She was playing at the Bus Stop Co-op in Berkeley at 8 on Friday. I showed up at 7:15, which turned out to be exceedingly early. I think people were still finishing up dinner. I impressed Rose by identifying my name on The List from the back of the paper. I loitered for half an hour while I waited for more people to show up and Rose tuned and warmed up. It was weird to be, like...in someone's place of residence. I'd never been to a house concert before.
I took a spot in the front row. The rest of the guests started streaming in around 7:45, and the residents provided tasty snacks for us to munch on. In an unexpected bit of Small World Syndrome, one of the guests knew one of the residents from Dartmouth. They were excited to catch up with each other. I chatted with a couple, Kate and Justin. Kate noticed my Tegan and Sara shirt, which I had worn to be noticed, and commented that she'd never seen it before. I proudly answered that it was one of only 200 or so that they had made in order to fund the "Living Room" video. We both agreed that we liked Tegan and Sara more before they changed their sound. She had the same feelings about Modest Mouse. Justin remarked that he actually hadn't listened to Rose in years, but he wasn't going to pass up an intimate, casual show like this. I was the same! When I said that I thought I'd moved past my female singer-songwriter phase, Kate said that was just like Justin, whom she referred to as her "lesbian husband." She was amused that we were kindred spirits. Both of us men were pretty pleased that we weren't the only dudes there; there were more than a handful!
Rose came on around 8:30 and thanked us all for coming. She said it had been eight or ten years since she'd played in the Bay Area, so she didn't know how familiar people were with her newer material, but she realized she'd put together the sort of setlist she'd play in Boston, where they knew all her songs. As a result, there were only a few songs on her setlist that I knew, and they were good but not my very favorites. But she did take requests! She did "Omen," which I learned was about horsefucking, "The Llama," which she had printed off lyrics for, and "Sacramento Avenue," which one guy said it was traditional for him to request (I heard the story from him later: at one show, he requested the song based on the lyrics he'd read on her website, never having actually heard it, and Rose was surprised at the request for an older song that she'd never recorded, but she played it and then it showed up on a later album...coincidence?). She also played some ukulele songs, my favorite being "Seven Swans," which was not a Sufjan Stevens cover but still had a sort of sinister undertone. During one song, she tried to start up a call-and-response audience participation thing, and Justin picked up on it much more quickly than the rest of us, and she was so pleased she said, "Free CD to the man in plaid!" And she was serious, ha.
In the front row, I could watch her play guitar without a pick and tune her ukulele with this electronic device and close her eyes while she sang beautifully. There's nothing like hearing someone with a great voice you admire in recordings sing just as well or even better right in front of you. She closed after an hour, but we clapped her back for an encore, and she sang "Sometimes" a cappella, and it was just amazing. She had such control of her voice. It could have ended right there, but she followed it up with her award-winning song, "You Were Drunk." Later she told us of a recent performance where MC Mr. Napkins had inserted a rap from the perspective of the man in the song. Her favorite line was the last: "My pole rose for Rose Polenzani."
After the show, many guests shuffled off, and when there were only a few of us left, Rose said we could break out the wine. And so I hung out for a couple hours talking with folks, several of whom were Rose's friends or former roommates. I was just a simple fan. But everyone had stories to tell. One guy, Scott, regaled us with his adventures being scammed in Turkey and left on a train car in Eastern Europe and consoling an online stranger who mistook him for a friend who had just died...all in the space of three days. One cute girl with funky glasses—also named Rose—was a single mom and huge fangirl of local glam rock band Triple Cobra, whom she and her friend/boyfriend/whatever recommended to me highly. Rose—the singer—asked me how long I'd been in the Bay Area and what I was doing. I told her about seeing her in Ann Arbor, when she had jokingly asked me to come stand next to her and I had taken her at her word and done gestures while she sang "Till There Was You." She didn't remember, but she said it sounded sweet and cute and she wished she'd done something like that tonight.
I had brought liner notes from the three Rose Polenzani CDs I didn't have signed—I had gotten August signed when I bought it at that show, and she had written "There were bells on the hill" on the CD—and I was waiting for an opportune moment to ask her to sign them, as it almost felt gauche in this environment. But after someone told Rose a story about getting CDs signed for a friend, I pulled out my material and asked her to sign. She spent a lot of time just flipping through the booklets since she hadn't seen them in so long. She was unhappy with some of her recordings from long ago. Rather than just signing the cover, she looked for other places. In Dragersville, she signed on the back with a "Thank you, Sunil" (I didn't have to tell her my name!). In Anybody, she drew a bunch of lines on her shirt. In Rose Polenzani, she flipped through the lyric book and wrote "Thank you" under "The Llama," "Sunil!" under "Polliwog's Lament," and her signature under "Orange Crush." I told her that was a perfect place to sign since "Polliwog's Lament" was one of my favorites, as was "Orange Crush," which I had requested, but she said she couldn't have remembered all the lyrics.
My mission accomplished, I waited for an opportune moment to leave since I was quite tired and had stayed out later than intended, and when Rose—the single mom—made a move to leave, I followed suit. It had been a fun night, and now I wonder whether I'll run into all those people I met again. I do like how music brings people together.