Friday, September 27, 2013

Califone; September 27, 2013; “Living Room Show,” Milwaukee

This was only my third time at a house concert or “living room show” that was not in my own house.  While my first had been a roomy basement in DeForest, and the second Rick Wood’s spacious abode in St Louis, this one wasn’t a living room at all.  Instead it was a fairly swanky office space on the eighth floor of the old Blatz building downtown, where unfortunately the elevator wasn’t working.  “You can take the stairs,” the helpful concierge said after checking off my name, “or you can wait.”  “Wait for what?” I asked, thinking maybe they were going to have a helicopter airlift us up to the show.  “For it to be fixed,” she replied matter-of-factly.  I didn’t like the questionable time line for the second option, so we took the stairs.  Good call, at the end of the show we all trudged back down since the repairman hadn’t made any headway at all.

I’d been hoping to have Califone play at my house during their trek through the Midwest, and in fact had been holding the next night for them.  When that fell through, I decided to go to Milwaukee.  Lead singer, guitarist, and genius behind the band, Tim Rutili was definitely surprised to see me, and we talked about a Madison show sometime next year (yay!).  The band playing the living room shows is a skeletal representation of the band I’d gotten used to seeing.  The three members that usually back Rutilli were condensed into one guy, who alternated between guitar and keyboard, making enough sound to fill the high-ceilinged room.  The architecture of the room was beautiful, but it wasn’t always the best sounding, at times Rutili’s vocals would get lost in the echoes.  Or maybe that was just him.  Anyway, I missed those guys, but Rutili with his distinctive voice, always so full of emotion and longing, is the key to the band.  While I’d found the shows over the years to range from thrilling to pedantic, every show I’d seen since the release of All My Friends Are Funeral Singers had been genius, and they’d been top of my wish list for the basement for a long time.

The title track of Funeral Singers was certainly the highlight of the show, coming near the end of a set that had been half familiar.  Funeral Singers is a desperate and emotional song, but at the same time pretty and complex.  It made me want to go home and watch the movie of the same name (directed by Rutilli it’s a surprisingly engrossing narrative).  The set also included several songs from the new record, the lovely Stitches, which doesn’t have the former’s addictive streak, but is an engaging record all the same.  I can’t imagine a better place to hear its songs live than at an intimate living room show, I only wish I could have had one at my place too.  Hopefully soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ewert and the Two Dragons/Trapper Schoepp/Corey Hart; September 25, 2013; The Frequency

Every so often I skim the websites of the local venues to make sure there isn’t something interesting happening that I don’t know about.  While browsing the Frequency’s site I came across this show.  I’d never heard of the headliner, but I was of fan of both openers.  I always enjoy the ridiculously adorable Trapper Schoepp, and terrific local songwriter Corey Hart had just played at my house a couple months earlier.  I wondered what this strangely named band from Estonia was all about.  I found their record streaming online and pretty much fell in love with it immediately.  Folk sensibilities, ridiculously catchy melodies and a helping of glockenspiel added up to a pretty great record.  So much that I had my local record store guy order it for me before the show.

Live they were even better.  The songs sounded nearly identical to the record with the added bonus of watching the band play them.  The record sounds complicated, like it must have been the result of many takes, overdubs and multi-track vocals, but after seeing them it seems equally likely that they could have recorded the whole thing live.  I didn’t stop smiling from the moment they started the set with the addictive “In the End There’s Only Love,” also the opening track on the on the record, till the end of their set.  There wasn’t much of a crowd, but there were two girls who seemed to know the record as well as I did.  When the intriguingly mustached Ewert announced they were going to play “Good Man Down,” the record’s title track, they squealed with delight.  “You know it?” he asked them, looking surprised, and they responded they did.  I don’t always like keyboards, but they were an integral part to their songs, not to mention the lead singer’s instrument of choice. 

I only know two girls named Jolene, but I know at least twice as many songs with that name, and they’re all pretty great.  Ewert’s “Jolene” is probably is probably my second favorite track on the record, and live the ringing glockenspiel made it even better.  I couldn’t have loved this show more.  Since I already had the CD, I went up to the merch table after the show even though I had spent most of my money on drinks.  The T-shirt was very cool, despite the fact that the band name is written almost microscopically small next to a large conversation balloon which states, “You had me at hello.”  “But they didn’t even play that song,” I protested to the merch guy, who was also Estonian (in fact, I heard they also had a publicist and their own sound guy with them.  I guess they are big in Europe).  He was so delighted that I knew the record that he sold me the $20 T-shirt for $15.  I gave him my card and told him they should play at the house next time through.  I don’t know how often they tour, but that would be awesome.

Lucky Trapper Schoepp, he was doing the entire seventeen date run with them, from Austin to Vermont.  He was playing solo, his brother Tanner along to help drive and sing some backing vocals.  Five shows in they still weren’t sure how exactly to pronounce the lead singers name, but they were having a blast.  The Schoepp brothers are always charmingly sincere and their earnestness shines on stage.  The songs from their most recent release Run Engine Run are usually pretty literal (for instance, I’d thought the “Pins & Needles” song references to “pain” and “medication” were a metaphor for a relationship gone bad, but they’re really about being in the hospital with a bad back, huh), but they are ridiculously catchy and heartfelt.  Trapper did most of the set solo before calling Tanner up for help on a couple originals and a cover of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway.”  It was great to have Corey Hart opening the night with a short set of awesome songs, many of which I had just heard in my basement. 

Quite simply, a really good night.

Corey Hart

Trapper Schoepp (with Tanner)

Ewert & the Two Dragons


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Eef Barzelay/Dietrich Gosser; September 21, 2013; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

“One hundred shows,” Eef Barzelay pondered at the beginning of his set, “I don’t think I’ve done anything one hundred times.”  It is a little mind boggling to think about.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I first invited Tim Easton to come play in my basement, but I couldn’t have predicted that nine years later I would hit the triple digit mark and have had some, actually most, of my favorite musicians play.  I was trying to work out something really big for the century mark, but with the unpredictable nature of the way I book shows (whenever someone I want to play can play, I’ll do it, except on Wednesdays, that’s my volleyball night) it was hard to know exactly when that would be.  So when it turned out that Barzelay would have the honor it seemed perfect.

I’ve been a fan of his band Clem Snide since 1999’s Your Favorite Music.  I’ve seen the band dozens of times over the years, mostly in Madison and Chicago, but also once memorably in Barcelona (with Andrew Bird opening).  I’ve also seen him several times solo, at CafĂ© Montmartre, one of the few great shows I can remember seeing there, and twice at Indie Coffee.  The small coffee shop on Regent St was packed both times he played, and it was after the second that I e-mailed him suggesting he play at the House of Righteous Music next time he was in the area.  It took just over a year, but it finally happened.  I had two requests for him.  The first, “Ice Cube,” is over a dozen years old, and he laughed when I said it, “I don’t remember any of the words to that song,” he claimed.  I also asked for “Something Beautiful,” a song I had first heard at that show in Barcelona with Andrew Bird on violin.  “I’ll play one of those,” he promised after I made my request.

Despite having played so many shows over the years, including many house concerts, he seemed strangely nervous.  Or it could have just been his quirky charm.  “Don’t worry, I’ll play one that you know soon,” he assured us after starting with a handful of new songs.  Eventually he switched to the ukulele for several songs, “I’m glad I picked this up,” he smiled.  He did indeed play “Something Beautiful,” its list of irrational behaviors making the audience laugh.  “You make me wanna not turn the wipers on when it begins to rain,” he says before adding “you make me wanna break… break… something beautiful.”  He also dedicated the title track from Your Favorite Music to me and my one hundred shows.  I had promised Journey covers but he turned to a different classic rock mainstay tonight.  “I want you to want me,” he implored, “I need you to need me.”  The Cheap Trick cover, done his unique Eef way, was definitely a hit. 

I was also delighted to have Dietrich Gosser opening.  I have been a fan of his since seeing him with the Mountain Goats nearly ten years ago, and have asked him to play at the house many times.  He had just released a new record Oh to Begin! a few weeks earlier, and played many of the songs from it tonight.  The title track sounded great and early favorite “In the Morning” was stellar.  Old favorites like “Ocean” and “Abraham” were certainly welcome too.  I was thrilled that he had percussionist Dan Kuemmel along with him tonight, who as always added another dimension to Gosser’s already intriguing songs.  They couldn’t have been more on, and it may be the best set I’ve seen from the two of them.  After the show was over and all the patrons gone, tonight’s players and sound guy Jeremiah Nelson all hung out for awhile.  We talked about what a great show it had been, I couldn’t have wished for a better hundredth.  

Dietrich Gosser

 Eef Barzelay

Friday, September 20, 2013

Damien Jurado; September 20, 2013; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

For most of my shows the band shows up early, I make dinner, they set up, sound check, hang out.  I’ve never been nervous that the performer wasn’t going to show up until I hosted David Bazan last year.  The sold out crowd was all here at 8 pm, but Bazan didn’t show up till 8:10.  He quickly set up and started the show, playing a seventy minute set during which he answered whatever random questions people threw at him.  So when Jurado wasn’t here at 8:15, I didn’t panic, I figured he just rolled the same way.  When it got to be 8:30 I was a little nervous, after all the next night was my 100th show, I’d already ordered the cake.  If tonight didn’t happen I’d have to scrape off the frosting and write 99 instead.  I called one of the guys from Undertow, “He’s not here yet, should I be worried?”  Turns out Juado’s flight from Seattle had left him seriously jet-lagged and he’d slept through his alarm at the hotel. 

He spent the rest of the night apologizing for it and I am pretty sure he was guilted into playing a few more songs than he had planned to make it up to everyone.  Like Bazan, he answered all questions that were thrown his way.  And for many of them the answers were surprising.  Unlike Bazan, I could actually hear the answers.  Turns out he never meant to be a musician or write songs.  His ideal job would be a flower delivery man he claimed, but the songs keep coming and he seems to have no choice but to write them down.  His nonchalance about his ease of writing must have been hard to hear for any songwriters in the audience who labor over their craft.  He gave us a surprising sneak preview into what he would be doing after this short house concert tour.  Turns out he had done a song with Moby for the latter’s new record and he was going on tour with him to sing that one song every night.  There were a week’s rehearsals in LA before they would head out, and a list of requirements he needed to follow.  For instance it stipulated that he had to wear all white while performing.  His girlfriend pointed out that it didn’t say “what” he had to wear and immediately suggested a polar bear costume.  Now that I want to see.

The songs that came between the talking weren’t quite as memorable and much shorter on surprising revelations, but they were uniformly pretty and mostly forlorn.  The more uplifting only got as high as bittersweet.  I enjoyed watching the rapt attention of the audience almost as much as I did the show.  People seemed afraid to breathe, whether for fear of destroying the mood or their own rapture.  And they were definitely afraid to use the bathroom, even the muffled sound of water seemed loud when the only other sounds were a man and his guitar.

Sure, it could have gone a little smoother, but I’d say show number 99 was a success.  If only because I didn’t have to mess with frosting.