Show review: Peter Mulvey & Krista Detor in Portland, OR, November 7, 2009

Peter Mulvey
Krista Detor
Alberta Street Pub
Portland, OR
November 7, 2009

It was easy to recall Peter Mulvey’s last blastoff from the well-worn floorboards of No’ Po’s funky Alberta Street Pub. The merry Milwaukeean’s stories then were about the weirdness to be found in one Wasilla, Alaska (more precisely a hot springs near there). Mulvey had flown in from Wasila just as the national elections of 2008 commenced. Nearly a year later, Mulvey was back to bask in the historic moment of America’s first elected president of African descent to a packed house full of relief that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was back in Wasilla planning a rock-star book tour, and not in the White House a heartbeat away from laying her roguish hands on the controls of a superpower’s nuclear arsenal and making like a maverick through at least two far-flung wars with no endgame amid economic dissolution.

Mulvey had previewed some of the material now gracing his album Letters From a Flying Machine. The release was filled with witty, swinging set of tunes and spoken interludes that take the form of in-flight letters to newborn nieces and nephews for a lifetime’s pondering of life’s simple and quantum wonders.  Mulvey is not himself a parent, but he drew his between-song banter from zooming in on his large Catholic family and making wondrous observations about his sibling’s offspring. This time around, Mulvey was working his way down the Pacific Coast from Alaska to the Mexican border. He was accompanied by opening singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Krista Detor, who also backed Mulvey for some set highlights with lively harmony, sophisticated keyboard, and less welcome accordion textures. The performers’ ease at bounding onto the no-frills pub stage with energy and good humor to burn was reciprocated by a vocal roomful of sunlight-deprived Oregonians as enchanted with Detour’s laconic tales of a marriage to a good, if incompatible, man as they were with Mulvey’s zinging improvisations and impressions.

He stirred the rhythms with his shuffling-to-hard-boogeying rafter-raisers like “Kids in the Square,” which rocks harder live than on the swingier Django jazz arrangement on the CD. The deceptively titled shot of ecstasy from 2004’s Kitchen Radio “Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad and So Far Away from Home,” opens with a priceless couplet finally explicated in a hilarious pre-song anecdote with the back story on . . .

Houdini’s still stuck in that Doctorow book
The one place he can never escape

. . . and quick-cuts to . . .

Once I was standing on a Dublin street corner
I heard a fiddler pierce the veil of illusions
Once I got plastered at my best friend’s bar mitzvah
And once I lived in perfect confusion

Mulvey also picked folk icons off the Alberta Street Pub’s stage-right “wall of fame,” mimicking the likes of Greg Brown with canny and knowing repartee. Among Mulvey’s gifts is resurrecting, wherever he appears, vaudeville, replete with folklore and firmament.

Mulvey eased down the tempo for his 2006 Midwestern summer masterpiece “The Knuckleball Suite” and a poignant slide on his steel strings to reflect on the weathering of hard times across the generations as caked onto an Alaskan townie kid’s “Windshield.” The dark autumnal evening slipped into the sublime with Mulvey’s story of counting stars and sharing beers (as well as cosmic mysteries) with his loquacious Czech buddy “Vlad the Astrophysicist.” When you want to decode the quantum secrets of time, space, and extraterrestrial telecom connections, who ya gonna call?


—Mitch Ritter (Portland, OR)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.


4 comments on “Show review: Peter Mulvey & Krista Detor in Portland, OR, November 7, 2009

  1. I was at that show, too. Took some photos over here:

    Also got a chance to see him Friday at the Woods. You go?


    • Hey there Eric! Thanks for leaving this note. Hope our paths cross at some show this season, are ya still in Po’Land or back in
      Eugene or way back in Ohio for the holidaze? Yep, I was at The Woods for Foucault & Mulvey, didn’t realize they’d be sharing the
      show backing each other and singing harmonies. Opening with L. Cohen’s (who plays the Rose Garden at age 80 something next week!)
      “Everybody Knows” was brilliant, with both their voices swapping
      verses and harmonizing like they owned L. Cohen’s existential load…Had never seen Foucault b4 and came away pleasantly impressed, especially with the contrast of his more western than
      country wandering Milwaukeean songs and cowboy hat and then his
      covering a song by the NYC graphic artist-turned-songwriter Andy
      Friedman who I’d never heard of. I’m glad I got the full shot of
      Mulvey last year, though, he just has to be the best at working a
      room and filling it with aces original material and playing this
      side of Stevie Goodman.
      Thanks again for posting your photos of the Mulvey shows! I did
      want a couple of shots with the review but my own instamatic shots
      got left on cutting room floor! A lot of ambiance in the Alberta
      Street Pub, especially their Wall of Folkie Fame!

  2. Oooops! Make that
    Hey there, Dan!
    Nice photos and thanks again!

  3. Thanks!
    I’m in Eugene… too long to go to Ohio for the holidays. I’ll be at the Leonard Cohen show next week. Should be good. 🙂

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