the chord but not the key in which he sang, my heart sink. But it can be stressful to step on to the stage, no matter how many times you’ve done it before, so I figured things would smooth out.
I figured wrong. Even when he found the right key on his guitar, his playing was that of a second-year guitar student. I’ve seen him before - this guy can play. So WTF? Hand problems? I have that issue, so I’d happily give him a pass, except that when he went into New Kid In Town, Souther didn’t seem to remember how the chord changes went. In fact, he had to stop one verse in, mumble something about how his foot pedals were reversed, and start over. The explanation made no sense to his fans, and whatever he did didn’t seem to help. The problem continued throughout the night.
Ok, we’ve all had bad nights on stage. Sickness, sprains, or just a lack of mojo. Those are forgivable sins, especially as the years paint our bones and faces with new dimensions of wrinkles and woes. But J.D. Souther’s early set Saturday night was beyond malady. There was something fundamentally wrong. He played with no sense of rhythm. He sang with no feeling, and barely hit the right notes. He did play a few tunes on the piano that seemed to bring him to the present - he used this time to finally speak to his audience - but his return to the guitar signaled a return to his discombobulated performance.
He sang Best of My Love as though he was giving directions to the Space Needle. It’s hard not to bring, or at least fake, a modicum of sorrow to that masterpiece of a song, but there was no hint of that in his voice Saturday night. You’re Only Lonely was, for me, a particular disappointment, because it’s one of my all time favorite songs, and one I try to sing when I’m feeling brave, or alone in my car. The vocal, done in the original key, is always a serious challenge for most singers, but his recordings of it seem effortless, sublime. Saturday night, it sounded like a throwaway. Again fumbling around for the right chords, he seemed lost.
Souther even did Heart of the Matter, a Don Henley hit for which Souther helped write lyrics. I’ll just say here that it was a bad choice for him Saturday, and leave it at that.
My friend had never seen J.D. Souther before, didn’t really know anything about him, and I had been raving to her about what a great singer and songwriter he was. Needless to say, she was less than impressed by his turn on Saturday. As were, sorry to say, the rest of the audience. You could tell, because in this day and age of the assumed ovation, no one rose to beg him back for his signature tune, Faithless Love. He walked off stage, and people did rise, but it was to make their way to the exits.
I hope whatever was going on with J.D. Souther Saturday night was temporary. And I hope he comes back pretty soon, so my memory of him is one I can remember with a smile, instead of a wince.