Micah Schnabel/Shane Sweeney/Ghost Shirt/Marty Finkel; April 9, 2009; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
Two Cow Garage played three shows at SXSW but I didn’t get to see any of them. The first was the night before I got there, the next overlapped with the object of my visit, the Wrens first show, and the other with my only chance to see Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. I would have been pretty bummed, except that I knew they would be coming to me soon enough. Tonight wasn’t exactly a Two Cow show, instead of the full band its two songwriters did solo sets, but honestly it may have been even better. Both write the sort of tear in your beer songs that could reduce even the toughest dude to a sentimental sap. Well, they would if they weren’t so busy rocking. Their sets tonight revealed a sensitive side to the pair that I had only gotten a glimpse of the first time I saw them doing an acoustic in-store at Euclid records during Twangfest.
As close as brothers, Shane and Micah have never had a problem showing their affection for each other. I’ve seen them play what seems like entire songs head to head, both their faces lit up with genuine smiles. There’s nothing gay about their relationship, not that there would be anything wrong with it there were. These are two guys who are definitely meant to be in a band together. Micah played last, and since he sings most of the band’s songs, his set went longer. During the course of it, Shane and several members of tourmates Ghost Shirt joined him. His set eventually morphed into a late night jam where he played all the songs he didn’t feel comfortable doing solo. Gina’s repeated request for “Alphabet City” was met with the promise that he would do it later, “when the microphones are turned off.” It got a little blurry late in the night, courtesy of several whiskey cokes that I was sure Seth from the High Noon had mixed, but I do remember that it did get played, along with Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid” and whole bunch of other awesome songs.
It had never occurred to me that Shane reminded me of anybody but Shane, but he hadn’t been on stage more than a minute when Gina remarked on how much he looked and sounded like Tom Waits. His distinctive, sexy growl of a voice and disarming honesty make his occasional songs a highlight of the band shows, especially the heartbreaker “Saturday Night.” An honest look at how easy it can be to take someone for granted, it kills me every time. I’m pretty sure I wiped away a tear or two during that one. His contributions to their records have been increasing over the last couple releases, which gave him enough material to play an entire set of his own. That didn’t mean he didn’t have room for a well-chosen cover. As much as I agreed with Gina that I would love to hear him do some Tom Waits, his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” was affectingly gorgeous.
Both of them told me several times how much I was going to like Ghost Shirt, so it really wasn’t a much of a surprise when I did. A distinctive group of characters, they could have been drawn by Hanna Barbera for a Saturday morning children’s cartoon- gorgeous voiced Branden who looked like a Grizzly but was really a Teddy Bear, wise-cracking, curly-haired drummer Murph, tiny violinist Sam drunk on one glass of wine, and quiet bassist Ryan. They had the van, all they needed was a talking dog before they started solving mysteries. A relatively new band, the only merch Ghost Shirt brought with them was a free EP, which was too bad, because we all agreed a Ghost Shirt shirt would be pretty cool. I’m pretty sure no one has ever been happier to be here.
That would have been a full night of music, but I couldn’t resist adding local songwriter Mart Finkel to the bill. I had reviewed his first several records for Rick’s Café and have watched his growth as a songwriter and musician. His recent The Good Life and 2007’s self-titled CD stand out as some of the best local releases of the last couple years. His last couple shows have been with a band, so he claimed he was a little rusty playing solo. If he hadn’t told us, no one ever would have guessed, well, except for maybe when he forgot the first line of “Annabelle Gentry.” I had been telling him for some time I would love to have him play at the house, I’m glad it finally happened. It made a great night of music complete.