Friday, August 29, 2014

Rocky Votolato; August 29, 2014; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Despite the fact that I’ve worked with the Undertow guys many, many times, unless it is someone I’ve hosted before they don’t always ask me if I’m interested in hosting some of their other artists.  Knowing this, I periodically check their website to see what they have happening.  I never would have gotten Tim Kasher otherwise.  This time I was excited to see Rocky Votolato was heading to the Midwest, unfortunately Madison wasn’t on his itinerary.  He did however have two nights slated for Chicago.  So I e-mailed them and said that if he changed his mind about doing two nights there, I would LOVE to have him.  They answered quickly, to the effect of “screw Chicago, you got it.”  I’d been a fan of Votolato’s since my friend Pete handed me the store copy of his record Makers in 2006 and said “I think you will like this.”  He was right, and I brought it back the next day and bought my own copy.  It was one of those serendipitously timed events, when I searched for his tour schedule it turned out he was going to be in Madison only a few weeks later (coincidentally with another house concert alumni, Damien Jurado).  And that was the last time he’d played Madison before tonight.

He couldn’t have possibly known that Makers was my introduction, and still my favorite record of his, but it figured heavily into the set.  The languorous title track which quietly admits to “filling and re-filling up the glass with Makers” was a lovely stop for the encore, though after he finished he claimed that was too dark a song to end on.  Bonus, another song.  The quaintly catchy “Tinfoil Hats” conjures imagines of Joaquin Phoenix in a shiny chapeau hiding in a closet to avoid alien detection in the movie “Signs.”  But even though he played many of those songs he didn’t do my favorite of those tracks, “She Was Only in It for the Rain.”  That leaves something for next time.  I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get what I requested.  As he puzzled over what to play for the encore a number of suggestions came from the audience, who just like me had been waiting forever for him to come back.  “I’d love to play those songs,” he apologized, “I just don’t know them, honestly.”  He’d suggested earlier that he had been at a bit of a crossroads lately, unsure if he was going to continue down the music path.  This tour and new songs like the very appealing “I Wish I Was a Tennenbaum” suggest maybe he has chosen, and chosen wisely I might add.  And I think tonight may have convinced him he shouldn’t wait eight years to play Madison again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Orton Park; August 24, 2014

The best part about Madison in the summer is all the free festivals on the east side.  Despite some stormy weather over the weekend, the show went on.  There were great sets from the Midwest Beat and Lydia Loveless, but the best part was a kid who played a stick for the Beat's entire set.

The Midwest Beat

Lydia Loveless

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chris Mills; August 19, 2014; a house in Lake Geneva

I had fully intended to see many more of Chris Mills's living room shows, but as it turns out this is the only one I made it to outside of my house.  Funnily enough, the hostess of tonight's show was nicknamed Coco, "Hi Coco, I'm Kiki."  That was fun to say.  A big fan, Coco was hosting the show at her sister's house, which was also the house they grew up in, a spacious and gorgeous home with impossibly high ceilings and an in-ground pool out back sitting back from the road at the end of a cul-de-sac. Other than me and Shelia Sachs, a friend of Chris's from Chicago, Coco knew everyone in the room.  They were relatives, friends and co-workers, most of whom had never heard of Chris Mills.  But they enjoyed it, "that was my favorite song so far!" one excited audience member exclaimed after a song.

There were a handful of songs that differed from the set that he played in my basement, including the hostess's request for the Flaming Lips' "Waiting for Superman" which Mills had done on his terrific covers record.  I'm not sure I'd ever heard him do it live, and if I had, it would have been a long time ago.  It was totally worth the drive, and I left definitely wishing I was going to see more of these shows. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chris Mills; August 17, 2014; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

Chris Mills had played to a capacity crowd with his band the Distant Stars back in January, so it was difficult to figure out why ticket sales had been so sluggish for his first official “Living Room” show at the house.  I’ve worked with Undertow many times on these shows, which are usually played unplugged in the living rooms of people who don’t usually have shows, and they range from immediate sell outs (like Califone and Tim Kasher) to only a handful of fans.  It was looking somewhat bleak, only a couple tickets had been sold as of a few days before, but there were folks who were swayed last minute, perhaps by my sad plea in an e-mail the day before, and it ended up being an acceptable, and very enthusiastic, crowd.  Mills and I both chided each other for being worried.  

Even though it was only the second night of the tour, he decided to save his voice and opted to use the PA, you know, since it was there.  And luckily my usual sound guy was already planning on coming.  In the spirit of the living room show, he gave us more background on the songs than he usually would.  “I just turned forty last week,” he started off, “so I’ll be talking a lot about regret and looking back in sadness.”  He introduced “Love in the Time of Cholera” as a song based on/inspired by a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, “he died recently,” he added, “he was quite old, not unlike myself, now.”  “And like the characters in the book who are old people, who waited a long time to get together and have sex with each other.”  Then, thinking about what he had said, “so, basically it’s a disgusting novel.”  He also gave people the chance to make requests, but “do it early, because later I’ll be tired.”  He had re-learned a lot of old songs as requests from the hosts, so the set list contained a sampling from his entire catalog, including some songs that he hadn’t played in a decade.  “But really, if there is something you want to hear,” he paused dramatically, “that I have written on this list and have practiced, I’d be happy to play it.”

I was hoping that he would already know to play “Dry Eye,” still my favorite song of his, so I requested “Lips Are Like Poison,” a song I hadn’t heard him play in ages, perhaps since I requested it at a show at Maxwell’s many, many years ago.  After introducing it as my choice, he added that it had almost cost him a record contract.  I think it’s an amazing, if decidedly dark, song, but I can see where the line “Even if you wanted me I’m too drunk to fuck” might have rubbed some people the wrong way.  He did know to play “Dry Eye” and about halfway through the show he asked if it was a good time to play it.  I had to ask if that was a rhetorical question, now is always a good time to play it.  “This is Kiki’s favorite song… ever,” he claimed before adding, “not really, but she makes me feel that way and I appreciate it.”  Ha, little does he know, it just might be might be my favorite song ever.  If it isn’t that, it’s probably the title track to “The Silver Line” which may just be a perfect pop song.  Like many of the songs, the solo acoustic version was equally as awesome as the band version I know by heart.

Like every Mills show I spent the whole night smiling.  It’s so amazing to have my favorite songwriter play in my basement, not to mention for the second time this year.  I’m a lucky girl.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Baseball Project; August 10, 2014; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I’ve known Scott McCaughey for years, having befriended him following one of John Wesley Harding’s All Male Threesome shows at the High Noon, back even before I was hosting righteous music at my house.  I’d been telling him for years to come play with whatever outfit he wanted, solo or with one of his many bands.  I never expected to get the Baseball Project, his super group which also includes the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn, his wife Linda Pitmon and Mike Mills, who plays in REM, but that’s what happened.  (Thanks again Mile of Music Fest!)  I was a little worried setting the suggested donation at $25 on a Sunday night, but I didn’t need to be, and the show sold out quickly.  I had another couple dozen on the wait list when I proposed a double header to McCaughey.  It might have been the way I phrased it, but he jumped at the idea.  Problem was, they were supposed to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch at Miller Park that day, which would make setting up for a 5:30 show difficult.  After some thought they came up with a solution, their tour manager would bring the van and all the equipment to Madison and get set up.  Meanwhile a friend would whisk them out of Miller Park immediately after they fulfilled their obligation and deliver them to my door.

It almost worked perfectly.  We weren’t quite ready to open the doors at 5 as I had promised, but when they did open, the folks who’d been more or less having a tailgate party in the driveway filed in efficiently and the show started just a few minutes late.  Not bad.  It didn’t seem real until a friend who’d been at the game sent me a photo of the foursome on Miller Park’s big screen.  Very cool.  While I had been mostly immune to the Mike Mills fever that had undoubtedly been a factor in selling out both shows (I was all about Scott McCaughey finally playing my house), it was a pretty cool sight to have their tour manager open the doors of the Sprinter to reveal a van full of road cases tagged “REM Athens GA.”  It was even more surreal when he told us that the bass Mills was playing was destined for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, immediately swearing us to secrecy until the guitar was safely back in Athens.  I’ll admit I may have let that slip to a few folks, but only the trustworthy ones.

There were a few diehards (most of them Steve Wynn fans) who signed up for both shows, but a few more caught the baseball fever and ended up staying for both (including the Bottle Rockets Mark Ortmann, making his first appearance as an audience member).  It was worth seeing both, only a few songs were part of both sets, including the ridiculously catchy two minute blast “Ichiro Goes to the Moon” from Volume Two and the infectious “Hola America!” from the new Third.  “Larry Yount,” the tale of Robin’s lesser known brother who almost made the big time, seemed an obvious choice given Yount’s ties to Wisconsin, while Mike Mills’ impassioned plea to get Dale Murphy in the hall of fame “To the Veteran’s Committee” is so sublime I didn’t even miss him doing his usual REM tune “Don’t Go Back to Rockdale.”  All needed to be played twice.

In fact both sets were pretty even in terms of quantity and quality, but if I had to pick a favorite set it would be the second owing to the inclusion of embarrassingly catchy “Ted F*cking Williams” and the magical tale of “Harvey Haddix.”  The latter tells the unbelievable story of Haddix who they argue should be credited with a perfect game after having pitched twelve perfect innings and not one more, while I had the former stuck in my head for days after.  The other bonus of later show was a short three song opening set from Trapper Schoepp.  When he played the house back in June he played a song called “Dear Prospect” about a friend of his who had just been drafted by the Dodgers.  After he played it, a friend suggested that they should come back and play it before tonight’s show.  Luckily that worked into Trapper and his brother Tanner’s schedule perfectly.  Even though it was only three songs they made some new fans quickly.  I do apologize for stealing his “opening pitch” analogy from Twitter.

The night flew by and before I knew the Sprinter was packed up again and there were hugs all around.  I thanked McCaughey profusely for making this happen and told Wynn I would see him soon.  As it turned out I had booked a Steve Wynn solo show for October before I had even booked tonight’s show.  Luckily he dug the room, and I look forward to having him back.  And I’m hopeful for another Baseball Project show next season.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Water Liars/The Midwest Beat; August 7, 2014

I despaired when St Louis’s Theodore broke up.  Even though no one ever came to see them at the house, those were three of my favorite house concerts ever.  Luckily Theodore’s lead singer Justin Kinkle-Schuster immediately formed the Water Liars with friend Andrew Bryant.  They’d been a band for three records already but I hadn’t had them at the house yet.  I owe Appleton’s Mile of Music Fest a thank you, because it brought them (and the Baseball Project a few days later) to Wisconsin with some schedule holes to fill.  The Water Liars were touring with three strong albums and a ton of great press under their belts, resulting in a crowd that equaled all three Theodore crowds combined.  Some of that thanks has to go to openers the Midwest Beat, who suggested themselves as openers when I wasn’t sure who to ask, and then did a great job promoting it. 
With three lead singers, there’s something for everyone to like in Midwest Beat.  Tim Schweiger brings the power pop swagger, while Matt Joyce does the alt country rock to perfection.  Meanwhile bassist Kyle Denton (who I found out is also one of Trapper Schoepp’s Shades) is the right amount of rock and roll, and probably a little bit of trouble too.  They played a tightly economical forty minute set that left everyone wanting more.  All the more reason to go to Orton Park a few weeks later for their mid-afternoon set. 
The Water Liars also left a lot of broken hearts behind.  Where the Midwest Beat specializes in the catchy, three minute pop song, the Liars believe in gut-wrenching beauty.  Kinkel-Schuster’s voice continues to amaze me.  Not content to just play album versions of the songs, they’ve reinvented some of them even better than before.  Wyoming’s stand-out track “Linens” was, improbably, even better tonight than on record.  Something that didn’t escape Bill Swan’s notice, “Wasn’t that the song from your Best Of compilation?” he asked.  “Wow, it sounds even better live.”  The band which started as a guitar/drums duo became a trio a couple years ago with the addition of bassist GR.  Despite the power trio appearance they can still keep it quiet, and relished the chance to do so tonight.  They were happy to play seated after playing so many “rock shows” recently.  
It might have been the reason they played a little longer than usual too.  They always end too soon, but tonight’s set was almost an hour, and the truth is I could listen to them all night.  After a relatively rocking song, Bryant and GR stood up as Justin thanked everyone for coming and announced there would be one more song.  The basement fell silent as he picked out the melody of “Let It Breathe.”  “There’s a room inside my heart where no one ever goes, it’s been boarded up and locked for years and everything is gone.  Then you came along and cut yourself a key, swept the floors and opened all the windows, said baby let it breathe.”  It was slower than the album version, more reverb and more emotion.  And it was breathtaking.  They could have played more, but that was the perfect, final, amazing note.  Swoon.

The Midwest Beat

 The Water Liars