The Baseball Project pulled off a rock & roll double-header tonight, appropriately enough for a band whose every song centers on America’s favorite pastime. They played an early show before the Madison Mallards game at Warner Park, and then packed it all up and drove to High Noon to unpack it all and do it again. While the early show was more family oriented, the late show had no such restrictions. For instance, the hilarious “Ted Fucking Williams,” a live favorite, became “Ted Freaking Williams” for the Duck Pond crowd. Tonight’s show was billed as a Baseball Project/Minus 5 line-up, but they’d be hard-pressed to back up that claim. A few Minus 5 songs (as well as it seemed a few Steve Wynn songs) made it into the line-up, but only later in the night did they go to the bullpen after they had exhausted their line-up of Baseball Project songs. The band was of course exactly the same for these songs, but since the only constant member of the Minus 5 is Scott McCaughey that isn’t surprising. One more band was also represented, REM’s Mike Mills, who frequently subs for original BP member Peter Buck on tour, broke out “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” for the encore. I’ve seen him do it before, but it’s still exciting every time.
Some people may think that a bunch of songs about baseball would be as boring as the game itself. This band is not for them. As a fan, but certainly not a fanatic, I find their records educational as well as entertaining. For instance, I had never heard the strange tale of Harvey Haddix before. He pitched twelve perfect innings (three up, three down) only to give up a hit in the thirteenth. They argue that pitching a perfect game is an exclusive club, at the time of the song only seventeen had done it, and we should “add old Harvey to that list.” The ridiculously catchy chorus names those pitchers, a group which contains the well known as well as the unknown. After each song they delighted in announcing the player the song had been about like he had just taken a solo, “Harvey Haddix, everyone, Harvey Haddix.” Eventually they had to admit that most of the players they were saluting were dead. There are a few odes to modern day players. “Ichiro Goes to the Moon,” for example, salutes Yankees player Ichiro Suzuki.
Perhaps the most amusing song of the night came from Volume 2- High and Inside. Steve Wynn co-wrote “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” with Minnesotan Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, and Finn sings it on the record. While on tour Wynn has been asked if it is difficult to play the song without Finn, and he always answers, “No, it’s difficult to play because Mike will only play it under protest.” Mills, an Atlanta fan, looked visibly annoyed at the line “Rob Gant was clearly out.” “Fair Weather Fan” gives the whole band a chance to defend the fact that they each cheer for multiple teams since they have lived multiple places. Even so, their first hometown team is still their favorite.
The Baseball Project may be a gimmick, but that does make their songs any less catchy or their shows less entertaining. In fact, the opposite, this is a talented bunch of musicians writing great pop songs about something they enjoy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.