Written by James Killen
Jul 06, 2013 at 09:00 PM
ImageI’ve been hearing songs by Grant Peeples for several years now on KPFT and always found him unabashedly direct in getting across his social observations. It’s a quality in song writing that you don’t hear often these days and certainly not in the top forty. I heard that he and Matt Harlan, whom I haven’t gotten out to see often enough lately, were doing a benefit for my favorite local radio station, KPFT. Peeples, Harlan and KPFT were three strikes and I was “in” for the Saturday night show.

Organizing and hosting the show for the evening were KPFT personalities, Larry Winter of the “Spare Change” show and Wally James of the “Progressive Forum” and featured free speech as a theme on the Independence Day weekend. The effort was a success as there were more people in Anderson Fair than there were places to sit.

The evening’s music started out with Matt playing the first song that he wrote when he moved to Houston, “Waiting for Godot”, which is possibly my favorite Matt Harlan song. Matt’s second song was so new that he hadn’t named it yet, but it was inspired by the old Warren Zevon song, “Mohamed’s Radio”. His commentary was that for someone to have written a song that mentions Mohamed today would risk condemnation from all sides. For Matt such social commentary is here to fore uncharacteristic. I happened to have loved the tune.

Harlan told the story behind writing “Over the Bridge” before playing it. He had been working all day at the Astrodome, helping the folks that had fled Katrina from New Orleans. When he came home that evening he heard someone talking about what a great effort Houston was putting out for these folks and that staying in the dome was probably better than what they were used to normally in New Orleans. The statement struck Matt the wrong way and inspired him to write the song. Just knowing where his head was at, brought many of this song’s lyrics to light for me. “Ravin Hotel” followed with its account of the darker side of a musician’s road life.

ImageMatt’s still blushing bride, Rachel Jones, joined him on stage as harmony vocalist on “Darker Shade of Gray”, “Slow Moving Train”, and “The Ring”. Matt’s early birthday present to Rachel was a song of her own in which she sang the lead. It was a song for her and about her and sounded like freedom and beautiful revelation and she sang it beautifully.

The set ended with “Bow and Be Simple” and “Old Allen Road”. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I counted 5 of the 11 songs played in the set as not currently being included on a commercially available CD. How about it, Matt, is there a new one in the works?

Grant Peeples took the stage, accompanied by bassist Erik Alvar after a short break. He started his set out by reading one of his poems, called “High Octane Generation”, bemoaning the lack of engagement we have with our cars today since we can’t fix anything without a computer diagnosis. “We didn’t need a check engine light, because we checked our engines every day.”

His next four songs, “Searching for a Sign”, “Patriot Act”, “Jesus Was a Revolutionary”, and “Grant’s Talking Blues”, spoke of anarchy and a return to a life that is real and free from the commercial fantasy land that we have been lulled into. Grant Peeples had bought property on an isolated island off of the coast of Nicaragua in 1995 and returned to the U.S. in 2006 to find a country, whose populace had been divided by contrived controversy and antagonism. At the age of 50 he began his music career in earnest to stir folks up and try to right the ship.

I was transfixed by what he was singing, but the sarcasm and cynicism was getting a little heavy and that’s when he let us up with “That Kind of Woman” about a romantic encounter. He also let us have a peek into his rural Florida upbringing with “My People Come From the Dirt”. Throughout the show, Erik Alvar was tearing it up on stand-up bass, both bowing and plucking the strings.

ImageHouston native, Katie Mann joined him on stage for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed”. She really belted it out on “The Hanging” showing real vocal talent on that condemnation of the death penalty.

Matt Harlan returned to the stage to sing the part of Grant’s “anti-muse” on “You’re a Slave to Your Imagination”, a song depicting his internal argument as to whether or not to continue in the music business. Harlan laid down some really nice acoustic lead licks on that one as well.

The mood lightened up immensely as the set wound down and Grant sang “Gay and Lesbian Sons and Daughters of the Southern Confederacy” and offered his tongue in cheek submission for new state song of Florida, “Sunshine State”. The expected encore was a sing-along of the irreverent hymn-like “High Fructose Corn Syrup”.

If the intent was to celebrate free speech at this benefit we certainly had an example to point to in Grant Peeples. His songs, while often humorous and witty, were also disturbing…and that’s a big part of the reason that I liked them. All too often we find ourselves, becoming “comfortably numb” and it takes someone like Grant to disturb us, get us to thinking, and looking at things from another perspective. We don’t even have to agree with what he says, but we should form opinions based on all of the facts and do what we can to shape our world, accordingly. It’s good to have a gadfly on stage every now and again and I’d make the effort to see Grant the next time he’s through.