WIB Listening Party #10: Live In Tokyo

featuring…

David Lindley & Hani Naser, Live In Tokyo

🍺 Strüssje Kurt

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

The Who Is Blues Listening Party has reached its first, modest milestone. Number ten. Thanks for joining in.

This time around, I’ve chosen a couple of relative oddities – bound by their flair for color and cult status.

The “official bootleg” Live In Tokyo from stringed-instrument wizard David Lindley and gifted percussionist Hani Naser, who sadly passed away last November, is an out-of-print rarity. It originally appeared on CD on Lindley’s own indie label Pleemhead in 1994. Twenty-seven years later it’s listed as out of stock on his website and sells for upwards of $50 on Amazon.

Adding to the weirdness of this album is that nobody seems to know exactly what the title is. It’s usually referred to as David Lindley & Hani Naser Official Bootleg Live In Tokyo Playing Real Good or some combination thereof. There’s a lot of information on Lindley’s hand-penned black-on-blue cover.

The beer named Kurt – hi, Kurt – is one of just two offerings from Cologne, Germany’s Strüssje brand. It’s unconventional in as far as it is not Kölsch. If you joined me for Listening Party #4 or simply know your beer, it’ll come as no secret that drinkers in my adopted home city generally choose the locally brewed ale called Kölsch. It’s everywhere. Recently, a handful of small local brewers have set out to remind people that, though Kölsch is King today, it wasn’t always that way. They’re reviving forgotten recipes as an alternative to the city’s monoculture.

Strüssje Kurt and David Lindley both come colorfully packaged. Lindley’s penchant for bluntly patterned shirts and leisure suits have earned him the nickname “Prince of Polyester.” The loud pinks and blues on the Strüssje Kurt label would surely make him smile.

Ready? Let’s bring these two garish beauties together and see what happens …

I can only make a rough guess at when I consciously discovered the music of David Lindley. What I do know for sure is that while I was getting into the blues in the 1990s, I developed a taste for slide guitar. At some point in those early days, I found a copy of Everybody Slides Vol. 2  at a nearby library. I may have even borrowed it from a second-hand CD store. You could do that back then. You’d take a bunch of CDs home, transfer them onto cassette, then return them a couple of weeks later. Sounds a lot like stealing music, but it was allowed if not condoned at the time.

Anyway, David Lindley’s “Attar” was the very first song on that collection of contemporary slide guitarists, which was obviously the second in the Everybody Slides series. I invite you to listen to “Attar” (listed as “Atar” in the link below) and see if you hear what I hear.

That’s David Lindley solo, playing one of the many lap steel guitars in his collection, and … just wow. That so much depth, so much warmth, so much beauty can come from one man playing one instrument was a revelation to me then and still knocks me out now. It’s an absolute favorite.

Sometime between hearing “Attar” and seeing Lindley perform live for the first time around the turn of the millennium, I found Live In Tokyo, the first of two official bootlegs featuring his duo with Hani Naser. Naser was a Jordanian-born master of hand percussion. He grew up north of New York City and eventually wound up in Los Angeles, working with people like Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Ry Cooder and others. There he crossed paths with Lindley, whose discography as a session player will blow your mind.

Naser is an unobtrusive force on Live In Tokyo. Lindley’s, um … unique voice and otherworldly string tickling take center stage, but there’s a propulsive energy right from the get-go that starts with Naser. A seven-minute version of “Bon Ton Roulie” (credited to Clifton Chenier) kicks off the album and establishes a rollicking good time vibe that never waivers. From there, the two virtuosos move through about an hour of mostly obscure material. Lindley features the bottleneck style familiar to blues fans as well as other stringed instruments associated with Northern Africa and the Middle East. The duo takes its time exploring: The shortest track clocks in at just over four minutes, the longest stretches to over eleven.

“More Than Eva Braun,” penned by Danny O’Keefe, is a typically quirky cut from the album – notable for the lyric “A broken heart is like a Nazi, and the Nazis love the blues.”

That felt like as good a moment as any to crack open the bottle and say hello to Kurt.

Kurt is a Keut. Huh? Never heard of it? I hadn’t either. So I turned to Google and found out that the Keut style of beer was fairly common in certain areas of northern and western Germany as well as in Holland from the 1500s until roughly 150 years ago. It seems there were many more local beer varieties a few centuries ago, specific to particular cities and towns, than in the mass-produced world we live in today.

Strüssje’s unfiltered Keut is nearly opaque in the glass and of a light amber shade. The initial whiff is a bit sour but once it passes the lips, the beer’s fruitiness takes over. The first hint is of blueberries. Moments later I’m detecting a mildly sweet and mellow pear. There’s also some breadiness, not surprising since Keut is brewed with barley, wheat and oats. All in all it’s like a softer, fruitier Weizenbier, light and zesty, a summer afternoon at the beer garden kind of beverage. 

A lazy day of drinking and socializing seems a gazillion miles away right now, as Germany and most of the rest of Europe trips over itself trying to find a way out of the pandemic. A year of relative misery and abstinence is now in the books. My coping mechanism all along has been to avoid looking forward. To stop thinking about next week or next month and instead to reflect upon where I’ve been and what I’ve done – which I suppose spawned the idea for these weekly dives into my record collection. 

Live In Tokyo Playing Real Good etc has most definitely stood the test of time. Each of its eleven cuts has something beautiful to offer. If you can’t find a copy then perhaps you’ll have better luck with the follow-up record from Lindley and Naser, Official Bootleg #2 Playing Even Better, which is just as good. 

Now it’s time to sit back, glass in hand, and enjoy the wild nine-minute ride that is “Cottonmill Blues.” (UPDATE August 2021: The YouTube link to “Cottonmill Blues” no longer works. Until I upload the song myself, I’m substituting a standout cut from the second David Lindley/Hani Naser collaboration.)

See you next time.

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The Who Is Blues Listening Party is powered by Bierlager, one of Germany’s finest addresses for premium craft beer.

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