Friday, February 04, 2011

Paul Otteson/Icarus Himself; February 4, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Most of my house concerts have had the same format, a touring band with a local opener, but there have been a few exceptions. Occasionally I’ve gone without an opener, like the Bottle Rockets or Robbie Fulks when I knew the show would sell out. And sometimes the opener is also a touring band, Theodore opening for Simon Joyner or Ben Weaver for the Pines. But tonight marked the first time the House of Righteous Music had an all local bill. You know what, it turned out just fine. In fact, I might have to do it more often since over 40 people showed up. I quizzed a few people on the way in about which band they were there to see. It seemed to be pretty well split, with more than one person admitting they were really just there to check it out, and that they had been meaning to for awhile. Which is great of course, but there have been so many other shows that could have used the help, and now they probably think that I always have that many people show up.

I’d just met Paul Otteson, and only seen him play once, when Jeremiah Nelson suggested that he should do his CD release show in my basement. Even though Jeremiah and I don’t always agree on music (i.e. he likes a lot of stuff that I don’t), I thought maybe he was right about this one. Once Otteson sent me his completed record, I knew he was. February Fables emerged from a February Album Writing Month (or FAWM) exercise. The idea of FAWM is to write a new song every other day during the shortest month of the year, and by the 28th you’ll have a record. Otteson had a couple false starts before settling on an Aesop Fable theme in 2009, the songs on his new release were chosen from two years worth of work. The idea was to take some of the classic fables and update them to modern times. The result was a lot of songs with titles that sounded similar. During the recording process he joked that someone would invariably ask if they do the one about the “something and the something.”

Otteson is a school teacher, and he said his original idea was to read the fable associated with each song before they played it, a very teacherly thing to do. He decided against it for most of the night, but he did pull out his worn copy for the story of “The Bear and the Two Travelers,” reading it deliberately before pausing for the moral, “Never travel with a friend who deserts you at the approach of danger.” As it is with fables, the moral is a good one. His band for the night was the same that had played on the record, and they were essential in bringing these songs to life. In addition to playing guitar, Nelson also produced the record, and it sounds like he also gave Otteson the push he needed to record. There were more familiar faces in the band, drummer Luke Bassuener who has played in the basement before with his band This Bright Apocalypse and his one-man band Asumaya. Not only is the eternally smiling and cheerful Bassuener a pleasure to have around for his personality, he is also a creative and engaging drummer. Fiddler Shawn Drake hasn’t been playing as much since moving to Kenosha, which explains why his fiddle was in rough shape when he arrived at the house. In fact, he borrowed my sister Liz’s for the show. “Thanks Liz,” he said mid-set, before holding it up and explaining, “house fiddle.” The upright bass player was the only person I didn’t know, but he was familiar with the basement, having come to a previous show there. Even though the group hadn’t played together since finishing recording, they sounded terrific during their set thanks to a long sound check/practice earlier.

I’m notoriously picky about who plays in the basement. I’m not doing these shows for any other reason than I love the bands that I have play. So I was a little nervous when Jeremiah and Paul said they would put together a bill for the show. I didn’t wait long before suggesting Icarus Himself, who I have been trying to get to the basement for years. In fact they had been unable to do it so many times that I wondered if I should stop asking. They reassured me that was not the case, and so I offered them this show. I knew Jeremiah had played with them before, and they seemed a good match for Otteson’s music, as well as being a good draw. Finally the timing worked out, they were taking a short break after being on tour, and they were in.

They like to tell me that they have gotten a lot louder since adding drummer Brad Kolberg, but I assured them I’ve had louder at the house. They weren’t lying though, the band started as the solo effort of Nick Whetro, a side project from his National Beekeepers Society. Those early shows consisted of him and a guitar. In the last few years the group has developed rapidly, and they have become a consistently impressive live band. I couldn’t stop smiling as they set up for their set; I was pretty excited they were finally here. Most of the songs were familiar to me as being from 2009’s Coffins or last year’s Mexico EP, especially the latter’s ridiculously catchy “Digging Holes.” Whetro teased us early by saying he had a new song, but wasn’t ready to play it. As their set drew to a close, he decided to bring it out. As with all their recent material it was a winner. After 45 minutes they said they were done, but we convinced them to play one more. I was rewarded when it turned out to be the song with the trumpet, which I think is called “Cadaver Love Song,” though I should probably look that up.

Good crowd, great bands, it looks like 2011 at the House of Righteous Music is off to a good start.

Icarus Himself

Paul Otteson

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