The storyteller, the songwriter, the troubadour, the tramp: These are all facets of indie-folk singer David Donderos transient life. Since splitting with Sunbrain in 1993, Dondero has assembled four solo albums in which he composes odes to the road and equally praises and curses love, loss and too much drink.
But Live at the Hemlock, a recording of Donderos January 25, 2003 show at the San Francisco venue, adds an element of improvisation and humor to fill out his otherwise road-worn discography. Songs of broken hearts and bar fights are interspersed with old-fashioned heckling between Dondero and his sidekick drummer, Craig D, who at one point throws a drumstick at him in mock contempt. Dondero responds by informing the crowd, Hes drunk, Im drunk. I deserved it. I punched him really hard in Tempe when I was drunk and he always holds it against me, so now were even.
Further infused into the fifteen-track set is lively crowd at the Hemlock; the small-venue intimacy and the banter and wisecracks of bar-goers collide to make Donderos ditties even more genuine. Turn up the guitar! one patron yells. Turn the guitar up? Is that better? Is that better? he responds before ripping into Ashes on the Highway. Indeed, all the interesting folk hes met on his travels could quite possibly be in attendance. From blue-collar workers and bartenders to hobos and junkies, songs like Boulevard of Broken Hearts, Busted Dreams, Shattered Wills, Booze and Pills, The Waiter and Song for the Civil Engineer speak not only to the crowd, but also to your everyday, average American experience.
Songs from all of his four albums are showcased here, but markedly absent is The Stars Are My Chandelier, Donderos admittedly favorite song (and mine) from last years The Transient. But that albums enthusiastic Living and the Dead, about, Dondero says, songs that make you feel like youre living a re-enactment of someone elses life, is enough to close the gap.
Hearing Dondero spin one of his roadside stories on stage is like listening to old friends re-live the more exciting details of their latest trans-continental road trips. The songs he sings are of places hes lived and people hes known — not a just as a wayward traveler or transient, but as a transplant, staying to get a feel for a place before moving on. For a man who has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, Minnesota, Louisiana, California, Illinois, Georgia, Alaska, and Florida, Dondero is pretty damn capable of doing just that.