Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kelly Hogan; November 29, 2012; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Kelly Hogan was coming off a bad cold, she’d had to cancel a show only a few days earlier, but you’d never have guessed it if she didn’t tell you. “My voice is almost back,” she’d say after a difficult note, apologetic and excited at the same time. That was good news since this was the first date on a short tour that would take her briefly into Canada and to the east coast. Since the release of I Like to Keep Myself in Pain earlier this year she’s been doing a bunch of these short little trips, perhaps easing back into the touring life after releasing her first record in ten years. You also get the impression she doesn’t like to leave home for very long, since home is now a farm in rural Evansville WI just south of Madison. I’m still not sure exactly how she ended up there but she sure does seem to like it, and Wisconsin is proud to claim her as a resident.

After some discussion it was decided this would be “an evening with Kelly Hogan,” which meant no opener and an extra long set from Hogan; in this case, two sets. Hogan often claims to not be a girlie girl, but she took some extra time getting ready to go on. Her rhythm section was ready to go, and her drummer joked that he wasn’t used to touring with girls. It was worth the wait as Hogan and band sounded terrific. The new record is pretty good, but I can’t help but think it would have sounded better with this band of her friends instead of the impressive but impersonal studio band which included Booker T. Jones (of “& the MGs” fame). The aforementioned drummer was my good friend Gerald Dowd, who told me he took this tour just because they were playing at my house. He’s currently working on a record of his own, and I wish he would have said yes when Kelly asked if he wanted to do something.

The amazing Nora O’Connor, who was playing bass tonight, has a voice to rival Hogan’s and they sounded gorgeous together. She was happy to do a song and chose a Fleetwood Mac song that I didn’t knew by name but recognized instantly when they got to the chorus. My only regret was that I didn’t have enough microphones for guitarist Jim Elkington to have one. In addition to being a gifted and intriguing guitarist, the handsome and charming Elkington has a great voice and I would have loved to hear some four part harmonies. I especially missed his part on the Magnetic Field’s “Papa Was a Rodeo.”

They played most of the new record, which in addition to the title track written by Robyn Hitchcock includes tracks from some of my favorite songwriters including Robbie Fulks, M Ward, Vic Chesnutt, and Andrew Bird (with Jack Pendarvis). The latter’s “We Just Can’t Have Nice Things,” despite sounding like something my mom would say, is an addictive heartbreaker. The standout track on record and live is the always terrific Jon Langford’s “Haunted,” which is anything but in Hogan’s hands. The bouncy, danceable number was my favorite of the set. After giving the crowd their money’s worth with a nearly two hour performance the band packed into the van en route to a gig in Cleveland the next night. I had been looking forward to hanging out with them after the show, but instead I packed them food for the road and said good night. Maybe next time.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Robbie Fulks with Jon Langford; November 19, 2012; The Hideout

“How many of you were here last year?” Jon Langford asked early in the night, referring to his last appearance at one of Robbie Fulks’ weekly residency shows at the Hideout. When a round of cheers went up, indicating that nearly everyone had in fact been here last year he looked incredulous, “why in the world did you come back?” That was mostly Langford being funny, but it was also kinda true. I had enjoyed last year’s show, but it was a bit different from others I had seen. Langford almost seemed to take over the show from Fulks.

This year was different, they played more songs together, including the same song they had opened with last time, trading verses on some songs, backing each other on others. One of the highlights was Robbie playing Langford’s “Nashville Radio.” After which Jon commented observantly, “It took me a whole song to sum up what I knew about Nashville, and Robbie said it all in three words,” referring to the concise “Fuck This Town.”

Some of the best moments though were the covers. Last year it was Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” this year it was his “Yesterday’s Wine,” which was written by Willie Nelson. A surprise was Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman.” And as they had promised early on, they also did a Barbara Mandrell song, the perfect “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” Which could apply to tonight’s performers I suppose, though they are quite definitely cool. These are two of my absolute favorite musicians and it was a treat to see them playing together so nicely.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Field Report/Cameron McGill & What Army/Dietrich Gosser; November 17, 2012; High Noon Saloon

It was Dietrich Gosser that got me out to see Bahamas earlier this year, which led to both the show and Bahamas’ excellent Bar Chords making my year-end best of lists, and it was Gosser who got me out again tonight. He opened tonight’s show along with Jeremiah Nelson who great on acoustic guitar, and even better when he played slide. I’ve been a fan of Gosser for a very long time, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a time when he sounded better than tonight. New songs and old favorites combined for a terrific set list. I’m delighted he still plays the haunting “From a Mercury Lynx” which I still remember hearing the very first time. Gosser has never been much of a believer in product, but the good news is that two of his best new songs will be released on a 7’ later this year. I usually see him at Mickey’s Tavern where solo singer-songwriters struggle to be heard over the crowd noise. High Noon crowds while infinitely better, aren’t always as silent as they were tonight. I knew most of the people up front, but I’d be willing to bet he gained a few new fans from the crowd who came to see Wisconsin’s newest hipster darling.

Field Report isn’t going to inspire the same sort of fandom from me that Bahamas did, but it was a good show and infinitely preferable to the staggeringly boring Bon Iver whose popularity still bewilders me and to whom I’ve seen Field Report compared. The lead singer, Milwaukeean Chris Porterfield, has an urgency to his singing that is hard to fake. I recognized a few of the songs from having listened to the new record streaming, especially the stand-out opening track, quiet miracle “Fergus Falls” which found its way into the encore tonight. I was going to mention how distracting his impossibly smooth looking chest was as viewed through a shirt that should have had one more button buttoned, but that sounded weird. So pretend I didn’t say it.

Dietrich Gosser

Cameron McGill & What Army

Field Report

Friday, November 09, 2012

Deadstring Brothers/Matthew Grimm; November 9, 2012; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I first met the Deadstring Brothers in the oddest place- The Performing Arts Center in Union, Maine, population a couple thousand. Close to ten years ago I was taking a class in Bar Harbor at Jackson Laboratories and drove over to Union to see my friends the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, who were touring with the Brothers. Of course, the band has changed quite a bit since then, and the only member of the band that I met in Maine who remains is lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Kurt Marshke. And of course, he is the most important one. His band these days consists of Jeremy who I already knew from Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, a young pup guitar player from Dallas named Robbie, and Nathan on drums. Little did I know that the latter has his own band, Nathan Kalisch and Wildfire, which my sound guy worships.

I do miss the female backing vocals and the organ, but the band today is a leaner, harder rocking version of its former self. They proved that out of the gate by opening with “Get Up Jake,” one of the bluesy highlights of the second record. It had been awhile since I’d had a full band in the basement and it sounded good. They’d only played for about 35 minutes when they announced they were going to take a short break, apparently Kurt hadn’t quite shaken the after dinner nap he took and he was still feeling a little fuzzy. That might have been a mistake as it allowed a few people who’d had a long week to sneak out, but after a Red Bull the band was back on track. They all seem very excited about the new record which will be recorded early next year, and staying out on the road for a very long time. I think it is safe to say we will be seeing them back here soon.

Matthew Grimm proved to be an ideal opener. The audience warmed to his outspoken charm and intelligent sense of humor immediately. He left his politics mostly at home and played a great solid set of music. “I had no idea,” one impressed regular told me after, “I’d never even heard of him.” Matthew hasn’t played that many shows since moving to Madison over a year ago, but I think it is safe to say he made some fans tonight. You can count the Deadstring Brothers among them. I am a big fan of Matthew’s music, but there is one song I’d rather not hear unless he is doing the PG version. Once the band heard about it, they wouldn’t let him not play it. It’s actually a cute song when he substitutes “Hug” for the f word, but in its original form it is a little more than I can take, the profanity so frequent it stops sounding like a word.

There was even an opportunity for collaboration. Matthew had promised someone he would play Steve Earle’s “Sometimes She Forgets,” and not wanting to play it on his own he asked during sound check if anyone else knew it. Robbie immediately volunteered, and their duet with him on lap steel was a highlight. The night ended when the beer ran out, somewhere around 3. But before that there a second impromptu show. The sound guy got a chance to be completely star struck after convincing Nathan to play a few songs, which led to Robbie playing a few songs and others joining in. It had been awhile since there was an after show jam, and it was pretty cool. Yep next time I buy more beer.

Matthew Grimm

Deadstring Brothers

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Milo Greene/Bahamas; November 3, 2012; High Noon Saloon

Milo Greene isn’t a person, it’s a band. I suppose it’s fitting that a band with no designated lead singer would have such a name. They all have microphones, they all sing, mostly at the same time, and all the songs kinda sound the same. It was fine for awhile, but there are only so many “whoa whoas” in harmony a person can take before they just have to get out. Not that it matters, I wasn’t there to see them. I was there for my friend Tim’s birthday, kinda.

Mostly I was there for Bahamas, the stage name of Afie Jurvanen. I went to his show at the Frequency earlier this year because Dietrich Gosser was opening and because I had seen him a couple years ago with Jason Collett and Zeus (also known as the show where I fell madly in love with Zeus). The show in April was truly great, Dietrich sounded terrific and Bahamas was an unexpected delight. I bought an LP on the way out. I haven’t stopped listening to it since. This thirty minute set wasn’t quite as great, but only because it was shorter and I already knew how awesome it was going to be. And it was. His intriguing line-up once again featured the drummer from the Weakerthans and two backing singers, all three surprisingly essential to the sound. The High Noon was packed with people I didn’t know, which is usually a bad sign. The eighteen and over crowd mostly talked, and only sometimes listened, while Bahamas played. The ridiculously infectious “OK, Alright, I’m Alive” did seem to make them take notice, though that may have been wishful thinking on my part.

Despite the annoying crowd, the too short set, and being whoa whoaed to death later, I was so glad I was there. I can’t wait to hear more from Bahamas, and I hope he comes back soon.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Peter Case/Robby Schiller; November 2, 2012; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

The last time Peter Case played at the house it was a good show, but it seemed to be more storytelling than playing. This time the opposite was true, and I think it was a better show for it. It could just be that he started the show with two of my favorite songs from one of his first solo records, The Man with Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar. “Put Down the Gun” and “Entella Hotel” are both excellent examples of his storytelling capabilities in song. The first contains the immortal theater wisdom “the gun in the first act always goes off in the third” and follows it with “there’ll be no third act at all if someone’s killed tonight” as he tries to talk the weapon out of someone’s hand. The latter is Bob Dylan-esque in its detail, a sort of “Simple Twist of Fate” set in a cabaret (or is it a bordello?).

If he seemed a little rattled tonight it probably had to do with the fact that he was having trouble hearing. He’d just gotten back from a European tour and there was a show at a club called Volume that lived up to its name. He was having trouble with one ear even weeks after the show, though I never would have guessed it from his singing or playing. It sounded terrific in the basement, despite an over enthusiastic show attendee who thought he knew the words and decided to sing along. And also that oh, perhaps he and Peter should get to be friends, and he initiated that by striking up a conversation during the show. The first time sound guy did a great job, despite the fact that nothing was connected when he got there.

I didn’t know many of the rest of the songs, but they were the kind that you feel like you know. He asked for requests and took a few of them, including Bill’s for “Old Blue Car,” a very catchy and apparently old song. Perhaps the best testament to how good the show was is that opener Robby Schiller was impressed. A terrific song writer, Schiller doesn’t like much other music, but he loved Peter Case. Since he didn’t have a CD of his own to trade, he traded a saw from the back of his van for a copy of Beeline. Hopefully Schiller will get that solo CD done soon, if only so he doesn’t give away the rest of his tools. People who only know him from his band the Blueheels are missing out, the solo stuff is more intriguing. His voice has changed over the years, from a distinctive nasal twang to an impressively powerful croon. He confessed his goal was to become a profanity spewing Cat Stevens. I’ve been saying that about his voice recently, and well, a song like Schiller’s “Dumb F*cks” contains a lot more cursing than Stevens’ “Moon Shadow.”

Despite asking after only ten minutes if he was almost done, he played nearly fifty minutes. He ended his terrific set, which also included the Harry Nilsson-flavored “I Don’t Mind At All” and the hilarious “Jay Cutler,” with a well-intentioned, but not particularly successful, sing-along of “Edelweiss,” stage whispering “and the Van Trapp family sneaks out the back…” at the end. I try to rotate openers, but it hadn’t been that long since Robby had played in the basement. I can’t help it, he isn’t for everyone, but I am definitely a fan.