Nick Jaina/Anna Vogelzang; October 22, 2010; Lothlorien Co-op
Nick Jaina’s May show at the independent-minded Project Lodge is the closest he has gotten to a traditional venue in several visits to Madison. The first couple stops found him and his band crashing neighborhood festivals, setting up on a street corner and playing for anyone who stopped to listen during the WORT block party and the Willy Street Fair. Back in August he played in the basement, and now on this trip he found himself playing unamplified in the large living room of a co-op near campus. It was my first co-op experience, and I have to say it was good fit for Jaina. He’s used to playing unamplified and projects himself well, which was more than I can say for the first opener, a timid-voiced girl who never even introduced herself, or maybe she did and I didn’t hear it. I was also impressed by the number of folks who came out for the event, filling the room in nicely. I couldn’t help wondering how to get them all to my place for my next show.
His show in the basement was a small band by Jaina’s standards; he was joined only by a pair of string players, Amanda Lawrence on viola and the charming and endlessly amusing Nathan Langston on violin. I was disappointed that neither was along on this trip, but I enjoyed this group, especially guitar player Thomas Paul. The room had two pianos in it, convenient since many of Jaina’s songs are keyboard based tunes. Early in the set he stepped over to the nearest one, an upright by the wall, “It seems a shame not to use this.” He took a seat and played a song. It was utilized again later when a request was made for “Winding Sheet.” Amusingly the requester called it “Cobblestones” just as I had. Since the only copy of A Narrow Way that I have is the one Bill burned me, I too didn’t know the correct name when I asked for it at the house, and I admitted as much. “You don’t know the name because you stole the music right?” Jaina queried the fellow tonight. While he was obviously more comfortable playing it on piano, I’m a little partial to the guitar and strings version from the basement.
Paul proved his mettle as a musician by moving to the piano for several of the remaining songs. It turned out he had never played these songs on piano before, and that seemed to make Jaina a little nervous. “Are you sure you want to do that?” he asked him. He later admitted that Paul is one of the most amazing musicians he knows, able to play any tune on request. “The theme from Halloween,” Jaina called. “That’s cheating, we’ve already done that one,” he replied before picking out the movie’s distinctive melody on guitar. In addition to Paul, the band featured classy upright bass, trumpet (which I am always a sucker for) and drums. I thought the latter would overwhelm the vocals, and I was surprised that he was able to stay under Jaina’s vocals. I’m not sure whose skill that is a testament to.
I’ve listened to the new record, A Bird in the Opera House, but other than the addictive “Strawberry Man,” it doesn’t compare to the more exotic Narrow Way. I was pleased that so many songs from the latter showed up in the set including the anthemic “Battleground” and the intriguing “That’s the Kind of Fruit that You Leave on the Vine.”
Like Jaina, second opener Anna Vogelzang has the voice for this sort of show. She was accompanied by an upright bass and a cello which she had no trouble projecting over. Despite my chronic aversion to girl singers, I found myself drawn into her quirky songs immediately. If she hadn’t already won me over, her cover of “The Sign” would have. You announced it as being one in a series of songs where she got drunk, recorded a cover and posted it on YouTube. Even though she announced it as a sing-along, until she got to the chorus I wasn’t sure I knew it. Once it clicked I was happy to sing along. After all, the Mountain Goats John Darnielle taught me years ago that this is actually a cool song. I truly enjoyed Vogelzang, and I’ll be keeping her in mind for a show in the basement.