Blake Thomas/John Statz/Jeremiah Nelson; November 28, 2010; High Noon Saloon
It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the end of a long weekend, and the perfect time to go listen to some of Madison’s best former and current singer-songwriters. It seems a lot of people had the same idea; the crowd was surprisingly big, too bad none of them actually wanted to listen. There was a steady rumble of conversation throughout the night. Sometimes I could listen through it, other times it was impossible to ignore the shrieks of laughter coming from the bar.
Since he was the quietest, current Madison resident Jeremiah Nelson seemed to be the hardest to hear. He played his set sitting down playing slide guitar, and what I could hear of it was gorgeous. Of course, Jeremiah plays every Tuesday night at Mickey’s so he is no stranger to inattentive crowds. He gets through those sets by melting one song into the next and experimenting with his looping pedal. He hasn’t released an album since shortly after he moved to Madison, so he has a backlog of material waiting to be committed to CD. Some of these songs have been worked and reworked, each version equally good, but completely different from prior incarnations. “Pacing and Scheming” for example started life as a loud rocker to play with his band the Achilles Heel, made up of members of the Blueheels. After they quit, it has been reworked into a much quieter reflective song.
He’s proven time and time again that he has a knack for picking the perfect cover. Tonight it was a Neil Young song, one that he had learned for the Young tribute at Linneman’s. “He has a great Neil Young voice,” a friend whispered to me. Which isn’t really true, he sounds nothing like Young, but he does do an excellent job with the songs. He also issued a challenge to the two musicians following him. He played a cover of Blake Thomas’s “World of War,” a song that he’s heard John Statz play, and suggested that each of them should also play it, and then at the end of the night the audience could vote on which was their favorite. Statz apparently didn’t feel up to the test and declined. He did however pull out his own surprising cover. I knew he had good taste since he likes the Drive By Truckers, but I was surprised to learn he was also a Frightened Rabbit fan. He played “Old Fashioned,” my favorite song off Midnight Organ Fight, and did a decent job of it. I’ll admit it was odd to hear that song without lead singer Scott Hutchinson’s thick Scottish accent, and it even took me a minute to identify it. Statz moved to Colorado a few months back, so it is nice to see he hasn’t forgotten his friends in Madison. He even had some of them play with him. For the first half of his set he was joined by an upright bass player and a guitarist, both of whom played on his most recent release.
Thomas didn’t move quite as far away. His new address in Minneapolis allows him to come back once a month to play Honky Tonk Tuesday at Mickey’s Tavern. Since I already knew I was going to miss the next one, it was nice to have the opportunity to see him tonight. The bushy beard, which nearly rivals Justin Bricco’s, and long hair he’s been growing since before he left Madison seemed incongruous with the suit he was wearing. Still there was no doubt it was the same old Blake, his gorgeous voice still breaking hearts in an instant. It even felt like Mickey’s, the constant chatter had continued throughout the evening and got louder as the night wore on. Still, it was great to see all three of them, even if I couldn’t always hear them.