The rain fell like liquid darts and it was time for a show.
Ron Pope was set to headline Mercy Lounge, with the lovely Caroline Spence to open this particular Friday night. I raced over amidst spastic windshield wipers aiding my line of vision through the pummeling precipitation. Parking was surprisingly but a dream, and in I strolled.
Spence was in the middle of her set, and again I scolded myself for not making it on time. Damn tardy genes of mine. Packed tight to the right of the stairwell were many a fan, with plenty of scattered bodies in the back half near the merch tables and deck doors. I imagine most people were excited to be there just to be safe from the soggy weather outside.
One of the first things I noticed other than Spence’s incredible rendition of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” which I used to skateboard to in my basement during winters in New York, was the many surrounding red lights. Red lights lined the platform that led to the bar, the lights behind Spence shone bright red, and of course the few neon Exit signs aglow. If this were a movie, I would expect some grisly foreshadowing. Maybe some telekinetic Carrie shit.
Alas that would not be the case, and Spence would continue her delightful acoustic set. “Thanks for letting me practice before tour,” Spence says. “This is a song about making mistakes.”
Spence left the stage with a much deserved roar of applause, and soon the bombastic opening of “Rainy Day Women” hit the speakers. A song which will always hold a place in my 16-year-old stoner heart.
I found myself standing next to canoodling lovers, and would soon find the place to be full of them. I spotted a blue spiked Mohawk atop the skull of a fan near the front, patiently awaiting Pope. Him and the others kept a hawk’s eye on the stage while Marshall Tucker kept the crowd distracted, some leaning on the hulking wooden pillars. Music techs mimed on stage, pointing and pondering, pointing and pondering.
Before I knew it, an almost gospel-like a cappella caught everyone’s attention. This led to a count to rock and roll.
Pope and his band came down like lightning, crashing soulful rock energy into the crowd. I was pleasantly surprised to see a band consisting of what looked like seven or eight members. Aside from guitars and drums, Pope had horns and keys, and that would only be the start.
The first few songs had a very Exile on Main Street sound to me, with something of a New Orleans essence. This Big Easy influence would definitely carry out through the first half of the set.
Pope, what with his bushy black beard, pigtails, and garments, poured down rock and roll in unison with the rain outside. After each song, he’d fling his guitar pick into the crowd like a ninja star.
Then the opening keys riff for the Ray Charles’ classic, “What’d I Say” struck, and they flirted with the intro to that before sliding into the next jam. There would be some epic covers to follow this particular evening. The band continued to hammer through soulful, grooving rock and roll, fronted with Pope’s powerful vocals and overall super tight instrumentation.
About halfway through, Pope shifted gears, and the more vulnerable and sentimental songwriter side emerged. He shifted over to piano to do some slower emotional numbers, and cracked dad jokes in between. “So I don’t know if y’all know this but I am a new dad now. I find myself on ladders a lot all of a sudden. I’m often wearing sweatpants, and I recently got a pair of plain white Reeboks.”
The slow piano ballads really got the couples getting close, what with their tipsy eyes-closed swaying in each other’s arms, necking the night away. At some points it felt like prom all over again. (ahh the memories)
“Now I’ve been listening to a lot of Elton John recently, like a lot of Elton John. And I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone else try to cover this one, but here it goes.” Again with the iconic key riff, this time to “Tiny Dancer,” and Pope totally nailed it, and the crowd loved it. A bespectacled fella from the band emerged in front, adding some killer slide guitar touches on his Tele, and the rest of the band kept it tight. An epic cover indeed.
Then it was time for the band to clear out, and Pope to fly solo on acoustic for a bit. “So I just put this song out yesterday, and it’s a song I wrote about my daughter after she was born.” Pope would go on to play his beautiful melodic tune, “My Wildest Dreams.” This track can be found on his forthcoming album Bone Structure, which comes out this March.
Then Pope was “pleased as punch” to bring out his next guest, Kristin Weber on stage to play fiddle alongside him. “I guess I’m saying that now. Hey I’m a dad.”
After another beautiful acoustic tune with fiddle accompaniment this time, Pope urged the crowd to stay quiet for this next one. “I’m going to need y’all to get it all out now okay? On the count of three, everybody go ‘Woo!’ 1, 2, 3- ! Okay now shut the fuck up.” It was then he brought out what looked like 34 different musicians, including Spence, who made her way back to the stage. The masses huddled around Pope and one mic, and proceeded to lay into another classic- “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac.
“A Drop in the Ocean!” Yelled the woman directly in front of me.
“Okay so I’m going to give y’all two lessons right now. One, if you don’t hear Prince, which is my after-show house music, then the show ain’t over. Second, if you didn’t hear ‘A Drop in the Ocean,’ yet, the show ain’t over.” Pope would play his last song before the band hopped off stage for a brief moment before the encore.
Then It was back to the piano, and as a man of his word, Pope would indeed go on to close the night with his smash hit, “A Drop in the Ocean.” The crowd all harmonized and sang, and at one point Pope seemingly walked right off, with the crowd holding down vocals, before coming back to wrap it up.
Pope gave the people what they wanted that Friday night, and that would be the start of his 2020 tour, which will include Caroline Spence as well. Be sure to keep an eye out for his newest album, Bone Structure, this March. And if you ever notice too much red, be on your guard.