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Phil Lee delights a sold-out crowd at Steynberg Gallery on April 25

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It’s Friday, April 25, and my wife and I roll in to Steynberg Gallery where Ragged Company and Phil Lee are set to perform in about 30 minutes. Then tragedy strikes! Peter Steynberg’s famous curry is sold out! Instead, we order caprese sandwiches, which are great, but I really wanted curry. We order a couple 805s to drown our sorrows and soon Ragged Company—Tim Pacheco and Cindy Myers—launch into their charming originals, my favorite of which is “Long Term Relationship,” which features two great characters singing a list of their love complaints: “You never hold my hand.” “You never hold the door.” Don’t worry! In the end they realize it’s too good to throw away: “Why did we let this good thing die?” “Let’s give it one more try.”

After about 10 songs, they concede the stage to Phil Lee, a wiry little knife thrower and dog lover who unleashes a caustic barrage of his by turns hilarious and poignant songs.

PHIL’S FACES:  Animated music man Phil Lee entertained a sold-out crowd at Steynberg Gallery on April 25. - PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHIL’S FACES: Animated music man Phil Lee entertained a sold-out crowd at Steynberg Gallery on April 25.

Hunter S. Thompson famously said (or didn’t say … but it’s still an awesome quote) that “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

That sort of sums up the life and times of Phil Lee.

In “Blues in Reverse” he growls, “Listen to me people. Don’t make me shout. Life’s a motherfucker. You got nothing to complain about. It’ll give you the blues eyyyyyy in reverse. Yeah, when things can’t get no better then they’re only bound to get worse.”

In “Just Some Girl,” Lee plaintively sings, “She was just some girl, plain and stout. She was nobody’s dreamboat, nothing to write home about. Her hair, it was not like silk. Her skin was not like milk. To the civilized world, she was just some girl. Some girls are born holding the aces. You’ll never see tears rolling down their faces. Some girls have dreams. Some girls get choices. Encouraging voices assure their place in the world. She was just some girl. She was painfully shy. Sometimes for no reason, she’d sit home and cry. With no one to touch her, no one to tell her, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you, sweet time.’”

Yeah, I laughed and cried. The man’s got a voice as distinctive as Bob Dylan’s, and he’s quick on his feet. When Tim Pacheco gets on stage to adjust the sound system, Phil says, “I thought I told you to wait in the truck,” later joking he’s a Vincent Price look-alike.

At one point, Phil—who’s simply dripping with character—claims he’s been in a lot of Westerns: “I usually play an old geezer in a hotel room. Technically, not acting.”

PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY

In fact, between almost every song, he lays down the patter: “This is a song I wrote about the time I caught my girlfriend in bed with her husband. But they put that behind them and came to the show tonight,” he quips while calling out the names of two friends in the audience.

He’s a diabolical little bastard, this one!

“I don’t co-write songs much … because I don’t need the fucking help, obviously!”

(Insert rim shot!)

He also happily teases his wife, Maggie, a truly beautiful and refined lady who I can only imagine in a moment of total weakness agreed to marry this rascal. He did, after all, propose to her from the stage.

“I took a Viagra one time, just for the helluv it, and I said to her, ‘What happens if I get an erection lasting more than four hours?’ She said, ‘Wake me up, and I’ll take you to the emergency room.’”

PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY
  • PHOTO BY GLEN STARKEY

Ouch!

Then he sings “Every Time”: “Yeah, every time I hear you call my name, every time I hear you call my name, every time you call my name I want to shoot myself it’s a crying shame every time every time. And every time I look upon your face, every time I look upon your face, every time I see your face I start to hate the entire human race every time ohhh every time.”

So cheerful. Then, he reminds the audience he has merchandise available.

“I’ve got some records over there. I’m a millionaire so I don’t need the money. All the money goes to little Johnny. If he doesn’t get the operation, he’s not to going to make it.”

Obviously this is a guy who can play an audience as easily as he plays a guitar, and we’re loving every surly minute of it!

Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Keep up with him via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at facebook.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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