Red, white and Pale: mythical folkster spotted at the Blind Tiger.
(photo by Lawrence O’Neal)
When used in the depiction of a touring musician, the word “legend” usually invokes imagery of claustrophobic crowds, heavy-handed security and massive support details occupying a convoy of tour buses. Once in a while, however, it’s just a word that’s a function of the relationship between what is and what could have been. There are few better illustrations of the latter than Paleface, an artist with enough dramatic irony on his resume to keep a theater company in business for years. When the New York-cum-Concord anti-folk hero rolled into the Blind Tiger on the Fourth of July, it was practically a microcosm of his 20 year career up until this point: short on attendance, high on adulation.
Forget for a moment that the man only known by his pseudonym was a major influence on Beck when the two shared a space in New York City’s Lower East Side. Ignore the maelstrom of selfinflicted misfortune and cruel happenstance that would have leveled most committed artists. Particularly pay no attention to the humble white minivan in which he and his girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot cruise from city to city. Paleface is still about as earnest and complacent as you might have imagined him to be when he was discovered by music industry legend Danny Fields at a 1989 open mic. Dressed in a dime-store threepiece suit and his signature bowler, Paleface looked a bit road-weary and distant as he set up some artwork for sale along the side of the room, exacerbated by the prospect of playing in front of the always-thin holiday weekend audience.
Yet, when the fireworks died down outside and showtime came, it appeared as if someone flipped his On switch the minute he set foot on stage. Paleface himself said it wasn’t his best set — his guitar strings were occasionally noncompliant, resulting in a empty air a couple of times — but years of artistic ebb and flow seem to have hardened him into a resilient performer, capable of willing himself into convulsive fits that seem to embody the visceral spirit that drive his songs. His Waits-y gravel is beautifully met by Samalot’s submissive, pixie-ish backing, while her understated brush drum work intensified already intense stage presence by comparison.
Few were on hand to observe the hour-long set, but those that were knew him and knew him well. There’s truth in advertising behind his Ramseur Records debut The Show Is On the Road; the collection of grumblers and growlers progressive in their outlook that are clearly made for the stage. As the singer/songwriter designation goes, Paleface is about as far from being James Taylor as one could be. He tore down the fourth wall between himself and the crowd, stomping and dancing as those around him sang along to the bluesy “What to Do About You” and the cheeky “Styrofoam Cheeseburger,” the lyrics of which were splashed all over a cartoonish painting on the side of the room.
Remember for a second that he played a big role in Beck’s early work and suddenly, something clicks. While at times Paleface can wear his perma-grimace in his vocal chords, there are moments when you could almost swear you’re listening to Sea Change. “Try to Hold Your Own” exuded the same sleepy sincerity that Beck spent an entire album mastering, and oftentimes the inflection was nearly identical. But while Beck has cashed in on Paleface’s bohemian ramble, the man himself might simply have to settle on being a legend unknown to most.