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.