Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Devil Makes Three/Jonny Fritz; April 27, 2013; Majestic Theater

Everyone knows all of the good band names are taken, so explain to me how The Devil Makes Three was unclaimed before this trio from California grabbed it as their moniker. Of course, either the devil actually makes four in this case or one of them is in fact Satan (I’d go with upright bass player Lucia Torino who was awfully bewitching). Admittedly, a deal with Lucifer would go a long way toward explaining how this band I’d never heard of sold out the spacious Majestic Theater. I wouldn’t have even been there if not for James Dean, who has made tour manager into his full-time job. I first met Dean when he was doing the same for Ha Ha Tonka, who he had met when his band Meese was on the road with them. This has lead to multiple tours managing Murder By Death, as well as stints with Matt & Kim (when they were opening for Blink 182!) and White Rabbits.

The Onion described the band as a traditional bluegrass party band, and that was a decent call. There were a couple smoky, slower tunes, but most were frenetic banjo-powered raves with a thumping bass, making it very easy to dance to. The alcohol fueled crowd was doing just that, turning into an undulating mass in front of the stage after just a few songs. The songs were all catchy enough, but not much stuck with me after the house lights went up other than the clever chorus to one of their catchiest tunes, “If you’re gonna do wrong, buddy, you better do wrong right.” The crowd was a younger hippie type group, which explained all the dancing and the fact that everyone smelled like pot. They weren’t subtle about it either, little clouds of smoke went up periodically from the group in front of us. I was surprised that the security that won’t let me take pictures wasn’t on them immediately. Apparently having a camera with a “lens that sticks out too far” or “takes video” is a worse crime than smoking illegal substances. They didn’t hassle me tonight, but I found out that was only because Dean had stopped them.

Opener Jonny Fritz writes the kind of slightly offensive redneck songs that crowds like this love. I did not love it, but he did have something going for him and that was fiddler Josh Hedley. He didn’t look like your typical fiddle wizard, he had a lot of tattoos and a beer belly, his hat said “Born to fish, forced to work,” and his T-shirt depicted a cow flattened on the front of a semi with the caption “Grilled cheese,” but holy crap could that dude play. No matter how stupid the song, it got a lot better when he started playing. He even came back at the end of the night and joined Devil for a song. Dean told me he’s never had a real job, he’s just been playing fiddle for a living since he’s been old enough to get paid for it. And I believe it, I’m pretty sure he could win a fiddle made of gold off the devil anytime he runs short on cash.

Jonny Fritz

The Devil Makes Three

Friday, April 26, 2013

Shakey; April 26 2013; High Noon Saloon

Imagine four Neil Youngs each from different era of his long career singing together. Yeah, I can’t do it either, but it may be the reason that Shakey’s harmonies never quite work. After all, Young sounded just fine harmonizing with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but I’m not sure CSNY Young would have sounded as good with the Ragged Glory Neil. But that’s the only thing that didn’t work during their happy hour show, where instead of showcasing an entire record as they usually do, they made tonight a greatest hits package. Which is not to say I knew every song, I think because it is Shakey’s greatest hits, not Young’s.

Shakey has an embarrassment of talent, an excellent army of guitars, multiple vocalists, and the drummer from Killdozer who sometimes gives up his seat to band leader Pete Kaesburg. That may be why I didn’t even notice they were missing one of their number. Matt Joyce, who does a lot of the “rock Neil” was on vacation, or living in a cabin in the woods, or something. I was too busy trying to figure out who “MJ” was to pay attention to the rest of the explanation. Anyway, his absence left some space on stage. Usually they pass the bass guitar back and forth between three of them, but tonight they brought up special guest Leslie Gavin to play on a couple songs which allowed them their “four guitar attack.” It sounded great, but I was more excited to see Leslie play for the first time after knowing her for years. For the full Shakey experience and maximum numbers on stage, they even added a few backing vocalists.

After substituting “George” for “Hank” in the Harvest Moon song “From Hank to Hendrix” Kaesberg announced early on that “this song and every song for the rest of the night is dedicated to George Jones (who passed away earlier that day).” It seems fitting since Young has always had a lot of country in him. Each of the vocalists has their charms, but certainly the closest to the real thing is Matt Appleby who could pass for the man himself at times. Kaesberg claimed that the band has decided that “Powderfinger” is the official anthem of Shakey, and they are pretty sure they have done it at every show. I’m pretty sure they’ve done it at every show I’ve been at. The anthemic singalong rocker from Rust Never Sleeps seems appropriate, and it’s certainly one of my favorites. The other great song which shows up almost every time is the clever extended simile “Hurricane.” It had been awhile since I had seen Shakey so they both seemed like old friends.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Control/Buildings/Tyranny is Tyranny; April 21, 2013; The Frequency

The three bands on tonight’s bill had one thing in common, I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment in the least. Russell Hall, lead singer of Tyranny is Tyranny (yes, the acronym is unfortunate, and yes, they just may have planned it that way), claims this band is more accessible than his previous one, the Socialist leaning United Sons of Toil. And he may be right, the music is slightly less pummeling, and he actually sings more than growls. There was even one song that I teased was a power ballad. It may have been slower, and yes he does sing, but it was just as intense as the rest of their set. Some of that intensity can be traced to their new drummer Jonathan Brown who acquitted himself well in his first gig.

Next in line was Buildings from Minneapolis. Apparently they really like the Jesus Lizard, or at least that’s what I’m told, but I can’t comment on that since have no idea what the Jesus Lizard sounds like. I can tell you they were super tight, and the rhythm section hypnotic to watch. Oh, and really loud. It wasn’t exactly my thing, and probably wouldn’t buy their record, but I wouldn’t leave the room should we end up in the same place again someday.

I know the members of Control have played shows at Thorp’s Salon on Atwood, but apparently they have also been hanging out there a lot too. Since the last time I saw them they have become Madison’s most metrosexual band, with the prematurely gray Matt Rajala looking especially handsome. But looks aren’t everything, so it’s lucky they sounded pretty great too. Early on their shows could be a little sloppy, but they have become a finely tuned machine. Some of their songs are instrumental, but others have words, sung by the always smiling Luke Bassuener or Rajala. Like the other bands on the bill, much of what Control sang wasn’t discernible but it wasn’t really important. In this case the voice was just another instrument in the mix. Hall states often that Control is his favorite Madison band, and it would seem he isn’t their only big fan. The band played a clearly unplanned but demanded encore song in response to the enthusiastic audience. They called on Hall to pick the song, too bad he wasn’t even in the room, but instead getting a drink at the bar.

The other thing to like about this show other than the well matched line-up was the fact that it was early. Originally scheduled for 6 pm, it didn’t start till closer to seven after the late show booked for the Frequency was cancelled. It’s a lot easier to go to a show on a Sunday when you know you can be home by ten.

Tyranny Is Tyranny



Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Pines; April 20, 2013; Stoughton Opera House

In this digital age when everyone you have ever bought a show ticket from e-mails you once a week to ply you with their line-up, the Stoughton Opera House is oddly quiet. I still get e-mails from the North Star Bar in Philadelphia where I saw the Wrens once eight years ago. Several times a week I get an update from the BOK Center in Tulsa, which is a little odd since I’ve never been to Tulsa. I try to keep up on what’s going on around the area, including the lovely Opera House in nearby Stoughton, so I was a bit surprised that I had no idea before Thursday that the Pines were playing there on Saturday. I love the Pines, and their pretty folk pop sounds best in listening rooms like the basement, the CafĂ© Carpe in Ft Atkinson, and the Opera House. I was disappointed that I was going to miss both of their appearances at the Carpe in May with Jeffrey Foucault’s new outfit Cold Satellite, so this show was a pleasant surprise.

The Pines is David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey, sometimes they bring more players with them, but they are the heart of this band. Tonight they were joined by James Buckley on bass who switched between electric and an especially effective upright, and Benson’s brother Alex on keyboards. They followed their usual format, taking turns singing lead on a song while the other adds backing vocals and guitar. Ramsey lead off with a cover, Spider John Koerner’s tale of “Skipper and his Wife,” his low whisper of a voice projecting beautifully in the room’s great acoustics. They hit all the high points of their four records, but my favorites mostly came from Tremolo. Ramsey’s “Heart and Bones” and Huckfelt’s “Pray Tell” are a potent one-two punch. Last year’s Night So Gold gave us “Cry Cry Crow” (which may also be responsible for the well-dressed but minimalist scarecrow on stage) and “Rise Up and Be Lonely,” a great song as long as you don’t think too much about the directive of the title, which honestly doesn’t make much sense.

Despite the fact that the Pines live even further north than we do, Huckfelt couldn’t resist making fun of our unseasonably cool weather. He thanked us for braving the weather to come to their show “in the dead of spring,” and joked that they were going to take a break so that we could run home and make sure our pipes weren’t frozen. Though the other reason he gave for playing two sets- that we needed a break from sitting on the theater’s antique wooden seats- may have actually been the truth.

The Pines are a perfect band to see at the Opera House, and apparently it had been exactly one year since their last appearance there. I’d say we have the makings of a tradition here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Zeus/Ponderosa; April 19, 2013; The Beat Kitchen

Zeus spends most of its time in Canada, which makes sense, they are Canadian after all. They haven’t been back to Madison since I first saw them several years ago with the equally awesome Bahamas and Jason Collett, but that’s all it took for me to fall completely in love with them. It made them my must see at SXSW 2012, and they warrant well worth it trips to Champaign and Chicago. The timing wasn’t ideal for this show, but I was determined to be there. I had unsuccessfully lobbied their booking agent for a house show the next night, but I’m pretty sure I would have been too nervous to do it. It’s been awhile since I’ve been that in awe of a band. Despite having seen them several times, I’m still too intimidated to say more than “great show” to any of them.

They only have two full length records to their name, last year’s Busting Visions and 2010’s Say Us, but they recently released an EP of interesting covers called, appropriately enough, Cover Me. In addition to songs from bands ranging from Big Star to the Flaming Lips, the record also features their live staple “That’s All,” the Genesis tune is always a highlight of the live show. I was worried that maybe they had retired it, but tonight it showed up as part of an earned two song encore. They have developed a decent fan base in Chicago and I wasn’t the only one singing along to “Kindergarten,” “The Renegade” (no, not that one) and “The River by the Garden” from Say Us and “Are you Gonna Waste My Time” from the new record. As always the set seemed too short and there were songs that I didn’t get to hear (“The Sound of You” would have been awesome), but it was satisfying all the same. I can only hope they get back this way again soon, and it would be even better if they make it to Madison. After all, Wisconsin isn’t that far from Canada.

I missed the opening band but was impressed enough by the half set I saw from second band Ponderosa that I picked up their new release on the way out, and I was a little surprised to see that it was on New West who usually traffic in bigger names. They looked like they would sound like the Drive By Truckers but they ended up being closer to My Morning Jacket. Though now that I think about it, MMJ actually looks like they would sound like DBT. Anyway, it was pretty stuff with a nice touch of reverb. While some songs were repetitive and sleepy, the balance of the set was catchy and creative enough that I was convinced I needed a CD. It made for a nice listen on the bus ride home.