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.