Sunday, July 31, 2011

WMSE Backyard BBQ; July 31, 2011; Cathedral Square, Milwaukee

Shane Sweeney and Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage are two of the absolute nicest guys I have ever met, so why can’t they keep band mates? Original drummer Dustin Harigle quit on the eve of a short tour of the Midwest (including a stop at the House of Righteous Music) several years ago, forcing them to do the tour drummerless. They replaced him with Cody Smith who seemed a great fit for the band till he recently also quit. They told me they have a new drummer but he couldn’t make this gig due to a prior engagement. Even before Smith left, they’d lost keyboardist Andy Schell, which left me wondering who would fix the van. His makeshift mechanic skills were nearly as important on the road as his musical ones. I can only speculate that none of them had the drive and determination that Sweeney and Schnabel do. Even as Sweeney has started a family, the band still tours frequently, and spending long hours on the road for little money isn’t for everyone.

So it was just the two of them, but honestly that is all they really need. It is certainly all I need. Sure they rock a little harder with the full band, there’re more blistering guitars and throat shredding vocals, but I’ll take the two of them trading songs on acoustic guitars any day. It was a big stage for just two people, especially when one would step back to let the other play, and their white T-shirts blended in with the big tent they played under. Both have upcoming solo releases, Sweeney’s first, Schnabel’s second, and they drew heavily from these, so the bulk of the set was unfamiliar. Most of those I did know came from Schnabel’s first solo CD, the excellent When the Stage Lights Go Dim, a reflection on life on the road with its too-late night and too-young girls. “I hardly ever play this song live anymore, but you’re pretty cool, so I’m going to try it,” Sweeney said looking at me. “If I forget the words you’re going to have to help me out,” he continued before playing the first couple notes of the song I knew it would be. One of the first Two Cow Garage songs I ever heard and still my favorite, “Saturday Night” is the story of choosing a good time over someone you love, all the while swearing that “I’ll make it up to you, next Saturday night.”

I might not have even known about this show if it wasn’t for Bloodshot’s e-mail about Bloodshot bands in the Midwest. After seeing Whitey Morgan and the 78’s listed for this event, I checked the rest of the line-up and was delighted to see Two Cow on it. Morgan is a recent Bloodshot roster addition. While they won’t do anything to change the perception of the label as a strictly alt-country haven, they do outlaw country better than just about any other current band. The obvious reason for this is Morgan himself, an imposing man with an impressive beard, you believe he has lived all the hard life stories he tells. In spite of that, bass player Jeremy Mackinder may be the coolest man on stage, his mound of curly red hair a fiery swirl as he plays. The real secret to the 78’s sound, unsurprisingly, is the pedal steel. It’s high and lonesome song adds that extra layer of emotion to everything they do. Live they play mostly originals with the occasional well-chosen classic country tune thrown in. He even dedicated one of these to the Two Cow boys, calling them his new friends, “even though I just met them I can tell they are cool.”

The five piece band filled the stage better than the slight figures of the Two Cow boys, but they had nothing on the band before them. The multiple piece Jambalaya Brass Band played the sort of contemporary Cajun jazz that was perfect for chilling on your blanket on the lawn. Not that you could actually chill, with temps in the upper 90’s, but you know what I mean. The last band of the night was the Budos Band. I was curious, but it had already been a long day at the end of a long weekend. Thanks to WMSE for putting on this remarkable free event. I hope to see you again next year.

Two Cow Garage

Whitey Morgan & the 78's

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