Perfection, as we often define it, is boring. It’s robotic and vacant. Hollow and cold. Lifeless and safe. True flawlessness occurs when virtue and idiosyncrasy collide, shattering into pieces that fit together to form something else – something new and remarkable that can’t be retrieved, repeated or experienced in quite the same way again. Any performance approaching perfection is just that – it can’t be made from a standard list of ingredients and it won’t be found at the end of any assembly line. Like the fine lines of a fingerprint or the swirl of colors that shape a sunset, there are no exact duplicates. But it’s those flickers of pure chance and total abandon that bring it all to life. It’s a pre-Army Elvis pushing his voice until it practically gives out. It’s Neil Young strumming his guitar so wildly that the strings snap and break. It’s John Lennon nursing a cold and collapsing with a cough just before the last gasp of drums on an explosive “Twist and Shout.” And it’s Langhorne Slim on the third song into his set on the final night of a six-week tour (03-31-18), admitting to the sold-out crowd at Tellus 360 that he may need a little help. “I’ve never been a very good whistler so if I’ve got any whistlers out there that can help me, please, come on,” he revealed, encouraging the audience to join him in recreating the sweet, sun bright start to “Wild Soul.” Within seconds you could hear the faint sound of chirping concertgoers growing louder and louder, fizzling up like a drink before finally flooding the room and hitting the stage. “That’s pretty good,” he said as the waves touched down at his feet and he began to sing. Accompanied by just an acoustic guitar and the occasional stomp of his foot against the floor, the musician’s show in Lancaster, PA was a whirlwind of raw emotion and energy. Yet most gripping was how he seemed to quietly make the audience feel as though they were discovering that place with him.
“If you know the words to any of these songs my friends, sing ‘em with me, alright?”
Destroying the very idea of a stage as a pedestal that separates him from the ones he’s singing to, Langhorne Slim introduced his songs with stories, weaving both a gravity and cheerfulness into introductions that mirrored the rhythms of a conversation between trusted friends. It was in the midst of one of those heartfelt exchanges that he spoke of his family and how “Song for Sid” was written for his grandfather. Dedicating it to both of his grandfathers, he described the impact they had on him and his brother when they were growing up. “On my best days, maybe I live this way, I hope I do,” he said with a sense of gratitude in his words. “But they taught us: be strong because this place ain’t easy – we all know it ain’t easy – but to remain sweet, to remain open, to remain compassionate to all of our brothers and our sisters, not just to some of our brothers and our sisters. I so appreciate being taught that as a kid, and try to live up to that now as a man.” Enduring as both a tender tribute to the ones we lose and a wrenching recognition of how we will sometimes be forced to watch them fade, “Song for Sid” is heavy with loss that doesn’t heal. But it’s also a celebration of the bonds that don’t break and the imprint some of us are lucky enough to leave behind. “I love that old man,” he sang with a knock to his guitar. “I wrote him this song/Tell me, where do the great ones go when they’re gone?”
Sometimes a set list is just a set list. Scribbled in a hurry, stained by splashes of beer from the front row and shaded by the dirty soles of the shoes that walk the stage. But sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes it’s a life story. In Lancaster, Langhorne Slim performed songs that spanned his career, infusing renditions of new and old favorites like “The Way We Move,” “Never Break,” “Diamonds and Gold,” “Life Is Confusing,” “Coffee Cups” and “Be Set Free,” with a tenor rich in personality, grace and fire. And though he said he never maps out what he’ll play beforehand, instead preferring to be as in the moment and spontaneous as possible, the collection of tracks he chose to share with that audience on that night is symbolic of a body of work that has always been marked by its poetry and warmth. Bringing that back with him to Pennsylvania, Langhorne Slim illuminated the insight, humanity and connection within each layer of music to create something that felt new, remarkable and damn near perfect.
Article: Caitlin Phillips