Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tallest Man on Earth/Red Cortez; March 31, 2009; High Noon Saloon

Like a large man nicknamed Tiny or a Chihuahua named Killer, the Tallest Man on Earth was anything but. In fact, Kristian Mattson of Dalarna Sweden probably comes in well under the national average for musicians, which is even shorter than that of non-musicians (based on my own years of research). Still, he managed to make a big impression on the crowd when he opened for Bon Iver at the Barrymore earlier this year. My only concrete evidence of that is the unusually large number of people who showed up for this Tuesday happy hour show.

Despite the fact that it was just him and a guitar, he wove a spell of words and intricate finger picking that kept the crowd interested. He didn’t talk much, preferring to move deliberately from one song to the next. During the instrumental breaks he would stride back and forth across the stage surveying the scene with knowing looks. I liked it enough to pick up his most recent full length CD Shallow Grave on the way out the door. While I didn’t fall madly in love with him or his music right then, I had the feeling that maybe with repeated listens, I would, but that remains to be seen.

It would seem he is paying forward Bon Iver’s favor. Openers Red Cortez made quite an impression, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they drew a decent crowd on their own the next time through. They had just finished opening all twelve dates of Morrisey’s US tour when I saw them at SXSW. I might not have even seen them if Ian Moore’s bass player Matt Harris hadn’t told me they were worth sticking around for following Ian and Harris’s band Oranger split set at the Habana Bar Calle 6. Following this tour they are going out with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, a band that should introduce them to yet another audience.

The band, who used to be known as Weather Underground, is selling a CD at shows which combines output from both bands. It comes in a simple cardboard folder, but they have the sound of a band much more polished. Their energetic pop songs seem tailor made for radio stations like Madison’s Triple M, and I had to wonder if I would have been as impressed if I had heard them there first. The voice of the band is baby-faced Harley Prechtel-Cortez . The only difference between the two bands is the guitar player, but it is hard to imagine the band without current guitarist Calvin J Love. The lanky handsome musician is a good part of their charm. If popularity does find the LA band, they will certainly deserve it.

Red Cortez

Tallest Man on Earth

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daniel Martin Moore/Jentri Colello/Robbie Schiller; March 29; High Noon Saloon

The advertising for tonight made a big deal about how it was a recession beating $5 show, but in my mind that’s all it should have been. I hadn’t heard of Daniel Martin Moore, despite the fact that he’s a Sub Pop artist (which doesn’t mean what it used to). I was just wanted to see my friends Jentri and Robbie who were opening the show with a solo set from each.

Robbie gave up his weekly spot in Mickey’s Honky Tonk Tuesday line-up last summer and until tonight I didn’t realize exactly how much I’d missed him. His booming voice could sometimes be a little big for the corner bar’s cozy confines, but it was perfect for the High Noon’s spaciousness. The set was familiar as his “sad bastard” songs, tunes that made up the bulk of his solo outings but are seldom part of Blueheels’ sets. I do love those songs for being so different from the band material. He introduced a “song about a marriage,” where the husband walks out after learning they were going to have a baby, by adding, “hopefully not mine.” He ended the set with my favorite of what he calls his “epic waltzes” despite the fact that none of them were over three minutes. An eye blink of a song, “Feel So Stupid” chronicles the story of a man who falls asleep with the Christmas lights on only to wake up and find the house has burned down around him.

Tonight Robbie dressed up his usual self-proclaimed janitor outfit with a tie, which Jentri claimed during her set was part of a deal where she had to wear a dress. The former she claimed was not unusual, the latter was. While I have seen her in a dress before, she does favor a T-shirt and jeans for most of her shows. Tonight she looked absolutely radiant in a pink dress with a full skirt; the clunky winter boots that finished the outfit made it her own. It had been awhile since I had seen her without the band. While occasionally she play as a duo with Josh Harty, this may have been the first time I’d seen her completely solo since the long ago days at the Local. I’d gotten the feeling that she didn’t like to play solo, but she sounded terrific tonight. The draw has always been her hypnotic voice and her intensely personal songs, both of which were emphasized solo.

As the headliner Daniel Martin Moore had two tough acts to follow. His songs were lovely and the accompaniment of keyboards and mandolin were beautiful, but ultimately he wasn’t as interesting as the acts that preceded him. More memorable than his songs was his commitment to ending mountaintop removal mining, a big concern in his home state of Kentucky. My take home message from his show was that I should go to iLoveMountains.org, not necessarily that I should buy his CD.

Robbie Schiller

Jentri Colello

Daniel Martin Moore

Saturday, March 28, 2009

40 Finger Circus; March 28, 2009; Lazy Oaf Lounge grand opening

Dick the Bruiser/The Hemlines; March 28, 2009; Project Lodge

One of the saddest moments this year occurred at Last Band Standing. And no, it wasn’t because I didn’t get drunk (surprisingly). The yearly event is undeniably a celebration of music and drinking to excess, but this year it also marked the Runners-Up last show. They didn’t say never, but with bassist James Leaver expecting a second child, it seemed best to put the band on hold for awhile.

There was one bright spot, drummer Alex Fulton and guitarist/vocalist Erika Zar had already started a new band, the Hemlines, and they had already played a show on New Year’s Eve. This was their second. Many of RU’s Zar-penned songs are now Hemlines songs, as is the classic “James Brown with Two Heads” which predates that band. Despite the fact that Erika is still the same sassy and adorable frontwoman and Alex’s endearing awkward but efficient drumming is still holding the beat, I guess maybe I missed the boys, the ubiquitous Bob Koch and nothing-but-trouble James, because it wasn’t love at first listen for me. I’m going to chalk it up to second show nerves, because I can’t see any way that I won’t eventually love this band as much as I loved the Runners-Up. And I do hope they always wear something with a hemline.

Surprisingly, I had fallen for Dick the Bruiser pretty quickly. This was my third time seeing the drum/bass/Theremin duo and even though they had some pretty substantial sound problems I enjoyed them again tonight. After all, it is pretty hard to resist a band that uses the Theremin as creatively as this. While Tony pummels his gorgeous vintage drum kit, Kevin growls mostly nonsense lyrics as he pounds the bass and uses the Rickenbacker’s neck to coax haunted moans out of the bizarre electronic instrument. While the words are always interesting and sometimes hilarious (“melt your heart like a marshmallow, eat it just for fun”), the lyrics aren’t what’s important here. This is sexy, hip-shaking music, don’t think too hard, just enjoy the ride.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sleeping in the Aviary/The Hussy/Cribshitter; March 27, 2009; The Frequency

We made it over the Frequency just as Cribshitter was setting up. They had just gotten a new fog machine and were obviously pretty excited about it- the last item on their set list read “FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG!” Unfortunately said fog machine seemed to have a mind of its own, spewing out artificial weather at random intervals and with such voracity that not only was I convinced I was going to asphyxiate, but they also set off the venue’s smoke alarms. Other than that, it was pretty much Cribshitter as usual, tuneful songs interrupted by bursts of noise and offensive songs nearly redeemed by catchy melodies. In other words, I’m still not sure why I like them. Tuba player “Danika” increased her vocal presence in the band with a new song about, um, “Cuddleduds.” I’ve stopped questioning.

Headliner Sleeping in the Aviary has been so consistently excellent over the last year that they were due for a bad show. I just had no idea how bad. Without getting into too many specifics, this is a family blog after all, I’ll just say that when Elliot isn’t playing guitar he doesn’t seem to know what else to do with himself. When he showed up at the house two nights ago with his right hand encased in pink plaster, I asked him what had happened. It turned out that a friend was demonstrating some self defense techniques and asked him to punch him. Not being someone who punched folks very often, it turned out badly. Like most musicians, he doesn’t have insurance, but when the pain didn’t go away for weeks, he had to see a doctor. Sure enough, it was broken.

With him unable to play guitar, several guest guitarists filled in. Icarus Himself Nick Whetro took some of the parts while Bobby Wegner from the Hussy played on some others. Eventually the constant movement of people on off stage turned into a free for all, with some freer than others. The set list was a collection of covers and songs from their first (and in my mind not nearly as good) record. Eventually the show came to a close, luckily before anyone was hurt. As we made our way out, Phil stopped me, “Thanks for coming,” he said, before adding somewhat incredulously, “thanks for staying.”

With the two bands I had come to see not turning in what I would call their best performances ever, The Hussy turned out to be the highlight of the show. Either they know the value of not overstaying their welcome, or they just don’t have much material. Either way, their blink-and-it’s-over set was very entertaining, and just as importantly they didn’t try to suffocate us. The terrifically named Hussy is two thirds of Cats Not Dogs, a band which impressed me the one time I saw them, opening for OK GO. After playing perhaps the biggest gig of their short careers, they promptly broke up. Wegner and awesomely sassy drummer Heather Sawyer formed the Hussy shortly after. Their short sets are a glorious combination of girl-boy vocals and garage rock exuberance. Good stuff. I’m glad I finally got to see them.


The Hussy

Neighborhood House Benefit with the United Sons of Toil and Dissent & Revolt; March 27, 2009; Neighborhood House

I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t really my thing, and you’re right. But when one of your best friends starts making all her plans with the condition “unless the Toil are playing,” eventually you have to go see them. And since tonight’s show was for a good cause (the Neighborhood House’s emergency food pantry), so much the better. Actually, this wasn’t my first time seeing the Toil. No, the first time was after a particularly overindulgent Onion happy hour. Three hours of drinking, nay, pounding, Redhook ESB was perhaps not the best way to prepare. So tonight when USoT lead singer Russell Hall responded “No you don’t,” to my hand-drawn “I heart USoT” hand stamp, “I don’t remember” was all I could say.

So what did I think? I dug it. Their intense, feel-it-in-your-chest rock is pretty hard to resist. They call themselves math rock, which as I understand it, means the time signatures change a lot, but I was still nodding my head and shaking my hips. I can’t really understand any of what Hall is screaming about but I get the feeling it is political and he really believes it. Bassist Bill Borowski (who’s also lead singer and guitarist in the Arge, but he’s always been a bass player to me) often rocks so hard he rocks his glasses right off his face. Drummer Jason Jensen took the place of founding member Chad Burnett last year, and for the entire set he looked like his dream had come true. I probably won’t buy their CD, but I’ll certainly see them again.

Before them on the four band bill was Dissent & Revolt. I actually remember well the first time I had seen them. It was at the tail end of an exhausting eight hour “rock & roll buffet” at the High Noon. At that time lead singer Aaron Miller had massive dreads which he flipped around hypnotically for the bulk of their set. He currently sports what I would call a surfer dude haircut, while the rest of the band could be enrolled in the ROTC program. Their military style haircuts made them look even more intense as they churned out the musical base for Miller’s throat shredding rants. Every forceful tirade concluded with a very genuine “thank you” in a normal voice. Somehow I found myself with one their T-shirts at the end of the night. The irony of the girl who doesn’t swear wearing a “D ‘n’ f’n’ R” T-shirt was too beautiful to resist.

Huh, how about that?

Dissent & Revolt

United Sons of Toil