In the last eighteen months I’ve seen some amazing shows put on by accomplished musicians. Three sparked a little meditation on passion, friendship, and love: Chris Rea; Eric Clapton; and the Panindias Brothers. Rea, the best blues/rock/jazz singer-songwriter and slide guitarist working today; Clapton, the guitar god, whose voice is perhaps a bit underrated by comparison; and the Panindias Bros (pronounced Pain-in-dee-ass, best done with tongue firmly in cheek), my favorite band. Jorge on congas, Jay on bass, Dan on rhythm guitar, and Mark (full disclosure – my big brother) on lead guitar, who play in that territory where rock, blues, country, and even a little r & b meet up. The four band members have known each other a long time, played together in other incarnations and configurations. Mark and Dan met as teenagers, like Lennon & McCartney; they do most of the songwriting. Like the Beatles, the band’s a true collaboration.
I heard Rea play in Vienna in February 2010, and that show is still the best I’ve ever seen. Two hours, straight through, no patter with the audience or his band as an excuse to rest or breathe; just pure music and magic that left me shaking with awe and joy. He’s passion – a man driven to create and perform, and all the metaphors for his playing invoke intensity approaching violence, like someone grabbing the back of your neck to pull you in for a kiss made exquisite by the inability to resist.
Clapton’s show at the Key Arena in Seattle in February 2011 was about the same length and like his fellow Brit guitarist, he took no breaks, didn’t joke around or tell stories from his long career, but played straight through, with a camera always on his hands so we could be hypnotized by the image of his playing on the big screens above the stage. But the feeling was completely different. His playing is like a good marriage getting ready to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary – with some of the passion traded for the equal joy of deep friendship. Whereas Rea’s physical energy creates a burning desire, Clapton’s focus brings the easy joy of longtime familiarity, perfect in its own way.
Cut to the Panindias Brothers’ gig outside Benton City, WA during Memorial Day weekend, 2011. These guys are pure love. (And any of them would likely be astonished and a bit embarrassed to find themselves written about in the company of the likes of Clapton and Rea.) They have passion, too, and deep friendship; but the overwhelming experience of watching them play is one of love. Their love for their music, for sharing that music with an audience; and love for each other.
You can hear it in songs like Thanks for the Moon, about being grateful for, well, everything the universe provides; you can hear it in the harmonies on songs like You’re the One and Walking in Dream Time and We Came to Rock – voices and guitars leaning on each other, the way you can lean on someone who loves you, trusting they’ll be there. You can hear the love of sounds and rhythms on the rock-bluesy You’re Not the Girl for Me and the Cuban-inflected Iko Iko and the reggae Stir it Up and the love of laughter (and the colour green) in the pure country twang of If Harley Made a Tractor. And love is made visible, palpable, in To You, one of the most beautiful songs about love and hope and longing ever written – these guys love making something so beautiful together, and beam as they sing.
If you know what to look for, you can watch that love while they play, watch it grow, right in front of you, and you are likely to become as addicted to the Panindias Brothers as I am.