Bobby Bare Jr./Blue Giant; October 8, 2010; The Frequency
“Is there another Bobby Bare Jr.?” one of the members of Ha Ha Tonka asked after spotting a poster on the wall of the Frequency following their show last month. “No,” I answered, not really sure what he was asking. “I can’t believe he’s playing here,” he replied, gesturing to the 99 capacity room. The reason is pretty simple actually- Bobby Bare Jr. just doesn’t play Madison. I’ve seen him many many times over the years, but never in Madison. Other than the Bloodshot sponsored Beer B Que last summer, he had only been here once before, opening for Robert Randolph at Luther’s Blues, back when Luther’s Blues was the place to see a show and Randolph was still playing clubs. That fact hasn’t escaped Bare, “I think this is my first headlining gig in Madison,” he commented during his set. It wasn’t sold out, but a decent amount of folks had shown up. They had to be pleased when he announced later in is his show that he would be back next month opening for Jay Farrar at the Majestic.
Over the years his band has changed from show to show but Deanna Varagona (Lambchop) has been the one constant member for as long as I can remember, so it was strange to see Bare onstage without her and her baritone sax. Instead he was joined by some of the members of Blue Giant, the Portland- based band that had opened the show. They had been on tour with Bare for the better part of two months, “when someone asks you to go on tour with them for two months tell them they’re crazy,” lead singer Kevin Robinson smiled. I’ve always thought Bare might be a little special, his child-like glee, demonstrated by clapping excitedly for himself after every song, seemed at odds with his profanity-prone songs, but he seemed a bit more serious tonight. Blue Giant’s guitarist/backing vocalist/wife Anita Robinson filled the part of Varragona, and they did well as a backing band.
After three releases on Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, Bare released his most recent record himself. Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t have it yet, so there was a chunk of the set that was not familiar to me. I would have bought it after the show, but this was a night where fifteen dollars felt like too much to pay even if the money did go to feed his children. Had it been ten or twelve I’d have it now. There were other favorites from his previous releases though, “Flat Chested Girl from Maynardville,” which he claimed was about one of the members of Blue Giant, and the sweet and honest “Valentine.” Probably my favorite moment of the night was when Bare returned for a solo encore to play “Come and Visit Me in Music City,” a song extolling the virtues of living in Nashville where Bare has been a lifelong resident, the best of these being “The cops all carry capos in case you want to change your key.”
Blue Giant’s opening set was likeable enough, though for some reason I liked the first half of it better than the last. It seemed like the songs sounded less unique as the show went along; I went from wanting to buy a CD to not really caring. It was odd to hear Robinson l refer to the audience with a familiar “y’all.” “People from Portland don’t say y’all,” a friend from there griped, looking disgusted. Agreed. Coincidentally, Blue Giant will also be returning to town soon to play an opening set at the Majestic. I’m not sure I’ll make it to either of these shows, but it’s nice to know that Madison is on both bands’ radar. Maybe now Bare will play here a little more regularly.
Bobby Bare Jr