Wednesday, May 23, 2012

M Ward/Chris Scruggs; May 23, 2012; Barrymore Theater

I thought maybe M Ward had gotten over being camera shy. There weren’t any restrictions on photos at his just-because-I-can show at the much too small Schubas last December, and I took a bunch of pictures at his SXSW showcase this year, though it does occur to me now that maybe I shouldn’t have. I was in the front row at the church but that was far enough away that he couldn’t playfully kick the camera out of my hands like he did to an embarrassed fan tonight. Granted they should have known better, there were signs everywhere in the lobby saying there would be no photographs allowed. In fact security told me to take my camera back to my car, which would have been difficult since I biked there. The only reason I got to bring it in was that I promised not to take any pictures, and, more significantly, I know the manager there. I stuck by my word even though it was very tempting to pull it out when he was so close. Ward believes that if you are taking photos you aren’t paying attention to the show, and he likely has a point. I was engaged enough in his show that I forgot that usually I would have snapped dozens of pictures.

The new record A Wasteland Companion had been out a couple weeks already by the time he made his stop in Madison, so I was surprised he didn’t draw more heavily from that record. Instead he pulled just a few tracks, notably the catchy “Primitive Girl,” and no, Zooey Deschanel wasn’t there to do backing vocals, thank god. My favorite song of his, “Chinese Translation,” appears to be everyone else’s too. Loud cheers went up as soon as he played the distinctive opening notes and everyone sang along. Ward’s music has a timeless quality to it; his voice sounds like it could be coming from fifty years in the past or sometime in the future. The music is quiet, but catchy, it’s reverb laden melodies getting caught in your head for days. Two other moments stood out in what was a very entertaining show. The first was “Big Boat” for the encore, its absence had been my only complaint the last two times I saw him. This piano pounding rave was the song that got me interested in Ward; I’d dismissed him after seeing two unremarkable shows early in his career. The second was the appearance of Kelly Hogan who joined him for Daniel Johnston’s “I Go Home.” Hogan’s amazing voice sounds good with anyone’s, and makes them sound better to. What a treat.

Apparently the rumor was that she was going to sing a song with opener Chris Scruggs, which made sense since she had sang on his record Anthem, but that didn’t happen. I guess maybe she was running late? Scruggs did just fine without her help. I’d seen Scruggs with other bands on several occasions, first with BR549, with M Ward at Schubas, and with Tristen at SXSW, but I’d never seen him play his own music. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was pretty classic, old-timey Nashville. After all he comes by his notable last name honestly, Earl Scruggs was his grandfather. Scruggs was more of showman and the music was a little slicker than I had expected, but I did enjoy it enough to buy a CD. I’ve seen him play fiddle and steel guitar with other bands, but he stuck to the electric guitar tonight, which is just fine, he’s pretty good at that too.

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