Perfect Sound Forever

I Gotta Rock: Amy Rigby

by Pat Padua (January 1998)

Monday December 29. Through rain and snow, I made it to Amy Rigby's first Washington, DC area appearance. The streets looked deserted as I walked to the subway, so I thought I'd help boost what could be a sparse holiday crowd, but she drew a good turnout after all.

Her solo debut, Diary of a Mod Housewife , documented a broken marriage (to the dB's Will Rigby). I shared none of her experiences - a rich emotional palette from schoolgirl crush to struggling temp to scorned wife - but her singing and storytelling voice hooked me, and the album quickly became a part of my life.

When I reached Iota, an intimate Arlington, VA club, the tables were full, but I was lucky to grab a stool in back. A Housewife poster behind the back bar had her appearing on Monday January 29. I mentioned this to the bartender, who took down the misprints and gave me one for my troubles.

There was no cover; I figure at least a quarter of Iota patrons were not there to see her. The dinner crowd murmur was constant throughout, and at intervals people would file through club doors on either side of the stage. A group of fratboys (packs of wandering guys usually fall under this category to me, which I suppose isn't fair) hovered in a doorway, catching a few bars of "Knapsack."

Amy Rigby was distracted at first. She scolded front bar patrons for talking too loud, then apologized - excusing her crankiness to a long drive. In a new town, her stage patter was first-date tentative, but audience response was warm, and by evening's end, she'd won over enough of the fence-straddlers to sell a few CDs. She played most of Mod Housewife and as many new songs.

This was the fourth time I'd seen her. Since her gigs often coincide with my trips to New York (her home base) I haven't passed up the chance yet. Each time comes off as a distinct, nuanced performance: the reticent singer-songwriter at the Bottom Line last December; the breezy rocker, coming fresh off some best-of-'96 awards, at the Fez in February; the bitter, desperate rocker ('I'm tired... but I've gotta rock,' she proclaimed before a furious version of "20 questions") at the Mercury Lounge in November. She sounded discouraged at that show, but Monday night, she annouced she'd soon be recording another album. Unlike her debut's focus on the trials of a marriage that was breaking up as she wrote, her new songs reveal what she finds to be another subject she thinks is guaranteed to keep her off the charts: aging.

I was first struck by her self-deprecating issue in New York last month. Here's an intelligent, attractive woman in her mid-30's worried about getting older and running out of options (much like Pam Grier in JACKIE BROWN), which struck me more as a meditation on getting older than as an action movie. I think this is why I keep going back to hear her again - to catch her voice as it breaks and then finds a groove despite her tired soul; to hear her tell stories that overcome an occasional self-pity; to remind myself that such self-pity is unmerited and to keep reminding myself next time, when I forget.

Near the end of her set, she tapped her back catalog with "Love Me For My Mind," written some years ago with her group The Shams. Though the song asks a man to love her with his body and with his mind, in real life she's had a change of heart. Having had enough of personality conflicts and other accoutrements of the mind, she now asks to be loved only with his body.

I wasn't sure how to bridge the gap between goofy fan and charming admirer. After the show, I was as tentative as her stage patter when I asked her to sign the poster I'd nabbed. I said thank you and apologized for the lack of white space on the poster, but in the brightly colored letters that make up her name she found space to write what looks like "Hey Amy Rigby." It got a little smeared in the drizzle on my way home.