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

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