Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Twenty Shows of 2010
1. The Bottle Rockets, June 11, Kiki’s House of Righteous Music (KHoRM)
Almost three hours of rock, all requests, and the fastest sellout in KHoRM history. Thank you.
2. Ha Ha Tonka/Chris Mills/The Grandtours, August 12, Sunset Tavern, Seattle
I saw two of my favorite artists play better sets this year, Ha Ha Tonka’s blistering set during Twangfest in St Louis and Chris’s solid set with the five piece band at the Hideout, but the point is I saw them together, and in Seattle.
3. Jon Langford/Blake Thomas, April 24, KHoRM
The man of countless bands plays solo at the house, and like everything he does, it was amazing.
4. James/Ed Harcourt, October 1, Royal Oak Music Theater, Royal Oak MI
Worth a trip to Detroit? They played “Fred Astaire,” I swooned, enough said.
5. Mumford & Sons/Cadillac Sky Band/King Charles, November 1, War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville
Sure they’re popular, but for once it’s a band that deserves it. They were fantastic, the venue stunning.
6. Theodore, July 13, Monk’s, Dubuque
I can never get enough Theodore, but tonight came close since they were contractually obligated to two hours. They might not have liked that, but I sure did. Plus, Monk’s was an absolute delight, cozy and charming.
7. Steve Poltz/Robby Schiller, March 30, KHoRM
Blueheels frontman Schiller played the best set I’ve seen him do opening for the crazy entertaining Poltz and his great band.
8. Jason Collett/Bahamas/Zeus, April 6, Majestic Theater
All three acts alternated and collaborated for this unique show. I went to see Collett, but Zeus stole the show.
9. Langhorne Slim/Ha Ha Tonka, July 26, The Varsity Club, Minneapolis
The Varsity is a great place to see a show, and this was a great show. Slim is a true entertainer. And you know how I feel about HHT.
10. Lou Barlow & the Missing Men/Wye Oak, August 25, The Frequency
Something about Barlow always makes me smile, while his voice absolutely hypnotizes me.
11. Bob Dylan, October 25, Overture Center
Dylan continues a run of great shows, and the smaller Overture Center was the perfect venue. Happy Birthday to me.
12. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists/Title Tracks, March 14, High Noon Saloon
Leo is so great live, his encore was a solo cover of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues.” I didn’t see that one coming.
13. Califone, March 9, Lincoln Hall, Chicago
They played a live soundtrack along with Tim Rutilli’s honestly good movie “All My Friends Are Funeral Singers” (Netflix it!) and then played a short but mind-blowing set. A band I’ve known for years became my new favorite band.
14. The Pines/Ben Weaver, May 15, KHoRM
Weaver returned to the house and brought some friends, I was very pleased to meet them.
15. Micah Schnabel/ Time Since Western, January 8, KHoRM
Two Cow Garage singer Schnabel played the house in support of an emotional and honest solo record. Plus, I finally get TSW to play.
16. Billy Bragg/Darren Hanlon, September 9, Turner Hall, Milwaukee
Sensual, sexy, Socialist. Pretty much sums up Bragg. Oh, and funny too, so funny.
17. Great Lake Swimmers, June 13, Marquette Waterfront Festival
Lead singer Tony Dekkar played “Imaginary Bars” solo for me after I embarrassed myself requesting it. More swooning.
18. Elf Power/Icarus Himself, September 27, High Noon Saloon
Elf Power was the best thing about the ‘08 Pitchfork Fest, and they made me just as happy tonight, while Icarus keeps getting better.
19. Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express, October 17, Shank Hall, Milwaukee
Prophet just may be the coolest dude on the planet.
20. The Hold Steady/The Whigs/Jaill, July 2, Lac Courte Oreilles Casino, Hayward WI
Three words I thought I would never hear, “Thank you Hayward!”
Top Twenty Records of 2010
1. Theodore Hold You Like a Lover
2. Zeus Say Us
3. Jon Langford & Skull Orchard Old Devils
4. The Hold Steady Heaven is Whenever
5. Frightened Rabbit The Winter of Mixed Drinks
6. Lindsay Fuller The Last Light I See
7. James The Morning After the Night Before
8. Matt Pond PA The Dark Leaves
9. The Whigs In the Dark
10. Sleeping in the Aviary Great Vacation!
11. Mumford & Sons Sigh No More
12. Two Cow Garage Sweet Saint Me
13. Ben Weaver Mirepoix & Smoke
14. Graham Parker Imaginary Television
15. The Scarring Party Losing Teeth
16. Pernice Brothers Goodbye Killer
17. Ian Moore El Sonido Nuevo
18. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists Brutalist Bricks
19. Jason Collett Rat A Tat Tat
20. The Magnetic Fields Realism

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Meat Puppets/Retribution Gospel Choir/Los Yegueros; December 29, 2010; Club Garibaldi

I had gotten very good at being a homebody in December. It was surprisingly easy for me to go from seeing several shows a week to only seeing two so far this month, and it’s almost over. Since I didn’t even bring my camera to the Shaky happy hour show, it was like I wasn’t even there. Part of the reason for my self-imposed hermitude was that I felt pretty broke after my twelve year old car needed a new muffler, but in truth, there just didn’t seem to be anything that really made me want to get out of the house. Given all of that, it was awfully easy to talk me into a road trip to Milwaukee for this show. I hadn’t been to Bayview’s Club Garibaldi since the smoking ban was enacted in July, but it was high on my list of venues that would benefit from it. It is a very cool club, but the last time I was there the blanket of smoke almost killed me. Another plus, it is right across the street from the Palomino, the only place I’ve found since leaving Texas that makes decent fried okra, and theirs is delicious.

The last time I saw the Meat Puppets I found myself amused to no end that lead singer Curt Kirkwood was wearing sweatpants, as if he couldn’t be bothered to put on real pants. He was wearing the same pair tonight so I can only suspect that it is his new uniform. He was also wearing a distracting T-shirt with something about horny teenage girls that I found myself starring at. Tonight’s show wasn’t as good as the one at La Crosse’s Warehouse back in April, but it was still entertaining. They played the songs that Kurt Cobain made famous on Unplugged, it’s a shame that “Birds” and “Lake of Fire” are still doing more for Cobain than they ever did for the Meat Puppets. There was an excellent version of “Up on the Sun” that had some guy yelling for them to play it again for the rest of the night. It was no surprise that they played “Backwater,” the closest they ever came to hit of their own, what was a surprise was that they led into it with “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” It’s a long song, and I certainly don’t claim to know all the words, but I am pretty sure the majority of the verses don’t end with “when the skies of November get gloomy.” Still, the fact that it is an awesome song and completely unexpected made up for any missing lyrics. Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Stud” was another surprising cover.

Since the last time I saw them, Chris Kirkwood has added keyboard to his repertoire, though I am not sure why. He’s an expressive and entertaining bass player, but his keyboard skills seemed pretty rudimentary. I can only guess about that fact since I couldn’t actually hear it, I’m not even sure it was plugged in. It did leave his bass unoccupied for Steve Barrington of Retribution Gospel Choir to pick up during “Birds.” He and drummer Eric Pollard took to the stage during the song with Pollard singing backing vocals. The funny thing is, Curt didn’t even notice his guests until the end of the song when he looked over and was startled to have company.

The Retribution Gospel Choir was the fashion polar opposite of the Meat Puppets, the trio all sported black pants and shirt with a black, white or striped tie. They looked very sharp, though I’d be willing to give the hard-working band a break after seeing how the shirts of Pollard and Alan Sparhawk were glued to their bodies with sweat at the end of their set. I love a good sweaty hug from a band boy, but I think I would have backed away from this one. Sparhawk is of course best known as the leader of Low, the painstakingly, and painfully, quiet trio from Duluth. My one experience with Low had me showing up at their Union South show after a happy hour, getting shushed four times and leaving. I’ve never been back. All that time playing quiet has led Sparhawk to some pretty noisy places for his side projects. I do not love the Retribution Gospel Choir’s music, I’ve seen them twice and not one song has stuck with me. However, I do enjoy their show. The energy is staggering and the connection between band members crackles with electricity. It can get a little jammy, but it somehow feels necessary. Besides, anyone who sweats that much on stage must really love what they are doing, and I can respect that.

Openers Los Yegueros were from Panama, which they reminded us of several times during their set. Even though their English was excellent they sang in Spanish save for one song. I liked them enough that I probably would have bought a CD if I didn’t still feel so poor. I gave them the thumbs-up when the lead singer asked me how the first song sounded. I’m pretty sure he heard me say he was cute when they got on stage. What? He was cute. We’d made the mistake of looking up what their name meant before the show, and I can tell you it wasn’t anything I learned in my two years of high school Spanish. Sorry, you have to Google it yourselves.

It definitely was a good time. I think my New Year’s resolution will be to go out more. Should be easy to keep.

Los Yegueros

Retribution Gospel Choir

The Meat Puppets

Friday, December 03, 2010

Chris Mills/Jon Langford & Skull Orchard/Adam Fitz; December 3, 2010; The Hideout, Chicago

The last time I saw Chris Mills I was surprised how few of his older songs were in the set. Exactly one. And it wasn’t even the exquisite “Silver Line” or my personal favorite “Dry Eye.” Still, I was happy just to be seeing him for the first time in 2010, especially since it was on a bill with Ha Ha Tonka, and in Seattle, which still seems too perfect to believe. Without a new record, tour dates have been sporadic at best, but it seems you can rely on there being at least one show a year in Chicago, which he called home for many years. Unlike Seattle, this time he knew I was coming and promised to play my favorite song. Not only did he play it, but it was the only dedication of the night. Aw, so sweet. It wasn’t even the oldest song in the set. The propulsive fan favorite “All You Ever Do” from Kiss It Goodbye also made the cut. It had been a long time since I’d heard the dark “Diamond” live, and that was certainly a highlight. See, it only takes a couple of the old songs to make me happy, and enjoy the newer classics like “You Are My Favorite Song” and brand new “When We Were Young” even more. If he seemed a little less physical than usual I attribute it to being out of practice.

The other highlight was the band. I’ve seen Mills play with just about every configuration imaginable, having finally checked off the Chris and Gerald show in August, but this may be my favorite line-up. The key of course is the remarkable rhythm section. I’ve seen other drummers play with Chris, but to me they are all “Not Gerald.” Gerald Dowd is simply the best drummer I know. I’ve seen him play with everything from jazz to old time country to children’s music, and he can do it all. Being Robbie Fulks’ drummer means he often has to do it all in one set. Bass player Ryan Hembrey has likely played more shows with Chris than anyone else, and he specializes in being quietly awesome. The last time I saw the always exciting cellist extraordinaire Fred Lonberg-Holm he had a close cropped hair, so I barely recognized the mop-topped mod sitting in his spot. Apparently he used to have an impressive beard too. After seeing him earlier this year Chris decided to grow a beard for tonight’s show so that they would be an all-beard band. However Fred showed up tonight clean-shaven, much to Chris’s chagrin. Dave-Max Crawford didn’t disappoint with his trumpet and keyboard work, not to mention his Colonel Sanders facial hair. Oh well, four out of five ain’t bad.

Chris opened a string of dates for Jon Langford on the East coast during which Langford volunteered to play a short set tonight, to “make it more special.” Retelling the tale tonight, he insisted that when he asked Chris how many songs to play he told him not to play any. He did play just a short set, only a handful of songs most accompanied by only by handsome guitarist Jim Elkington and vocalist Tawny Newsome, who provides some of Old Devils best backing vocals, though Hembrey did join him for part of the set. Chris met opener Adam Fitz when they played the World’s Largest Block Party together this summer. I had to miss the event, which was more disappointing when I thought it was called the World’s Largest CLOCK party (Chris’s typos are always entertaining), so not only did I miss Fitz, but also headliners Spoon. Fitz had an energy which could only be described as Joe Cocker-ish, the music and the voice instantly recalled the British singer. It took a little bit to get used to, but I’ve no doubt if I saw him again I would like it more. After all, they can’t all be love at first listen like it was with Mills.

Adam Fitz

Jon Langford & Skull Orchard

Chris Mills