Saturday, May 29, 2010

Simon Joyner/Theodore; May 29, 2010; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

During my first years in Madison a friend who was a grad student in another lab used to make me mix tapes. Despite the fact that he had gaping holes in his general musical knowledge, he knew more about indie music than anyone I knew. His tastes ranged from the obscure to the unknown, as he liked to put it, and he set about educating me through these tapes. The only reason he knew the Beatles “Dear Prudence” is because it had been covered by Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Allman Brothers “Jessica” a result of a B side by They Might Be Giants, but he had everything the Mountain Goats had recorded by that point, most of it released on cassette tapes, not to mention a good chunk of Daniel Johnston’s catalog in the same format. It wasn’t all good, I had to fast forward every Beat Happening song he ever included (oddly enough, I dug Calvin Johnson’s other band Dub Narcotic Soundsystem also on these collections), and he wouldn’t stop with the whiny girl singers even though he was totally aware of my aversion to them.

Even so, some very good things came of it. I grew to love the Mountain Goats and the number of their CDs I own is only second to Bob Dylan. It was the first place I heard great bands like Superdrag and Camper Van Beethoven, and a songwriter named Simon Joyner. His “One for the Catholic Girls” was an immediate favorite on “Behold! I Shall Do a New Thing” (the tapes always had cryptic titles), being a Catholic girl and all. The first time I was supposed to see him was with the Mountain Goats at the Empty Bottle, but he had to cancel. The second time was on a bill with Conor Oberst at Schubas. The fact that Oberst was playing at Schubas illustrates how long ago that was. Then he disappeared off my radar. He hadn’t stopped making records; he had just stopped touring, tiring of the club scene. To promote his ’09 release Out into the Snow he decided to hit the road again, this time eschewing bars in favor of living rooms and art galleries, places where folks would actually listen to his graceful songs.

He ended up at the House of Righteous Music thanks to my friend Ryan Hembrey, who has played the basement and played on Joyner’s records. Remembering that long ago Schubas show and that song that Ken had put on a tape, I jumped at the chance to host him. I bought Snow and listened to it repeatedly, his voice occasionally reminding me of Dylan even as his delightfully deadpan voice tried to hide it. He didn’t do much from that record in the course of his 60 minute set, favoring the rest of a catalog I didn’t realize had grown so extensive. His audience of fans couldn’t have been more excited. Since he hasn’t toured for so long, people were moved to go out of their way to attend the show.

One young guy had driven from Eagle River WI, arriving so early I invited him to join us for dinner, another trio came from Chicago after their attempt to see his Peoria show had been thwarted. They stopped by that afternoon just to make sure they had the right place, they weren’t going to take the chance that they would miss him again. At the end of the set we convinced him to play one more song, and “Catholic Girls” was suggested. Everyone agreed it was the best song of the night, too bad my tape had run out only minutes before. A few days later he e-mailed me to say that if every house concert was like playing at my house, he would tour more. I’m in favor of that.

The last time Theodore had played the house they had gotten a phone call that day asking if they would like to play a house concert with Simon Joyner in their home town of St Louis. Somewhere in the middle of that disastrous night I suggested that they should come back and open for him at my house. Partially because I always want them to play, but mostly because I wanted someone to actually see them here. I thought it was drunk talk, but when I e-mailed them a few days later, they were still excited about it. Simon had missed their show in Omaha, but had heard nothing but good things about them and was in favor of the idea. “We’re hear to see Simon Joyner too,” lead singer Justin admitted halfway through their set, to which I responded, “they just wanted to get in free.” “Hey, ain’t no shame,” he drawled with a smile.

It turned out to be a perfect match. Their multi-instrumental tales of woe were the perfect lead-in to Simon’s sad sack tunes. JJ and Andy continue to amaze me with the number of instruments at their disposal, though the songs using accordion, horns and especially saw always seem to be my favorites. Sadly there was no banjo tonight, though that’s the only thing I can even think to complain about. Even though Hold You Like a Lover was just released earlier this year, the set consisted mostly of new songs, each one as good as any they’ve released. I couldn’t stop smiling. When I introduced them at the beginning of the show, I claimed I was sticking by my pronouncement that they were best band out of Missouri. That may or may not be true, but it would be hard to find a band that makes me happier.


Simon Joyner & the Parachutes

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mic Harrison & the High Score; May 28, 2010; Quencher's, Chicago

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Karma to Burn/Year Long Disaster/The United Sons of Toil; May 27, 2010; High Noon Saloon

Daniel Davies is the son of the Kinks’ Dave Davies, but if you went to see his band Year Long Disaster expecting them to play super catchy British Invasion style rock, you are going to be very disappointed. Instead of the long haired mop top music his dad played, the younger Davies goes more for the long haired metal of the early 80’s, before it got glammy and soft. His band used to include drummer Brad Hargreaves (a promotion from his day job with Third Eye Blind) but tonight when the band joined him after a handful of ambivalently received solo songs they looked an awful lot like Karma to Burn. “So basically Year Long Disaster is just Karma to Burn with that Soundgarden-y dude?” a friend asked. Apparently so. Blurring the lines even more, Davies joined the instrumental band during their set, giving them the extra guitar muscle I didn’t even realize they were lacking.

Surprisingly the wiry handsome Davies was not the most fascinating person on stage, that award goes to bass player Rich Mullins. He spent 90% of his time on stage in an impossibly wide-legged stance, bass between his legs, the guitar hanging barely a foot off the ground. His slim but muscular thighs were about as big as his impressive biceps, and accentuated by the skin-tight stretch jeans which he must have bought in the juniors department. He wore a mischievous grin, eyes sparkling beneath his cap as he plucked, strummed and thumped his bass. One thing for sure, it was much easier to watch him than shirtless drummer Rob Oswald, who looked a little like a hobbit behind the kit. Better heard than seen in this case.

The night began with local screamers the United Sons of Toil. Tonight’s powerful set was pleasantly abrasive but tight and concise. In contrast to a bar time-shortened set at the Frequency a few weeks before, tonight they got to play all their songs. A good thing since lead singer Russell Hall didn’t like being told he had to quit by the Frequency soundman. This was one of only a few shows in town this summer as they take their show on the road to such exotic locations as Chicago and Dubuque. Their heavy math rock was a perfect kick-off to a surprisingly entertaining night, even if it wasn’t always the music that I was entertained by.

A Seth drink

The United Sons of Toil

Year Long Disaster

Karma to Burn

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Wrens/The Postelles; May 21, 2010 First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia and May 22, 2010 Sonar, Baltimore

There are a fair amount of Wrens fans that are obsessed with when their next record will be released. Not me, the Meadowlands tour which began in 2003 is the only tour I have ever known, beginning in early 2004 with a show I basically went to because I knew the opening band. I have no doubt that when the new record comes out it will be amazing, the songs I’ve definitely point in that direction, but I’m certainly not holding my breath for the release date. I enjoy the songs from the Meadowlands far too much. Which is good, because the two shows on their amusingly titled “Two City National Tour,” which began in Philadelphia on Friday and ended the next day 90 miles away in Baltimore, had exactly the same set list and it was heavy on songs from their masterpiece. I don’t look forward to the day when I might not hear “This Boy is Exhausted,” “Hopeless,” “Everyone Chooses Sides,” and the always stunning “She Sends Kisses” in the same set.

I do love Kevin’s songs, but Charles’s are the ones that take my breath away. “Kisses” which smolders with passion for a lost love took its usual spot in the encore tonight. “Exhausted” (which always shows up early in the set as the perfect introduction to the band) and “Everyone” document the anguish that went into making the Meadowlands, and what makes it so great. Sadly, some of his best songs don’t ever make it onto the set list. The epic “Ex-Girl Collection” has only been played live a couple times, and it took a third guitar the one time I did see it. And as far as I know he hasn’t written a new one yet. But that’s the thing, I don’t mind at all. I find the Meadowlands start-to-finish brilliant but I’ve never been as big a fan of their previous release Secaucus (which in true Wrens form came out seven years before the Meadowlands). However, I do enjoy “Made Enough Friends” which I’ve heard Kevin say is the most requested Wrens song ever. Having seen them play it many times, I felt guilty when the man next to me exclaimed how happy he was that they played it tonight since he'd never heard it.

In contrast to the identical set lists, the venues couldn’t have been more different. The show in Philly at the First Unitarian Church was quite literally in a church basement. The only lighting was the row of recessed ceiling lights over the stage. Whether or not there was an air conditioner is debatable, if there was it wasn’t trying very hard. The band was drenched in sweat only a few songs in and claimed they play there just to lose weight. The one cool thing was that since they didn’t sell beer, you could bring your own. Unfortunately, being from out of town we had no idea. It was surprising to see a gaggle of small children gathered excitedly in front of the stage. Knowing that drummer Jerry O’Donnell has several children, without thinking I speculated that they were probably Jerry’s kids. As it turned out, the crowd did consist of two of his sons and their friends who excitedly joined the band onstage for a song. After the show as I asked the older one how many times he had seen the Wrens, “twice” he announced proudly. Ah, I remember my second Wrens show.

The next night in Baltimore at Sonar found us in a more traditional club, though it did mark the first time I saw a monitor on fire. As the Postelles started their set a thin ribbon of smoke curled out of the front most wedge. It was quickly replaced and they carried on with their set of generic Strokes light rock. While it was nice to see a band that wasn’t terrible open for the Wrens, if I had to see a band twice it would have been nice to see one that was interesting. It should be noted that everyone with me disagreed, thought they were great and bound to be the next big thing. The best thing I can say was at least they didn’t play very long. In addition to hanging out with Chicagoans Mark and his underage brother Luke (whom the Wrens have dubbed the twin towers, yes, they are quite tall) both nights, tonight I met a guy from Kenosha who had flown out to see the show and ran into a guy that I had met in Philly at a Wrens show several years back. I think I love Wrens fans almost as much as I love the Wrens.


The Postelles

The Wrens


The Postelles

The Wrens