Monday, October 31, 2011

Sebadoh/Mazes; October 31, 2011; High Noon Saloon

I love Lou Barlow. I love his floppy hair, his narcotic hypnotic voice, his self-deprecating humor. But I couldn’t quite remember why I don’t love Sebadoh. I’ve been to all his solo shows in Madison, and I listen to those CDs and the Folk Implosion stuff, but Harmacy, my one Sebadoh CD, hasn’t been off the shelf in years. After two of the best songs from that record, “Ocean” and “On Fire,” showed up early in the set I was even more mystified. Then Jason Loewenstein who had been playing bass switched guitars with Barlow and took the mike and I remembered. Sebadoh is a tale of two songwriters, and while I guess technically they could be more different, they seem at best jarringly at odds with each other. Barlow is the indie singer songwriter, the jangly Mr. Tambourine Man and Loewenstein is a whole lot punk. By the end of the night I had almost gotten used to the dichotomy and Loewenstein’s songs weren’t quite as abrasive, but I’d still rather a full night of Barlow.

Luckily it did seem that he sang more than half of the set, he certainly did most of the talking. It was Halloween, so it didn’t seem weird when he took the stage wearing priest outfit. Not weird at all that is, until he said he found it in the parking lot of the BP down the street where he had gone “to get some protein.” Since he had committed to wearing the outfit, he claimed he needed to commit all the way and he led us in the “Our Father” to start the show. Other than the handful of songs I knew from Harmacy I didn’t recognize most of the set, but I learned from the T-shirt (more later) I bought after the show that this was the “Harmacy Bakesale remembering tour,” so I guess that means those two records were featured.

When I arrived it looked like it might be another depressing Monday night crowd, but it did fill in gradually and by the time they played there was a healthy amount of people. And all of them were right up front. Barlow couldn’t have been happier, “I always have a great time in Madison,” he declared, “but no one ever comes to my shows.” Unless you go back to a miserably jam packed Sebadoh show at O’Cayz Corral a long, long time ago (which oddly enough followed a show at the Barrymore), he’s kinda right. Even his show at the tiny Frequency earlier this year hadn’t felt crowded. He struggled to remember the last time Sebadoh had played here and I was surprised no one yelled it out; I couldn’t have been the only person who was at both shows. For the encore he added another Halloween accessory to his ensemble. He hoisted the glowing eyed zombie which had been lurking side stage onto his shoulders and tried to play the final song. The little fella kept getting loose until he tucked him under his guitar strap. Yes, a little strange, but it was Halloween.

The only thing they had for sale was T-shirts in “a variety of indistinguishable covers. Um, colors,” according to Barlow. True to his word when I asked for a small black one he pawed through the pile before handing me one. I looked at it suspiciously, “is that black or blue?” He looked crestfallen, “please don’t be picky.” I handed him fifteen dollars and took the shirt.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gurf Morlix with Kevin Triplett and his documentary “Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah”; October 27, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Blaze Foley was a generally unknown singer songwriter when he was killed by a friend’s son. Twenty two years he still isn’t a well known name, Kevin Triplett wants to change that. He’s spent the last twelve years lovingly assembling the movie that he brought to the basement tonight. Along the way he met Austin producer and musician Gurf Morlix who had played with Foley on his few recordings. This year Morlix released a record of fifteen Foley covers, and the two hit the road together spreading the word about the Duct Tape Messiah. The name refers to Foley’s penchant for using duct tape to accent his clothes and cowboy boots to mimic (and mock) the steel tips the trendy urban cowboys he loathed were sporting.

Before tonight the only thing I knew about Foley was that Lucinda Williams had written “Drunken Angel” about him; I learned more writing the blurb about the show- that he was friends with Townes Van Zandt (who famously said “Foley only went crazy once, decided to stay”) and that his songs have been covered by Lyle Lovett and Merle Haggard. He had a strange career, getting some great breaks but then usually shooting himself in his duct-taped boot, often by getting drunk or once losing the masters of his record. He also had a strange childhood with an abusive, alcoholic father and interesting siblings. The film covers all these events honestly through very personal interviews, including Foley’s muse Sybil Rosen, and some rare live footage, tying the chapters together with creative animation and Foley’s own artwork. Even if you don’t know a thing about Foley the film is an intriguing watch, and I highly recommend it. After the showing Triplett took questions from the audience. Looking to add to my collection, I asked if his colorful, folk-artwork would ever be made available. Happily he replied that was one of the things he was working on.

After a short break, Morlix returned with his guitar to play a set of songs. Having played and recorded with Foley, he had personal insight on many of the songs. Perhaps the most amusing of these was a song Foley wrote after seeing a woman deliberately lock her car door as she passed him hitchhiking. It starts off “Lock your door lady or I’ll jump in your car, don’t you know how nasty we are?” “Wouldn’t that Be Nice” goes on to detail all the horrible things he would do to her if she had stopped for him. It’s an amusing laundry list, ranging from “mess up your hairdo” to “buy me some earthworms, smear ‘em on you,” before he sums it up, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” He chose the title track as much for convenience as any other reason. Since he didn’t want to give the record a title and then a subtitle of a tribute to Blaze Foley, naming it after the talking blues “Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream” covered both bases. “If I Could Only Fly” is perhaps the best known and most covered of Foley’s songs and it is easy to see why. The honest love song appeals to everyone, Haggard even named his record after it, and Morlix did it justice. My favorite of the collection is “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries” the main items in a laundry list of things that make him happy. “Might be stupid to you,” he sings, “but it ain’t that crazy to me.” Foley was a big fan of John Prine and in songs like these you can hear his influence.

The humble and gregarious Morlix is a treat live. His aw shucks charm and wry wit make him a terrific entertainer, and it was hard decide which version was better, his or Foley’s. The last time he played the basement Morlix introduced us to the fantastic and very much alive Sam Baker. This time through we got to meet Blaze Foley. Morlix is batting a hundred.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Peter Case/Dietrich Gosser; October 22, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Peter Case is a storyteller. Yeah, I know, most songwriters are storytellers, but not like this. From the second he arrived Saturday afternoon until the he left after breakfast on Sunday, continuing on tour to Chicago, he regaled us with tales from the road. His memory for people, places, and years was uncanny, and there was scarcely a musician I mentioned that he hadn’t toured with and had some amusing anecdote to pass on. He grew up in the same home town as Butch Hancock, the last artist to play at the house, and he confirmed Hancock’s stories right down to the part where Case sang Howling Wolf songs to Hancock before his voice changed. A scenario that’s pretty amusing to imagine. Of all the stories, perhaps one of the best was told during the show. The “strangest gig ever” ended with he and his son sharing a room (because they were too freaked out to sleep alone) in a gigantic house in the middle of nowhere where the first floor was occupied by pigs. Not just messy folk, but actual pigs. I had just put a new tape and happened to be watching the timer on the camera during this epic, and his tale clocked in at close to fifteen minutes.

He did play some songs too, don’t worry. Case has had a long career to draw from. He first brushed up with fame with New Wave band the Nerves who had a minor hit with “Hanging on the Telephone.” His next band the Plimsoles scored with “Million Miles Away” and an unlikely cameo in the cult classic Valley Girl. (In this case “cult classic” translates directly to “not very good”) He also has a connection to the next artist to play at the house, Gurf Morlix, whom he toured with along with first wife Victoria Williams as the Incredibly Strung Out Band. His solo career has found him increasingly exploring blues and folk. The second of his solo records, the awkwardly titled The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, still contributes to the live set with “Put Down the Gun” showing up early in the night. The catchy tune incorporates a bit of theater wisdom, stating that “the gun in the first act always goes off in the third,” before qualifying that with “there’ll be no third act at all if someone’s killed tonight.” Another classic from that record “Entella Hotel” exemplifies his storytelling knack with fully realized characters sketched out in the span of five minutes. He also drew from his most recent collection of new material, 2010’s Wig, which was written and recorded in just a few sessions with a band that featured the excellent DJ Bonebreak (X and the Knitters) on drums.

Since moving back to Madison, Dietrich Gosser has kept a pretty low profile, playing out infrequently at underpublicized events like a rare Saturday show at the Shitty Barn in Spring Green and a Tuesday night at Mickeys. Which is a shame, Gosser is one of the most talented songwriters I know and I’d see him every week if I could. His “new” record, The Man Who Invented Gold,” was recorded several years ago and finally “released” this year as burned copies. The layered record isn’t as immediate as his earlier recordings, taking a little longer to sink in, but it pays off. His too short set was a mix of new material and songs from that record including the terrific “Abraham.” The oldest song it the set, it missed being included on What the Buzzsaw Sings and shows up on Gold. He was a little rusty and maybe even a little nervous, but that didn’t make it any less terrific. I look forward to having him back in the basement soon. The same holds true of Case who proclaimed the basement “his new favorite venue in Madison.”

Dietrich Gosser

Peter Case

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Lemonheads/Shining Twins /Kevin Junior; October 21, 2011; Double Door, Chicago

It’s hard to know whether to be happy or sad for the Lemonheads as they continue on the It’s a Shame about Ray tour. On one hand, it’s a shame that the 1990-something record remains their biggest commercial success, due mostly to the popularity of their upbeat, accelerated cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” and this tour just seems to be a way of capitalizing on that. On the other hand, it’s pretty amazing that Evan Dando is still around to assemble a band to do these tours given his documented propensity for self-destructive behavior, especially early in his career. Then of course there is the irony that the original release of Ray didn’t even include “Mrs. Robinson,” and it is well known that Dando doesn’t like to play it live.

He had it both ways tonight. After running through the first twelve songs on the under thirty minute release, he started the final track, singing the first line before aborting it and going into “The Outdoor Type.” No complaints here, the track from the underrated Car, Button, Cloth is my absolute favorite Lemonheads song. His hilarious confession of pretending to be outdoorsy just to get the girl amuses me every time. “Never rolled a sleeping bag, let alone a mountain bike,” he admits, “I lied about being the outdoor type.” And that isn’t even my favorite line- that honor goes to this classic, “I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend, what if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again.” “We can go now,” I announced at the song’s completion, even though I didn’t mean it.

Following the set list dictated by the CD, Dando had kept the show moving during its first half. He didn’t talk much as they played the familiar tunes. After that things got a little more random, and he could have used a set list for the rest of the night. He played songs as they came into his head, and sometimes that took awhile. Perhaps more requests would have helped, he’s always been good about taking suggestions (how do you think I got “The Outdoor Type” played when he opened for Aimee Mann so many years ago) and it seemed like he could have used some. He did hit many of my other favorites, most of those from Come On Feel the Lemonheads, their follow-up to Ray. “A Great Big No,” “Into Your Arms” and the very silly “Being Around” all sounded great. “Big Gay Heart” was just as odd as the first time I heard it. Things got weirdly sloppy after that. Dando invited some friends up and they played several songs, one unlikely choice was the Beastie Boys “You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party.” After one song, Dando took a seat behind the drum kit and started playing. It was the happiest I’d seen him all night.

During the show a movie played behind the band. It appeared to be taken through the windshield of a car as they drove around, much of it in Chicago. They could have filmed on the way to the venue except it was raining in the video, and tonight was clear enough that we had eaten outside under a heat lamp at the trendy Mexican restaurant Big Star down the street. Often these videos are distracting, and I find myself watching it instead of the band, but this one was so innocuous that I didn’t pay much attention to it. Which was also true of the opening bands. The hilariously hairsprayed Kevin Junior opened. Apparently he was from Chamber Strings, a band I’d never heard of that had a buzz a few years back. It was fine, but uninteresting. The second opener was a bit of a surprise. I predicted I would hate it as I watched one of the band members set up her awkward drum kit. Despite the fact that Shining Twins consisted of just two girls, who both sang, for half their set (they were joined but a dude on guitar for the other half), they were totally listenable, even enjoyable. In this case the answer to the question, “what’s worse than one girl singer?” was not “two girl singers.” No one was more surprised than me.

Kevin Junior

Shining Twins

The Lemonheads

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ha Ha Tonka (opening for Robert Randolph & the Family Band); October 14, 2011; First Ave, Minneapolis

The two questions I get asked most frequently at the merch table are "where are these guys from?" and "where's the bathroom?" Luckily I know the answer to both of them, the Ozarks in southern Missouri and upstairs. The venue is big, with lots of dark corners, and it isn't immediately obvious that the restrooms are up the stairs. First Avenue just may be the most famous mid-size venue in the country, forever associated with Prince and Purple Rain. The rumor was that Prince was going to show up tonight, though I guess that is probably the rumor every night. The sound guy gave him a 20% chance given that he is allegedly a Robert Randolph fan, but the purple one was a no-show, much to Lennon's disappointment. He'd spent the day deciding what he would say to Prince when he met him.

First Avenue is a cool venue, but it's even cooler when you have an All Access pass. I guess I should have been using it to explore the nooks and crannies of the venue, but instead I just used it to get past the not very threatening security guy blocking the way to backstage and the green room (which was actually green, that always makes me happy) where we'd been set up with a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey.

Ha Ha Tonka played a great set, and I sold a lot of CDs to folks who had never heard of them before. Tonight Randolph's set seemed even longer and jammier. The guy definitely rocks the pedal steel in a way I've never seen before, but I have to admit I got bored. Still it was fun and certainly worth driving myself to the Twin Cities and then getting up early for a wedding in Shawano the next day. Though let me just say, I much prefer riding in the van.

soundcheck, this place really is a barn

my sweet All Access pass

Ha Ha Tonka