Mark Pickerel& His Praying Hands/Horse in Motion; April 4; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
Anyone who missed tonight’s show missed their chance to form a band with Mark Pickerel. Yeah, the same Mark Pickerel who played behind such diverse and amazing artists as Kurt Cobain, Mark Lanegan and Neko Case. Of course, that history has nothing to do with why I jumped at the chance to have him play the basement. After getting his first CD from my friend at Bloodshot, I immediately fell in love with his distinctive baritone voice and the haunted songs that make up Snake in the Radio. Touring behind his newest release “Cody’s Dream,” he contacted me about playing at the house after Ian Moore told him should. Apparently the idea of this super fan in the Midwest grew to mythological proportions until he was on a mission to get to the House of Righteous Music.
Well, that’s if you believe his banter. Hilarious throughout, he took to calling me his “Sure Thing” early in the set, comparing his cross country travels to those of John Cusack in the movie of the same name. I burst the bubble early by pointing out that his sure thing didn’t work out. But like the movie, tonight had a lot of laughs and a happy ending. Tonight His Praying Hands consisted only of bass player Mike, a charmingly likeable 20 something who joined Mark on half the songs. He pulled songs from both releases, the only notable absence being the title track of his new disc. Since it is a more rocking song, he said he hasn’t quite figured out how to do it as a duo.
After playing the bulk of his set, he attempted to form a band with the members of opening act Horse in Motion. Phil was called upon to drum, even though Jentri insisted he wasn’t really a drummer, he was actually a guitar player. Jentri herself was supposed to be doing backing vocals, and Dash (Josh’s new, and actually first, nickname) plugged in his electric. The band lasted only one song, a well-intentioned but ultimately doomed “Bird on a Wire,” before Phil and Jentri deserted. Luckily Dash was willing to stick it out and the cover of the Gun Club’s “Mother of Earth” they improvised was pretty impressive. Obviously Mark picked up early that Josh, I mean Dash, could play anything, and gave him three solos during the song, praising him “I like the way that sounds.” He announced then that he would take a break and that when he came back anyone who felt like playing could.
“I feel like playing some drums” Mark announced when he returned to the stage. Blake Thomas had taken advantage of the break to write up some simple charts for the bass player Mike. With Dash on guitar, yet another band was formed. They started off with “I Don’t Want Your Heart I Want Your Liver,” which came out sounding unexpectedly great. I can’t say the same for “Tip of Your Tongue” which got started with the wrong beat and never quite recovered. But that was the only misstep in a set that sounded good enough and went on long enough that Mark eventually had to (mock) protest, “Wait a minute, who’s the headliner here?” “I guess it is OK,” he conceded, “as long as you don’t have any merch to sell. At which point I felt it necessary to announce that I did indeed have several hundred copies of Real Like Theater in the basement if anyone was interested. We ended the night by voting on what Mark and his wife should name the baby girl they were expecting in three weeks (Hazel and Ruby seemed to get the most votes).
The night began just as notably with Horse in Motion. Playing only their third gig with this line-up, they are starting to gel as a band. Though Jentri will disagree, I thought their set sounded terrific, her Cat Power voice perfect for the moody songs she pens. They had recently spent a week in the studio recording their first EP (theoretically out sometime soon), and I look forward to hearing the recorded versions of songs like “Texas” and “Cannonballs.” They tried to leave the stage after a too short set only to be called back to play the one song they had left. “Daisies” may be the best song ever to rhyme the title with “crazy.” I had been hoping to get them back to the basement to open for Matt Hopper in May (and to keep on the one gig at the house, one gig out pattern), but with Phil recently accepting a “real” job in Waukesha it seems as though their shows may be limited. Here’s hoping the band isn’t done before they even get going. Or at least not before they play a show Jentri is happy with.