Peter Mulvey/Brianna Lane; October 3, 2010; High Noon Saloon
Peter Mulvey is a seasoned performer. He’s played all over the US, Canada and the UK, from large halls to more intimate venues. At every show, he’s very witty and he’s always entertaining. In other words, he’s a professional, but every so often he gets silly. The last time I saw him this uncharacteristically goofy was last summer on State St. Then I attributed it to the herbal beer he’d had across the street before he played. This time I can only guess the high came from biking from Milwaukee to Madison. It was the last stop of his annual Wisconsin bike tour and one of the longer rides. He’d been joined on the tour again this year by Brianna Lane, who was also the opening act, and a handful of friends. I wish I’d been writing down all the things he said that alternately cracked me up and had me saying “huh?” but the truth is they came so fast I’m not sure I would have been able to. Perhaps the best example is when after telling a joke that apparently no one got (I sure didn’t), he likened it to Dennis Miller’s one season hosting Monday Night Football, while waving his hand over his head with a whooshing sound.
When he wasn’t cracking us or himself up, he was playing songs, which is something he also does quite well. As with his sense of humor, there are winners (“Knuckleball Suite,” “The Girl in the High Tops”) and losers (“Mailman”). But like the comedy, there are always more of the former than the latter. A great songwriter himself, he always peppers his sets with well-chosen covers. He likes to start with something classic, like Hoagy Carmichael or the Gershwins, before moving into more recent times. Tonight there were even a couple I hadn’t heard him do before. The first was “a song I learned from Paul Cebar,” which turned out to be the Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love.” Since Cebar recorded it for his new solo acoustic record, I guess that makes Peter’s version a cover of a cover. Even after further review, “The Book of Love” isn’t any better than the tenth best song on 69 Love Songs, even as it continues to be the cover of choice. The other was a song from the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson’s “Bicycle.” Even though its chorus of “It’s hard to ride at night on your bicycle, with no lights to guide/Just take a chance and ride,” isn’t safe, it was very appropriate.
He was joined on both of those songs by Lane. She pulled out the ukulele for “Book of Love.” If you’ve seen the Magnetic Fields, you know that is the way it is supposed to be done. I’m not a fan of girl singers, but her opening set was likeable enough. And it was impossible not to enjoy her infectious delight with everything. She didn’t seem to realize until she got on stage that the outfit she had pulled out of her bag after showering post-ride was rather ridiculous. She grinned, “I feel like a kid,” and hopped up and down with delight. This was her second year on the bike tour and she begged Peter to keep doing it and take her along next year. I don’t think she needs to worry; this is now part of Peter’s life. And honestly, if it makes everyone involved this silly happy, I might have to ride along next year.