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Antje Duvekot

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Feature - Antje and Ellis WERS.org Interview, April 2006

April 28, 2006

The best way to get to know Antje Duvekot and Ellis Paul is to see a show like the one at the Somerville Theatre on April 28. Celebrities may dish their divorce news to gossip magazines and high-profile bloggers may tell their secrets to cyberspace, but these musicians are more likely to reveal their inner selves where they feel most comfortable: on stage or in songs, not in interviews.

Don't get us wrong—Duvekot and Paul are good company, even at 7:30 a.m. on a Thursday, when they came to record a few tracks. Duvekot recently finished her album "Big Dream Boulevard" just in time to debut it at the Somerville with Ellis, but many of the tracks will be familiar to fans of her work, such as "Dandelion" and "Judas," which she's been playing throughout the last year.

Paul hastens to mention his faith in Duvekot's talent to anyone who will listen. The two met at the Ten Angel in Philadelphia last fall, when Duvekot opened for Paul, whom she confessed was her idol at the time. Paul was equally transfixed by Duvekot as she played her song "Judas," an imaginative narrative which portrays the famous traitor as a neglected and abused child "on the back of the school bus."

Paul, a veteran performer with a loyal folk following and a prolific body of work, took her on as a bit of a protégé, and the two have been a team ever since. As a fixture in the seminal Boston folk scene for over fifteen years, Paul confessed that he has only seen level of latent talent on par with Duvekot in one other musician: John Mayer. Then as now, he saw a special gift in a struggling musician and remembered having him on a show when Mayer was "just the doorman to the club I was playing," Paul said. At the time, however, Paul was pounding the pavement himself without an agent or a label, and regretted being able to do more than invite Mayer over for Thanksgiving. Now that both Mayer and Paul are well-connected in the world of folk, Paul said, he can offer players like Antje Duvekot the help of his own manager, Ralph Jacodine, who recently signed Duvekot on Paul's word.

On the folk scene, where a few friends in high places can make or break a career, a reflective Mainer like Paul may be motivated by karma: Paul said he owes a part of his own success to Boston ballad-writer Bill Morrissey, who in turn was mentored by Dave Van Ronk, who had a hand in Bob Dylan's ascension to stardom.

Six degrees of separation later, we have Antje Duvekot, a talented girl from Germany whom Paul said is poised to inherit her own audience soon enough. By giving her access to his fans as his opening act in the meantime, Paul said, he's accelerating her rise to notoriety. "I'll save her a few years of trying to get a gig," he said. "It allows her to get into clubs she'd eventually play anyway."

Those who are already fans of Duvekot will be heartened to hear that she seems to save her most earnest words for the stage. She has an offhanded manner, as if a funny thought or a bizarre image just popped into her head—and with songs that often paint surreal images of burning fields full of merry-go-rounds and Columbine-student scenarios involving Biblical figures, Duvekot is a veritable fountain of mixed metaphors and surprising insight.

Duvekot's set included more than half a dozen songs from "Big Dream Boulevard," which are remarkably frank, covering themes of childhood, love and perseverance. The song "South" implores a mother to "teach your daughter to be all she can be/ to cry when it don't come easy," a possible reference to Duvekot's upbringing in a German immigrant family in America. Duvekot, who did not master the English language until her teens, has a style that is facile but often far out of left-field: her songs often appear to be playing with a language that is strange, pairing images that don't usually compute (such as "Sex Band-Aid") in a way that works on an intuitive level. For example, in her crowd-pleasing song "Dandelion," she contrasts her free-flying wildness with the fragility of an orchid, and we instinctively know what kind of woman she is—and is not.

Not to mention that despite what seems to be a constant case of nerves, she's funny as hell. At the Somerville Theatre, as Duvekot absent-mindedly assembled the apparatus holding her harmonica, she joked, "I don't really know how to play—but that never stopped Bob Dylan." The audience laughed sacrilegiously. "No really, it's actually really good if you're trying to quit smoking," Duvekot said. "Like if you're spending the morning with your lover, [instead of a cigarette] you can bring out the harmonica—it's just as sexy…" As she continued to fuss with her harmonica harness, Duvekot piled another quip on quickly. "I practice it on the road sometimes, when I can't find one of those SUV's with the VCR," she said. "Because then I just strap a sandwich in right here" (she motioned to the harmonica holster) "and I'm all set!"

Later, by way of introducing the song "Pearls," on which Paul accompanies Duvekot, she shared a more serious side of herself with the audience. Coming from an atheist background, Duvekot said she had spent much of her adult life searching for God in unlikely places. In "Pearls," she asks the Lord, "When you gonna come for me?" which in Duvekot's lexicon takes on an impatient and hopeful tone, implying that God should meet a person halfway rather than making them wait for a revelation about the right religion.

Duvekot's clever and sincere performance gave way to an epic performance by Paul, who led off with the song "Kiss the Sun," from his 2005 album "American Jukebox Fables," from which he drew the majority of his show's material (he also recorded this track live for WERS' Coffeehouse).

Paul, who has recorded more than a dozen albums and has spent fourteen years playing the Somerville Theatre, settled into the stance of a seasoned professional for the duration, at home in the midst of an audience which both Paul and Duvekot describe in the most superlative terms: Paul calls his Boston listeners "well educated and educated as listeners, people who like songs from the neck up." Duvekot simply says they're "the best." The love was certainly in the air at the Somerville, as the audience urged Paul on at every turn, and by the end of the night he had played 15 songs in two hours.

Paul was joined by Don Conosenti on guitar and Radislov Larkovich on piano. Highlights of the show included Paul's confession, prior to playing "Jukebox on My Grave," that he had made visiting famous folk singers' graves into something of a hobby, and was roundly ribbed for it by Conosenti (Paul and Conosenti are longtime pals). Later in the show, he talked about playing in Folsom, the site of the famous Johnny Cash Folsom Prison concert. "He played for criminals and rapists, and I played there in a place called Karen's Bakery," Paul said with a self-deprecating laugh. "We had a wine tasting."

Paul then launched into a homage to folk's most famous bad-ass with a lively rendition of Cash's "Ring of Fire" as the audience joined in.

Paul has a wide range of rockers but rolled out mostly introspective tunes at the Somerville. Lighting Coordinator David Gruber, a man who has lit Paul's shows for the Somerville Theatre for almost as long as Paul has been playing, said he has seen Paul grow more reflective over the years. Gruber pointed to Paul's more heartfelt songs like "Home," which recognizes the devotion of the person who waits there for him as he tours the country. Paul, who recently became a father, may be showing a softer side after a wild cross-country lifestyle, but with this latest album he shows little sign of slowing down, especially with another performer to nurture on the way.

Gruber, who has also attended Duvekot's performances throughout the year, and said that while Paul's positive effect on her career is undeniable, Gruber will be sad to see her shed her onstage nerves and trembling delivery for a practiced confidence like Paul's. "It's endearing," he said. "Seeing it get lost may be more of a negative."

•Ryan Weaver

updated: 7 years ago