Having suffered on the major-label pillory and endured other unhappy aspects of rocking out for profit, Levy has found a stress-free playing opportunity with Hookers and Blow. As a kid Levy was a big fan of the Clash (key remakes: "I Fought the Law," "Police & Thieves") and Elvis Costello (key remakes: "What's So Funny About (Peace Love and Understanding)," "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down"). And his own choice of covers--Beatles, Jorge Ben, Desmond Dekker, the Spinners--seems to follow those Brits' mixes of record-collector nuggets and rejiggered oldies.
"Most of [it] is stuff I listened to over the last 10 years and never took the time to figure out," Levy explains before the Tuesday night set at Gluek's. "A lot of them are songs that no one's heard of, but they're songs that have currency with my immediate friends and my wife, and they mean a lot to me."
Levy's varied musical interests--which include '60s harmony pop, soul, funk, roots rock, bossa nova, and Middle-Eastern music--are reflected on the overdub-happy 10,000 Years. Produced in Minneapolis and Los Angeles by John Fields and Levy, the album features the songwriter's widest-reaching melodies and his most ambitious lyrics. More impressively, perhaps, it manages not to founder under a weighty narrative conceit involving a test-tube baby who grows into a low-level criminal and later a hero in an apocalyptic war. 10,000 Years, then, is a concept album, which Levy acknowledges has "a negative, almost Spinal Tap connotation to it. I would just as soon treat it as another way to bring together a body of music to tell a story," he adds, "and to make a lot of little points rather than some large conceptual point." Though there's an ambitious artiste at work here, Levy has cloaked this character in an unpretentious Midwestern demeanor, and then surrounded him with nine bandmates who are pretty goal-oriented toward having a weekly musical booze blowout.
As 10:00 p.m. approaches, Levy takes a few last sips of beer before corralling his colleagues for the first Hookers and Blow set of the night. He asks me if I'm still writing music, and I tell him I've been dry for a year or so, which he tells me not to worry about. More Hookers and Blow friends and fans start to trickle in, and Levy tells me to be ready for my song during the second set. "Conceptual points" of any size are in short supply at this loosey-goosey gig. Players and singers wander on and off stage, and regularly swap instruments and lead-vocal duties. The band jams as if for a floor full of dancers, though these too tend to be in short supply--though singalongs pop up like brushfires once the bar patrons get into their cups.
As for the OutKast number, it would probably be some violation of journalistic ethics to review my own performance, but I can report, after the fact, that one Gluek's customer, a heavy drinker it would seem, told me that I was bound for success in Hollywood--though he might have been referring to Hollywood Video. At various times over the past decade, Levy and his cohorts have been pegged for something closer to big-time success. But these days, Levy isn't much concerned with fame or its absence. He is, after all, still getting people to put out his music. And I'm pleased to report he is now doing what must be the best Shuggie Otis cover one can hear with any regularity in Minnesota. Any Tuesday night, you can show up and ask to hear it yourself.