Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sebadoh/Saturday Night Duets; September 25, 2014; High Noon Saloon

I'd rather see one of Lou Barlow with the Missing Men, or revisiting the glory of Folk Implosion, but I'll still go see Sebadoh whenever they're in town.  Since his songs are much heavier, it isn't really surprising that I don't enjoy the the songs that co-frontman Jason Lowenstein sings as much as those sung by Barlow, but it does give the band an unexpected balance.  Plus, it turns out Barlow is a pretty awesome bass player.  Who knew?  Oh right, everybody.  I look forward to his next trip through Madison, though I do hope he gets a haircut before then.  At the risk of sounding like his mother, his adorable flop of curls has turned into a concealing curtain of hair.

Saturday Night Duets


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The War on Drugs/Califone; September 20, 2015; The Majestic Theater

When Tim Rutilli told me this summer that they were going to be opening for the War on Drugs in the fall I didn't know what that meant.  Having only a vague idea of what they were, and having never listened to them (that I was aware of), I replied, "That sounds terrible."  Before the show I listened to the last record a few times and decided it wasn't terrible at all.  I didn't envy Califone trying to win over the hipster crowd that had sold out the Majestic, none of which were there for them.  Still, they played a fantastic set that kept me smiling the whole time.  With a short set time, there wasn't much room for Rutilli's hilariously inappropriate and oft uncomfortable banter, but they did what they could.

As for the War on Drugs, I didn't really get what all the fuss was about, and didn't blame my plus one at all when he decided to bow out after a half hour.  I stayed a bit longer, but eventually decided it was all starting to sound the same.  Which is fine, given the sold out crowd, I don't think they missed me at all.


The War on Drugs

Friday, September 19, 2014

Team Awesome; September 21; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

When I first started doing house concerts I relied heavily on Blake Thomas and Josh Harty to make it happen.  Harty was nice enough to loan me his PA, they were my sound guys, and frequently the opening act, solo or together.  It’s been years since either of them had played in the basement, with Thomas off to Minnesota and Harty on a never-ending tour, so when they asked if they could play a CD release show at the house, I jumped at the chance to have two of my favorite boys back.  The CD had been recorded several years earlier, but had been awaiting a proper release till things calmed down (see above), and it features many of their original songs, plus an excellent cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner,” that they have played together for years.  Reservations were slow at first, but it eventually sold out in a flurry a couple days before.  It broke my heart to turn down longtime fans from back in the Mickey’s days, but you know what they say.

The first act tonight consisted of each of them doing a short solo set, which followed by a set together after intermission.  Time was there wasn’t a song in Harty’s catalog that I hadn’t heard a million times, but with him on the road the bulk of the last two years he had new material in his canon.  And even the songs I had heard a million times seemed fresh.  It seemed odd to hear the perennially upbeat Harty admit that “here’s a song my dad hates.”  His dad is a preacher, so I guess it’s no surprise that he doesn’t like the song about Sister Morphine.  I’ve heard many a Harty story about growing up playing shows with his dad at nursing homes and small town festivals, and tonight was no exception.  Thomas’s newer material was decidedly lighter, having recently penned a musical which takes a trip through time with music highlighting each era.  In the stage production of the musical some of the songs were sung by his wife, the very talented Mary Fox, but Thomas sang songs like “When the World is Married to my Dreams” every bit as well, even though he claimed otherwise.  It was a reminder of what a great songwriter he is, and how much I’ve missed him.  He closed his set with the ridiculous sing-along, or as he said “I was thinking about doing something kinda dumb.” Literally a song about a guy who’s really good at bowling, “Matt Ladish is on Fire” ended his set the way so many of those nights at Mickey’s ended.  Thank god the calls for “Monster Truck Rally” went unheeded.

They came back from the break to play the new record, with some notable additional players.  Chris Sasman had fashioned a drum kit from a returnable beer case and a dresser drawer (I wonder if his wife knew about the latter).  The subdued sound was the perfect backing for the duo’s quiet songs.  There was also a fourth chair on stage that wasn’t occupied till a few songs in when Shauncey Ali and his violin joined them.  Ali is a talented and instinctual player with an indelible memory.  Thomas marveled later that he didn’t know how Shauncey could possibly remember songs he had only played once years ago.  There were no surprises in this set which featured a roughly equal number of songs from both of them.  These were the songs they played together when I saw them the most, each harmonizing on the other’s tunes with the exception of “Country Song.”  Harty’s simple, sad song had evolved into an affecting duet with Thomas taking the first verse.  I’m not sure how, but I had forgotten what a perfect song his “You’ve Got Me Feeling like the Moon” was, but tonight it triggered a flood of emotion.  I’ve known both of them for so long that it’s easy to take them for granted, but this was one of the best shows the basement has seen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Pines; September 11, 2014; Shitty Barn, Spring Green

I love almost everything about the Shitty Barn, which of course isn't shitty at all.  The one thing I don't like is that the majority of their shows are on a Wednesday, and that's the one night of the week that I can't attend.  I was pleased to see that one of the bands playing two shows this year was the Pines, who seem made for the Barn's rustic setting.  It was a beautiful set from a band I don't get to see often enough.  Perhaps the best part was a totally unexpected Dwight Yoakam cover that had me streaming nothing but the next day at work.  Always good to see you boys.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Bishop Allen/Jesse Marchant; September 4, 2014; Schubas

I recently asked Chris Mills whatever happened to Bishop Allen.  I’d first seen them on a bill with him in New York many years ago and was instantly charmed, so charmed that I bought every one of their monthly EPs that year, despite the fact that I despise EPs.  He didn’t know, suggesting sometimes music just gets too hard.  As someone who always seems one album away from calling it a day, he should know.  Luckily that wasn’t the case at all I discovered soon after, they’d been laying low and working on a new record, which I was a lot surprised to stumble across on their website.  Lights Out didn’t grab me at first, but I kept listening and it turned out to be a grower.  Not as immediately catchy as the perfect Broken String, which had been distilled from those many EPs, the new record pulled me in a bit more with each listen.  I was super excited to see them at Schubas tonight, even though it meant getting up at 4:30 to catch a 6 am train to a bus to Green Bay to start our Door County vacation.  Yep, totally worth it.  This show and the record are destined for my year-end lists.

Bishop Allen has records other than String and Lights (their effervescent debut Charm School and the underrated third record Grrrr), but you wouldn’t have guessed it from this set, which barely acknowledged the latter two while seemingly splitting evenly between the former.  I couldn’t have been happier.  From the new record we got opening track “Start Again,” appropriate for a band that is essentially doing just that, the ridiculously catchy, stick in your head “Skeleton Key,” and the New Wave channeling “Breadcrumbs.”  A good chunk of String was also represented including the sorta title track “Monitor,” about the great Civil War battleship of course, not the on-stage aid, containing the brilliant line, “When I break another string and continue to sing, is that crazy, I don’t know.”  The seemingly made-for, and eventually featured in, a Kodak commercial song “Click, Click, Click” was an infectious highlight that had everyone moving.

Which was true of the whole show.  I often look around at shows that I am bouncing around at to see an audience full of folks as still as statues.  Tonight it seemed like everyone wanted to dance as much as I did.  And that palpable joy from the audience had to apparent to lead singer Justin Rice who fed off it and gave it back to us.  Before one song from Grrr he claimed, “Whatever city we are in, I want to tell them next song is about their town, but this one isn’t, it’s about “Oklahoma.”  When they returned to the stage for an encore, Darbie Rice, keyboard player and the only other returning member, stepped to the microphone as cries of “Butterfly Net” spilled from the audience.  Now everyone knows I am not a fan of girl singers, especially the ones with sweet, fragile voices like hers, but I love this song.  And I love Bishop Allen, and this was an incredibly welcome comeback.

“We have tomorrow off,” Justin explained toward the end of the night, “so if anyone has any ideas of what we should do, let us know.”  “Play another show,” was the immediate response from the crowd.  “Sure, if anyone has a basement or a bedroom we can use, we’d be happy to do that.”  Dangit, I had to go to Door County the next day but I did post on Twitter that I did in fact have a basement, and that while I couldn’t do the next night, I would love to have them some time in the future.  I followed that up with an e-mail the next day, which Justin replied to that they would love to next time they were in the area.  Swoon.  I hope it’s soon.

Jesse Marchant

Bishop Allen