Saturday, June 07, 2008

Peter Mulvey; June 7, 2008; Folk on State, 400 block of State St

This was the sixth year of Madison’s summer season of free folk concerts on State St, and this was Peter Mulvey’s sixth appearance. Always the best-known name on their schedule, he is the only performer who gets a two hour set to himself. Today he had to cram those two hours into a slightly shorter time frame. Though the day had started sunny and clear, the clouds were rolling in and half way through his last song the rain started falling. Luckily he got most of his stuff packed away before the deluge. Unluckily he had ridden his bike to Madison from Ft Atkinson and was returning there after the show. Even more unlucky were the reports of tornados from that area. That was probably more adventure than he was expecting when he decided to repeat his “No Gas” tour again this year.

With gas prices continuing to rise, his tour makes even more sense this year than it did last. He has shortened the name from “Look Ma, No Gasoline Tour,” but jokes that he really ought to call it “The Screw You Big Oil Tour.” His admirable gesture has gotten support from Wheel & Sprocket in Milwaukee who have volunteered to give him a recumbent bicycle and who are brainstorming a guitar carrying mechanism to reduce resistance by eliminating the trailer. Now if they could only make a lighter CD. Mulvey claimed that every CD we bought would lighten his load, and by the end of the show he would probably practically be giving them away. That wasn’t actually the case of course, and I still paid full price for his most recent release as the rain started falling. A greatest hits of sorts, it features Peter playing solo acoustic versions of songs that appeared in full-band form on previous releases. It seems like an easy way to sell the same songs twice, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. This is the way people are used to hearing his songs live; why not give them that option at home?

As always, he was witty and charming in between songs. Most impressive was his graceful handling of an older audience member who wanted to have an unrelated conversation between every song. I see Peter play several times a year, and I am always impressed that he has new stories to tell. Today however I actually knew nearly every one- from the boiling water evaporating in Alaska’s sub sub-zero chill to his father’s description of the character Dynamite Bill. No matter, they are all great stories told very well. The songs also sounded great as broadcast through one Bose stick speaker which Peter dubbed affectionately R2D2 early in the set. Older songs mixed with those from the recent Knuckleball Suite (whose charming title track is a salute to cozy Fort Atkinson, the Café Carpe and its cantankerous owner Bill Camplin). The only clunker was the recent composition “Mailman” which began life as a thank you note and sounds exactly that developed.

There are certain things you can depend on in a Madison summer; freak thunderstorms and Peter Mulvey on State St are two of them.

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