“Ever heard of Steve Poltz?” Probably not. Didn’t he write that song with that woman? Yes, he wrote You Were Meant For Me with Jewel. But there is so much more to him than That Song. The spirit of troubadours and minstrels live on in Steve Poltz. He regularly travels the world, sharing stories and songs of love, death, pain, happiness and laughter.
That Song was not my first introduction to Poltz. I purchased One Left Shoe, based on the look and feel of the cover. I was not disappointed, and over a decade later those songs still make it to playlists and mixed tapes. Over the years I’ve picked up most of his albums, both solo, and in his previous life with the cult band, The Rugburns. It wasn’t until I purchased Mommy I’m Sorry that I realised my very first introduction to him was watching a cover of Sesame Street on some music show. We never got the name of the band, and never saw the clip again.
A Steve Poltz album gives you everything; excellent musicianship, melodies and words rich in texture, with a keen eye for observation. He has an actor’s feel for drama, and a comedian’s sense of timing, with a quirky sense of humour. And he genuinely enjoys sharing all this and more with a live audience.
Steve played The Northcote Social Club on January 22nd, a venue he enjoys returning to. The NSC is a very comfortable, easy place to hang out, being able to enjoy a quiet drink with friends before the show, watching the unusual, weird, and wonderful denizens amble through – none more freaky than the bar staff.
I drifted into the stage bar around 9.15 to catch the support act, Kate Walker. A very gifted guitar player, and singer, Kate was well supported by friends and fans. Two standout songs remain with me. A wry ode to a friend, I Liked You Better Before You Found God, and a breathtaking cover of Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World. Kate is as good as anyone you hear on the radio – her biggest step will be in managing self-consciousness on stage, self -confidence once in the songs end, and to develop an entertainer’s presence on stage as a performer. Having said that, it was a strong set and received rousing applause from the gathering crowd.
Steve comes on stage around 10.15 pm and from the first note his enthusiasm is infectious. For the next two and a bit hours he has the audience in the palm of his hand – laughing, singing, and sometimes in total silence as he weaves his way through his repertoire.
I saw him at this venue around the same time last year, getting the crowd in the mood with his intro vox-pop video “Ever Heard Of Steve Poltz?” before exploding into Chinese Checkers that set the scene for the evening. He blew me away with two songs that night, a cover of Dylan’s Forever Young, sung with the effervescent Bushwalla, and my personal request, Salvation Song. There was no Salvation Song this night, but there were equally impressive renditions of his standards, like Once Again, I Killed Walter Matthau, and The Great Mystery, as well as a faultless version of She Moved Through The Fair. He played songs from his most recent album, Dreamhouse (retailers, why is this cd so hard to find?), and that other well known song, You Remind Me, yes, the Jeep ad song. He didn’t play That Song, but no one noticed, such was the energy and passion that he devotes to his set lists.
Steve Poltz transfers his energy and passion to the crowd, encouraging audience participation if and when he can. From his epic Rugburns song Dick’s Automotive, with added baritone and falsetto, to the hands across the world finale of Long Haul, with hilarious commentary, he has that uncanny ability to conscript members of the audience and happily get them out of their comfort zone for a short while, to since or dance, or share a laugh. In turn, he helps them express who they really are.
Clothing is another form of self expression. Have you ever noticed that people like to wear band tee shirts to gigs? I do. I guess it’s a bit vain, it’s a bit of a status thing; look at me, this is who I am and who I like. Can it make a difference to the gig? It did for me. I’d worn one of my favourites – a Big Star tee shirt. Big Star: one of the best ‘unknown bands’ that have influenced countless numbers over the years. I was overwhelmed when Steve Poltz dedicated his cover of Thirteen to Big Star’s late, great Alex Chilton, who passed away in 2010. As always, I purchase a copy of the show on USB, and hang back to pick up an extra cd or offer thanks for a great performance. When I spoke with Steve briefly after his set, I’m not sure who was more gob-smacked: him for seeing someone with a Big Star tee shirt, or me for having one idol play one of my top ten favourite songs. The beauty of Steve is that he appreciates the awe us fans have for our rock stars. He makes a point of getting around to as many people as he can, sincerely acknowledging their support and interested in their comments or questions. And he backs that message up professionally. This show was his last public gig in Australia. But he was performing again – in someone’s lounge or backyard. You see, subject to availability, you can book him for your own private gig. Sure, he doesn’t make much from it – but it keeps him grounded, and connected to his fans. Just like the minstrels of old...
Ever heard of Steve Poltz? You have now. The rest is up to you.