Fred Thomas took the stage last night at Small's armed with just his Fender Jazzmaster, a practice amp, and a multi-effects pedal. In front of a room of mostly familiar faces, Fred played a few older tunes and a Neil Young cover, but his set consisted mostly of songs from his new album All Are Saved
). He bantered and joked around with the audience between songs, even telling a story (with John Krautner in attendance) of how once, a little over ten years ago, he played drums with the Go for a single practice. “I was a member of The Go for about an hour,” he quipped, “I still list that on my resume”.
Those of us who have seen Fred perform countless times know the score — he engages his audience from the very start. You never feel like audience and performer aren't on the same level. He flubs a lyric and the audience doesn't feel embarrassed for him, but they're right there with him. He ad-libs another. Through 20 years and several musical projects spanning a number of styles, there is one common thread: it's always Fred. His music doesn't seem like a pastiche of influences, or an effort to convey one particular concept, but rather a true distillation of self. He weaves in distant memories, existential worry, snippets of conversation. These songs are personal catharsis. A purging of the artists internal thoughts and feelings, and also an airing of the world around him. They're filled with the sort of observations that we tend to sweep under the rug, the elephants in the room that most songwriters are quick to cloak in metaphor. When Thomas uses metaphor, it's often just an allusion to a harder truth.
Does none of this really sound like your cup of tea? Not fitting in with your general idea of "escapist" rock and roll? Give this stuff a chance. The content of these songs may be awkward or uncomfortable to take, but they contain a major underlying sense of positivity, and at some point it becomes clear that this guy isn't somehow ill-intentioned or trying to put a sour look on your face. Ask someone on the street who knows Fred personally, you'll hear the same thing time and time again — he's one of the sweetest guys on the planet. I've been saying it for years.
Your next chance to see Fred Thomas live will be at UFO Factory on Wednesday, May 6. He's playing a special record release show with guests Anna Burch, Haunted aka Emily Roll, and J Fernandez, as well as a DJ set courtesy of Jamaican Queens.