Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kelly Hogan/Count This Penny; August 30, 2012; East Side Club

This was the final show of the summer that True Endeavors had booked at the East Side Club, and while the day was quite warm, it was, as they say, cooler by the lake. It was hard to imagine a more perfect night for music. This was the biggest crowd I’d seen at one of these and they stretched the staff at the Tiki Bar on the premises thin, the beer line meandered across the lawn for most of the night. Part of it had to do with the supply of New Belgium beer, of which every ticket holder got one free, arriving late, but the other part just seemed to be that people were thirsty and there weren’t enough people behind the bar to remedy that.

Opening the show were local favorites Count This Penny. The group’s core members are Alan and Amanda Rigel; they both sing and pass the bass and acoustic guitar back and forth. Tonight they were also accompanied by John Ray on banjo. The trio had just returned from a tour in the southeast where they made stops in Tennessee and Kentucky, which is back home for the Rigels. Their music is rooted in Appalachian folk, but they owe their appeal to the chemistry between them. Tonight wasn’t the official release of their new CD Pitchman, but the discs had just come in and they were offering them for sale. And I sold a lot of them. I had already volunteered to do merch for Kelly Hogan and since I was already sitting at the table, I told Count This Penny I would be happy to sell their stuff too. Their songwriting is terrific, the production (done at the now shuttered Smart Studios) is stellar, and Amanda’s voice in particular couldn’t be more gorgeous.

I always associate Kelly Hogan with Chicago, part of a scene that includes Andrew Bird, Jon Langford, and Robbie Fulks, but she calls Wisconsin home now and much like Count This Penny she’s quite enamored of her adopted state. Her band is still pure Chicago, drummer Joe Camarillo and guitarist Jim Elkington are part of Langford’s Skull Orchard while bass player KC McDonough has played with Fulks and also joins Hogan in the Flat Five. They did a fine job of filling in for the studio musicians who backed Hogan on her first new release in many years. I Like to Keep Myself in Pain is a collection of mostly covers reinterpreted by Hogan. The list of contributors is a who’s who of the best songwriters of the last decade, many of whom she’s collaborated with. Robyn Hitchcock (who wrote the title track), M Ward, John Wesley Harding and the Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt to name just a few. The songs are well chosen and flatter her remarkable voice. She couldn’t sound more different than the Welshman Langford but his “Haunted” may be the best of the bunch, surprisingly because she lightens up the dark tune.

The songs all play well live, and she interspersed anecdotes from her career and from the songwriters before each song. One of the best was a song she’s been doing for years. The Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was a Rodeo” showed up on Under the Country Underdog and sounded lovely tonight, with the charming and handsome Elkington taking the last chorus, his hint of a British accent giving it even more weight. In fact the only song that wasn’t a winner was the encore, a very surprising choice of the Hold Steady’s “We’re Gonna Build Something This Summer.” Hogan’s voice is just too, for lack of a better word, wrong for one of Craig Finn’s wordy rants. I have to admire her for trying though. And it certainly didn’t detract from an overall lovely night by the lake.

Count This Penny

Kelly Hogan

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

David Bazan; August 24; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

David Bazan, of Pedro the Lion fame, has played over three hundred living room shows in the last several years, so it was a little surprising that this was his first time at the House of Righteous Music. Especially since it’s Undertow, who also does Will Johnson and the Bottle Rockets, who books all those shows. And while it wasn’t exactly my thing, I’d have him back anytime because this was absolutely the easiest show I have ever done. The show sold out a month before, with more than half the tickets being scooped up before I even knew they were on sale or had announced it to my email list. That meant no promoting necessary.

Bazan’s fans are passionate and reverential, and that meant they all showed up on time. Earlier in fact than the man himself, who strolled in at ten after eight, late for his own show. But when your set-up is this easy, that’s OK. He was accompanied by a guitar player, while he played bass. Each of them carried a small amp which they plugged in and the show began. He played a couple of songs before asking if anyone had any questions, and people did. He answered several before playing a few more songs. That set the pattern for the evening which repeated itself several times. The questions ranged from what are his favorite cities to why he doesn’t want to be Pedro the Lion anymore. His voice, which reminds me of Alejandro Escovedo and carried well when he was singing, was softer when he was speaking. I had a hard time hearing him at the back of the room, so I don’t know exactly what his answers were.

After a little more than an hour of that he and his guitarist packed their stuff up. He hung out for a little while talking to the fans but everyone was out of the house by 10:30. I stood in the empty basement which required no clean-up trying to remember if that had ever happened before. On the way out everyone thanked me and commented on how amazing the show was. It was good, but if they want to see a great show they should really come back the next time Jon Dee Graham is in the basement.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bob Dylan; August 21, 2012; Mayo Civic Center, Rochester MN

I enjoy club shows, I like the intimate environment and the fact that the musicians are approachable; there’s never that disconnect that I sometimes feel in large venues, almost like you are watching it on TV instead of in the same room. Then there’s the matter of price, those big venue shows cost a lot of money. Still, there is one artist I am still willing to pay the big bucks and brave the cavernous rooms for, and that’s Bob Dylan. I’ve seen him 40 some odd times over the last 25 years, some of the shows have been bad, but many more have been transcendent, and he is on a winning streak right now.

It’s been almost two years since he’s been in the area and I was definitely going through a little bit of withdrawal. I routinely scan his tour dates page for something in the area (you know within 300 miles or so) or to plan a road trip around. Even though it was a Tuesday night, this show fit the bill. I’d never been to Rochester before, a city famous for its hospital and not much else. As I approached the city it occurred to me that it was sort of out in the middle of nowhere. I liked the town immediately, easy to navigate and, as I found out at the end of the night, free parking in the garages after 5 pm. The Mayo Civic Center was your standard medium-sized town venue, much like the LaCrosse across the border. I was immediately glad I had chosen the general admission seats since the reserved ones seemed so far away and I felt close, only twelve people and a barricade separated me from the band.

I was close enough to see the slightly bemused smile Dylan wore throughout the night. Quite definitely not a smirk, it was the grin of a man having a genuinely good time. Dylan hasn’t played much if any guitar over the last five or more years, sticking exclusively to keyboards stage left or simply playing harmonica center stage. The new addition for this tour was the baby grand that he played half of the night’s songs at, which also provided the perfect pedestal for his Oscar which travels to every show with him. Appropriately enough, the winning song “Things Have Changed” was in the set. The piano isn’t as forgiving as the electric keyboards are, and I didn’t leave marveling at his ability to tickle the ivories, but it was still a nice touch. He did pull out the electric guitar for one track, a slightly garbled but still enjoyable “Simple Twist of Fate,” one of my top ten Dylan songs.

Usually a few days after seeing Dylan I check the set lists of the shows surrounding mine on the internet, something I probably shouldn’t do. I usually end up wishing I had been somewhere else. My show was likely just fine, “but look,” I would think, “he did (insert song here) in (insert city here).” Not this time. I couldn’t have been happier with the set list. He’d been doing “Simple Twist” every night, so that wasn’t as much a matter of luck, but “Love Minus Zero- No Limit” (another top ten) figured into the set early. “John Brown,” which meditates on the cost of war, has never been one of my favorites, but it was powerfully haunting tonight. I may have even gotten a little misty eyed. The silly “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” and the elegant “Visions of Johanna” were amazing. Of his relatively recent catalog “Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee” was a winner, and the danceable “Summer Days” was fun. My only criticism is that a couple of the newer blues songs, like “Spirit on the Mountain,” both live and on record, can become a little tedious. The monotonous “da da DA da” gets boring long before the song is over.

There are tracks that he plays at every show, “All Along the Watchtower” and “Like a Rolling Stone” top that list. And I’m OK with that. Most of the people there haven’t seen Dylan as many times as I have, and they want to hear those songs. I don’t necessarily need “Tangled Up in Blue” at every show, but I’m glad that the always enjoyable “Highway 61 Revisited” has become a regular. What he didn’t play was anything from his record Tempest slated to be released September 11. For any other artist that might seem unusual, but that’s what I expect from him.

Dylan looked great in his black suit and his always excellent band looked especially dapper in their matching grey suits (guitarist Charlie Sexton to the point of distraction). As much as I hate to drive anywhere these days (the Megabus doesn’t go to Rochester, yet), this show was totally worth it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012