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