This was Kelly Hogan’s fourth time in Madison since the release of her record I Like to Keep Myself in Pain last year, and I wasn’t sure if everyone would be as excited about another show as I was. I needn’t have worried, there was a capacity crowd once again and they were treated to a pretty stellar show. One regular had wondered before the show if he really needed to see her again, only to enthusiastically strike that earlier thought at the end of the night. She made a conscious effort to mix it up a little from earlier appearances, while I was sad to see “Papa Was a Rodeo” go, the replacements were worth it.
She still played many of the songs from Pain, and “Nice Things” and “Haunted” were as amazing as always. The former features words written by Jack Pendarvis and music by Andrew Bird and it’s a killer, a dark, heartbreaker whose melody gets into your head and stays. The latter is a Jon Langford song, one of my favorite songs from his Old Devils record and which Hogan knocks out of the park. This was the first time I had heard the Wilco song “Open Mind” that Jeff Tweedy had given her for the record. Since they also ended up putting it on their record she decided not to put it on hers, but I’m glad she does it live. Even though “Rodeo” wasn’t in the set, she did another Stephen Merritt composition, the melancholy “Plant White Roses,” which is “a song that may or may not be about gardening” The first time I ever saw Hogan was a long, long time ago, singing with John Wesley Harding at Martyr’s, in a nice example of symmetry she covers his “Sleeper Awake.” (I also told her to put in a good word with Wes about playing the basement someday.)
The best part of the night actually happened about an hour into the evening after the “official set” was over. Whereas they were straight shooting earlier, Hogan indicated this part of the set was going to be both guns drawn, shooting into the air, “pow, pow, pow” she demonstrated with her fingers. She’d been bragging about her band all night, and rightfully so, but this is where they really got to show off. Guitarist Casey McDonough set the bar impossibly high right off the bat with a tear-jerking version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” “Brave choice” I thought when he started, “perfect choice” when he finished. He drew what may have been the biggest applause of the night and reduced bassist Nora O’Connor to tears. She’d been wowing the crowd all night with her backing vocals, but she really got to impress when she and Hogan shared the lead on the stunning tune “Mama Don’t Like My Man,” which I am pretty sure some of the band learned during sound check. Drummer Gerald Dowd sang lead on the Charlie Rich classic “Life Has It’s Little Ups and Downs,” which like many of his tunes was written or co-written by Rich’s wife, whom Hogan is obviously a fan of since they followed it with another of her songs.
The crowd again included her friends and neighbors from Evansville. Her landlady brought flowers and homemade applesauce, while her neighbors brought their son who was seeing his first show (I forget how old he was but it was less than ten). As always, Hogan was witty and charming, personal and at times confessional. Several times after admitting something she wouldn’t usually say on stage she would shake her head, smiling, “it’s the basement.”