Monday, October 29, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Grant Lee Phillips and Glen Phillips; October 26, 2012; Redamte Coffeehouse

You have to wonder how this tour came together. Was it “hey, both of our last names are Phillips, we should tour together, it will confuse people.” Or was it “we both fronted popular indie bands in the 90’s, we have a similar audience, let’s tour together.” Grant Lee Phillips was the leader of Grant Lee Buffalo, who enjoyed a couple minor hits and was known as REM’s favorite band. That Phillips also starred as the troubadour on the Gilmore Girls, a show I always meant to watch for just that reason. Glen Phillips was the lead singer and songwriter for Toad the Wet Sprocket who had several ubiquitous hits. Both have remained active since their bands broke up, and I’ve seen both of them solo several times over the years.

The show was at Redamte Coffeehouse on State St. Located on the second floor of a multi-business complex, I’d never even noticed it before I heard about this show. My sister who was meeting me there wandered for quite awhile before looking up. It wasn’t a bad place to see a show, for a coffeehouse it was surprisingly big, and they had set up rows of chairs for the night. In fact, it would have been a great place to see a show except for the fact that it is a coffeehouse and the constant grinding and steam hissing were more than a little distracting. A good sized all ages crowd had packed the room, but it was hard to tell exactly who it was they were there to see.

I expected it to be Glen, but they failed to go crazy when he strummed the first couple chords of the Toad’s biggest hit “Walk on the Ocean.” In fact Grant Lee got just as strong a reaction for the old GLB songs “Mockingbird” and “Truly, Truly, Truly.” In fact, the response was good for every song, refreshing. Of Grant Lee’s solo catalog I’d been a big fan of Mobilize and 2010’s Little Moon, yet when he asked if anyone had a request I was struck mute. I had so many, which to ask for? Unfortunately, that must have happened to everyone because only silence greeted his request. He did just fine selecting songs on his own, in addition to the old stuff he played a few from this year’s still relatively new Walking in the Green Grass, including the infectious title track. From Little Moon he played “Sunken Treasure,” a good choice, though if my brain hadn’t failed me I would have asked for the upbeat “The Sun Shines on Jupiter.”

I was pleased that Glen went back to his first solo CD to play two of my favorite songs from that record. The instantly recognizable “Trainwreck” took me back instantly to his show at CafĂ© Montmarte a million years ago where he had covered that song accompanied by members of Nickel Creek. (I’d had the same experience after hearing Nick Jaina play it on his covers record.) The same thing happened with his heart-breaking and hilarious story of how he was the driver for drive-by shooting of the neighbor’s dog. (Don’t worry it all turns out OK.) The reason for that is Glen’s instantly familiar voice.

In fact, it would be hard to find two more distinct voices than these two Phillipses. Surprisingly they sounded pretty good together when they played a few songs as a duo at the end of the night. Good show boys.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Old 97’s/Salim Nourallah; October 17, 2012; Capital Theater

So what’s a band to do when they are forced to play the song they always close with first? Simple, they play it twice. The Old 97’s were touring behind the 15th anniversary of Too Far To Care, their third, and still arguably their best, release. It’s a pretty epic record, which they played straight through, near perfect, with such classics as “West Texas Teardrops,” “Big Brown Eyes,” the brilliant “Barrier Reef,” which features one of the greatest opening lines ever, “The Empty Bottle was half empty”). And of course there’s “Timebomb” which they have closed every show with for as long as I can remember. The only problem is, it’s the first track on Too Far, so I had expected them break with tradition and play something else in the encore. The manic barn burner is one of their best and most memorable songs, so I don’t think anyone was disappointed with their decision to reprise it just before curfew struck at the theater. (As an aside, I remember crying foul when they opened with it in The Break Up as a lonely Jennifer Anniston watched them from the balcony of the Riviera in Chicago. I guess it can happen.)

The first half of the show was pretty amazing. The Too Far tour was when I first saw, and fell for, the Old 97’s, so it has always held a special place for me. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, nearly everyone standing up front was singing along loudly with every word. It would have been annoying if it hadn’t been so charming. It was especially great to hear songs like “Broadway” and “The House That Used to Be,” with its great line “They’re gonna wrap you up in corn silk, they’re gonna cry like you were spilt milk,” which don’t get played live much these days. The second half was more hit & miss. I haven’t been terribly impressed with their last couple releases. In fact I’m not even sure what their last few releases were. I listened to Blame it on Gravity only a couple times before shelving and forgetting about it. Even Drag It Up is remarkable mostly for the fact that guitarist Ken Bethea‘s song about microwaving chicken burritos “Coahuila” is the best track on the record. Lead singer Rhett Miller’s solo records are even more forgettable, sappy, silly and overproduced. Hard to believe the same guy wrote the almost too clever “The Other Shoe.” The show dragged when they played the more recent songs, but picked up considerably when they pulled out even older classics like “Victoria Lee,” the tragic tale of a girl who “started on Rohypnol and ended up with me,” and the immortal “Stoned” from their first record Hitchhike to Rhome.

I almost didn’t go to this show since it was a volleyball night and I would be late. Thanks to Bill for talking me into it. I missed Rhett’s solo set and two thirds of Salim Nourallah, which was specifically who Bill had come to see. I didn’t mind missing the first, but I do wish I had seen more of Nourallah. I did see enough to buy a record, and I’ve definitely been enjoying it. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from a Texan with a name like that, but he does great power pop that sounds like Summerteeth-era Wilco. Had I known his backing band was called the Travoltas I probably wouldn’t have been so surprised.

If the Old 97s milk this tour for as long as Matthew Sweet has been milking the Girlfriend anniversary tour or the Lemonheads their It’s a Shame about Ray, I’m hoping I get to see them again. After all, you can never hear “Timebomb” too many times.

Salim Nourallah

The Old 97's

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yep Roc Night 3, October 13, 2012; Cat’s Cradle

Tonight didn’t have any standout interest for me, just a solid lineup I was sure I’d enjoy. Tonight’s token girl Tift Merritt was the best of the three. I wasn’t in love with her music, but I really liked her. She was sassy and spunky and she has some cool friends. Namely Eric Heywood, who just may be the best pedal steel player I’ve ever seen. Then there was a giant of a man who she sang a couple duets with whom I didn’t know, but who had to literally be twice her size. And also John Doe and Chatham County Line, both of who were also on tonight’s bill. One of the coolest things about this series of shows was the spirit of collaboration that existed through all three nights; seldom did anyone play a set without someone from one of the other bands joining them. That happened a lot tonight.

The Minus Five (who were pretty great by the way) called the night’s first act Australian Darren Hanlon back out to play a song with them. Turns out Hanlon used to play that very song and tell people he wrote it, a fact he had recently admitted to Scott McCaughey. Hanlon’s set had been fleeting, so it was nice to see him back on stage. The old timey boys in Chatham Co welcomed John Doe to gather around their mike, and Doe did the same for Merritt. Then the Sadies backed Doe for a few songs before playing their own set. Got all that? And no, that actually wasn’t one of Los Straightjackets playing with CCL, it was their guitarist/vocalist who gained new respect for the surf rockers after playing one song wearing a wrestling mask. It was first time seeing them after hearing a lot about them. It was easy to picture them playing the basement.

There were several fashion highlights tonight. The sharp dressed boys in CCL and the especially dapper Doe all looked great in their suits. McCaughey may have missed the memo to wear a suit, but his “Dr of Evil” guitar strap more than made up for it. I was especially pleased to see that Dallas Good of the Sadies was again wearing his stunning devil jacket, complete with pentagrams on the front. The Sadies were the perfect band to finish off the night, their high-energy hoe-down chasing away any of the exhaustion that may have been setting in after three long nights packed full of great music. Let’s hope they throw another party like this for their twentieth!

Jim White

Darren Hanlon

Minus 5

Chatham County Line

Tift Merritt

John Doe

The Sadies