Mermaid: JONI MITCHELL’S Mermaid Cafe, Matala, Crete, Greece, 1970. Courtesy image

50 YEARS OLD, AND…LIVE!

I’ve been praying for it, foreshadowing it, hinting at it, calling it forward, using incantations — all in the proper, safe time — and now, with only a few restrictions: live music is back. Thank you Jesus. (“Far Away Eyes” — Jagger, Richards)

The Foo Fighters sold out Madison Square Garden Monday — you had to show proof of full vaccination to get in, besides your pricey ticket. Our oldest blues club (1931) Harvelle’s, on 4th Street, did its first live show inside in 15 months on June 15th and target are now quickly getting back to music every night.

You should be there this weekend. Friday night they have the Damn Well Please Organ Trio, which isn’t, a trio, it’s more like as many musicians as the stage can hold, but it’s not some sloppy cat-herding jam entertaining to the players but not the audience, because Darius is a master not only of his instrument but in organizing the whole thing into a well-played performance. He holds it all together, he is a showman, he is charismatic.

And then there is the most welcome return of The Toledo Show at Harvelle’s. You know, neither you nor Toledo are going to live forever, so you’d better get your procrastinating self down there some Sunday night real soon. It’s hard to describe his act so I will borrow from an LA Times attempt: “Soul singer, Jazz man, poet, dancer, choreographer, connoisseur of haberdashery and probably one of the most dramatic and entertaining performers you will ever see. He’s toured the majority of the United States, as well as Australia, and has yet to get anything but a rave review.”

PETER ERSKINE

LAX jazz club Sam First has been presenting shows since the end of May. They have insisted on vaccinated-only audiences (and performers, and bartenders, doormen, etc). That first show was by my favorite drummer on the planet, Santa Monica’s own Peter Erskine. He’s now returning with a slightly different trio, still with bass virtuoso Darek Oles and adding the exquisite Alan Pasqua on piano. Friday and Saturday nights, two shows each night. I would go to all four if I were you.

And next Wednesday and Thursday there, another don’t-miss: the phenomenal piano talent of Gerald Clayon. Band TBA — doesn’t matter. I would pay to hear him solo on a toy piano.

BUT — AM I BLUE?

Indeed I am but it’s not what you think. Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the release of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album, probably her most cherished, by many. There’s hardly a Top 20 all time best albums list it doesn’t make, and it even tops a couple of them. There is a lot to mine in this album, but I’ll send you off on your own treasure hunt, while I relate my personal connection to it.

I was on my first year-long journey around Europe and North Africa, and by Christmas 1972 I had ferried my VW van and wife and young son to the large Greek island of Crete, where the warm weather and low prices made it ideal for waiting out part of the winter. I knew of the seaside village of Matala from Joni’s album, and the local intel said it was a cool place to hang out. Great sunsets, addictive cheap omelets.

The curving beach cliffs were riddled with open ancient burial caves on the east, and it was a never-ending game for itinerants to settle into a cave, setting up all the comforts of home, ocean view, no rent, and for the police to finally do their duty, every once in a while, to roust them out.

When we arrived about 18 months after Joni’s album, there were still people there, locals and travelers, who remembered her and Carey, a German guy who had been there some time before she arrived. Yes, he was a mean old man, they all agreed.

THE MERMAID CAFE

Was nothing special. But it was now decorated with a mermaid painted large on the outside wall, by some traveler, working from the Disney character cards that came in every “Meechy Mous” candy bar that the itinerant population became obsessed with collecting. (Almost impossible to get a complete set, though many tried.) No doubt the locals had another name for the cafe.

But I will never forget it because it was the scene of a great personal (pyrrhic) victory, that could have ended my young life. One night there I foolishly accepted a challenge from some guy for an ouzo-downing contest. The anise liqueur ouzo in the Greek countryside is handmade and usually as strong as white lightnin’.

It brought great entertainment to our companions as we hit two shots each, up to six (when I should have bowed out), eight (when I likely lost the ability to make a sound decision), then 10. I could see I was getting the best of my wobbly adversary. (Actually, I couldn’t see straight at all at that point.) One more round would put him under the table, I figured.

It did. He waved the white flag when shots 11 and 12 arrived, but he declared I had to drink them to win. I would have pleaded alcohol poisoning, if I could have formed words by then. But instead I threw them down to great applause and laughter.

And then — two more shots appeared, on that dreaded tray, and our waiter pointed to an older gentleman sitting in the corner who was so impressed with the capacity of this young American for his country’s national drink, that he sent over two more, in recognition. How could I possibly refuse? So, 13 plus 14. I somehow managed to stagger-float back to my van, woke up the next morning not dead and without even much of a hangover.

Thanks, Joni.

NICOLE RECOMMENDS:

JOHN CARROLL KIRBY LIVE WITH SPECIAL GUEST EDDIE CHACON — My first live music in a venue recommendation in over a year, and don’t it feel good. Although Kirby is an LA native who has been active in the jazz scene for years, I first became aware of him when I saw him play keys for the emittable Connan Mockasin in 2019, and was notably impressed with the band. He has also collaborated with Solange (specifically on “Cranes in the Sky,” which earned her first Grammy for best R&B Performance in 2016), Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Frank Ocean and many more. His latest release, “Rainmaker,” gives a little taste of some of the funky, groove-based electronic jazz that will be heard at this week’s show. Friday 9pm, Lodge Room, Highland Park, $18.

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com