Saturday, August 24, 2013

Orton Park Fest; August 24, 2013; Orton Park

Madison’s quartet of eastside summer festivals are some of the best entertainment you can find for the price.  Since the price is free, the Waterfront Festival, Fete de Marquette, Orton Park Fest and Willy Street Fair attract as many music lovers as they do art lovers, food cart lovers and families looking for all ages fun.  And most of the folks in attendance fit into more than one category.  I think it is fair to say that there were a few more Jon Dee Graham lovers by the end of the night.  Graham and his rhythm section, the Fighting Cocks, put on perhaps the best show I’ve seen them play outside the basement.  The Fighting Cocks are seldom the same two musicians, today it was longtime Graham sideman Andrew Duplantis on bass and a new face to me, James McMurtry’s drummer Darren Hess.  While he may have been a new face to me, it turns out he goes way back with Jon Dee, having played with him before he even released his first record.

I had been in Minneapolis the night before to see Jon Dee and company at Morrisey’s.  The swanky Irish pub was an unlikely venue for the band, the tiny stage and free admission didn’t exactly bode well for the band, but it turned into a pretty great show with enough quietly respectful fans to balance out the folks who were talking.  Tonight was another story, with a festival stage under them they had room to spread out and really deliver.  Jon Dee’s enthusiastic and infectious charm converted the uninitiated and impressed even those who were already in the know.  He drew from his impressive catalog choosing some of the most effective songs from his canon.  Always my favorite, “Airplane” and its lead in “I’ll Wait” were stunning, and a few people even joined in on the chorus to the latter, repeating the mantra as Jon Dee encouraged, like “you’ll really be there.”  I’d asked for “Lucky Day” but was just as happy with another track from It’s Not as Bad as It Looks the  artfully wounded “Beautifully Broken,” with its message for all the “drugglers and strugglers, God’s broken little birds.”  As happy as the crowd was with the set, I don’t think anyone was happier than Jon Dee himself.  “I think we reached some people tonight.”  I think he’s right.

The final band of the night, the Bottle Rockets, had been watching from the side of the stage, and they seemed a little intimidated about following the force of nature they had just witnessed.  But if anyone can bring the energy, it’s them.  Always a killer live band, they did not disappoint.  The handful of new songs bode well for a new record and the selection of “virtual hits” (fan favorites that should have been) should sell a lot of copies of the upcoming Bloodshot reissue of their earlier material.  The massive 46 track two disc set compiles their first two releases, self titled and Brooklyn Side, along with live tracks and outtakes.  Any Bottle Rockets show wouldn’t be complete without “Indianapolis,” “Radar Gun” and “$1000 Car,” but one song we don’t always hear is “When I Was Dumb.”  My favorite song, they know it is the one track I will always ask for.  When they hadn’t played it before the encore, I was pretty sure it was off the list for tonight, but I was about to be pleasantly surprised.  When they came back lead singer Brian Henneman announced the song, saying “sometimes she gets it and sometimes she doesn’t, it just proves that sometimes it pays to be a pain in the ass.”  I was embarrassed, but delighted.  In fact with half the bands on today’s line-up having been basement alumni, I felt pretty special all night.  Thanks Orton Park!     

The Kissers

 Jon Dee Graham & the Fighting Cocks

The Bottle Rockets

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Andre Williams & the Goldstars/L'Assassins; August 22, 2013; Lee's Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis

This was my first trip to Lee's Liquor Lounge and I was not disappointed. It looked like it was pulled through a time warp from the Fifties, from the vintage bar to the cases full of Elvis figurines above the merch table. This was exactly where Andre belonged. Openers L'Assassins were also a perfect match. An all-girl group with animal print outfits and a love of surf rock, what could be better? I can only hope my next visit to this fantastic venue is sooner rather than later.

Lee's Liquor Lounge


Andre Williams & the Goldstars

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Andre Williams & the Goldstars; August 21, 2013; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I’ve invited my mom to my house concerts several times, “I’m too old for that,” she protests. Well, now I’ve had a performer who is older than her, maybe that will convince her. Of all the unlikely house concerts I’ve done, this may have been the most unlikely. Williams is a legend, the black Godfather, Mr. Rhythm, co-writer of the timeless “Shake a Tailfeather,” and now, KHoRM alumni. I had several people ask me “how did this happen?” I tend to make it a longer story than it needs to be, but it starts with me meeting Goldstars’ keyboardist/Pravda Records owner Kenn Goodman at SXSW in 2011, and ends with me heading to Minneapolis with the band the day after this show to do merch for their gig at Lee’s Liquor Lounge.

In the 2000’s Williams has revitalized a stagnant career by recording with hip, young, bands like the Sadies, the Dirtbombs and Jack White. He’s put out records on White’s label, Yep Roc and Bloodshot. And thanks to the Goldstars, he tours, mostly Europe, but occasional festivals and short tours in the US. They were heading out on one of these short runs and asked if I would be interested in hosting a show to kick it off. Would I? I’m never sure that Madison is going to be as cool as I think it is, but it sold out in just a couple weeks. The Goldstars started the night with a handful of their own songs, ridiculously tight, catchy power pop, that the crowd loved. In fact, I sold more Goldstars CDs than I did Andre CDs after the show. Lead singer/bassist Sal has a magnetic stage presence, slightly goofy owing to a mop of curly hair, but riveting. In fact all the Goldstars are charming- effortless drummer Alex, wildly talented, handsome and heavily tattooed guitarist Jason, and Kenn, who serves as the charismatic emcee and ringleader for the whole thing.

After five songs, including an addictive surf instrumental, they brought Andre on stage. He’s played clubs of all sizes all over the world so I wasn’t sure how he would take to the basement, but he seemed to love it and waved off the instrumental break he usually takes mid-set. And why not, it was a packed house with an enthusiastic crowd. I had tried to leave a dance floor in front of the stage but I found out quickly that people only wanted to stand when they wanted to and they set up the unused chairs. Still, despite the fact that they were mostly seated, they spent more time on their feet than I expected, standing up for one of the catchier numbers and sitting back down for the slow ones. I’ve joking called Andre “a dirty old man” more than once, but with song titles like “Jailbait” and “Let Me Put It In” it’s kind of hard to miss the sexual overtones of his songs.

I was a little worried that the steps would be too much for him but he strode down them in grand fashion to make his entrance after Kenn’s enthusiastic intro. His shiny saddle shoes announcing his arrival before his pinstriped suit was fully in view. A few songs in he shed his hat and coat and hung them over the mike stand which had been empty since he plucked the microphone from it to start the show. At the end of the set he put them back on and made his way upstairs, only to return for the encore in a new outfit. There’s a first time for everything in the basement I guess, and this was the first outfit change I can remember.

What a great night, I wish I had more R&B legends play the basement.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Purgatory Hill/Ian Moore; August 10, 2013; Hitching Post, Sturgeon Bay

For all but the seven years I lived in Texas, I’ve spent my whole life in Wisconsin, but until tonight I’d never been to Door County. Ian Moore was my fourth house concert, and maybe because it was so early on, he remains my favorite. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for the last six years to get him back. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, it’s that he just hasn’t toured the Midwest in the last half dozen years. The one time he did it was with his rock band the Lossy Coils who he says are too loud for the basement (admittedly he may be right). So when his booking agent sent me an e-mail saying that Moore would be playing at a bar in Door County tonight I was a little surprised. “He’s there on vacation with his family,” she hastened to tell me, “Pat MacDonald found out he was in town and asked him to play on his bill as a special guest.” It was nice of her to tell me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive just over three hours each way to see Moore play an opening set.

I woke up Saturday morning with no intention of going, but it’s amazing what an afternoon nap can do, and I got in the car for the long, but uneventful, drive. And here I was, in Door County, Wisconsin’s premier vacation destination. I certainly didn’t expect my first visit to be for three hours in a bar in the middle of nowhere, but I guess I needed to start slow. It was worth it for the look on Moore’s face when I walked through the door. He decided right then that he would finally accept MacDonald’s invitation to play the Steel Bridge Song Festival the next summer, and would play a show at the house on the same trip. I was already happy I came, and he hadn’t even played yet. The shows I’d seen recently had all been band shows, so part of what got me in the car was that I knew this would be a solo show. And it was as awesome as I could have hoped. Moore made his name as a guitar player, but it would be wrong to overlook his amazing voice, which soars from croon to effortless falsetto, from comforting to seductive.

He went back in his catalog for the bluesy “Satisfied,” and also played newer songs I didn’t know. It was an eclectic set in no way limited by the fact that he was playing acoustic instead of his usual electric, or that he was playing solo when normally he has a powerful rhythm section behind him. Moore has spent a lot more time in Door County than I have because his mother was from the area, and his reflections on her were poignant. He played a song that he had written for her and followed it with “Kangaroo Lake” about the Door County landmark (I never knew). I wasn’t sure that the crowd who was here to see Purgatory Hill would quiet down and listen to Moore’s set, but for the most part they did.

Purgatory Hill is the collaboration between Door County’s Pat MacDonald (a local hero for his efforts to save the town’s steel bridge) and Melanie Jane. MacDonald can be a bit of a one trick pony, but it’s a pretty good trick. He plays bluesy riffs on his odd looking guitar relative instrument and stomps a miked piece of plywood for rhythm. Melanie Jane contributes keyboards and vocals which give the songs added substance. I couldn’t stay all night, I had a three hour drive back after all, but I did stay for the first set which I enjoyed. I’m not sure if I was more entertained by the band or by their biggest fan, an enthusiastic woman with bleach blonde hair and a tight Playboy T-shirt. She danced excitedly in front of the stage for most of their set, stopping only to encourage others to join her, make a request or ask me the name of the song they were currently playing. I must have looked like I would know.

Ian Moore

Purgatory Hill