Friday, April 30, 2010

The Shotgun Party/Jim James & the Damn Shames/Frogwater; April 30, 2010; High Noon Saloon

The Shotgun Party played the House of Righteous Music in November of 2008. It was their first gig in Madison, back in the days when I wasn’t so leery about booking bands I hadn’t seen, and when the recommendation of a friend (in this case Austin musician Brennen Leigh) was good enough for me. It’s a lucky thing, because I am very glad to have met this charming trio. I’d like to think it was lucky for them too. One of the people who had seen them in the basement recommended them for the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival last summer. They played without fiddler Katie Rose Cox who was on tour in Europe with another band. The guy filling in for her did a great job, but I missed Katie and her uniquely awesome fashion sense and her wicked fiddling.

The Sugar Maple people brought them back again tonight for one of the lead up events to this year’s festival as the headliners on a bill that also featured two Wisconsin acts. Watching opening band Frogwater from Milwaukee, I was impressed with their fiddler who was equally adept at bluegrass as she was at Irish tunes. They ran through a variety of tunes, some with words, some instrumental, the fiddle accompanied by acoustic guitar. It wasn’t exactly my thing, but it was good. Next up was one of Madison’s best named bands, Jim James and the Damn Shames. It had been a couple years since I had last seen them, but I never would have guessed. The line-up looked the same and I recognized many of their songs, especially the ones about trains, it could have been just last month.

The Shotgun Party always take the stage by storm. Once they plug in their string of coffee can lights, there’s no looking back, their high-energy acoustic country will knock you over if you aren’t ready. As I mentioned before, Katie is a force to be reckoned with. During Frogwater’s set I was thinking that maybe their fiddler was as good, but those thoughts were erased once she touched bow to fiddle. Her arm was a blur as she coaxed increasingly complicated melodies out of the instrument. Relative newbie, upright bass player Andrew Austin-Peterson has an infectious smile and boyish good looks. The Madison native had many relatives in attendance who enthusiastically cheered him on. Both contribute backing vocals, but the focus of the band will always be lead singer and guitarist Jenny Parrot.

Ridiculously adorable and always smiling, she steals the show from the other very-accomplished musicians on stage. The key is her voice, girlish but strong, like a kewpie doll that knows kung fu. She can break into a convincing yodel at the drop of a hat, and apparently knows some Spanish as she demonstrated with a song that really showed off the vocal power she possesses, power I’m not even sure I knew about till tonight. She was also sweet enough to dedicate a song to me, “This one’s for Kiki,” she said with a smile, “because it’s about being bad.” Aw, isn’t that nice, at least I think it was.

Jim James & the Damn Shames

The Shotgun Party

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