Blake Thomas; November 19, 2011; Stoughton Opera House; November 19, 2011
The Stoughton Opera House has hosted some pretty impressive names over the years- Justin Townes Earle, Greg Brown, Junior Brown, Tom Wopat, the Smothers Brothers, and now Blake Thomas. The formerly local musician who relocated to Minneapolis last year was an unusual booking for the venue, located above Stoughton City Hall (which causes some confusion for folks attending their first show here), but the booker is a fan and he was committed to this show. For his part Thomas made it worth the drive, assembling a band of Madison’s finest players- the ubiquitous Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines on all manner of instruments and cello respectively, Chris Sasman on drums, Josh Harty on guitar, and Louka Patenaude on bass. The latter had played three string bass on Thomas’s most recent release The Window and the Light after a string broke just as they were about to start recording. Nonplussed, Patenaude played the session with the remaining three. He recreated that feat tonight, and it wasn’t even the same bass.
The band dressed for the venue, many of them in jackets and ties, with Thomas looking exceptionally sharp in his “wedding suit.” The perfectly fitting antique garment had belonged to his new wife’s grandfather, or maybe it was great-grandfather, and he had worn it just last month for their wedding. Other than the fact that your butt does get a little sore after sitting on the wooden seats for several hours, the Opera House is a great place to see a show, the sound is terrific and the room itself, renovated over the last decade, is stunning.
Tonight’s show was divided into two sets, each featuring songs from his four releases. The only non-original in the set was an old traditional song. Though after he said it was the only cover, Thomas amended that it “is the only planned cover, but we don’t want to burn any bridges.” The song was part of an unintended trilogy of waltzes to start the second set. Having only realized it as he introduced the third, he told us we would just have to live with it. Thomas and Harty took the stage for the first of those, joined by the band later on. In one of the songs, when Thomas reached the harmonica solo he had an unexpected malfunction and only an odd noise came from the harp. “Well, that was embarrassing,” he admitted before whistling the solo instead. At the conclusion, he tried again and played the harmonica part flawlessly. “I didn’t want you to miss out on that,” he grinned. The show had several lighthearted moments, whenever he needed to tune, he would ask the audience a question, “Quick, what’s your favorite animal? Shout it out.” A very loud “Beaver!” came from stage right. I was about to yell “Kangaroo” before I realized it that was the wrong answer. It isn’t my favorite.
The biggest surprise was probably “Captain My Heart,” from his second release 40 Minutes. I feel like the catchy tune, one of my favorites, has been absent from the live set for several years. All of Flatlands, his third release (and I still think his best), greatest hits were here, “Flowers,” the amazing “You’ve Got Me Feeling Like the Moon” and “Up In Flames.” When the gentleman sitting next to us asked the name of the latter, I mistakenly told him “Flowers,” which is exceptionally embarrassing since I had actually come up with the name for that particular song. The enthusiastic and attentive audience demanded an encore, but I am pretty sure they were surprised by the one they got. Thomas returned alone, and told the story of how when he started writing songs for FAWM (February Album Writing Month), whenever he would post them to the website they would be removed the next day. He then played “Matt Ladish Is On Fire,” a hilarious song that had become the traditional closer during his last month playing weekly at Mickey’s. It was a brave choice, but the audience, most of whom I am sure were hearing it for the first time laughed, a lot.
Thomas certainly proved himself worthy of the Opera House stage tonight.