Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Frog Eyes/Crane Your Swan Neck/Butterfly Assassins; June 26, 2008; Project Lodge

There were many things to enjoy about tonight’s show- my first chance to check out one of Madison’s newest venues, the fact that it is BYOB, even the odd coincidence that all the bands had some kind of animal in their name. But in fact the best thing about tonight’s show was the pronouncement by Frog Eyes wild-eyed lead singer Carey Mercer that he liked Wisconsin, “It’s like Disneyland for drunks.” I’m not sure someone from outside the state has ever so accurately summed up our way of life. I’m definitely going to remember that one- and I’ll give him credit every time I use it.

The Project Lodge is an all-ages art and music space on E. Johnson located in what used to be a bead shop or something like that. They don’t have a liquor license (hence the BYOB) and the shows start early since they are supposed to be finished before their 10 pm curfew. A long narrow room with inadequate air conditioning for a surprisingly large crowd (apparently their largest so far), it has already proven to be an adventurous host. Many of their shows feature strictly local artists, but some, like tonight’s, boast a more diverse line-up- the touring headliner is from Canada, while Crane Your Swan Neck call Madison home and the Butterfly Assassins came up from Chicago.

The real reason I went tonight was to see Crane Your Swan Neck, the awkward moniker applies to lead man Randall Lueke and whoever he has with him that night. A friend observed that at least two of the members were new since the last time he had seen them. Part of the reason was that Randall’s right hand was encased in a cast. Apparently a rather recent development, he recruited a guitar player to fill in for him while he played a few notes on a keyboard. CYSN’s music is as much joyful noise as it is anything else; the basic drums/guitar/bass line-up is bolstered by an accordion and violin. Violinist Heidi Johnson also steps up to the mic to contribute backing vocals. I have to confess that I didn’t fall in love with them like I had expected to (they were in fact the main reason I came). I’m not a big fan of polish, but this music was just a little too sloppy.

I felt the same about openers the Butterfly Assassins. Lead singer/keyboardist Brian Trahan definitely put a lot of energy into the set, but despite that, not much of it stuck with me. I was much more impressed with Frog Eyes, not only did they not complain about the heat in the room, they embraced it. It was as if playing a ridiculously sweaty show in a small, crowded all-ages venue was the only thing they wanted to be doing at that moment. Mercer has some of the strangest vocal inflections I’ve heard, his yelping and moaning made every song interesting, even if I couldn’t understand most, hell, any, of what he said. I had first seen the band several years ago in Boston when they opened for and also served as backing band for fellow Canadians Destroyer. Of course that night I was distracted by a still very sober looking Dan Bejar who slammed beer after beer and shot after shot at the bar during their set. Tonight the only distraction was the sweat dripping in my eyes.

Once they get the air conditioner running efficiently, I can’t wait to see more shows here. Nice work Project Lodge.

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