Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Motorz; July 23, 2013; Olbrich Garden

A sunny evening in a botanical garden playing for folks with picnic baskets seemed an unlikely setting for the Motorz, whose catchy power pop is usually only heard after dark in places that serve alcohol, but it worked. And I didn't see any of the slighty older than your average Motorz crowd running for the door when they started, so either they knew what they were getting into, or they didn't but dug it. It had been awhile since I had seen them so I enjoyed it even more than I expected. Hard to beat power pop in the park I guess.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ryan Dillaha & the Miracle Men; July 22, 2013; The Frequency

The Deadstring Brothers Jeremy MacKinder told me to go see his friend Ryan Dillaha at the Frequency. I looked at the rest of the bands on the bill and was a little scared. I went to Dillaha's website and listened a few songs, not scary at all. I don't think he and the Miracle Men had much in common with the rest of the line-up. Which worked out pretty well, I enjoyed their catchy, enthusiastic set and then got to go home. That's my kind of Monday.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nick Jaina/Corey Hart; July 19, 2013; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I introduced Nick Jaina as someone who folks might likely have seen playing on the street somewhere, after all that’s how he ended up playing in my basement the first time. If Bill hadn’t seen him and one of his big band groupings during Willy St Fair, he never would have suggested Jaina to me, and he never would have ended up playing the House of Righteous Music. “I don’t do that anymore,” he pooh-poohed as he took the stage, “I write ballets now,” he said aloofly with mock indignation. And that is also true, he’s done a series of ballets across the country for which he composes the music. But don’t believe him, he does still play on the street, and the trio was excited to learn that there was a farmer’s market the next day, and briefly thought about crashing it before deciding they would rather sleep in. For as long as I’ve known him Jaina has yet to play a regular club in Madison, the closest he’s come was a show at the now shuttered Project Lodge, a music and art space that could never quite figure out how to sustain itself.

This was his second time in the basement and this time he was touring behind new release Primary Perception, another intriguing and quirky release which blends his soothing, hypnotic voice with beautifully orchestrated melodies. His band on this trip was one of a series of “regional bands” that he was playing with around the country. Despite the fact that the duo of Dana (pronounced Dan-ah) on cello and Duroda on violin was his Midwest band, they both hailed from the west coast. They were friends before playing with Jaina and had a comfortable rapport. The trio had only a few days to rehearse before heading out together and so the set list was rather limited. Jaina was very willing to take requests, but he couldn’t do most of them. In fact, Bill’s request was met with “Not gonna happen.” For my part I was hoping to hear “Winding Sheet,” a heartbreakingly sincere love song that I thought was called “Cobblestones” until the first time I suggested it. “I danced with you on the cobblestones on the third longest day of the best year of my life,” the chorus confesses, “I danced with you on the cobblestones of your hometown.” They didn’t play it tonight, but they did rehearse it the next day, which meant I got to hear it many times. Even better.

I’d only seen Mount Horeb’s Corey Hart play a couple times prior to inviting him to play the basement, but each time I’d enjoyed his easy style and catchy songs. He frequently plays with Madison favorites Count This Penny and has taken the time to learn one of their songs. “In the Tall, Tall Pines” is sung by the group’s female vocalist so it was interesting to hear it sung by a guy. His originals were just as good as his choice of cover. So good in fact that he may have sold more CDs than the headliner, though that might also have something to do with his bargain pricing, each disc was only $5. Despite the fact that some people that I was having a Brewer, or even more unbelievably the guy who sang “Sunglasses at Night” (two things that must drive the poor guy nuts), play the basement, I will definitely ask Hart back again. Not only did he play a terrific set, but he’s a seriously nice guy.

Show number 96, another success.

Corey Hart

Nick Jaina

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Americanarama; July 9, 2013; Bayfront Park, Duluth

I seldom miss a chance to see Bob Dylan these days, but I’ll admit I wasn’t all that excited about the Americanarama tour that was happening this summer. The tour paired Dylan with younger, popular roots rock bands Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Both bands are fine, and while I’m not exactly a fan, I wouldn’t mind seeing them. It was the increased ticket price that their inclusion would mean that had me undecided. Several dates on the tour, including Duluth, also included Richard Thompson’s Electric Trio, which would definitely be a bonus. The tour wasn’t stopping anywhere in Wisconsin, which left Chicago, Peoria, St Paul or Duluth as my choices. Duluth was hardly the closest location, but once my sister decided to meet me there it made the most sense. I also have some friends there, former residents of Madison who are in love with their new town just over the Wisconsin border, who were also planning on going.

They didn’t arrive till after MMJ and circumstances kept my sister from attending, so I was on my own for the first two bands. Which was just fine. I got close fairly close, which made me think how awesome it would be to see Dylan from that spot. Alas, I knew I would want another beer, and that beer would lead to needing a trip to the port-a-potties. Thompson and his crack band played exactly a half hour, starting promptly at 6 and ending exactly at 6:30. I’d asked on the way in what the camera policy and was told I could have an “instamatic” type camera, but nothing bigger. Is instamatic even something they make anymore? I left mine in the car, which was a good decision because I was told immediately I couldn’t even take pictures on my iPhone. Thompson was having a great time, his distinctive voice still sounding exactly the same after all these years. He welcomed us to the Americanarama, imploring us to keep it a secret that he wasn’t from America.

My clearest memory from the first time I saw My Morning Jacket is a sea of hair, much of it prettier than mine. Only the drummer and lead singer Jim James still have gracefully flowing locks, but cutting their hair certainly didn’t cause them to lose their strength. It was an entertaining 45 minute set, but they do have a tendency to be too jammy. When they are tight and on track they can be mesmerizing, but they lose me when the extended jams start. I only have their first two records, but I still knew quite a few of their songs. Despite the fact that I am sure he was wearing Hardee’s uniform pants (his or from a thrift store I don’t know), James looked adorable, the enthusiasm written all over his baby face.

I had no idea that my friends were there specifically to see Wilco. I just figured that not much happened in Duluth so you just went to whatever happened to be in town. Nope, turns out Wilco was on his bucket list. Unfortunately he wasn’t very impressed, though he did like Jeff Tweedy’s hat. For my part I lost interest in Wilco after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, subsequent records were either noisy or boring, or both, but I still enjoy them live when they play anything from those first four records or from the Mermaid Avenue records they did with Billy Bragg. Luckily they do still draw a good chunk of every set from their early material. “Jesus Etc” from YHF may be the most perfect song they’ve ever written, and I still get a chill every time I hear it. Almost equally good are “California Stars” and the nonsensical “Hoodoo Voodoo,” both from Mermaid, which paired their original music to Woody Guthrie’s lyrics. In what may have been perceived as a pandering move, they brought guest vocalists (I didn’t know it then, but it was Duluth music royalty, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low) out to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I can’t speak for the rest of the Duluthians, but it didn’t work on my friends. Apparently you don’t mess with that song around these parts, where everybody knows somebody who lost someone in the wreck. Personally, I thought it was pretty cool.

It had been a long day, but Bob Dylan and his band made it worth the wait. While he’d been known to pick up a guitar recently, he’d played almost exclusively keyboards or harmonica for the last several years. He was playing even less tonight, sometimes just standing at the keyboard or holding the harmonica and blowing only a couple notes. It probably bothered some people, but I was just fine with it. (Obviously they’d never seen the occasional mess that was called a show in the Eighties.) It was a good set list, surprisingly heavy on songs from last year’s release Tempest. Surprising considering that he didn’t play anything from the then just released record when we saw him back in October. The plodding “Early Roman Kings” with its chugging blues riff isn’t my favorite, but the pretty “Soon After Midnight” and the lighthearted “Duquesne Whistle” were both great. “Simple Twist of Fate” is one of my top ten all-time favorite Dylan songs, and I always get pretty excited when it shows up live.

I thought I never needed to hear the omnipresent “Tangled Up in Blue” again, I was wrong. He’s completely reinvented it yet again. The melody was more lighthearted, more, for lack of a better word, jazzy, than it had been all the dozens of times I’d heard it before. Dylan has long been known to change the words to songs live, and I thought I’d heard most versions of “Blue,” but he pulled a new line out of his hat tonight. “She lit a burner on the stove,” the verse began in its usual way, “and then brushed off the dust.” He had my attention. “She looked at me and said to me you don’t look like someone I can trust.” Or maybe it was “you do look like,” but I like it better with the “don’t.” Funny what a difference a few simple changes can make. This was the song I was talking about the next day. This was my 44th Bob Dylan show, it’s good to know he can still blow me away.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Jon Dee Graham & the Fighting Cocks; July 6, 2013; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I said in the e-mail announcement for this show that Jon Dee Graham gets better every time I see him, and I definitely wasn’t kidding. After last summer’s show, it seemed impossible that he could be even better solo in December, but he was. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this band show blew that one away. He realized it too. Just before the encore, he claimed that this had been his favorite show at Kiki’s. “Are you recording this?” he asked me. After I said I was, he asked “Do me a favor, after I die, give a copy of this to my kids so that they will know what I did.” I will gladly do that… many, many years from now. He played just shy of two and a half hours. After the first hour he asked if anyone was going to leave if they took a break, no one did. They second hour flew by so fast that my videotape had run out by the time I checked it, tragically it was on the third verse of “Airplane.”

He played a lot of songs, probably two dozen or more, but he also told a lot of stories. He told us the story of the Christmas card drawn by his nephew that was the inspiration for “Robot Moving,” and that just may have saved his life. He told us about the guy from the Latin soul band the Royal Jesters (the band from “At the Dance”) who was working in a convenience store, and who had played his high school prom. “Maybe,” the guy said, eyeing him suspiciously, “we played a lot of proms.” He talked about his renewed vigor for life, and how it just keeps getting better. He even ventured to give us some advice, “though the very idea of me giving advice is criminal.” Neither he nor the audience seemed to have tired at all by the time he wrapped it up with the sinister growl of “Laredo.” Not wanting to leave us with such a dark song, he finished the night with his son William’s rocker “Rock & Roll in the Streets,” which he wrote when he was five. And won’t play anymore now that he’s a teen because “I wrote that when I was just a kid.”

The night was pretty much all about love. Before playing “Majesty of Love” he introduced it as a love song, and paused before continuing “well, they’re all love songs, but this is a love love song.” I know what he means. About “Volver,” which is in Spanish, he explained, “this is a country love song… just not our country.” And then of course there is how much he loves playing the basement. He calls this time of year “The Run for the Roses,” a march north to play highlight gigs at Fitzgeralds American Music Festival and my house. “There are so many towns the size of Madison that would kill to have something like this,” he proclaimed, then smiled, “this one’s for you Kiki.” It may have been the best “Airplane” ever.

There was also a fair amount of picking on absentee bass player Andrew Duplantis and his gig with Son Volt. “Andrew has a young son he needs to provide for, so he needs to make some money.” Andrew definitely missed us too, texting forlorn messages to drummer George Duron “I bet you guys are at Kiki’s now…” Duron responded with a picture of an ice cold Spotted Cow which Andrew had developed a taste for last summer. The only person who didn’t seem to miss Duplantis was his replacement Naj Conklin. In fact he hoped that the new Son Volt record really takes off and Andrew is kept very busy. He went so far as to say he had to write a new bucket list since the number one item on it was to play with Jon Dee Graham. I love Andrew too, but I’ll admit I really liked the new guy. Too bad he won’t be with Jon Dee when he comes back in August. But the good news is that Jon Dee will be back in August to play Orton Park Fest.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Fitzgerald’s American Music Festival; July 5, 2013; Fitzgerald’s, Berwyn

Loves It! was ridiculously excited about being invited to play Fitzgerald’s American Music Festival after their show there in February. In fact, it was all they talked about after arriving at my house to play a show the next day. It’s a great festival, Fitzgerald’s is a great venue, and I used to go every year since Jon Dee Graham & the Fighting Cocks are always featured performers. But it seemed to get more crowded every year, and seemingly hotter, and I hadn’t been in several years. Of course the biggest factor is that Jon Dee started coming to me. It no longer seemed as important to make the trip. In fact I wasn’t even planning on going this year till I had the brilliant realization that I could ride down with Loves It! and back home with Jon Dee, who was be playing at my house the next night. In addition to those frequent house guests, another KHoRM favorite, the Bottle Rockets were also playing, as well as James McMurtry, Melissa Ferrick and John Fullbright, who I didn’t know, but Vaughn could not stop talking about and Jon Dee called “the little genius from Oklahoma.” Unfortunately most everyone seemed to be playing at the same time as someone else.

I drifted around waiting for Loves It!’s set, catching a bit of another perennial guest Terrance Simian, whose infectious, feel-good zydeco is the perfect thing for a beautiful early evening, and then a few songs by Sally & the Tall Boys inside. Loves It! played the Side Bar, the smallest of the three stages and folks crammed the bar before they started. It was another high energy set not to be derailed by the bleed through of the Bottle Rockets who were playing the outside stage nearby. I was torn between the two, but watched most of their set before ducking out to catch the second half of the Bottle Rockets. They had just gotten to the point in the show where they play the new song that lead singer Brian Henneman wrote for his wife after she let him buy the gorgeous Rickenbacker guitar he was playing. He once again told the story of the not-so-secret code contained in the lyrics, admitting himself that it wasn’t that top secret anymore. From there they went into the “virtual hits,” the fan favorites that surely would have been hits, you know, if only they were more popular. “Radar Gun,” “Indianapolis,” “I’ll Be Hanging Around,” and newer song, the amiable “Long Way,” all figured in to their set-ending run.

I watched a few of James McMurtry’s slow-burning stories outside before deciding to check out Melissa Ferrick inside. I ran into a friend who asked if I was staking out my spot for Jon Dee. Good point, it must have seemed unlikely that I would choose Ferrick over McMurtry, but the truth was that I really enjoyed her. I’d seen her play a few songs solo before, but that didn’t not prepare me for the energy she had with a full band. Yes, she looks angry, and some of her songs are certainly angry, but many of them are smart and sweet. I enjoyed her and her terrific band a surprising amount. And then I staked out my spot for Jon Dee.

In all the years that Jon Dee has been playing the basement he’s never had the same set of Fighting Cocks with him, and I’ve joked that I never know which Cocks I’m going to get. I was pleased to see charming and adorable George Duron behind the drum kit for the second year in a row. Bassist Andrew Duplantis had already told me that, sadly, he wouldn’t be on this run since he would still be out with Son Volt, so I wasn’t surprised to see someone new in his spot. I was however surprised by how distracting the new guy was. Tall and handsome, he seemed to be having the absolute time of his life (I found out later he was). It was a stunning set, nearly two hours long, and full of all the hits. “Airplane” and its lead-in song “I’ll Wait” came in the first half, and it was as powerful and emotional as ever. “Rosewood,” “Lucky Day” and “Beautifully Broken” were all terrific. The raw “Rock & Roll in the Streets,” written by his son William, was a perfect closer to a night of great music.

I was delighted to run into so many friends there. Some from Madison, and some who would be in my basement the next night, and some that I only ever see at Fitzgeralds. It was especially great to see Camille who needs to come to my house sometime soon. I definitely need to make the American Music Festival a habit again.

Loves It!

The Bottle Rockets

Melissa Ferrick Trio

Jon Dee Graham & the Fighting Cocks

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Loves It!/The Sparrow & the Sky; July 3, 2013; High Noon Saloon

I currently have a policy of not booking bands I haven’t seen, which became necessary after a bad experience, and it helps to narrow the list of prospective house concert offers I get. Even being referred by a friend who has played isn’t usually good enough. So it’s a good thing I met the Shotgun Party when I did. Back then I wasn’t approached by many bands I didn’t know, but they had been sent my way by Austin’s Brennen Leigh, who had played a gorgeous show the year before. Shotgun Party went on to become a Madison favorite, playing two Sugar Maple Traditional Music Fests and a couple High Noon shows before disbanding. Lead singer/guitarist Jenny Parrott had already formed Loves It! with boyfriend Vaughn Walters before the Shotgun Party played their last show, and since then have fallen into a comfortable pattern of a show in the winter at my house and a summer show at the High Noon.

Tonight’s show had the advantage of being an early show before the annual fireworks spectacular Rhythm and Booms began at Warner Park, and a fair sized crowd found refuge from the heat inside the cool bar. While their debut CD Yay! doesn’t really do them justice, I have no doubt that their sophomore effort will. Every time I see them they get better. Jenny’s intriguing, unique voice a little more trained, the interaction between them even more fluid, and her fiddle playing more advanced. After playing in a band with Katie Rose, a definite fireworks kind of fiddler, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to pick up the instrument, but Jenny has and done well. The number one charm of Loves It! is the chemistry between Jenny and Vaughn, they are absolutely, adorably in love and it shows. Just the way they look at each other while playing, the smile, the twinkle, makes the show sparkle. From their opening song, the acapella “Katydid,” through their battlefield anthem, to the song about Vaughn’s hometown in West Virginia, the songs are diverse and interesting, not to mention immensely hummable. They saved the most memorable for the encore. “Dinosaur” finds Jenny leaving the stage and running around the room yelling “RAWR!” Though they haven’t spent much time there yet, they officially moved to Nashville earlier this year. Here’s hoping it brings good things for them.

Opening band the Sparrow and the Sky was surprised I remembered them from their set with the Water Liars a year and a half ago. I’m a little surprised too. They were the last of three duo bands that night and I’d likely had a few beers at that point. Another couple band, they were a good match for Loves It! as they balanced the zeal of the headliner with a quiet grace. The pair’s other band is the multi-member Croaker, a rock band that is in sharp contrast to the pretty folk they played tonight. Singer/guitarist Stephanie Birr has a gorgeous voice and I couldn’t believe that three years ago she didn’t think she could sing. I was even more jealous when I found out she just started playing guitar six months ago. Apparently some people have a lot of natural ability, and then there’s me.

The Sparrow and the Sky

Loves It!