Dan Bern stages intimate gig at Passim

A review of Dan Bern and Common Rotation at Club Passim on February 22, 2011

, Staff Writer

Dan Bern, the lyrical jokester, smartass workingman philosopher-poet turned Hollywood songwriter, brought his musical routine to Club Passim’s cozy performance space, offering a heady selection of his unique songwriting to the crowd that made it out to the Harvard Square club last Tuesday.

Dressed in a red baseball hat, flannel shirt, and blue jeans, Bern affected to appearance of drifting minstrel. His dreamlike description of touring alone through the south “drivin’ around by myself, sleepin’ wherever the hell I wanted, learnin’ all sorts of songs I’d always wanted to learn,” is a tantalizing version of the American Dream, one that Bern seems to have embraced with his whole self.

Common Rotation, who also opened the show, backed Bern for the majority of the set, adding depth to the sounds and brilliant harmonies to his snarling delivery. They added extra oomph to fan favorites like “Black Tornado” and “Marilyn Monroe”, cranking along and getting loud. Eerie, understated slide guitar work and spare xylophone on “God Said No” provided a haunting backdrop for Bern’s pained description of man’s true ambitions and motivation.

“God Said No” may be a bit bleak, but the majority of the show was a high-energy affair, with Bern constantly cracking jokes and maintaining a casually funny environment throughout the show, with his songs about drunk grandmothers and the woes of a blind man in a strip club punctuated with new tunes like “Galarraga”, which relates the tale of Detroit Tiger’s Pitcher Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game last season, to “Osama In Obamaland” which is a sort of pitch for a feature film about Osama Bin Laden trying to hide out in the Midwest.

A cover of the Johnny Cash classic “One Piece At A Time” was a fun singalong that Bern and Common Rotation wove into a round that, according to Bern, we will tell our grandchildren about. The sports theme that started with “Galarraga” continued with “Isner and Mahut”, the tale of last year’s epic, 11-hour tennis match at Wimbledon 2010.

After a short break, Bern and Common Rotation took their instruments to the back of the room, wandering around and riffing on Bern’s “Baby Bye Bye”. The night closed with the whole room singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” It was a fun night and an up close and personal night of music with a talented songwriter.

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