Monday, December 28, 2009

The Penpals

Have I blogged about the series of books Allison and I wrote in elementary school?  I just found my copies upstairs.  Yes, Allison and I were authors at a young age.  Each of us wrote our own book to start, structured as a series of letters between a pair of penpals.  Subsequent tomes united our penpal characters and their adventures.  In fact, volume two was cleverly entitled Penpals II: United.  (Volume three, Penpals III: United Again.  Volume four, Penpals #4: One Last Time.)

I know we were children when we wrote these - volume two would have been written around fourth grade - but reading parts of them now is nonetheless horribly embarrassing.  I'm mostly embarrassed for my ten-year-old self, who thought the stories were hip and clever.  (Our friends seemed to think so, but what did they know?  They were in elementary school.)  We illustrated the books with colored-pencil depictions of photographs, both entertaining and cringeworthy today.      

By Penpals II: United, my characters - Anni and Courtney - were fifteen.  They'd spent some time out of contact, while Courtney's family was in witness protection because her dad secretly worked with the FBI to bring down a big drug dealer.  But, luckily, two years later the police "caught the gang."  Whew!  So long, witness protection!

Meanwhile, Anni was still living in San Francisco, and had acquired a 17-year-old superstar actor boyfriend named Brent Rockne.  Soon Courtney flew out to visit Anni's family for Christmas.  They went to Aspen, where they met up with Allison's penpal characters Jenni and Sabrina.  Then everyone went back to California.  And somewhere in there, Brent Rockne took the girls on a little ski adventure.  Which was written up in a teen magazine!  Check out the article below.  The sentences span across the photo, rather than being separated into columns.  That's how all the best magazines do it.

Where do I begin?  How about with the fact that Brent Rockne looks like a sketchy thirty-something dude?  Or the fact that he's groping Anni's chest?  And the restaurant.  F'Reau D'Plaur?  I clearly had some vague notions about the French language, but none of the details.  Then there's the article itself.  Ski vail?  You may be aware of the great skiing available at Vail in Colorado, but this is the more exclusive "Ski vail" in California.  Where seventeen-year-old actors can be alone with a foursome of fifteen-year-old and thirteen-year-old girls: no problem!  At least I didn't make him eighteen.  Not then, anyway.  

The rest is just like this.  Even better, in many cases!  Sometime I'm going to go through the pictures and write down every saying I drew on t-shirts and sweatshirts.  I was really into that as a fashion statement in 1991.

Oh, and rent SURF NITES.  I hear it was radical.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meet me here at dawn

Second City 24-hour Letters to Santa Benefit, year seven!  December 15th-16th from 6 p.m. - 6 p.m.  Here's the annual incomplete timeline:

7:40 p.m.: Jeff Tweedy sings "Remember the Mountain Bed" to the super-awesome Tami Sagher.  He's playing a lovely Kel Kroydon guitar with peacocks on it.

9:53 p.m.: There is improv.

10:31 p.m.: Gerald Dowd and Robbie Fulks.  Robbie's performance of the 2009 Rap of the Dead was amazing, as it is every year I've gotten to see it.

12:41 a.m.: Horatio Sanz and Matt Walsh from UCB, joined by TJ.

1:48 a.m.: Slow-motion reenactment of one minute from the greatest rock concert ever.

3:24 a.m.: Everyone joins the Flash Mob Marching Band, marching around the third floor of Piper's Alley

3:39 a.m.: More improv.  I just remember that this woman was supposed to be flying.

6:13 a.m.: Bonnie "Prince" Billy plays an enchanting early-morning set.

8:26 a.m.: The babies (and children) perform a scene together.

9:00 a.m.: It's a pyramid of comedy!  And a stray baby left in the background.

10:12 a.m.: Town Parade, cut short this year.  We got the professions, but no scene!  I was looking forward to seeing the town cult enthusiast in action.

11:14 a.m.: More improv.

12:24 p.m.: Nina Nastasia (and some dry ice in the background).

1:59 p.m.: Mountain Goats.  (That Starbucks cup saw some action.)

3:02 p.m.: Bear attack.

3:54 p.m.: Champagne in honor of Second City's 50th anniversary joins the empty Red Bull and Starbucks containers on our table.  Not pictured: 5 Hour Energy vial, free cheesecake.

4:36 p.m.: The Blisters.  It was their seventh year at the benefit, too.

And that took us nearly to the end.  All of the 24-hour people joined the comedians (and John Darnielle) on stage for the last twenty minutes for the traditional game of freeze tag, then two minutes of dancing, and it was over for another year.  Weirdly jumbled memories of Anne Frank and Jesus making out in heaven, chefs who are turned on by shrimp, and guys who communicate with their fathers via hobo symbols will tide me over until 2010.

The next night, Sooz and I went to see Andrew Bird's final Gezelligheid show at the Fourth Presbyterian Church.  The church looked amazing.  Ryan did an excellent job with the lights, which combined with the music to create a unique atmosphere.  I enjoyed hearing much of Andrew's lesser-played instrumental material, as well as some choice covers like Cass McCombs's "Meet Me Here at Dawn."  With the snow outside and coziness inside, my Christmas spirit was officially boosted.

There's much to be thankful for this holiday season, and I love spending so much time with friends.  After more social activities Friday night and Saturday afternoon, though, I'll admit that I'm thankful for the chance to relax at home tonight with some Christmas cookies, Christmas music, and a huge stack of books.

Also see:
Letters to Santa 2008
Letters to Santa 2007
Letters to Santa 2006
Letters to Santa 2005

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best of Pa Ingalls

Inspired by an article in The New Yorker, lately I've been rereading my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  I've always been a fan of Pa's colorful exclamations, so I decided to compile some favorites here:

"You're only a little half-pint of cider half drunk up, but by Jinks! you're as strong as a little French horse!"
-Little House in the Big Woods, after Laura scrambled over the wood box with Mary in tow

"Hurry!  I'm hungry as a wolf!"
-Little House on the Prairie, encouraging Laura and Mary to help him skin a rabbit

"Cattle, by George!"
-Little House on the Prairie, hearing a strange, low, distant sound

"Now, by the Great Horn Spoon, I'll milk her!"
-Little House on the Prairie, after being kicked by his cow

"Jiminy crickets!  It's raining fish-hooks and hammer handles!"
-On the Banks of Plum Creek, during a hard rain

"Can't see a thing!  It's dark as a stack of black cats!"
-On the Banks of Plum Creek, on a particularly dark night

"Great weasels in the cash box!  You've got to be shitting me!"
-On the Banks of Plum Creek, when the grasshoppers returned for the second year

"Gosh all hemlock! but it's growing cold fast!"
-The Long Winter, on a chilly pre-blizzard night

"Jerusalem crickets!  This is a humdinger!"
-The Long Winter, on the first morning of a notable storm

"Well I'll be a prideful waltzing whoremaster; if it isn't the Christmas turkey!"
-The Long Winter, upon the long-awaited delivery of the Christmas barrel

Pa had such a way with words.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This machine produces denim

There's a big, bad snowstorm rolling into town tonight.  But on Monday night, the eve of the storm, I was part of a sellout crowd that found a port at the High Noon Saloon with the Dave Rawlings Machine.  My background knowledge of the band amounted to little more than tangential song associations, a brief guest appearance by David Rawlings at Largo, and the new album I only managed to play once before the concert.  Multiple glowing reviews from a certain friend were enough, however, to convince me this was a show I ought to check out.

The night got off to an energetic start with "Monkey and the Engineer," soon followed by a seamless melding of "Candyman" and "Dear Landlord."  Gillian pointed out that not every brain would naturally connect those two songs, but clearly David Rawlings has got what it takes.  The show continued for nearly two and a half hours; more bang for my buck than I'm used to getting from local shows.  Ketch Secor, Willie Watson, and Morgan Jahnig from Old Crow Medicine Show were on stage for the majority of that time, adding wonderful vocal and instrumental accompaniments ... and making me think that next time OCMS is in town, I might want to get on that.

Many details made an impression on me over the course of the evening.  David and Gillian's harmonies were superb, blending together into one full voice.  Dave's fingerpicking skills are beyond my comprehension.  It was fun to watch the interactions between Ketch and Dave, whether Ketch was on fiddle, harmonica, or vocals.  The crowd was enthusiastic without veering over to obnoxious (always a danger at a bar), and there was lots of friendly engagement from the stage.  There was a tale about Santa Cruz and a trail of toilet paper.  The band's dinner at the Eldorado Grill inspired the addition of "Diamond Joe," to the setlist, which prompted a story about Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 35-minute version of the song.  Gillian explained that the only thing they know about the Rawlings Machine so far is that it wears denim ... in fact, it may produce denim.  Some of that denim was in danger Monday night, as Dave kept nearly losing his pants.  A good samaritan in front of me took off his own belt and passed it forward, where it was received with gratitude and donned without delay.  "I didn't want to give it to you," confessed the woman up front who'd handed the belt over.  I could sympathize.

We heard more songs than I can recall now.  A rollicking gospel tune, "He Will Set Your Fields On Fire." "Cortez the Killer" may soon rival "Ring of Fire" as the song I've seen covered the most times.  Although twice I think Dave Rawlings has been involved, so perhaps I'm overestimating.  During one of the periods when the OCMS guys left the stage to just Dave and Gill, Dave announced that it was time for Gillian to sing a song.  "We don't do this one too much, but we're going to play it for you tonight.  We've had a lot of requests for it.  I mean ... not from you guys.  From other people who won't get to hear it."  That song was "Wrecking Ball."  

After the main set the band returned for an encore, which included "Queen Jane Approximately," "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" and Gillian's "Look at Miss Ohio."  The last song (because unlike some audience members, Dave noted, they know how to pace a set) was "The Weight."  Gillian took the first verse, then Dave, then Willie, then Ketch, then all four together.  I couldn't imagine a more satisfying ending to the show.  Except, maybe, for the second encore.  The four vocalists returned to the stage and gathered around one microphone sans instruments for "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" - accompanied by the crowd on stomp percussion.

"We've been watching the weather," Dave remarked toward the end of the night.  "We play tomorrow in Minneapolis ... and then in Omaha."  Laughter and shouts of "good luck!" rang out.  When he explained that they planned to blow out of town that night, trying to get to Minneapolis before things got bad, the crowd protested loudly.   Dave laughed.  "Or we could stay and play here tomorrow, too," he suggested.  "Just stick around."  Even in a blizzard, I guarantee they'd have an audience.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

California capper

The final leg of my November on the go was the Beverly Hills business trip.  Despite weekend work hours that had me gone from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., I was too stubborn to omit any of my favorite L.A. activities from the program.  Without going into exactly how little sleep I got each night, I will say that turning thirty hasn't immediately turned me into an old lady.

And ah, how much we packed in!  Pinkberry at Farmer's Market, ogling New Moon fans at the Grove and ArcLight, a trip to Amoeba.  Friday night I saw my first official Jon Brion show at the Coronet.  A long main set (which included a Led Zeppelin collaboration with John Paul Jones) gave way to a long second set in the Little Room.  I've seen performances in the Little Room before, but never from one of the front tables.  It's certainly a unique experience to be mere feet away from these performers on their scarcely-raised platform.  The Punch Brothers were the Little Room guests that night, and the majority of the set took place with the only trace of Jon being his laughter and requests from the bar.  My favorite songs were Radiohead's "2+2=5," and "Lovefool" by The Cardigans.  I swear, I had no idea knew every word to that song ... especially after all these years.  Toward the end, the Punch Brothers, Fiona Apple, Jon Brion, and Benmont Tench all perched on the tiny stage at once.  I wonder what the record is.

Saturday night, we saw the always-great Paul F. Tompkins show.  His guests were Andy Richter and Paget Brewster.  (Andy Richter Controls the Universe flashback!)  There was even a surprise cameo by Maria Thayer ... or, as I think of her, Sexy Ms. Magoo.  After PFT, we tracked down the Kogi truck for a (very) late dinner.  Short rib burrito: always worth the wait in line.  One of these days I'll save room for dessert.

Sunday, U picked me up and we went straight to the Grove for the Christmas tree lighting.  However, it soon became clear that this would involve a huge crowd and lots of waiting.  We made a break for the surprisingly-busy Farmer's Market for coffee instead.   After a visit to the Urban Light display at LACMA, we ended the evening with much-anticipated meal from Mozza2Go.  It turns out there is no meat in a ginger pig.  Probably a good thing, as we ordered it from the dessert menu.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Touch down, take off

I got home from my Italy and Holland holiday yesterday, and early tomorrow morning I leave again.  Before the working vacation gets underway, in the midst of laundry and repacking, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the birthday trip.

Milano was a much bigger city than I'd expected - the fifth-largest urban area in the E.U., as it turns out.  The Duomo, the only major sight we visited, is surrounded by tall buildings, restaurants, and shops.  A day wasn't nearly enough time to experience Milan properly, but I liked what I saw just fine.  I paid the equivalent of $16.75 for a pistachio milkshake in a fancy tearoom.  That's not something you get to do every day.  I couldn't read the full description; maybe it was made from the milk of Italian unicorns.

Amsterdam felt more manageable to me, though it's by no means a small town.  It was rainy on and off while we were there, but we still explored much of the city on foot.  I saw coffee shops, and shops that actually sold coffee.  The red light district.  The Oude Kerk, the flower market, Central Station, and many lovely old houses on the canals.  Our hotel was a block from the great Van Gogh museum.  I bought Christmas cards from the Rijksmuseum store.  We explored De Pijp - Albert Cuyp market and rijsttafel at Sari Citra.  And yes, I saw the Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet parade!  It was everything I'd hoped for and more. You haven't lived until you've seen little Dutch children in afro wigs and blackface, wearing colorful and festive elf outfits.

Whenever I told anyone in Amsterdam that I was headed to Eindhoven, they were genuinely puzzled.  "Why?  Do you have family there?"  Judging from their reactions, I didn't expect a perfectly nice city with plenty of shopping, cafes, an open market, and a carousel outside our hotel.  We didn't have time to do a lot in Eindhoven, but the Centrum seemed charming.  Hey, the carillon of the nearby old church played "Imagine."

Those were the cities.  Then there was the other part of my trip: the concerts.  Andrew Bird at Melkweg was a good show, though he seemed to be having some trouble focusing.  Many stops and starts because the timing was off, or he couldn't remember something.  The room was very boomy, which didn't help.  Andrew was solo, except for a couple of songs (including "Oh Sister") for which he brought out his solo female opener, Jesca Hoop, and a few songs for which Pat Sansone came out and played piano.  The only song Andrew played from Mysterious Production of Eggs was "The Happy Birthday Song."  Total shout-out, of course.  Right.

The Wilco shows were very good, too.  Paradiso in Amsterdam is a former church, and it was fun to see the band with a backdrop of stained glass windows.  The setlists of Amsterdam and Eindhoven complemented each other very well.  Jeff dedicating "Handshake Drugs" to Zwarte Piet at Paradiso made me laugh, as did the pandering Amsterdam lyrical references.  It was a treat to hear songs like "Cars Can't Escape" and "Wishful Thinking" in Eindhoven.  But for me, the biggest treat in Eindhoven was a totally surprising happy birthday singalong and song dedication.  Whether or not Jeff actually dreamed about killing me (lyrical reference!), it made for an even more memorable, special show.  Thank you, Wilco.        

Good music, new cities, and meeting up with friends halfway around the world.  I just knew this trip would be a great way to kick off my thirties.  On to California!  

Monday, November 16, 2009


I'm in Amsterdam and it's late! Here is Sinterklaas and some Zwarte Pieten:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

November spring

It's 69 degrees outside, and hard to believe that Thanksgiving is eighteen days away.  Shopping for bridesmaid dresses in Chicago on Saturday, it felt like May already.  I keep hoping the good weather will stick around for the numerous flights I need to take in the coming weeks.

If all goes according to plan, November will be bookended by business trips.  Last week I worked overnights at a hospital in southern Indiana, and just after my return from Europe I'm scheduled for a few day shifts in Los Angeles.  That trip makes my November schedule wilder than ever, but it's one I eagerly anticipate.  I haven't had a Largo fix since August.  It would be nice to visit again before the new year.

I also need to buy some sort of exercising machine for my home.  You'd think that living a mere two blocks away from a gym would mean I didn't need to do that, but you would be wrong.  Perhaps it will be a Christmas present to myself.

Oh god, Christmas.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sinterklaas and the Black Petes

I'm going to Amsterdam for my 30th birthday.

It's not that I buy into the hype about turning 30. Is hype the right word? Maybe not. More accurately, I'm not particularly intimidated by the idea of being 30. It's kind of a shame that I won't have a 2 in front of my age anymore, but more due to nostalgia than anything else. Plenty of my friends are over 30, and I haven't noticed anything scary happening to them. Though I have noticed that lately I derive great satisfaction from filling out any form that asks for my age. Twenty-nine! Still 29, damn it! But, in my head, I've been 30 for awhile. It's a side effect of planning everything months and months in advance.

Which brings us back to Holland. It's going to be a quick trip: my birthday is Tuesday 11/17, and I'll be back at work on Thursday. The point isn't really to see the sights. The point is to do something crazy for my birthday, because why the hell not? When a certain band announced a show in Amsterdam the day before my birthday, I was tempted. But when they announced a show an hour or so away in Eindhoven on the day itself, that decided it. A few days' vacation, and a memorable farewell to my twenties? Sign me up.

The plan is to meet up with some friends on that Saturday. In, um, Milan. Then on Sunday, P and I will fly to Amsterdam. Two awesome things are happening on Sunday about which I had no idea when this trip was booked. First of all, Andrew Bird is playing at Melkweg that night. Secondly, Sunday morning is when Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam on a boat from Spain, with his six to eight black men.

Hell. Yes.

Even if we don't make it to the waterfront in time for the actual arrival, I figure we'll be in time for residual merriment. And souvenirs. Oh please, let there be souvenirs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I woke with a head full of songs

It's been another busily musical week. Between Friday and Wednesday I saw Andrew Bird, Unicycle Loves You, Liam Finn and Eliza-Jane, Tortoise and Wilco twice, Nicole Atkins, and the Avett Brothers. I think I've exhausted my ability to write coherently about concerts for the month of October, but lord, it's been fun. Here's a snapshot of the most recent shows:

Andrew Bird:
DVD filming, big song arrangements, "Headsoak," Josh on cowbell

Unicycle Loves You, Liam Finn & Eliza-Jane:
muffins-no-cupcakes jam, shiny new venue, The Beatles' "Birthday," "Cinnamon Girl"

Wilco and Tortoise, night 1:
disconcerting facial expressions, huge arena crowd, pumped-up band, plethora of photographers

Wilco and Tortoise, night 2:
looser band, singalongs, dancing fatigue, "Far, Far Away"

Nicole Atkins and The Avett Brothers:
super energy, super-loud bass, no stage barrier, broken banjo strings


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The past few days

Wisconsin Book Festival party. Readings by Michael Perry and Lorrie Moore (intro by Mayor Dave), and then after the signing, a nice set of music by Michael Perry and the Long Beds. I've seen Mike read on two previous occasions, but had never heard any of the pieces he read on Thursday. The Long Beds played a good, solid set of music - my favorite songs included the violin. I've said it before, but I love living in a city where a local-author book reading can come close to filling the Orpheum.

Liam Finn, Eliza-Jane Barnes, and Wilco in Memphis. Yes, Memphis. Saturday, free flight, good seat ... why not? I'd been obliquely promised a "fun show" last weekend, though I wasn't quite sure what that would entail. As it turned out, a lot that couldn't have been planned plus something that definitely was: Jody Stephens of Big Star jumping in on shaker and drums, and a jaw-dropping cover of Big Star's "In the Street." There was a period of time a few years ago when Wilco played cover songs with some regularity, but I hadn't seen it in so long I forgot it was possible. That, along with the non-acoustic live debut of "Country Disappeared," made for a memorable show.

I haven't even mentioned Liam and EJ's set. At their show in Madison, I was thrilled when they played one of two songs I hadn't seen yet and especially wanted to. In Memphis they played the other, "Red Wine Bottle." As a bonus, Glenn came out to play drums with them. As if that weren't cool enough, afterward there was a brief conference on the stage and Glenn stuck around for a blistering rendition of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl." All that, plus Liam and EJ played a brand new song. I'm getting spoiled.

Beyond the main event, I did have a bit of time for Memphis itself on Saturday. I didn't get in early enough for any major tours, but did make it to Gus's Famous Fried Chicken for a very late lunch. (I had a slice of chess pie for dessert, and I still don't know what the hell chess pie is.) I also visited the Gibson Guitar Factory, wandered around Beale Street, and explored A. Schwab. The $1 pacifiers from Thailand were tempting, but I left empty-handed. I also caught a free performance at the Pepsi Pavilion off of Beale. No idea who was playing, but the vibe was happy and pleasantly buzzed. Oh, Beale Street and your open container laws.

We'd had the best of intentions to go see Norton Wisdom paint with some great musicians at the Poplar Lounge after the show, an event which we were assured had every chance of going strong until 4:30 a.m. (a.k.a. the time we had to leave for the airport.) By the time we left the Orpheum it was nearly 1:00, though, and we had to take a rain check or risk keeling over. Instead I got an hour or two of sleep before the flights back home. I couldn't afford to be totally dead the next day because...

Bon Iver in Milwaukee, with The Daredevil Christopher Wright opening. As this show was to be Bon Iver's last for an indefinite amount of time, I was thankful for the opportunity to attend. Sitting in the midst of a sold-out crowd at the Riverside felt different from standing against the stage at the Barrymore in Madison last December ... which itself, I'm sure, was a change from the Milwaukee show Bon Iver played in support of For Emma less than two years ago at Mad Planet. Less than two years, and so many accomplishments. So many new fans. Still, when Justin sat alone on the stage to play "Re: Stacks" - toward the end when he pulls back from the microphone a bit and everyone leans a little closer - the room felt very small. But when the crowd sang along at the top of its collective lungs with "Wolves," screaming over the final instrumental frenzy, the sound filled every inch of the theater's expansive size - and joyously so.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Energy spent

I started October out with a bang this year (at first I mistyped "with a band;" also accurate): four shows in four nights, from Iowa to Minnesota and back home to Wisconsin. Along the way there was pie, a runners' expo, overpriced beverages, Dillinger-related local history, and a dash of Beatles Rock Band. But the emphasis was on concerts.

Thursday and Friday I saw Wilco with openers Liam Finn and Eliza-Jane Barnes. This is pretty much my dream lineup right now, and I couldn't believe the good timing of the midwestern shows. Saturday was A Prairie Home Companion, fascinating to see live. My favorite aspect was watching the sound effects guy work his magic. Garrison Keillor spinning the Lake Wobegone tale without a script in front of him was unexpected and cool, as was Nels Cline joining the PHC band in a rendition of "Hound Dog." Sunday it was back home for Liam and EJ headlining a show at the Majestic right here in Madison.

As much as I love Wilco, the Liam/EJ performances had me the most excited for this stretch of shows. They didn't disappoint, although I hadn't anticipated such a sparse turnout in my own city. That gave Sunday a markedly different flavor from the opening sets in front of thousands Thursday and Friday. Liam and EJ appeared to have a fine time, and took the opportunity to do some things that work well in an intimate setting. But it simply didn't feel the same as being in the midst of a large group of people experiencing the show together. I enjoyed it, but not in the visceral way I enjoyed the previous two opening sets. I can't imagine the performers didn't share a bit of that sentiment, even if they didn't show it. Then again, I'm not a seasoned musician - who knows?

Big crowd or small, the show was a good one. We heard almost all of the songs from Iowa City and St. Paul, plus a few more. They closed with "Honest Face," one of two I'd been hoping to see for the first time. EJ had seen something on Wisconsin Public Television about Sunday night's harvest moon, inspiring Liam to play Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." That was a treat. Liam had also stumbled upon Madison's Harvest Fest this weekend and invited some folks he met there to the show: a bongo player and friends, including a freestyle rapper. They joined Liam and EJ for an improvised jam before the main set finale. That was certainly something I don't see every day. (All in all, that's probably a good thing.)

After the show, Liam and EJ hung around for a bit. Some people had driven quite a distance to see them (not that I'd know anything about that!) and it was nice to see that they're accessible to their fans. Paul mentioned August's 7WC show to Liam, and he asked if we'd seen the bottle solo. Affirmative! I'm looking forward to next Saturday, which may be my last chance to see Liam and EJ for the foreseeable future. I wish they weren't playing in Chicago the same night as Andrew Bird at the Pabst. Choices: blerg.

Setlist for Sunday (courtesy of Paul)
Plane Crash
Long Way To Go
Wide Awake On The Voyage Home
Remember When
Better To Be
Harvest Moon [Neil Young]
Energy Spent
On Your Side
I'll Be Lightning
Wise Man>
Second Chance
—"freestyle" improv interlude (w/guest freestyle rapper and Juan on bongos)—
Lead Balloon (w/Juan on bongos)
Gather To The Chapel
Honest Face

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September draws to a close

Every year around this time, I think, "Maybe winter won't be that bad. Maybe it will barely snow at all." We know how that's worked out between 2007 and the present. Still, maybe this is the year.

My mom heard from a cousin of my dad's looking for family history info this weekend. She shared a few anecdotes about my great-grandmother. (The mother of these boys, as a matter of fact.) Yia Yia came over from Greece at the age of sixteen as a mail-order bride, which I knew. She had a gift for prophetic dreams, which I didn't know. A gift she passed on to my great-uncle Pete. Yia Yia begged my grandma and grandpa not to name their daughter after her, because she was superstitious. They did anyway. (That daughter was my aunt Ginnie, who died at the age of two from spinal meningitis.) Yia Yia also once had some sort of witch-woman lift a curse she was sure had been placed on her. I need more Yia Yia stories.

The other day I was thinking of how we pronounce the word "color." What is wrong with our language?

I have tickets for twelve concerts in October. This is both exciting and terrifying.

Monday, September 21, 2009


During Saturday night's Andrew Bird show, I realized how many "wait, did he just say that?" moments there are on Noble Beast. Did he just mention a onesie? Did he just say something about kittens with pleurisy? Yes, he did. Plus a new/old song that gave a particular sort of clarity to the consumption of sweetbreads. The taste of neurons firing, indeed.

Andrew was the official headliner of Madison's Forward Music Festival, playing at the Overture Center. My evening began at a different venue, as I chose to forego the opening Pale Young Gentlemen in favor of the seeing Pronto (and Filligar, as it turned out) at the Frequency. In the time between the announcement of the FMF09 lineup and the publication of the schedule, I knew there were two acts I was most interested in seeing. And of course, both wound up scheduled for Saturday night. Luckily, the Overture and Frequency are a few minutes' dash apart, but I was still bummed not to catch all of Pronto's set.

Pronto played very well, and should have had a bigger audience. I loved seeing what the full band added to the live performance of the All is Golden tunes. "Monster" had a different sound, less bouncy. The energetic ending to "Say it All Night" was a pleasant surprise. The band looked comfortable on the small stage, though it was a bit of a contrast to Mikael Jorgensen's usual gig. I hope Madison gets another chance to host Pronto, whether in this configuration or another. A full performance of The Cheetah (complete with video!) would be something to see.

As always, Andrew Bird came through with a solid and slightly otherworldly performance. Between banter about Wisconsin's bike trails and Land Striders from The Dark Crystal, the full-band songs stood out. We heard many songs from Noble Beast, a new song incorporating the sinkings of the Lusitania and Main, and a handful of older favorites. The closing number was definitely a favorite of mine - the Handsome Family's "Don't Be Scared." The first time I heard it (with Sally Timms supplying background vocals) I was so happy I nearly cried. This time my reaction wasn't quite so dramatic, but it was a powerful ending to the show. See you in Milwaukee next month, Andrew.

Monday, September 14, 2009

All that you can't leave behind

Before Saturday night in Chicago, it had been four years since I saw U2. But it had been eight years since I saw U2 from anywhere besides the floor, as close to the stage as possible. This time around, Alison and I opted for seats instead of GA. I looked forward to the show, but wasn't sure if I'd truly be able to get into it. I never see bands in stadiums. I'm never 90 yards away from the performers. My first U2 show in 1997 was at Soldier Field, in seats very similar to those we had Saturday. I had a wonderful time that night, but it was one of my first concerts ever. I'm familiar with U2's ability to charm a huge crowd, but was skeptical of my own susceptibility in this environment. Wasn't I a seasoned concert veteran? Used to the front of intimate venues? Smaller, more down-to-earth bands? My era of rabid U2 fandom years behind me?

Those things are all true. They also don't matter. I had forgotten that a U2 show is a wholly different entity. The last shows I saw were Neil Finn and Jon Brion from the front of a 280-seat theater. Thinking I wouldn't appreciate Saturday night at Soldier Field in comparison, as it turns out, made as much sense as assuming I wouldn't enjoy chocolate ice cream because garlic naan is so great. One has nothing to do with the other.

I hadn't read much about the setlists for the European leg of the U2 360 tour, or about the stage setup. In person, the sheer size, scale, and spectacle were amazing. The screens were unlike anything I'd ever seen, and the tour makes stunning use of lights and visual effects. It all enhanced the show rather than distracting the audience, which can be a difficult line to tread. Of course, simply being present in a stadium with tens of thousands of fans is amazing in itself. Bono doesn't really play to the front of the crowd - I know this from being there myself. Bono plays to the camera; to the back corners of the 400 section. Bono plays to the stadium.

Saturday's setlist was heavy on the new album, as it should be. There were definitely songs I'd have rather heard, but this isn't a Greatest Hits tour. I could have done without the most unfortunate lyrics of my least favorite song scrolling along the screen for a singalong, but you can't win them all. "Breathe" as an opener was great, and Larry coming out by himself to start was a nice touch. The acoustic "Stuck in a Moment" was excellent with just Bono and Edge on stage, somehow working perfectly in a huge space that no longer seemed quite so big. I was in turn confused, surprised, amused and delighted when Bono wove some lines from Wilco's "Far Far Away" into the intro to "Beautiful Day." Also surprising was "The Unforgettable Fire." I'd never seen it played, and judging from the people around me, neither had many younger members of the crowd. Nor had they ever heard the song before, at all. Of course, Bono did choose to skip over a decent portion of the lyrics. I'll chalk that up to "new arrangement," but the song was still a welcome inclusion.

My highlight of the show came in the encore. Bono took the stage in a suit dotted with red lights, shining out into the stadium. A swinging microphone, also covered in lights, lowered to meet him. "Sometimes I feel like I don't know, sometimes I feel like checking out..." After all this time, "Ultra Violet." One of my favorite songs on Achtung Baby, which means one of my favorite songs in the world. I can't say it was a song I'd been hoping to hear, because the idea never occurred to me. But if I'd thought of it, I would have been hoping. It was perfect.

The show made me realize that my experience of a U2 concert isn't really about U2. It's mostly about me. Maybe that's true of anybody's experience of anything, if you want to get philosophical. I have so many memories wrapped up in these songs, this scene, this band. They're all the more powerful for the long gaps between tours, and the fact that I rarely listen to the albums these days. For two hours, the stadium is a time machine. Bono sings "Stand By Me" at Soldier Field in 2009 and I'm at Soldier Field in 1997, Lindsey and Michelle by my side, as he sings the same lines. "The Unforgettable Fire" begins and I'm on a road trip with my parents, headphones on in the back seat, listening to that album over and over/watching the video with Gina, in college, laughing as the wheels fly and colors spin. The verses of "One" take me to Germany, visiting Michelle, gazing at the remains of the Berlin Wall. The band plays "Ultra Violet" and I'm in high school again, brimming with teenage resentment and perfect-student stress, screaming "I wanna get it wrong" at the top of my lungs in my car/in my bedroom/in a stadium with 60,000 people.

Looking back on U2's Vertigo tour, I was too recently removed from my U2 super-fandom to have much perspective. I think it was too soon after the preceding Elevation tour - which completely changed the way I thought about live music - to fully separate the two. I enjoyed the shows, but things were different than they had been. I felt the high school freshman's smugness about how I'd moved on. This time, it's been long enough. Seeing U2 again felt like going home. Like visiting the place where I grew up after having been away for a long time. Maybe I don't want to live there anymore, but everything is right where I left it. I can go back. I can stay awhile.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Set List

Recently I decided to dig out and upload all of the concert setlists I've amassed over the years. Because my old home PC is a fart, I wasn't able to scan them there. I instead scanned them on a big copier and converted them from PDF to JPG files. They lost a bit in the translation, but they're still legible. Frankly, that's as good as it's going to get, at least for now.

For all the concerts I've attended in my life, it turns out I don't have too many setlists. I have a goodly amount, twenty-four or so, but considering I'll be hitting fifteen shows in the next two months alone (ahh!) it's not a high percentage. They're also somewhat random - there isn't any special significance attached to most of the setlists I have. In one case, I didn't even attend the show. I mostly poach opportunistically: if a setlist is in front of me, and nobody else is clamoring for it, I take it. The only one I recall specifically asking for was a Wilco show in Des Moines in 2003. (Such a fun show.)

You can check out my setlist gallery here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Old Photo Corner 3: Boys

My paternal grandfather, his brothers, and some of the neighborhood boys. From the ages of the kids I'd say it was around 1930. Grandpa is on the right, hand on the crossed-arm boy's shoulder. Uncle Chuck is laughing in the back row on the left. Next to Chuck is Frank, and the tallest boy in the back row is Pete. Or maybe it's the other way around. I have a hard time remembering which is which; I never knew either of them. As usual, I want to ask many questions about this picture. Was there a particular occasion? What are they laughing at? Did the kid in the sailor suit get teased? What's a little blond boy doing amongst the Greeks?

Before he retired and moved to Florida, Uncle Chuck owned this place in Milwaukee, the Venetian. Although he ran a store in the building, it was originally a beautiful theater. It had its grand opening right around the time the photo above was taken.

I wish I'd seen it before they tore it down.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The sun came out and it didn't go away

Well, it didn't go away until I got back to Wisconsin yesterday. But L.A. was sun, fun, and music. I could wait for the superior, nuanced show reviews sure to come from Uyen and then simply link them here. Don't worry, I'll do that too. (See?)

Saturday night:
Evonne, Heidi, Paul, Uyen and I brought a picnic dinner to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where Paper Moon was being screened. As Heidi pointed out, you don't often get the opportunity to say things like: "I think I see our friends over by that crypt." Nor do you often get to see Paper Moon introduced by Tatum O'Neal herself. But that's Los Angeles, folks.

The movie was finished by 10:30 p.m. Time to go back to the hotel? Of course not. Time to head over to the Steve Allen Theater for the Tomorrow Show, celebrating its 4th anniversary. The show started at midnight, and didn't get out until ten minutes to 4:00. That's 4:00 a.m. It felt like a microcosm of the 24-hour Second City benefits: nonstop comedy, variety and music. We saw a magician, a man twirling a cheeseburger on an umbrella, a standup act that introduced our new favorite catch phrase of the trip ("Wake up! You fat. We talk later"), and two songs by Jon Brion. We'd be seeing a bit more of Jon over the next few days. Some of my friends attended his Friday night show at Largo, setting up a rare JB quinfecta. I had to settle for the quadfecta myself. Quite a first night on the west coast.

Brunch at Hugo's, the ocean (Zuma Beach) and then on to the Coronet for the 7 Worlds Collide 2 show. I thought I'd never get to see one of these - the previous four had been in Auckland and London - so when one fell into my lap in L.A. I was thrilled. The California cast of musicians included Neil and Elroy Finn, Lisa Germano, KT Tunstall, Bic Runga, and Jon Brion. Together they romped through a nice selection of songs from the upcoming 7WC2 album, and didn't limit themselves to songs written by those present. The free-for-all fun vibe of this show made me wish even more I could see the full 7WC2 lineup in concert. That's not to say that I felt this show suffered from not having the entire ensemble present. Rather, I can only imagine how mad it would be to see them all together at once. My favorite part of the night came near the end, during a Lisa Germano piano number. Jon, KT and Elroy were at loose ends standing near the back before the song began, nursing bottles of Red Stripe. Then - Elroy may have been the instigator - someone blew experimentally across the top of a bottle. Neil essentially commanded them to take "that shit" to a microphone, and before we knew it there was a three-person bottle choir standing before us. Jon's producer instincts kicked in and he took a turn at directing KT and Elroy when Lisa called for a bottle solo.

Sunday's setlist (all setlists courtesy of Uyen)
--Hazel Black
--Red Wine Bottle
--The Ties That Bind Us
--Little by Little
--Girl Make Your Own Mind Up
--A Change of Heart
--Black Silk Ribbon
--The Cobbler
--Too Blue
--All Comedians Suffer

--Margaret Trudeau song
--Jean Genie/Gimme Some Money/Eight Miles High/Sunny Afternoon
--From a Shell

Work, Farmer's Market, and back to the Coronet for the the first official Neil Finn "solo" show. It wasn't only Neil, though - Elroy and Jon were back to lend a hand. Monday and Tuesday were my reasons for planning this trip in the first place. I'd seen three other Neil Finn permutations before: Crowded House, Split Enz, and the Finn Brothers. I'd never seen Neil performing his solo material, and couldn't have been happier to hear some of my favorite songs from Try Whistling This and (my favorite of Neil's albums) One All. (Or One Nil, depending on where you come from.) There were indications that Neil might play another set in the Little Room after the show, but that was not in the cards for Monday or Tuesday. Someday, perhaps, I'll see such a thing.

Monday's setlist:
--Only Talking Sense
--Driving Me Mad
--Wherever You Are
--Gentle Hum
--Walking on the Spot
--Silent House
--Elephants [new Crowded House song]
--Last Day of June
--One Step Ahead
--Private Universe [with videos looped by Jon, including Nels Cline]

--Suffer Never
--I Love You Dawn [Neil solo acoustic, request]
--The Devil You Know [Neil solo acoustic, request]

Work, breakfast in a booth across from Drew Carey (Paul's second day in a row), work, Farmer's Market, drinks at the Roger Room, and back to the Coronet for the second Neil (and Elroy and Jon) show. The show was great - my favorite of the two Neil nights. They played a few improvised gems that came about when Neil accidentally discovered Jon's crazy effects board sitting on the piano. The first morphed into a surprise Jon/Elroy/Neil version of "Billie Jean." Later Neil also ad-libbed a verse of "You Sexy Thing" with Jon and Elroy contributing some backing instrumentation. Neil joked that those are the only funky songs he knows, and he's been known to play them at parties around 2:00 a.m. We heard a couple 7WC2 songs again as Lisa Germano joined the men onstage for awhile. They played the song Sharon Finn wrote with Neil, "Little By Little," and "The Cobbler," on which Elroy sings lead and plays the acoustic guitar. Neil also played a couple of songs he rarely gets to do - and they happened to be two of my three favorite songs from One All. "Into the Sunset" and "Turn and Run." Throughout the night Neil struggled with some chords and lyrics, and I'm sure he wasn't entirely pleased with the performance. Perhaps I'm just used to performers stumbling their way through every so often, but for me the mistakes just made the night more memorable.

Tuesday's setlist:
--Driving Me Mad
--Try Whistling This
--Message to My Girl
--Billie Jean
--improv/(Born to Be Alive?)
--Wherever You Are
--Faster Than Light
--I Feel Possessed
--The Cobbler
--Into the Sunset
--Turn and Run
--Little by Little
--One Step Ahead

--You Sexy Thing
--She Will Have Her Way/Coming into Los Angeles
--Something So Strong [original acoustic version]
--Into Temptation
--Not the Girl You Think You Are [with Mark Hart]

Home. Hold on, you mean I don't get to do the same thing every day from now on?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer comes

Saturday was a hot, muggy day in Chicago. One of the worst we've had in an admittedly mild summer. Saturday was also the day Paul and I attempted to hit not one, but two concerts in Chicago. Not the most favorable confluence of factors, but, then again, it could have been much worse. We could have been attending Lollapalooza. Shudder.

First on our dance card was a solo show by Jeff Tweedy, benefitting (and held at) Emanuel Congregation. In contrast to the February benefit shows at the Vic, he line was quite late in forming. No complaints here. We walked around on the beach, spent some time in Metropolis coffee, and generally tried to enjoy the late afternoon without melting. I'd considered driving the entire way down from WI on Sheridan Road, but perhaps another time.

The show felt a little weird to me, though I should be used to seeing Jeff in unusual settings. I was happy when Susan came out to take requests beforehand. Jeff played "I'll Fight," which I'd asked for, and it was interesting to hear it solo again. The last time that happened I barely knew the song at all. One of my favorite performances of the night was "So Much Wine" - I think the emotion of the lyrics really came through. "A Long Time Ago" was a rare treat I'd only heard previously with Golden Smog or at soundchecks. Overall, though, I thought Jeff seemed a little distracted. Judging from other reviews I've read, this isn't an opinion shared by the majority of attendees, so who knows. It was also unusual to experience so little crowd participation and singing along. It wasn't unexpected, since many members of the audience were there to support the congregation and weren't necessarily familiar with the performers. I missed that aspect, although it would have been an ideal atmosphere for someone who doesn't enjoy that kind of thing. Still, I'm definitely not complaining. Jeff gave us and Emanuel Congregation a very good show. It's not lost on me that 80% of the non-Wilco performances by Jeff Tweedy I've seen in the past four years have been charity benefits. (Truly, I figured it out.) That's pretty amazing. Peter Grosz (a.k.a. "the guy from the hamburger commercials") opened the evening with a short set of standup comedy. I wish he'd come back to do the Letters to Santa show again. Colbert, Schmolbert!

No dawdling for us afterwards - it was straight over to Metro for the second half of the double-header. Even a passionate festival hater such as myself can appreciate Lollapalooza for the post-fest shows: they start late so people can drag their dehydrated, drunken selves over to see even more bands! Without an 11:00 p.m. start time and an opener, there's no way we could have made it over to see Fleet Foxes after the benefit. But it did start at 11:00, and we did make it, even catching the last two songs of Dungen's opening set. The attrition rate in the crowd was higher than it might otherwise have been due to the extreme heat inside Metro. A dubious thing to be grateful for, but it did mean that we were able to get much closer than I'd hoped to the stage. Sure, Robin's beard was constantly dripping sweat, the band threw two canvas bags of water bottles out to the crowd, and Robin kept asking during the encore if anyone else felt like they were a verse away from passing out due to heat stroke. But we were really close!

Formidable heat and humidity aside, the show was excellent. It was my first time seeing Fleet Foxes in a headlining slot, and hopefully not the last. I don't know how they make their harmonies sound so effortless and beautiful, but they sound every bit as good in person. Better. One perk of liking a band without an extensive back catalog is getting to see practically everything you want to see at a concert. "White Winter Hymnal," "Mykonos," "Blue Ridge Mountains," "Sun Giant," "Oliver James" ... all played, including a cameo by Dungen. We heard a brand new song, too.

By the time the show was finished the walls of Metro were sweating like a cold beer on a hot day. The only other surface I briefly touched on the way out - the rail on the staircase - was wet, too. Ugh. Even though it was 5:00 a.m. before I got home, I consider Saturday a triumph of good music and will over the elements. As usual, I'm hungry for more. Bring on the weekend!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Isn't it a lovely night?

Over the past six years I've seen the Decemberists eight times, and Colin Meloy solo four times. All were in Madison or the Chicago area. Of those combined twelve shows, only two venues have been repeats. The Decemberists' fanbase has grown steadily over the years - in size, if not in age, though I'm doing my part to drag the average up. On Wednesday night the band played their largest venue in Madison yet: the Overture Center. I don't relish the prospect of shows on the 7-foot Orpheum stage, and thought the Overture seemed better-suited for The Hazards of Love, so the venue upgrade was welcome news to me. In spite of a few questions on how the Overture would handle GA, I anticipated a fine night of music.

The Overture lobby struggled to accommodate curving lines of fans before doors opened, but the procession into the theater was orderly. The Heartless Bastards actually came on a bit early to open the show, and I liked their set. Sound quality at the front of the theater wasn't the best, but that's an expected trade-off I'm more than willing to make. During the break between sets I turned around to take in the sight of a nearly full Overture Hall. Very impressive.

The Decemberists' first set consisted of The Hazards of Love played in its entirety. The album hasn't grabbed me the way that most of the band's material has in the past, though I respect and appreciate what they've accomplished with it. Seeing it performed live, however, I was captivated. The Hazards of Love is the band's most theatrical release in many ways; a concept album that tells a complete (somewhat fantastical) story from start to finish. Listening to it is a bit like listening to a musical soundtrack. I found it very interesting, then, that the actual performance of The Hazards of Love was the least "theatrical" I've ever seen the Decemberists. There was no playful back and forth with the crowd, no singalong gimmicks, no props. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy all of those things. But this was very much an in-character performance. Colin alternated between William and the Rake, taking command with "The Rake's Song." (Which I loved. All of those drums!) Becky Stark floated about the stage as Margaret. Shara Worden leapt and howled (and smiled an awful lot) as the Queen. The audience wasn't acknowledged until the last notes of the lovely "Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)" had faded away, and I'd had time to recover from Chris Funk's awesomeness on pedal steel. It was truly a unique concert experience ... one I wouldn't mind repeating.

The second set saw the return of the usual Decemberists, with bonuses. Bonuses like Shara Worden taking the female vocal role on "Yankee Bayonet," and joining Becky Sharp for a joyous and energetic cover of Heart's "Crazy on You." Colin was chatty, explaining why we owe him a debt of gratitude (his song "Dracula's Daughter" is so bad that it made God cry a single tear, creating the lakes of Wisconsin) and reminiscing about the precarious Orpheum stage. He made use of the entire stage at the Overture, which is always a bit of an adventure when there's no barrier between the stage and the front row. The second encore began with a solo performance of the gorgeous "Red Right Ankle," and the band ended the show with "Sons and Daughters." Singing "hear all the bombs fade away" over and over at the top of your lungs with a theater full of people feels wonderful. (It is what the "Kingpin" scream wants to be.) The soundboard setlist routine didn't fail me on the way out, and I left with a nice physical souvenir of the evening. Well, that and a limited-edition poster that's taken up residence in The Pile at home. I'm weak when it comes to hometown shows.

Decemberists setlist, 8/5/09:

The Hazards of Love [full album]
The Crane Wife, Pt. 3
The Bachelor and the Bride
We Both Go Down Together [w/last verse of Morrissey's "Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together"]
Yankee Bayonet [duet w/Shara Worden]
Rox in the Box
July, July!
Dracula's Daughter
O Valencia!
Crazy on You (Heart cover) [Shara Worden and Becky Stark lead vocals]
Red Right Ankle [Colin solo]
Sons & Daughters

More pictures on flickr.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I have a habit of thinking ahead. Far ahead. This is helpful in many ways; it means I'm usually well-prepared for meetings, deadlines, trips, DVR-ing important episodes of Anthony Bourdain's show, etc. But it has its drawbacks.

In recent weeks I've been making plans for September, October, and November. I've calculated and budgeted my vacation time through the end of December. Today I forced myself to take a breath and realized: it is August 3rd. August. Right now. If I don't watch out, I'm going to miss the rest of this summer while my brain continues to function two months in the future.

Perhaps this can become an extension of my curious, newest endeavor: becoming less efficient. I recently bought an excellent pedometer on a friend's recommendation. My goal each day is to walk at least 10,000 steps, but I realize that some days it's not going to be possible. On the weekend I can do this easily. On a workday, with 90% of my job depending on a computer, it's a challenge. Even a designated walk or hike, weather permitting, doesn't completely make up for a day at the desk. And so, I find myself going out of my way to be less efficient. Time for a bathroom break - why not walk across campus to another building, go up to the second floor, and use that restroom? Need to wash my lunch dishes and refill my water bottle - why don't I make two separate trips for that?

I know suggestions for adding more walking into one's day are common sense, but I never considered the degree to which many of them contradict my current way of thinking. We're so well-programmed to make the most of every second of our time. It's a jarring shift in viewpoint. It's strange to walk upstairs at home, realize I forgot to bring something I was going to put away ... and instead of being annoyed, view it as a bonus trip. Strange, and strangely refreshing.

To broaden this philosophy, I am going to take some time out every day to reflect on the fact that it is summer, and I need to bask in it. Even if it's cold and raining. (It's not today!) I'm going to make sure everything I need to do for upcoming months gets scheduled in my calendar, and then I'm going to make myself not think about it for awhile. August. Wow, State Fair hasn't even begun yet.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fight songs

I went to an Old 97's show this week! The last time I saw the full band was at Festa Italiana in Chicago back in 2007, so I was overdue.

The evening began with solo sets from Murry Hammond and Rhett Miller. Having seen Rhett solo many times in the past, I was very glad to see him again, but more novel for me was the chance to see Murry. I'm not the biggest fan of his solo material, but I enjoyed the set, which included a Julie Miller cover and a spoken word piece of Murry's own. His performance of "Valentine" was one of my favorite songs of the night. "Of all the many ways a man will break his heart / well there ain't none meaner than he pulls his own apart." Ahhhh.

The 97's blazed through a set of noisy, energetic songs, as befitted the rather boisterous crowd. A fight broke out on the floor in the midst of the show, but luckily Rob was nearby and kept things from getting utterly out of hand. I hadn't seen the band since Blame it On Gravity came out, and was once again reminded that I should buy that album. I've enjoyed what I've heard for some time now, and I'm not used to not knowing every song by heart. The show ended with a one-two punch of Four Leaf Clover and Time Bomb. I always know what I'm going to get from an Old 97's show: good, solid fun. They deliver.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Viper at the SnS

Friday night I drove down to Chicago to see Viper and His Famous Orchestra play one of my favorite venues, Hotel S'n'S. I love seeing shows at Hotel S'n'S because the music is only half the fun. Friday night also included doggies, drinks, pretzel rods, another appearance by Ted Kennedy, stories of Mr. Ben, discussion of cans, new nicknames, and Twilight Sweethearts (a.k.a. the worst-tasting candy ever, whose horror is apparently eternal.) But the reason for the gathering was, of course, the music.

Things got underway shortly after 9:00 p.m. with the first set by Edward Burch. LeRoy Bach joined in to play "Dad Says" and a wonderful rendition of "Special Day" featuring John Peacock on the tambourine. Ed chose an eclectic group of songs to round out the rest of the set. How many times do you see "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" played solo acoustic? For me, at least, I'm putting my money on just this once.

Eclectic was also an apt description of the Viper and His Famous Orchestra's main set. With a formidable arsenal of instruments at their disposal, the band shifted effortlessly between pop, rap, waltzes, and sea shanties. (Good thing Sam had duct tape handy to repair Ed's brooms earlier in the evening, because he made excellent use of them.) "Winnebago Bay" made me glad to be wearing a Wisconsin shirt, though I wished my Sheboygan Falls comrades had been able to make it down. "Wanna Be Startin' Something" inspired the loudest singalong of the night, which isn't a surprise. The actual lyrics of the song, however, were a surprise to many in attendance. ("You're just a buffet?")

Not to slight their originals, which were great, but two of my favorite Viper songs of the night were YouTube gems the band had adapted for live performance. I have no idea how they found these, but they're amazing. The first was a rap called "Drunk Bus," a song with which any state school attendee can identify:

The second was "Benny Lava," based on a phonetic transcription of a great video from India. An enterprising gentleman wrote down English lyrics that sound like the words being sung. The band sang all the subtitles you see here:

The Viper and His Famous Orchestra played a show today at Milliennium Park in Chicago. I'm sorry I wasn't able to make it for that, but I'm glad I got to see them at the Hotel.

Following a break, Ed came back to play a "secret encore" by himself. The songs were somewhat slower, and I loved the Bennett and Burch elements. He also appeased the crowd request for ELO's "Telephone Line," which was appreciated by all. Ed's bonus set was great way to close out the musical portion of the night.

By my count, Friday's show was the eighth I've seen at Hotel S'n'S. Here's hoping for many more.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Michael Jackson and the greatest sticker page ever

In memory of Michael Jackson, I'm linking to an entry I wrote in 2007 looking back on my childhood sticker collection. Only a four-year-old could create something as wonderful as this:

Click here for more in Stickers: 1984.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First day of July

Oh right, I have a blog! Sorry, I nearly forgot. I'm afraid the past week or two will remain unreported here due to time constraints, but there were antics! Hijinks, even. Random quote: "I mean, he's not the star. The gerbils are the stars."

I'm looking forward to the holiday weekend, even though it feels like October here right now. I just realized I forgot to listen to "Last Day of June" yesterday. Damn it. I try to make it a point to listen to songs that reference specific dates on the appropriate day. Similar story with songs that refer to specific locales when I'm traveling. I already missed listening to U2's "Breathe" on the 16th of June, too. Saturday, though! "4th of July" and "Star Witness." It will happen.

And now you know another weird thing about me.

(What kind of flowers are these? They're all over Badger Prairie, or they were a couple weeks ago.)