Mr. P. Kopasz of Lexington, Kentucky (or thereabouts) sits on a bench outside The Hideout on a cold November evening, greets an old friend and finishes his cigarette.
I have not seen Paul in about a decade, though we keep in touch, as he continues to release some of the best music most people will never hear. Outside, in the “smoking lounge,” I notice his hands are shaking. The guy has never been afraid of the edge and I wonder have his demons finally caught up?
He excuses himself to head inside to finish his sound check. Then I notice I am shaking as well. Chalk another up to Mother Nature.
Chicago’s Hideout is truly hidden. It appears to have once been a workingman’s tavern, judging from the nearby Department of Public Works lot. These days it hosts the likes of Robbie Fulks, the Mekons and even Mavis Staples––who recorded a live album here. Tonight Paul K takes the stage to play a rare solo set, following Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Dream Day) and Brooklyn duo Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne.
Since 1985 Paul K has released over 50 albums, primarily with his bands The Weathermen and The Prayers, and since 2010 under just his own name. His literate songwriting and sinewy guitar playing draw comparisons to folks like Lou Reed, Arthur Lee, Neil Young and the Stooges. Yet the truest strand of his musical DNA may well be his mentor, the late Townes Van Zandt, with whom Kopasz toured Europe. These days perhaps Steve Wynn and Chuck Prophet are his only true contemporaries. While acts such as Nick Cave and The Afghan Whigs (who owe a debt to Kopasz) offer a stroll through the funhouse, Paul K delivers genuine brains and grit.
Strumming chords and picking out melody lines his black acoustic guitar, Kopasz draws from newer material––haunted songs of love, longing and regret. “Please Be Here When I Get Home,””The Pleasures Will Call You,” and the title cut “Genetic Blues” from his 2014 album. Numbered among the small audience this Wednesday night are the faithful: Wilco (and former Weatherman) drummer Glenn Kotche and at least two of us who have made the trip from Wisconsin. He doesn’t crank it up much any more – his wife claims Kopasz is tired of telling guitar players to turn it down. Odd, when I recall the times he used to lean into his amplifier and unleash shards of punk-blues feedback at will.
Kopasz recorded albums for labels Homestead, SilenZ and Alias. But since 2000 he has become a cottage industry recording on his own and self-releasing his music via Farnsley Recordings. Writing and recording his own songs then controlling the means of production––not a bad idea, eh?
There are many gems littering his discography: an early compilation The Blue Sun and the sprawling three CD set Panopticon that features a lifted “Sister Ray” based around HBO’s The Wire. More easily obtainable might be the 1998 album A Wilderness of Mirrors. Billed as soundtrack (though it wasn’t), the album is a rock opera riffing off The Book of Job detailing National Guardsman who gets a call late one night to clean up a wreck––in Roswell, New Mexico. His wife gets cancer; he has a nervous breakdown and then realizes she is in the same hospital on a different floor. He can’t get to her, and no one is buying his story about what he saw at the accident site.
Confused? 2012 saw the release of a documentary on Kopasz drawing on events in his life since that album was released that run parallel to it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809223/
Times were Paul K and his band would fill a small club and play two long, intense sets. While the intensity remains, this night will be one set. For an encore Rick Rizzo joins Kopasz on guitar to play Zevon’s “Carmelita” and Townes’ “Tecumseh Valley”.
Information on Paul K can be found at: http://paulksongs.com/