Silver Jews’ Berman takes his band on the road for their second tour in 20 years

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:: Silver Jews ::
:: Bluebird Theatre :: October 5 ::

By Timothy Dwenger

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Silver Jews are David Berman. Sure, he has additional players on his albums and on stage with him when he tours, but he is the tortured soul behind the quirky alt-country that has been produced under the Silver Jews moniker for nearly 20 years. With six critically acclaimed albums under his belt, Berman has had his share of ups and downs.

Until his most recent album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, Berman had concentrated on largely autobiographical lyrics that left at least one journalist wishing he knew where Berman lived so he could “knock on his door, give him a hug, and tell him everything is gonna be okay.”

In a recent interview with The Marquee, Berman described this album as being very different. “I wrote it over the summer of 2007 at my dining room table,” he said. “On other albums the songs got written sequentially, these were written alongside each other. I think that helped to create contiguity between songs with less overlap.” Described as one of the Silver Jews’, or “Joos” as they’re known, lightest albums, it seems to reflect where Berman is at this point in his life.

It is a life that almost ended five years ago when Berman attempted suicide when, according to New York’s Village Voice, he “swallowed a handful of pills, smoked a lump of crack, and rented a suite at the Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville — where Al Gore holed up during the recount in 2000 — professing to a bellboy that he wanted to die where the presidency did.”

Obviously, it was a tough time for Berman, who struggled with depression and drug addiction for years before the attempt to take his life. Today, however, things have turned around a bit for the Nashville resident and he is on the road with his band for only their second tour ever. The first, in 2006, was greeted with amazement from the band’s disciples and, though Berman is said to have appeared very stiff on stage, the shows got very good reviews.

Two years later, it seems that the reluctant front-man has settled down a bit, ditched his music stand and lyric sheets, and is enjoying the road a bit more. “Financial problems forced me to try [playing live],” said Berman. “Once I did, I found it to be relatively natural for me. We’ve played 20 shows on this American leg so far and Houston, Detroit, and Hoboken really stick out for their audience’s enthusiasm.”

Joining Berman and his band on the road this fall as the opener is Monotonix, an Israeli garage rock band from Tel Aviv. “When we played Israel they were our hosts,” Berman said. “We’ve now played shows all over with them. Taking them thru Germany was pretty poignant for me, at least. I love all three of them very much. Not many people would like to go on after them, so devastating are they live, but for us it’s perfect. They get everybody smiling so when I come out they (the audience) have been startled out of their ideas about what a Jews show will be like. They are then ready to receive what I’m sending out.”

Silver Jews have several more months of touring to go this year and Berman is lucky enough to share life on the road with his wife Cassie, who is also a part of the band these days. “It’s good for traveling and I don’t think it does harm to the marriage. Cassie is great as long as she’s not spacing out on what she’s supposed to be doing,” he said.

The other members of Silver Jews touring band include Brian Kotzur on Drums, Cassie on bass, Tony Crow on keyboard, William Tyler on guitar, and Peyton Pinkerton on “the other guitar,” Berman said. “These were also the players on the album. I’ll stick with them through the one-year anniversary of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea in June. Then I’ll have to change personnel to keep to my own patterns.

One of the possible replacements would be Stephen Malkmus of Pavement fame. He was involved in the birth of Silver Jews back in 1989 and he has shown up on several albums since. “He [Malkmus] usually shows up for the odd numbered albums. Numbers one, three and five. I haven’t asked him yet, but a number seven may continue the pattern,” Berman said.

It’s good to hear Berman talking about the future of Silver Jews and it seems that things are on the right track, at least for now. Whether Berman’s more stable mental state will affect the quality of the Jews output in the eyes of his hardcore fans remains to be seen, but at least it sounds like there will be more Jews records as opposed to the rather morbid alternative.

:: Silver Jews ::
:: Bluebird Theatre :: October 5 ::
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