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Mean Tooth Grin at the Fillmor

by on November 23rd, 2008

Date night with the husband featured live music at The Fillmor as we bundled up against the cold to venture out to see Mean Tooth Grin. Weeks ago I sat in a van with guitarist Tom Jordan and listened to him geek out about guitars and amps with Scott Holt. He invited me to come hear him play in November when he’d open for Steepwater.

Tom Jordan played with a gravity, feeling the weight of all the rock and blues greats who influenced him resting on his shoulders as he leaned into the rock, jamming his body against the beat. It seemed like he’d been loving this since he was a kid, this dream of performance, this open sharing of his first love. He presented it as a gift on a steel platter, asking us to love the music, too.

Tom growled into the microphone, the rough edge of the vocals shaping the gritty feel of the melody, an unpretentious declaration of being a good ol’ boy from the country. I felt I had been teleported to an outdoor music festival. I was sitting on a concrete wall, the rough surface of the stone scraping my thighs. I held a cold beer in my hand while the hot sun turned my face red and the music turned my body into an extension of the hard rhythm of the rock jam.

In reality, I was sitting in a draft at The Fillmor, my body growing colder as the music heated up on the stage.

Seth Heffner on bass played with an easy grace, a well-practiced and effortless skill with his instrument. The low repetitions of the bass line beat forth from his body, and all he had to do was pluck it from the machine he held. Seth smirked under his baseball cap, his hands curled over the strings, balancing on the notes, scratching it out like an itch he just had to relieve.

Brian Miller on the drums was a beefy jock of a man who played like this was the only place on earth he’d like to be: behind the drums, the sticks in his hands. Playing the beats with force and energy, he drove the music forward. Brian would shrug into the song, throwing himself into the rhythm, an easy grin on his face.

But Tom Jordan shined in his shy way, standing taller as the set aged. This is not a hobby. It’s his blood, boiling dirty and coarse through his veins, inexplicable, as part of him as nothing else. He played around with the melody, taking liberties with it, slapping it around, caressing it, sliding it around the stage, but always bringing it back where it belongs, coming back to the recognizable riffs to bring the song back home again. Tom hid behind a curtain of long brown hair that fell down in waves. Often he turned his body away from the crowd, unsure of himself but damn sure of the music.

Tom’s voice rode above the deep drive of the song, rolling on top of the bass. There was nothing syrupy sweet about the vocals. They were steeped in an elixir: one part snarl, one part sandpaper. He took turns with his guitar as he created a perfect balance between the lyrics and the melodic rampage of the jam.

I remembered the basement bedroom of a high school boyfriend. Black lights glowing, the hormonal heat keeping me warm, the music loud and the bass heavy. Leaning back against the second-hand couch, I learned the basics of the hard blues my mom never told me about. And so it was last night at The Fillmor, listening to Mean Tooth Grin display the skill of years of experience in the old school-style of raucous blues and country.

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