Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Sadies/Chris Mills; November 28, 2009; The Hideout

The Sadies are one of those bands legendary for their live shows. Me, I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I have seen the best live band in the world and they just can’t compare, or maybe it’s just that their music doesn’t resound with me the way it does with others. I’d only seen them once before opening for and backing John Spencer and as Heavy Trash. My expectations were probably too high, let down was the only place to go. Whatever the reason that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to get it, especially when the opener is someone I adore as much as Chris Mills.

Someone who does seem to get it, as well as appreciate Chris as much as I do, is Sally Timms. Tonight’s show was a command performance in honor of her birthday and the Sadies had flown in from their home in Toronto just to play it. Surprisingly, in contrast to her usual vocal and extroverted behavior, Timms spent the show seated at a table toward the back of the room. No mention was even made of her birthday until the end of the night when the Sadies thanked her for inviting them to play. As an added bonus for the last song they brought her Mekon bandmate Jon Langford up to be their lead singer for one last tune (the Mekons’ Memphis, Egypt”) as the band Eaglebauer, a name they used as a Mekon cover band when they were opening for the legends during their anniversary tour. Watching Langford, who I hadn’t even spotted before that moment, pack all the energy into one song that he would normally exert in an entire show was like watching a tornado touch down.

The rest of the Sadies set was enjoyable if not particularly memorable. Their country flavored rock was occasionally broken up with an energetic instrumental. The band gets most of its charisma from the Good brothers. The better looking of the tall, lanky pair is Travis Good, a wicked guitar and fiddle player who occasionally will take over lead vocal duties. The other is Dallas Good, a charmingly odd looking fellow who usually sings lead and does all of the talking and ends every song with a sincere thank you. The upright bass gave it that timeless country feeling, while the drummer was quick to follow the brothers lead. They were quite good, but I guess I still wouldn’t go too far out of my way to see them and all the superlatives still seem excessive, though I will admit their cover of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” was pretty awesome.

Chris Mills on the other hand, I definitely get. I had run into Head of Femur’s Matt Focht on our way in and he admitted that he had never actually seen Chris before. The old school trio that also included long-time bandmates drummer Gerald Dowd and bassist Ryan Hembrey had only played a few songs before Matt leaned over and whispered “He’s a really good songwriter.” Oh yeah, I know. There was a new song in the set, only the second I’ve heard since Living in the Aftermath was released in early 2008. It was pretty terrific but it looks as if the next new release will be a ways off. Other than that there were old favorites like “Fresh, Young Mouth” and of course “The Silver Line” the title track his 2002 release and quite possibly the greatest song ever written. Gerald and Ryan have been his most consistent bandmates over his career, but it had been awhile since I had seen just the three of them. Good stuff.

Chris always has an amusing story to tell and this time it was about a song of his that was featured in the TV show “Criminal Minds.” He had proudly told his parents and in-laws who then told all their friends, and everyone tuned in to see a very disturbing episode about a man who kidnapped and raped women and then killed the babies they had nine months later. Probably not exactly the setting they expected to hear his song “A Beautiful Thing” in, but what did they expect, it is called Criminal Minds after all.

Thanks Sally for putting together such a great show, and Happy Birthday!

Chris Mills

The Sadies

Monday, November 23, 2009

Anders Parker; November 23, 2009; The Darkroom, Chicago

Roses & Sake; November 23, 3009; Quencher's, Chicago

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Justin Roberts & the Not Ready for Naptime Players; November 22, 2009; Majestic Theater

The last time I saw Justin Roberts and his Not Ready for Naptime Players, I made a mad dash by myself from the airport to get there in time. If I was getting weird looks for not having any kids in tow, I didn’t notice. This time there were three of us and the guy taking tickets looked a little confused when I handed him ours. “That’s right, no kids,” I confirmed. It may seem a little strange for three grown-ups to be going to see a trio aimed at the ten and under crowd but to us it made perfect sense.

First, and most importantly, the Not Ready for Naptime Players are friends. Bassist Liam Davis is one of the founding members of Chicago’s terrific on-again off-again power pop band Frisbie. The drum kit is manned by Gerald Dowd, not only the best drummer I know but also one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. I’ve seen him play with country bands, blues bands, Frisbie, Robbie Fulks, Chris Mills, Nora O’Connor and probably some others I don’t remember. No matter who he is playing with, his skills are obvious and his good nature apparent. A father himself, he always seems eager to play the kind of kids’ music that grown-ups can enjoy too.

Seeing Justin Roberts is like watching a Pixar movie, there’s something in his songs for everyone. Sure the songs may be about being a crossing guard, daydreaming in the outfield or refusing to comb your hair, but the melodies are pure power pop. In addition, the subtle references, like the line “I’ll stop the world and meltdown with you” (from “Meltdown”) make paying attention to the lyrics worthwhile. Like many of the better children’s artists performing today, Farmer Jason, Dan Zanes, Ralph’s World, Roberts played for grown ups first.. His band Pimentos for Gus may not have been as well known as Jason Ringenberg’s Scorchers or Zanes’ Del Fuegos, but he is proving himself their equal in the crossover market.

He managed to keep the ADD crowd interested for an hour with silly songs that begged to be sung along to and multiple appearances from Willy the Whale. Voiced by Liam, Willy came off a little crotchety from where we were sitting but the kids seemed to love him, and he brought their interest back to the show whenever it seemed they might be losing focus. The next time Roberts and his band return they promise to have a new CD and I’ll be interested to see what new things have sprung from his mind. Chances of a conflict are a little less than usual since most of the shows I go to aren't at 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Anders Parker/This Bright Apocalypse; November 21, 2009; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

As much as I wanted to see the Wrens at the Black Cat, I knew that I would have to give it up if the weather was the least bit threatening. After all, I did have a house concert to get back for, and I am pretty sure it is poor form to miss your own house concert. Luckily the weather was beautiful here and especially there, and I made it back no problem. Even if he was playing somewhere else, Anders Parker is a show I wouldn’t want to miss. This was his third time playing at the house, and every time he is amazing. On previous visits he switched between electric and acoustic guitar, but tonight he just had an acoustic with him. It’s a bit if a shame, since he is one of only a few people who do the solo electric guitar thing well. I believe the secret is that he plays it like an acoustic. I thought about the missing electric once at the beginning of the set and not again, because as it turns out he really only needs one guitar.

That is because he does so much with it. He records loop after loop and piles them on top of each other, creating more sound than you would expect from one person. It isn’t just guitar samples either, sometimes it’s percussion created by banging on the guitar’s hollow body, sometimes it’s a snatch of vocal. I’m sure it isn’t easy but he certainly makes it look that way. His newest release Skyscraper Crow is a two record set. The former is the catchier of the two discs featuring a fuller electric sound and the occasional drum machine. Crow is solo acoustic, sparer and more haunting than its brother. Only a few of the songs really jumped out at me on the first several listens, but live they are just as engaging as his older material. I actually couldn’t even pick them out, they seemed so familiar. “Calling Out to You” was especially good, while “Up on the Sun” from Tell It to the Dust was the standout older song, and possibly the best example of his looping skills. It was also probably the most rocking.

I’d like to think that I do a fairly good job matching openers to the main acts, but when the opener I thought I had fell through, I was completely at a loss. It seemed every local band that would be a reasonably good match was already playing either Friday or Saturday night. I even asked a few that were a stretch. Then it hit me, the answer had been right there the whole time. The show had been listed as TBA for so long it was obvious they were the perfect opener. It took some work, but luckily they were willing to make it happen. Drummer Chris Sasman already had a gig that night but it was nearby, and wasn’t supposed to start till 10. He set up one kit at the Lazy Oaf and a second at my house. They hadn’t played together since September, but decided that “practice is for suckas.”

Given how good they sounded I definitely concur. They may argue, but from the audience side I didn’t notice any missteps. Luke Bassuener is a charming and magnetic frontman who never stops smiling the entire set. Guitarist Johnny Maloney can’t help but divide your attention with his manic energy and simple joy of playing. Their secret weapon is Sasman, a simultaneously precise and inventive drummer. I can’t thank them enough for playing. During his set Anders commented that it wasn’t fair that he kept having to play after bands, because “there’s so many of you and you can make so much noise.” I wouldn’t normally do it, but I though he could handle it. He did.
This Bright Apocalypse

Anders Parker

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Wrens/Poor But Sexy; November 20, 2009; Black Cat, Washington DC

It was a weird feeling. The house concert was over and everyone was in bed and I was wide awake. I was surfing the web, and thought I would check in on the Wrens site. I was already looking forward to the two sold-out shows they were playing at Maxwell’s next month and I was surprised to see a third show had been added that was also sold out. I was even more surprised to see a Washington DC show at the Black Cat two weeks before that. I immediately checked plane fares and was about to buy a plane ticket when I caught myself, I was a little drunk and besides, going to that show would be Nick-crazy. I shut off my computer and went to sleep.

The next morning I congratulated myself on being rational. Two days later I bought a plane ticket.

I’ve theorized before that the first show of any their two night stands is always a little less than mind-blowing as they shake off the rust of their very intermittent tour schedule (as in, they don’t tour), and I wondered how this one-off show would be. I’m not sure why I ever question whether or not it is worth it, because it always is, and tonight’s show was absolutely amazing. It may have something to do with those three Maxwell’s shows, one of which was to be an all-request evening and another The Meadowlands in its entirety. They had been practicing and this was a trial run of some of those songs.

Instead of being the “same old stuff that you’ve seen million times” as Greg had told me tonight would be, there was a healthy dose of very promising new material and seldom played songs from older releases. Admittedly, I can’t tell the difference since Meadowlands is pretty much exclusively all I listen to. And why not? It just gets better with every listen. Subtleties that I had missed on previous listens come to the forefront and my second favorite song changes on a regular basis, with the amazing “She Sends Kisses” always my first favorite of course. I’ve been waiting years to hear “Ex-Girl Collection,” so I was disappointed to see that it was on the “songs we know” list, but hadn’t been played. Oh well, they have to do it in Hoboken.

But that was my only disappointment. Someone I can guarantee wasn’t disappointed at all was my new friend 12 year old Darren and his dad, who had driven four hours from the middle of Pennsylvania for the show. I was expecting that it was dad who was the fan, but instead it was Darren who had found them on the Internet and gotten his father into their music. He had been waiting a long time for an all ages show and was in the very front row tonight. He watched the entire set with wide-eyed wonder but it wasn’t until the encore that it was guaranteed that every other show for the rest of life wouldn’t compare. Kevin returned for the traditional encore song “This Is Not What You Had Planned,” came over to our side on the stage, pulled Darren up, and sat him next to him at the keyboard. Maybe he showed him which key to plink, maybe not, but in that one song Darren stole the show. He returned to his spot after the song followed by a chant of “Dar-ren! Dar-ren!” from the audience.

And that is why I buy plane tickets. It is worth it every single time.

As usual the opener was a study in tediousness. This time it was Poor But Sexy, a DC based band with a penchant for Jason Mraz-type white boy hip-hop. The best thing about them was their name. As I stood in the front row, trying hard not to let my annoyance show, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the guitar player and guest musician looked very familiar. It made sense when I found out later that they were both in the Dismemberment Plan. And then it made me sad because that band was awesome, and this one was not. Luckily the Wrens are always good enough to make up for whatever opener I have to sit through.

Poor but Sexy

The Wrens