Hypnotizing: this Rose still in full bloom
‘“So, is your solo work at all indicative of the kind of music you perform with Pelt?’” I ask.
Jack Rose knits his brows in the manner of a teacher flummoxed by a slow learner.
‘“Well no,’” he says, ‘“like I said, I’m not in Pelt anymore.’”
Oh yeah, we just went over that. Rose graciously forgives my transgression, as well he should, considering he is the cause of it. My mind, you see, is still reeling from 45 minutes of Rose’s hypnotic guitar playing.
The Green Bean has become a bit of a haven for wayward touring acts these days. Rose appeared tonight thanks to booker Kemp Stroble, who lined up the performance for the singer after another in Raleigh feel through. Unlike his tour mates Mogwai, Rose can scarcely afford to take a night off.
So here he is before us. About 15 chairs set in three rows face the picture windows’ drawn shades; Rose occupies an identical seat facing the crowd. The set up is not unlike a neighborhood talent show.
Two microphones train on the performer but neither point toward his mouth. Once seated with the guitar, Rose’s body wraps around the thing as if its sound hole is actually a black hole.
With his 12-string Rose coaxes lush soundscapes influenced by any number of world musics. The first number is decidedly Spanish, and he pulls some aural tricks to muscle his single guitar into a seeming chorus. Rose’s trick is the slow build from simple plucking into a shimmering musical caress.
After the first song the guitarist plays quite a few featuring Southern licks. Of course, the two genres are not mutually exclusive and overlap in the majority of numbers with Southwestern interludes.
Even without closing your eyes, the music transports. I imagine Rose as a cowboy troubadour, someone tragic out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Lights reflect off swinging blinds as the crowd collectively blisses.
I’m building this notion of Rose as a misplaced Sun Belt native when the sniffling performer asks for a tissue. The request jibes with my developing storyline of a taciturn denizen of big-sky country woefully out of place in the Soggy East Coast spring.
Later, during my bungled interview, I’ll find out he hails from Philadelphia. But out of place is not a completely inappropriate characterization.
Music so plaintive and sad would seem to have limited appeal on the new-and-improved Elm Street. Something about the songs brings me back a few years. Through my half-lidded eyes, the slivers of the street visible through the covered windows resume their pre-revitalization vacancy. And it’s nice.
Rose is hypnotizing us, taking us both backwards and far away, to anywhere out of reach. He hangs onto chords with startling tenacity, for the better part of a minute sometimes, in order to wring all the possibilities from their collection of notes.
Sometimes the shift is subtle, to another key and another step on the way to the crescendo. Through it all Rose barely speaks, other than muttering a few excuses about tuning. He never addresses the crowd directly.
That’s okay ‘— preferable, in fact, for this type of music. It’s all incidental, background or soundtrack, expertly delivered. It is so perfect that those born in the age of the modern moving picture can’t help but make up their own tale since none is provided.
Of course, someone occasionally breaches the fourth wall, like the cell-phone talker plugging her unconcerned ear as she converses and the pool balls clacking in the background. But for the most part the atmosphere holds, cradling us all in a celluloid dream.
‘“He’s amazing,’” Stroble says. ‘“That guy’s just a phenomenal guitar player. He gets so into it, the way he catches onto a particular pattern in the music.’”
Pelt, the band that Rose is not in anymore, played more atmospheric, experimental music. Rose had little chance to showboat his guitar skills. Critics’ takes on the band’s work often mention Rose as a key contributor.
The small group that gathered here to watch Rose play are the lucky ones. Tomorrow is the last day of the tour for the musician before he heads back home to Philadelphia. Who knows when the next twist of fate will take the musical traveler back to our fair city?
To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at firstname.lastname@example.org.