John Roderick was telling the packed crowd at San Francisco's Café du Nord about his band's new vinyl box set when he slipped up and mentioned his day job.
"The box set is a little cost-prohibitive – it’s $75," he acknowledged. "But there are five tickets to my chocolate factory distributed throughout them."
The skeptics out there will say that Roderick was just joking, but it wouldn't be hard to imagine him heading up a Wonka-esque operation of his own, tucked away in the Pacific Northwest somewhere. He shares the charisma, the sense of humor, and even the somewhat reclusive habits of the fictional sweet-maker – Roderick spent nine months barely leaving his bed before recording The Long Winters' third full-length album, the aptly titled, Putting the Days to Bed.
It's a good thing he decided to leave, though (and not just because he pays a fair living wage to Oompa Loompas). Putting the Days to Bed is Roderick's strongest work to date. Musically, the songs are punchier and the melodies stronger. The lyrics mix just the right amount of wry confidence with simple, beautiful metaphors for relationships and human nature.
While Roderick was already something of a showman, the new material has provided a welcome kick to The Long Winters’ live show. Opening up with the one-two punch of “Fire Island, AK” and “Teaspoon” from the new record, the band ripped through an energetic set of material from the new album as well as its two predecessors.
Longtime collaborator Eric Corson provided anchor-like bass lines, former Alien Crime Syndicate drummer Nabil Ayers added some occasional understated flourish to what are generally simple parts, and new guitarist/keyboardist Jonathan Rothman faithfully recreated many of The Long Winters’ recorded moments while adding enough character not to sound like just any other hired gun. Roderick himself was in his element, playing his bearded heart out and cracking wise with equal aplomb.
The band went into its encore without ever leaving the stage, saving many of its quieter, acoustic-based selections for the end.
“We’re going to play five more songs, each one sadder and slower than the last,” Roderick explained. “Until the last one is just me scratching a thimble.”
While he didn’t make good on that promise, the smartass frontman did prove that he’s equally adept at selling both big rock tunes and subtler folksy songs – something not all songwriters who attempt are able to genuinely accomplish. Nor are they able to make such delicious dark chocolate. The man has a gift.