Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tegan & Sara/Speak; February 24, 2013; The Orpheum

I know I might seem a little crazy when it comes to music, but I have a friend who out-crazies me. The object of his affection, not to mention loads of frequent flier miles, is Tegan & Sara. In fact, this Madison show was show number 101 for him. He’s seen them so many times they recognize them, they wave, they put him on the guest list. Which is how he ended up with two extra tickets for tonight’s show. I have to admit I’d been curious as to what this band was like that they could inspire such devotion. So when he offered me his plus one I said sure, on the condition that I could leave if I hated it. He responded of course, and that leaving after four songs when it wasn’t your thing was “a time honored tradition.” I told another friend I was going, “I give you four songs,” he scoffed. What is it with four songs?

Not only did I not leave after four, or even eight songs, I stayed for the whole thing. And I enjoyed it. Granted, I likely won’t see them again, and I’m not buying their record. But it was a good show. To start with the petite Canadian twins are adorable; you want to put them in your pocket. They’re funny, and they tell great stories, and apparently they don’t repeat them. Sara had a hilarious bit about how disappointed her therapist must be whenever a new record comes out because they haven’t solved any of her problems. A story Nick said he’d never heard before. The music was mostly catchy, if occasionally a little two dance-y. In fact, there was a point when four different band members were playing keyboards, for a moment I thought I was seeing Erasure. Though they both sang about broken hearts, in general I liked Sara’s songs better. Though Tegan had my favorite song of the night (“Living Room”), which they did for the encore. I hear it’s a fan favorite.

Openers Speak were a gang of cute little boys from Austin who seem to have been adopted by Tegan & Sara. I mean little, as in young, really young. I was surprised to see the drummer take a swig of beer mid-set, since I was sure none of them were old enough to drink. After doing some shows together on the West coast, Speak had driven up just to play this show. If they were making standard opening band rate, I can tell you right now it wasn’t worth it. They played a dreamy pop reminiscent of the Gufs (a Wisconsin band who had a brief chance at stardom) and were certainly likeable enough. In a world where Justin Beiber is a huge star, it would seem they should do OK, especially with the boost they are getting.


Tegan & Sara

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Eels/Nicole Atkins; February 23, 2013; The Vic, Chicago

For a band that could be dismissed as a one hit wonder (1996‘s ubiquitous “Novocain for the Soul”), the eels sure do put on a hell of a show. Other than the pretty if slightly sleepy “Eels with Strings” tour they did following the release of Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, every show I’ve seen has been ridiculously high energy. Lead singer and mastermind behind the eels, Mark Oliver Everett (otherwise known as E), is as much a ringleader for these shows as he is a band member. This was as close to normal as I’d seen him look in a long time, there was no Unabomber beard or odd headgear. The sunglasses remained, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him without, if I ever have. The rest of the band also wore Wayfarers, and like E, instead of the orange prison jumpsuits they’d been wearing the last few tours, this time they all wore matching Adidas track suits and shoes. No wonder they could play so long.

The show featured many of the songs from the new record Wonderful Glorious released only a couple weeks before. “Bombs Away” and “Peach Blossom” are two of the grungier songs from that record that make an impression live despite not having much to say. As much as I love the eels, the double disc Blinking Lights was the last record that really had any substance to it. Everything since has been solid enough and certainly listenable, but completely unmemorable. This record seems an improvement, but maybe I just gave it more time. It has more energy than the three that preceded it, but doesn’t quite reach the level of fuzzed out noise that Souljacker nailed. That record’s “Dog Faced Boy” continues to be a live favorite. Sadly, many of the earlier records were left out of the set list. No self-respecting eels’ fan expects to hear “Novocain,” but it’s been ages since I’ve heard anything from the brilliant follow-up Electroshock Blues, whose “Next Stop This Town” may be the best song he’s ever done.

I once saw an eels show where the first three or four songs were all covers, leading me to think that maybe he wasn’t going to do any original songs at all. He did of course, but the covers have always been a high point of their show. Tonight we got “Hypnotize Me,” the most un-Fleetwood Mac sounding Fleetwood Mac song there is. Totally awesome, and a perfect choice. E doesn’t seem like one to care about trends; apparently neither does his management who told him that “mash-ups were all the rage.” Not only are they so five years ago, they obviously didn’t explain that it was when you mash up songs by different artists, not two of your own songs. Still, it was a good excuse to play oldies “My Beloved Monster” and “Goddamn Right, It’s a Beautiful Day” as a medley.

I’d first seen guitarist “The Chet” on the Blinking Lights tour where he added some comic relief to the heaviness of the strings, at one point playing a cardboard box. Apparently he’d been with E even longer than that, and since this was their ten year anniversary they decided to renew their vows. "Do you Chet take E to be your lead singer?” and “D you E take Chet to be your guitarist?” Silly, yes, but that’s what’s to be expected from an eels show.

The show was over, the lights were up and people were filing out when the band returned to the stage, playing a few more songs as the crew continued to break down equipment around them. Or at least they pretended to. Hard to know, it might have been a way to get around curfew, or just another oddity from the mind of E.

Nicole Atkins


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Robbie Fulks with the Pussycat Trio; February 16, 2013, two shows; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Now this was a new one. Schuba’s does it, the High Noon Saloon does it, why couldn’t I do two shows in a night? I guess the obvious answer is that it’s never come up before, but when I had twenty five names on the waiting list for a Robbie Fulks show that sold out in a day I knew that very few of those people were going to get in. So I asked Fulks if would be interested in doing a second show. He agreed to it, and not only that, agreed to do it the same night. I automatically put the twenty five from the wait list on the second show list and announced it. The rest of the reservations went in three hours. I believe that made him the hottest ticket in Madison.

For good reason. Fulks is a spectacularly entertaining solo performer, smartly funny, excellent vocalist and a terrific guitar player. All of those are amplified when he play as a duo with Robbie Gjersoe, who matches Fulks in every category except maybe songwriting. The last two basement shows have featured this duo, but tonight we got a bonus with an upright bass in the form of Beau Sample who played the part perfectly, right down to the slicked back hair. The three together are known as the Pussycat Trio , and they frequently play as part of Fulks’ Monday night residency at the Hideout in Chicago. In fact they were playing again in two days. “So basically,” Fulks joked during one show, “we’re rehearsing in front of sixty people for the seventeen who will show up on Monday.”

Fulks had estimated the overlap between the two sets would probably be about 50% but it didn’t seem anywhere near that. When he opened the first set with “That’s What I Like About the South,” I excitedly texted my sister to tell her he was playing one of our favorite childhood songs. She was only coming to the late show so she was disappointed when he didn’t play it then, and she told him that when he stopped to say hi before the encore. So guess what song was the next one he played? Newly minted Wisconsinite Kelly Hogan showed up early to take in a show and ended up joining Fulks for a couple songs. The second of which was one of those classic country songs where they improvise the last verse. However Fulks stumped her by challenging her to find a rhyme for “Tammy Baldwin.” (She’s still working on it.)

Sample also got his turn at the mike. His song during the early show was great, but later he did “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette,” another of our childhood hits. (We weren’t your typical kids, we were more into Spike Jones than Mr. Rogers.) Both shows contained a good mix of covers and Fulks’ originals. In the latter category were the poignant “Georgia Hard” and the barn burning “North Carolina is the Cigarette State.” The latter gave both guitar players a chance to show off, and there was some astonishing picking going on. The song has long been a part of Fulks’ live repertoire, so it was funny to hear people laugh at the line “And Alabama’s grand, the state not the band” like they’d never heard it before.

More than any of the shows I’ve hosted, I knew a good chunk of the audience. These were all the people who have come to several shows. There were also a few folks I’ve known forever but this was their first show, I can guarantee they’ll be back. As I am sure Fulks will. He’d already told me it was his favorite place to play in Madison, apparently it’s Madison’s favorite place to see him too.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bobby Bare Jr; February 15, 2013; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

This wasn’t the first time Bobby Bare Jr destroyed a tambourine in Madison, but at least last time it didn’t happen till the day after the show. On his last visit to Madison, he and Carey Kotsionis were waiting for the MegaBus to take them to Chicago when Bare’s suitcase tipped over, cracking the tambourine hooked over the handle. This time I’m not even sure what happened. During the first song there was a crack and a few sad sounding jingles, and that was the end of the tambourine. I hope when he replaces this one he springs for the heavy duty plastic model. For the rest of the night, he would introduce a song and then bemoan, “this one has a really cool tambourine part.” I thought I had found him a worthy stand-in when I brought the garbage can full of bottle caps up to the stage, but it just slid across the carpet.

Bare may have missed his percussion immensely, but for the rest of us the absence was not as noticeable. Eventually he got over the loss, and was his usual excitable self. He often seems as into the show as his audience is, clapping enthusiastically after songs like it wasn’t him who just played them. He covered much of the material from his solo career, but hesitated when it came to the Bare Jr stuff. He said no to “Faker,” (sorry Danielle) but eventually gave in to a request for “The Soggy Daisy.” A long, rambling, and often hilarious, monologue about the residents of the titular nursing home, the song would have been difficult if you did it every day, but when you haven’t done it for years it seemed impossible. Fortunately there was a super fan at the back of the room who prompted Bare through most of the song.

Since it was the day after the Hallmark holiday, he opened with the appropriate “Valentine,” which sounds like a hearts and roses song but quite definitely isn’t. “How many of you have killed you Valentine?” he asked at the end. When someone asked for “Rock & Roll Halloween” later in the set, he made the point that it was the wrong holiday. Bare has a clear, pure voice, making it easy to hear every word to his often amusing songs. Which is great for songs like “One of Us Has Got to Go” and my all-time favorite “The Monk at the Disco.” The latter details the plight of a holy man trying to do God’s work at a disco, where a tall, black bartender tries to sell him blow and a drunk white boy spills a Jack & coke down his robe. Not only is it funny, but you can dance to it.

It had been a year and a half since Bare had played the basement after a string of dates close together in town, and that seemed enough to generate demand. Instead of the couple dozen who came to see him at the house last time, this show sold out, though it was just a few hours before. There were many, many years where Bare didn’t play Madison, I’m glad we are back on his radar. And I’m really glad the House of Righteous Music is where he likes to play.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Deadstring Brothers; February 10, 2013; The Frequency

The Deadstring Brothers seem to be on a mission to play as many shows as possible. They were just in Madison in November playing the basement, and they were back again tonight with new songs (and if you were lucky like me, an advance copy of the new record.) Cannery Row was recorded in Nashville between touring the US and Europe. Instead of the predominant Rolling Stones influence that everyone who writes about the band mentions (legitimately), there's a mellower, organ heavy vibe on this record more reminiscent of the Band. There weren't a lot of people out tonight, it was a Sunday and the weather was terrible, but those that were got a great show. Those that were seeing them for the first time will definitely be back the next time the band hits town.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Jimmy Murn & the Heymakers; February 8, 2013; High Noon Saloon

The show I was planning to see in Chicago tonight sold out before I got a ticket, but this happy hour show turned out to be a very nice consolation prize. Jimmy Murn and his solid rhythm section the Heymakers play nifty, infectious power pop. Their cover of the Rolling Stones' "Play with Fire" was an inspired bonus. I feel bad it took me so long to see them, but I can't wait for the next show.