Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Twenty Albums of 2011
1 The Features Wilderness
2 Ha Ha Tonka Death of Decade
3 The Donkeys Born With Stripes
4 Southeast Engine Canary
5 Joe Ely Satisfied at Last
6 Rural Albert Advantage Departing
7 Teddy Thompson Bella
8 Dave Alvin Eleven Eleven
9 Jon Langford Skull Orchard Revisited
10 Bright Eyes The People’s Key
11 Mountain Goats All Eternal’s Deck
12 Chris Mills Heavy Years
13 Gurf Morlix Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream
14 Owen Temple Mountain Home
15 Blake Thomas Our Town
16 Paul Otteson February Fables
17 Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin Tape Club
18 Sleeping in the Aviary You, Me Ghost
19 So So Radio Dustcovers
20 John Wesley Harding The Sound of His Own Voice

Top Twenty Shows of 2011
1 Iowa Arts Festival with Joe Ely, The Bottle Rockets and Alejandro Escovedo; June 3 & 4; Downtown Iowa City
2 The Dismemberment Plan/JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound/Kid, You’ll Move Mountains; February 19; The Metro, Chicago
3 M Ward/Carlos Forester/Mike Coykendall; December 4; Schubas, Chicago
4 Ian Moore & the Lossy Coils; SXSW, March 17; Continental Club, Austin
5 Bright Eyes/Titus Andronicus; April 3; The Riverside Theater, Milwaukee
6 Jon Dee Graham/Andrew Duplantis; July 5; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music (KHoRM)
7 Orton Park Festival with the Great Lake Swimmers and the Josh Harty Band; August 27; Orton Park
8 The Waco Brothers/Semi Twang; September 10; The Frequency
9 Hideout Block Party with Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples, Jon Langford and the Burlington Welsh Men’s Choir, Booker T. Jones; September 24; The Hideout, Chicago
10 Robbie Fulks; December 3; KHoRM
11 Ha Ha Tonka/Trapper Schoepp & the Shades/Charlie Parr; September 23; Club Garibaldi, Milwaukee
12 Gurf Morlix with Kevin Triplett and his documentary “Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah”; October 27; KHoRM
13 The Features (opening for Kevin Devine); September 9; Bottom Lounge, Chicago
14 Blake Thomas; November 19; Stoughton Opera House, Stoughton
15 Chris Mills/Theodore/Trapper Schoepp & the Shades; June 26; High Noon Saloon
16 The Monkees; June 29; Genesee Theater, Waukegan IL
17 Bobby Bare Jr with Carey Kotsionis; July 29; KHoRM
18 Sebadoh/Mazes; October 31; High Noon Saloon
19 Butch Hancock/Josh Harty; September 13; KHoRM
20 Graminy; January 28, 2011; Wild Hog in the Woods Coffeehouse

all venues Madison unless otherwise noted

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Robbie Fulks’ Year End Review’ December 29, 2011; Fitzgerald’s Nightclub, Berwyn

All of Robbie Fulks’ shows are pretty terrific, whether he’s playing his own music or covering artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, the Everly Brothers or one of the many classic country artists he idolizes, but with his year-end review he out does himself. He began tonight’s show by announcing there would no “Rap of the Dead,” which was met with a groan of disappointment. His “Rap of the Dead” is exactly what it sounds like, an extended rap that sums up all the significant deaths of the year that’s ending. It was always an impressive undertaking; he would write and memorize an original rap that was hilarious and informative. Much like the salute during the Academy Awards, there was always one of two where I was surprised to find out they had passed.

This year we got different kind of rap. After playing a forty five minute set of some of his greatest hits, many of which I had just heard in the basement, he and the band headed into the review portion of the show. For the forty minutes he tackled some of the biggest news stories of the year. Following a farewell to 2011 (“The year that didn’t fool around”) song, we got this year’s rap, which was about how Robbie’s neighborhood in the northern suburbs was way better than any other area. Entertaining? Absolutely, but the rap of the dead it was not. Even so, it is always impressive how well a guy this white can rap. Also impressive was his renditions of the top songs of the year. He admitted at the beginning that he hadn’t heard any of these songs before, which makes two of us, and challenged an audience member to come up and identify the songs as he played them. Kate was an immediate taker. She was in her early twenties and seemed to have a better chance than most of the audience of naming the tunes.

Even so, she was stumped by many of the tunes, and only won with some help from Donna Fulks who whispered some names in her ears. Me? I didn’t recognize a one, and only the names Adele and Maroon 5 were even familiar to me. There was one death they did mention, as guitarist Grant Tye pointed out he got to wear the Bin Laden costume one more time, though this time he had a halo (a questionable addition at best). The Occupy Movement got its own segment with a duet between Fulks and guest star Joe Dempsey who was terrific in his many roles. The best of those was a song about the Republican presidential candidates. As Fulks and bass player Mike Fredrickson sang a catchy chorus of “Candidates! Candidates! Which one will you choose?” Dempsey trotted up to mike with a verse of impressions, quite good ones, of each of the contenders. It was probably my favorite part of thee night.

I couldn’t get behind Fulks’ mock berating of drummer Gerald Dowd and his desire to do a bit as the Science Loving Cowboy, and neither would anyone else, even after being instructed to “go along with it” courtesy of a sign that Dempsey held up behind Dowd. As he pointed out, there were many important science discoveries of the last year, though the discovery of particles traveling faster than the speed of light was the only one he got to mention. As Fulks popped the balloons with rings around them affixed to Dowd’s lab coat he tried to get us all to boo him, instead there were cries of “We love you Gerald” from the audience. The band finished the night with another set of tunes. For the loudly demanded encore from an audience who seemed to be drinking like tonight was New Year’s Eve, Fulks asked the band for some of their favorite wedding reception songs. Fiery versions of “Twist and Shout” and followed.

A crowd that seemed unnecessarily vocal from my spot right up front was apparently intolerable in the middle of the floor. My friend designated them “the worst concert crowd of 2011.” So it wasn’t a perfect night, but it was still pretty entertaining. Fulks does it again.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Waylan St Palan & the Magic Elves/Stu Stoinski Trio; December 16, 2011; High Noon Saloon

Talented multi-instrumentalist Nate Palan’s turn as Waylan St Palan is one of my favorite holiday traditions. There was a stretch of several years where I hadn’t missed a show, but then Palan moved to New York and the shows were no longer a sure thing. Last year he returned to the High Noon, but on Christmas Eve eve and I was already back at my parents’ house for the holidays. Despite having carpal tunnel release surgery the day before I was determined not to miss this show; I even stopped taking my pain medication so I could enjoy a few holiday beverages. And as usual it was a delightfully cheesy evening.

Unlike past years past years where it was the unstated goal, Palan seemed determined not to get really drunk. There was a reason for this, they were recording the show in the hopes of releasing a Christmas record. I heard him resist a shot during the break, but then give in claiming he’d already screwed up several times. It just wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t balancing multiple martinis during a song, besides a drunken slur lends an air of authenticity to his loungey croon. There are many traditional songs here, but few are done the way you are used to, for example “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells” are double and triple time their usual cadence. Other songs I’ve only heard here, like the hilarious double entendre of “Santa Lost a Ho.” You know, as in “He used to go ho, ho, ho. Now it’s ho, ho, uh oh, where’d the other ho go?” Pretty hilarious. While Palan is quite definitely the star of the show, there were a couple of other memorable performances.

Fellow Kisser Ken Fitzsimmons steals the show every year with his dead-on, perfect rendition of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.” Usually Palan’s wife Kari Bethke is one of his Elves and has her own turn at the mike for the silly “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and as the other half of the anti-Christmas song the Pogues “Fairytale of New York.” The insult trading story is hardly in the Christmas spirit, but it a pretty terrific song. Tonight however we had a stand-in for Bethke who acquitted herself nicely. The only thing she couldn’t do was play violin like she does, and that was missed. I asked Palan where Bethke was during the break, and he said she was home since she had other shows coming up. “That’s good,” I laughed, “I was worried you guys had gotten divorced.” Before I even had a chance to ask another question he interjected, “I’m not doing Robert Goulet tonight.” Disappointing, since Goulet’s “This Christmas I Spend with You” is my mother’s favorite Christmas song and it remains a pleasant surprise that he plays it.

He actually didn’t have time since this year there was an opening band, so instead of three sets there was only time for two. Other than the fact that we didn’t get to hear Robert Goulet I really didn’t mind since the opening band was the terrific Stu Stoinski Trio, coming soon to a theater near you. No seriously, upright bassist Chris Boeger and drummer Scott Beardsley (who are also the rhythm section for Palan’s ridiculously entertaining cover band the Hometown Sweethearts) filmed a segment for Adam Sandler’s next movie. They appear as a classy jazz trio playing Stoinski’s songs at a wedding reception. There is even a possibility that they will have speaking parts in it, but we have to wait for the final cut to find out. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I may actually want to go to an Adam Sandler movie.

For tonight’s show they did jazzy versions of many Christmas standards. They were pretty great (unsurprisingly) and got extra points for the fact that Beardsley played the entire set in a full Santa suit. Yep, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Stu Stoinski Trio

Waylan St Palan & the Magic Elves (and Marcus)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin/Ha Ha Tonka; December 10, 2011; The Soda Bar, San Diego

At one point in college I wanted to move to California. I was convinced it was the place for me, and San Diego was the city. Of course, my motivation had everything to do with the TV show Simon & Simon and nothing to do with any real knowledge about the city. I’m glad that isn’t the way it turned out, but it was nice to visit what had once been the city of my dreams.

The Soda Bar was another venue in an odd location, especially because once I walked in I was convinced I was in a Northern Wisconsin bar, raised semi-circle booths lined the walls, there was a pool table in back, and brown and gold vinyl were the decorating materiasl of choice. Tonight may have been my favorite show of the CA trio. Not only was it my last night, but it was the last night for the tour and everyone was in high spirits. The closing song each night had been both bands jamming on Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova,” but tonight it featured real champagne. The scene was like a locker room after the divisional championship, except more was actually going in mouths.

We spent the night at Luke’s girlfriend’s place in Ramona. She lives in a trailer on her parent’s property, and she put the rest of us up in guest trailers. We had a bonfire that night and in the morning her mom made us all breakfast. Now that’s the way to end a tour.

Ha Ha Tonka

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

"Champagne Supernova"