Steve Poltz may remind you of another high energy comedic force named Steve. While Steve Martin wields a banjo to the supplement of what he’s known and loved for, Steve Poltz is a musician down to his bones. He tours harder and longer in one year than most bands make in a lifetime average. He’s written mega hits (“You Were Meant For Me” with then-girlfriend Jewel) and songs that should be, like “The Fackin’ Thing’s Fackin’ Facked” based on an Australian’s offer of a locally endearing phrase. Car bust a gasket on a red dirt highway? It’s not broken, the fackin’ thing’s fackin’ facked. Steve delighted in the phrase so much he feeds it into a loop pedal and interjects his mostly-acoustic one-man show with heavy vocal effects while the room dissolves into giggles. It sounds fackin’ cool.
I’ve seen Steve play in New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’ve seen him turn too-cool-for-school rooms so warm by the end of the night that they shout the pivotal line of the (great) song “I Want All My Friends To Be Happy” because they fucking mean it. Until you’ve seen a perennially self-conscious Hotel Cafe audience scream at cancer to go fuck off, you haven’t seen what Steve Poltz can do to a room. They aren’t thinking about the people around them, they’re breaking through the surface for someone they care about.
This is the magical thing about Steve, something that makes me admire him as a musician and respect him as a person. He’s funny and hyper and lighthearted, but he connects directly to what matters about being a human.
Obviously I have a small tethering to this troubadour, so when I heard he was coming to Rockwood Music Hall last Saturday, I was all over it. We met for dinner beforehand and wandered around the East Village a few days later. We saw “Heaven Knows What” at Sunshine Cinema, which turned out to be an incredibly visceral film about addiction on the streets of New York. We both lost our shit a little bit and mentioned how glad we were that we saw the film while in New York.
“You still live in San Diego, yeah?” I asked as we dodged construction on Houston.
“I do, but I’m hardly ever there,” he replied. (Note: He will be there on June 23rd for an impromptu and rare reuniting with his famed SoCal band The Rugburns)
“Yeah, you’re on the road quite a bit! Does it feel weird to have a couple days off?”
“Tomorrow morning I gotta get up and rent a car and get in the car and drive four hours to Delaware in time for soundcheck. That’s a normal day. This is great. That’s great too, but it’s nice to be able to stay in bed sometimes.” I agree heartily with far less cause. We conclude that beds are great.
We talk about tea. A frequent visitor of the UK and Australia, he’s become a self-proclaimed tea snob. Which didn’t at all stop us from buying overpriced sugar-bombed Honest Tea at the theater and thoroughly enjoying it.
At Rockwood on Saturday, Steve announced that he’d be “dressed like Matlock” and immediately launched into his commanding and endearing show. Rockwood’s an intimate room, and Steve‘s particular brand of professionalism-wrapped-in-personality always seems to feel like watching Tony Bennett play late night drunken piano at a family Christmas party. He does this for a living, but tonight he’s doing it for fun.
Onstage Steve is a powerful wordsmith and a blur to photograph. He’s a blur of a person in general. But offstage he’s surprisingly calm. He likes things. Maybe Canada just forever lives on in our blood, but it’s great to be around someone else unabashedly enthusiastic about the world.
I ask him that age-old question. “How do your songs get from the inside to the outside?”
His response: “I just vomit them out. I call them vomit songs, it’s uncontrollable and then I just start making up a song and I think ‘wow I’m gonna make up a song right now, it’s happening’ and then the song just appears like a gift. I don’t even know how it happens, I just try not to overthink and be available.”
That’s Steve Poltz. Go see him play somewhere. You will be glad you did.