Monday, October 20, 2014

Robbie Fulks with Jon Langford & Sally Timms; October 20, 2014; The Hideout

Robbie Fulks recently joined the Mekons on a tour of the UK playing some truly unique and out of the way burgs, one of which was apparently only accessible by boat.  They returned with some great stories and a bunch of pictures.  So basically everyone at the Hideout tonight paid ten bucks to see their vacation photos, and no one was complaining.  There was lots of talk, and some singing.  "What was that, seven songs?" I teased Jon Langford after the show.  "It was nine," he replied mock indignantly, "as was agreed upon in the contract."  Add to the enjoyable company the fact that tour sponsor Lagunitas was supplying free IPA to everyone in the audience who wanted one (or more), and it was a pretty awesome evening.  Of course.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Hushdrops/Faux Fawn; October 18, 2014; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I don’t often book bands I haven’t seem, and it’s been years since I’ve booked a band I haven’t actually heard, but sometimes there are exceptions.  The only thing that I knew about the Hushdrops is that they had been around forever, though they seldom play and even less frequently release a record, and that drummer Joe Camarillo was one of the members.  Add to that the fact that Kelly Hogan was the one who sent them emphatically my way, and I said yes in a heartbeat.  In addition to Camarillo, who drums with the Waco Brothers, Skull Orchard and many others, the other band members keep busy too.  Lead singer/songwriter John San Juan has solo projects and a real job, while bassist Jim Shapiro is the drummer for Veruca Salt, who have recently been quite active.  Given the schedules, it’s no wonder they took so long between releases and why scheduling a tour can be a bit of a challenge.

Tomorrow Vol 2 followed volume one almost a decade later, and the double record set is an eclectic mix of classic rock ready anthems and catchy power pop.  Some instantly memorable, some harder to pin down.  Live they also varied from one end of the spectrum to the other, from polished rockers to gritty breakdowns.  While much of the time their vocals were smooth and harmonic, they could also be raw and cacophonic.  Though the latter might have as much to do with a bottle of Powers as it did with infrequency of playing.  Even when it didn’t sound amazing, it was still a ton of fun, and the just past awkward sized audience was enthusiastic about a band some of them hadn’t seen in years.

I was a bit at a loss of who to ask to open.  The only band that came to mind already had a gig, which was surprising since they don’t play that often.  Eventually I came up with Paul Otteson’s Faux Fawn.  They aren’t the same genre, but they are really good.  Vocalist Audre Rae is the newest member of the band, and an excellent addition.  Her grounded vocals serve to anchor Otteson’s almost too pretty voice.  Even more remarkably, she manages to keep up with him lyrically.  There are a lot of words in his songs, and she gets by with only a few glances at her page of notes.  The rhythm section is impeccable, the always smiling Luke Bassuener on drums and upright bassist Tom McCarty make for a formidable combo.  Otteson reminisced about his CD release show in the basement years earlier, and how Rae had been in the audience that night, “falling in love with the drummer.”  The two do make an adorable couple.  In fact, everything about Faux Fawn was perfect tonight.  My sound guy swooned over them, declaring his perfect show would be them and Team Awesome (who had played just a few weeks earlier).  Not a bad idea.

Faux Fawn

The Hushdrops

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dick the Bruiser/Sinking Suns; October 17, 2015; The Frequency

What to do when vocal issues keep you from singing your own songs?  Why you bring in a ringer of course.  The much-loved Dick the Bruiser hadn't played a show in quite awhile when they hit upon this brilliant idea.  I missed the first installment where Michelle Shinker of Bes Monde took over the mike, but I was there to see Chris Vance do his best in the unenviable position of singing DtB songs with them as his backing band.  It was different of course, but also pretty great.  And I'll take that over no Dick the Bruiser at all.

Sinking Suns

Dick the Bruiser with Chris Vance

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Communion with the Whigs, Field Report and the Water Liars; October 15, 2015; The Frequency

It's a well-known, and somewhat embarrassing, fact that I am ridiculously devoted to my Wednesday night volleyball team.  When the choice comes between seeing a band I love and playing, volleyball almost always wins (I claim it's so that my team doesn't know how good they are without me).  However, if the Water Liars hadn't just been at my house a few months earlier, I definitely would have gotten a sub tonight.  I hurried down there as fast as I could after our match only to find that they had just finished.  It wasn't a total waste of time, I still got to see the always-earnest Field Report (a great Wisconsin band making a name for themselves) and the powerhouse rock of the Whigs.  Both were good, but I would have traded them for a couple Water Liars songs, or a handful of magic beans.

The Whigs

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rural Alberta Advantage/July Talk; October 14, 2014; The Metro

The last time the Rural Alberta Advantage played Chicago it was a sold out show at Lincoln Hall back in January, so a jump to the Metro on the heels of their excellent new release Mended in Gold seemed logical.  It wasn't anywhere near sold out, but there was a quite decent, and very enthusiastic, crowd that pressed to the the front of the stage for their set.  The band undoubtedly owes a debt to Neutral Milk Hotel, but lucky for us they've already exceeded that band's output and live performances.  It's a unique sound that owes everything to the three band members.  Front and center is lead singer Nils Edenloff's fantastically unique voice, which has a polarizing love it or hate it effect on people.  In my case it is positively swoon-worthy.  Keyboardist Amy Cole also handles backing vocals, her voice pairing intriguingly with Edenloff's, as well as additional percussion and the bass pedals that take the place of a fourth band member.  It's a testament to drummer Paul Banwatt's importance that he sets up in line with the other two at the front of the stage instead of behind them.  The set was a great mix of old and new, each song meeting with unilateral approval from the crowd.  They haven't let the move to bigger venues stop them from playing their last song from the floor in the middle of the crowd.  A reverent hush allowed everyone in the room to hear every note.  A warming farewell before we headed back out into the rain and cold with smiles on our faces.

July Talk

Rural Alberta Advantage

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Steve Wynn/Xoe Wise; October 11, 2014; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

I had just booked this Steve Wynn solo show when Scott McCaughey contacted me about the Baseball Project playing at the house.  Luckily, Wynn really liked playing here in August, and was immediately looking forward to returning.  With a career and catalog as extensive as his, it’s hard to know how he pulled together a set list.  There had recently been a few reunion shows of the Dream Syndicate, his seminal Paisley Underground band, so he began with a few of their songs.  I don’t actually know much of his catalog, but I recognized “The Days of Wine of Roses” instantly.  For the next hour and a half he played a wide range of songs, from early days to a couple of Baseball Project requests.

To be fair, we weren't being rude, he did ask us which of those songs we wanted to hear.  Most of the folks here tonight had been at one of the Baseball Project shows back in August, and wasted no time in coming up with two excellent selections, both with a Wisconsin theme.  The first was “Larry Yount,” from their most recent record, which tells the sad story of Robin’s older brother, injured warming up for his first Major League appearance, while Robin went on to years of glory and a World Series appearance in Milwaukee.  The second was “Harvey Haddix” from their first release.  This bizarre tale of a pitcher who threw 12 perfect innings only to lose the game in the thirteenth is one of my personal favorites.  They argue he should be included on the list of pitchers who have thrown perfect games, a list recited in the song, and which continues to grow.  Wynn looked relieved at the end, “It’s hard to remember all those names!  Somehow when Scott (McCaughey) and I are singing it together it’s easier.”

It seemed to be the only time he missed having bandmates on stage with him.  He was charming and relaxed throughout, telling great stories about the songs, or that sometimes ones that had nothing to do with the song.  He had chosen to stand so that he was facing each side of the room equally.  A decision he later regretted, since it meant he was actually facing no one, which led to the story of a strange club in Spain where the stage spanned two rooms.  The band members on one side may have an energetic, enthusiastic crowd, while those on the other half weren’t so great.  “I think the Bathe separatists blew it up,” he claimed.  “I’m not joking,” he continued when we all laughed, “I think they did.”  I’m not always a fan of the solo electric show, but Wynn was definitely one of those who did it well.  It was never too loud, and he played it more like an acoustic than like Guitar Hero.

In all the years of doing the house concerts I’ve only had to cancel one show on account of weather, and one (well in advance) on account of health.  This was the first time I had someone call in sick day of.  Mike Fredrickson, who is probably better known as bassist for Robbie Fulks and Paul Cebar, had been scheduled to open, playing songs from his new solo release as well as from his career as leader of the popular Milwaukee band the Mosleys.  That afternoon he was sad to report he had a head cold and couldn’t sing.  I was disappointed, but as it turned out there was a back-up opener sitting on my couch.  Xoe Wise is a Chicago area musician and a friend of a friend.  She was in town to meet with her booking agent and see the show.  She certainly didn’t expect to be playing tonight, and she didn’t have her guitar, but she was game to fill in.  She used the house guitar and played a great set of tunes on short notice.  Another thing I don’t always like is girl singers, but I’d had have the charming and adorable Wise back anytime.

Xoe Wise

Steve Wynn


Friday, October 10, 2014

The Afghan Whigs/Joseph Arthur; October 10, 2014; The Metro

When my friend asked if I wanted to see the Afghan Whigs at the Metro, I asked if they were going to play as many songs from 1965 as they did the last (and also the first) time I saw them a couple years ago.  He laughed, he could pretty much guarantee that they would not play eight of that record's eleven songs, but I said yes anyway.  Which was a pretty good call.  1965 was my first Afghan Whigs record and I fell in love.  I bought Gentlemen and Black Love looking forward to more of the same, only to find heavier songs without the sexy funk that made '65 so addictive.  Do the Beast came out earlier this year, and it turns out it picks up where that record left off, almost.  And as a result, I loved this show.  Maybe because I wasn't expecting it, or probably because it was truly awesome.  There was only one song from my my favorite record, but eight from the new one.  As with the last show, unexpected covers and bits of other songs (like "Tusk" and "Getting Better") inserted in surprising places made for a remarkable show.  The band isn't all that young anymore, but from the balcony that night they were the sexiest group in the world.

It had been many years since I had seen Joseph Arthur, but it seemed weird to think the quiet singer/songwriter I'd seen at Montmartre so long ago would be tonight's opener.  I don't know where he's been the last ten years, but painting seems as likely an answer as any.  The last time I saw him he transformed a white sheet strung up behind him into an improv work of art.  He's perfected this skill into a succinct part of his act.  As he spit angry words into a microphone over a looped track, he skillfully turned the blank canvas on the easel into a colorful painting.  If he isn't selling these after the show he is missing a prime market.  I would imagine an Afghan Whigs crowd would be hard to win over, but he seemed to have suceeded.

Joseph Arthur

The Afghan Whigs