Peter Mulvey/Pamela Means; February 20, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
With the political climate in Madison these days, I expected the liberal and very vocal Peter Mulvey to expound on his opinion of the chaos in Wisconsin, especially because he had stopped at the Capital on the way to the house to see his brother and father who were protesting. Instead, he told jokes, which was probably the right thing to do. With how volatile things are these days as the governor tries to force through a very unpopular budget repair bill, it is probably better to let the fire smolder rather than fan the flames. Besides, his jokes are funny, and, as a bonus, I hadn’t heard most of them before.
Opener Pamela Means, also from Milwaukee, interspersed her short set with classic Wisconsin humor, namely the Norwegian joke. Peter also kept his humor to a country he knows well, Ireland. I doubt that he learned these when he was over there, but his many tours of the Emerald Isle have given him a pretty serviceable Irish accent. All this talk about Ireland led to him playing “On the Road to Mallow,” one of my favorites that I feel like I haven’t heard in quite awhile. A simple travelogue of the road between Middleton and Mallow, he names the things that he sees (dogs, rabbits, and something that “might have been a fox, come to think of it now”) and the gibberish-sounding names of the towns he passes. It’s a beautiful song, simple yet haunting.
He was also more than happy to take requests since he felt he could do that in the friendly confines of the basement. A call for such at the High Noon or the Café Carpe would probably have led to an overwhelming din. He played them all, including “The Trouble with Poets” which I requested for a friend of mine who had flown in for the show, but thought it was the night before. A sad story, which she told me not to repeat. Another fan favorite is the amusing “Some People.” A list of all the things, mundane to scandalous, that people do. Mulvey, on the other hand, just sits back observing it all, shaking his head and going “mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmm.” Like many of his songs it is wickedly smart but still uncomplicated.
She lives on the east coast now, Pamela Means still retains a good deal of affection for her home state and her performing partner (“we have the same initials” she stated with authority). Unlike Mulvey, she didn’t look the part of the characters in her jokes, her wild afro would never be seen on Ole’s Lena, but her “donchaknows” and “youbetchas” were spot on. The most remarkable thing about Means was her guitar playing. In a world where most female singer/songwriters play timid guitar, just enough to carry the melody of the songs, she attacked her instrument with a vengeance. Her playing was seriously impressive and remarkably innovative. It is no wonder that several of the people who e-mailed me asked about the Pamela Means show instead of the Peter Mulvey show, she certainly deserves her own following.
The weather had turned nasty the night before, but that only kept a handful of people away. The ones who made it were treated to a great show. These Mulvey shows just might become an annual thing.