My concert database shows that, so far, I've seen Peter Himmelman in concert exactly twenty times. To some, this may indicate obsessive lunacy. To me, this only proves my immense love for Peter's music and the tremendous enjoyment I get out of his inimitable live performances.
Funny thing, though - Peter's beginnings with me were decidedly rocky. It was November 23, 1987. I had tickets to see Joe Cocker at the Wiltern Theater. The opening act was one Peter Himmelman, someone no one knew, I certainly didn't. Before the show, I stopped at a record store and, right there in the bargain bin, was a Himmelman LP with an asking price of 99 cents. I bought it.
Peter came out with an acoustic guitar, all by himself, started to play, but few paid any attention - people were chatting, going in and out - they were there to see Joe, not some lowly singer they would never see or hear again. In spite of my best efforts to like his music, I was not taken by anything I heard and, after three or four songs, I remember thinking "enough of this now". As far as I was concerned, Peter was toast. A few days later I traded in his LP for a dime, as I had no room in my music room for discs I didn't want.
Fast forward a few years to my second encounter with Peter. It's 1991, I'm at the Rhino Records in Claremont and - where else but in the cut-outs section - I see a Peter Himmelman CD with a $2.99 sticker on it ... I thought, hmmm ... isn't he the hapless singer I saw opening for Joe Cocker a few years back? ... yeah, that's him, right where he belongs, in the section with music they can't sell.
Then, a few months later, I was home listening to KCRW, Santa Monica's outstanding public radio station, when a song caught my full attention - the melody, the voice, the rhythm, everything just hit me like a train and I absolutely needed to know, right there and then, who the artist was. My jaw dropped when the announcer said "Peter Himmelman". The very next day I went straight to Rhino Records, where for the princely sum of $2.99 plus tax, I became the owner of Peter's then-current album, "From Strength To Strength" and, as I was hoping, the ear-opening song, "Impermanent Things", was right there on the album.
|"From Strength To Strength", Peter Himmelman's 1991 album|
When I first went to McCabe's to see Peter live, I found myself wondering whether anyone else would show up - it was the summer of 1993, the Internet was still in its infancy, so lacking any information on Peter's career, I had no way of gaging his popularity. Well, plenty of people showed up, many of them with previous Himmelman experience.
Not in my wildest dreams could I have anticipated the ride I was in for. Right there at McCabe's, sitting unsuspectingly in the second row with my Better Half, I got hit by yet another train, a train called "Peter Himmelman Live". Come to think of it, there's no live show quite like Peter's, take it from someone who has been to a few concerts in his life. His songwriting is rock solid and few can deliver with his intensity and conviction. Other than Loudon Wainwright, I can't think of any other singer-songwriter capable of mixing with such ease the utterly humorous with the dead serious.
Peter's live act is a mix of humor and great music. The humor is entirely ad-libbed, mostly the result of his endless interaction with the crowd - he can chat up a fan, then seconds later out comes a clever little song that builds on their conversation. It's pure genius and I'm not using this word lightly. I have seen Peter's improvisational skills in action dozens of times and there's no one in the world with a shtick quite like his.
Peter is a master in using various regional accents as well as different musical styles to comedic effects. One minute he could be a Minnesota grandmother, then in a flash he could turn into an Israeli tourist. Or switch in a heartbeat from acoustic music to funk, hard rock or reggae. Amazing stuff.
OK, so the humor was great, but what really drew me back, time and time again, was the music, all of it written by Peter himself. Let me list a few highlights:
- "Mission Of My Soul", arguably Peter's signature song, a true gem
- "Untitled", one of the most powerful songs one would ever hear, something truly epic
- "Dixie The Tiny Dog", a funny song that I hope to hear again
- "Beneath Your Watching Eyes", a song with religious meanings that could touch anyone
- "Tremble", a moving song about the passing of Peter's father
- "Raina", the gorgeous ballad written by Peter for his new born baby daughter
- "Josiah", the equally gorgeous tune written for his youngest son
- "Measure", yet another song written for one of his kids
- "Beneath The Damage And Dust", a powerful song that decries homelessness
- "Been Set Free", another epic piece of music
- "Seven Circles", the way a love song is supposed to sound
- "One Shot At Love", one of his early songs, from his Sussman Lawrence days
Here are the Peter Himmelman concerts I have attended at McCabe's over the years:
- Concert #118: Summer of 1993
- Concert #125: Late 1993
- Concert #129: February 7, 1994
- Concert #153: October 14, 1995
- Concert #170: May 4, 1996
- Concert #175: January 18, 1997
- Concert #186: February 7, 1998
- Concert #199: December 6, 1998
- Concert #251: July 15, 2001
- Concert #296: February 9, 2003
- Concert #329: February 22, 2004
- Concert #461: March 9, 2008
- Concert #555: April 25, 2010
Peter seldom performs alone. His old musical pals Al Wolovitch (bass) and Andy Kamman (drums) have accompanied him many times at McCabe's, and so did vocalist Kristin Mooney - they have been making music together for many decades now. Percussionist Hani Nasser played with Peter once. A couple of times, in recent years, Peter brought along guitarist Willie Aron, a great player whom I have also seen playing with Syd Straw. In 2008, Peter came out with Isaac, his oldest son, and together they played a song or two.
I've been listening to Peter's music for twenty years now and I'm not done. On April 29, 2012, I'll see him again. Where? At McCabe's, where else?