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.