Darren Hanlon & Shelley Short/Windsor Drive/Derek Ramnarace/Max Dvorak; April 9, 2011; The Annex
I don’t go to the Annex very often, I’m pretty sure the last time I was there was for Daniel Johnston’s show, which hadn’t been scheduled there but had been moved from the Barrymore. So it isn’t surprising that it never occurs to me to look at their calendar, I wouldn’t recognize any of the hard rock, metal or rap bands that populate their schedule anyway. It’s a good thing Michelle did though, or we never would have known that charming Australian Darren Hanlon was playing tonight. And if we hadn’t known there likely would have been only two people there to see him. It was pretty obvious that he had been added to Windsor Drive’s already scheduled show. The likeable Wausau band has a modest following here and there were people scattered about the floor for their set, but with two openers before them (Max Dvorak and Derek Ramnarace, quite entertaining (and literally 15 years old) and earnestly boring respectively) I was sure those people weren’t going to stick around for Hanlon. I was right.
We’d been sitting at a table in the back through the first three bands, but we moved to the front for Hanlon. When we talked to him after the show he said he was sure we were getting up to leave instead of moving closer to the stage. Despite the fact that he is from the land down under, I’ve actually seen Hanlon several times before. The most recent of these was opening for Billy Bragg at Turner Hall. He was incredibly charming and his set was well received. Michelle insisted I should ask him to play at the house, but with all the people waiting to buy CDs (including his soon to be released Yep Roc debut) after the show, I was pretty sure he was too big for the house. I wish I had, because despite their enthusiasm the fact remained that Hanlon and his charming bandmates were playing for six people.
In addition to opening for Bragg, I’d seen Hanlon at SXSW in 2009, but I’d fallen in love with him the very first time I had seen him. My sister and I took an impulsive trip to Florida to see the Magnetic Fields. they were rather sleepy that night, but the opener completely won me over, and I bought Hello Stranger. On those three occasions Hanlon had been solo, but tonight be was accompanied by two women who played their own set and then were joined by Hanlon. I suspected that Shelly Short was the voice on I Will Love You at All , most notably the ridiculously adorable duet “All These Things.” That suspicion was confirmed. With a band backing him, he didn’t tell near as many funny stories as he had on the other occasions, but he was still completely adorable. Besides, I already knew the story behind “I Waited for the 17,” a song about trying to catch a bus, the most mundane subject he could think of. “I bought a new computer,” he told us, “and they gave me a free printer/scanner,” pointing to what Steph Hughes was using for a drum stool. Since he didn’t really need a printer/scanner and he couldn’t really take it home with him, not to mention that there wasn’t really room for it in the van, he offered it to the first person who bought three CDs. The other folks jumped on the offer, and Hughes promptly gave up her seat.
As their very enjoyable set wound down, Hanlon asked if anyone had any requests, a dangerous proposition when there are only six people in your audience. Since I’d already had a few IPAs (there were three openers after all), I asked for “the song about the kickstand.” He looked surprised, “how do you know that song?” I confessed to having seen him with the Magnetic Fields. Despite the fact that it was from 2002, he had no problem playing it. It’s a simple song, about a simple invention that made bike riders’ lives easier. “Oh what joy it can bring, a piece of metal and a spring.” Brilliant. Hopefully next time he will be playing the House of Righteous Music, and hopefully there will be a few more people there.
Darren Hanlon & Shelley Short