The Wisconsin State Journal had featured the House of Righteous Music in the Sunday’s Best section of the paper and a bunch of people had joined the Facebook group and asked to be added to the e-mail list. This was the first show since then… and ten people showed up. It seems that the increase in profile did absolutely nothing to help attendance, but if there is anyone who couldn’t care less about how many people he was playing to, it’s Two Cow Garage’s Shane Sweeney. It’s hard to imagine anyone being happier to be here. While it wasn’t the first time he played solo, he still credits a performance at the house several years ago as the first place that he felt like people really cared, and really listened when he played. It’s impossible not to listen when his voice is like a sugar-coated Tom Waits, his lyrics smart, and his melodies infectious. He says he’s been listening to a lot of E Street Radio these days, and the one thing he’s learned from Springsteen is “Knick knack paddy whack, give a dog a bone. That guy rhymes the shit out of everything. I guess that’s why they call him the Boss.” Opener Ryan Parker was similarly enthusiastic. Usually Two Cow Garage's tour manager, he was excited to get a chance to play his own music on the road. He was sweet and engaging, and reminded me more than a little of Sweeney's Two Cow bandmate Micah Schnabel.
Sweeney is currently working on a new solo record, a follow up to The Finding Time, with Todd May producing. “You guys met Todd, so you can imagine how long this is taking. There have been many more beers consumed than songs recorded.” The set combined older songs with some so new he couldn’t get past the first line without going back to his new songs notebook to look it up. From the former camp was “Saturday Night,” the first song I’d ever heard him sing, and so of course it’s still my favorite. “This is song is about breaking up and getting really drunk and hanging out with your friends instead of hanging out with your girlfriend, and this song is for Kiki,” he said by way of introduction, eliciting lots of laughs from the audience. If you believe Sweeney, they are all break-up songs. He introduced one as being at least less depressing than the others, because he “doesn’t do happy songs.” And that couldn’t be more different than the man himself, who, as I mentioned before, couldn’t be happier.
As he neared the end of his set, he played a gorgeous version of Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now,” which was coincidentally the second time it had been played in the basement this summer (Ian Moore did it back in May). Dylan often makes an appearance in Sweeney’s art. Not the man himself but his songs. Every morning Sweeney draws a line from whatever song he wakes up with in his head. There’s always a skinny dude with crazy hair and a beard, which he says is always him. He had a book full of them tonight and while I was disappointed not to find any Dylan, I did end up with two pretty great pieces featuring America (“Sister Golden Hair”) and Van Morrison (“Jackie Wilson Said”). He took requests at the end which he played in order of how well he knew them, least well first. First up was “Mediocre,” followed by the fast-talking blues tune that caused band mate Micah Schnabel’s dad to tell him, “I really like that Dylan song you wrote”, and finally “a Tom Waits song” which always my sister’s request. Tonight it was the brilliant “Hold On,” the room was silent.
The show had just ended when the members of Loves It! showed up. They had just played the Sugar Maple fest and were crashing at the house tonight. For singer/multi-instrumentalist Jenny Parrott the jam after the show is just as great as the show. She walked up to Shane with her violin and said “Hi I’m Jenny, wanna to jam?” They played a couple of Shane’s songs before she talked Liz into playing some fiddle, some of which ended up on tape. Unfortunately the tape had run out before they played one last song, Dylan’s “Isis.” It was tailor made for the guitar/fiddle duo and despite the wordiness Sweeney nailed it as far as I can tell. It was definitely the first time that Dylan song had been played in the basement. Sweet.