Thursday, April 23, 2009

Controlled burn

I think they did a burn at Badger Prairie. After work this evening I stopped there for a walk, and was startled by how different everything looked. Since last time I was there a couple of weeks ago, the remnants of the tall grasses are all gone. Now there's only black earth with bright green paths cutting through it. Plus the occasional pond.

I felt oddly exposed walking through; I'm used to the plants and grasses hiding everything past the last turn. It was excellent, though, for scouting paths. I already know my way around quite well, but this was an unparalleled opportunity to figure out where the paths connect and diverge on a grand scale. I'll be using this knowledge once the grass is back. (I already see green things sprouting everywhere. I can't wait to chart the prairie's progress throughout the spring and summer.)

The prairie walk was a nice way to relax. After last week's fun, I've been thrust back into deadline city at work. Until next Thursday, things will not be pretty. However, I've been trying to pace myself and not get too stressed or overwhelmed. It helps that I have plenty of things coming up outside work, though even there I must tread lightly in thought. Flight of the Conchords, house guest, Brewers game, Robbie Fulks, friend's wedding, business trip (wait, that's work), EUROPE. Steady, one thing at a time. Too bad my brain always wants to tackle ten.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Milwaukee week

Between Easter Sunday and five minutes ago when I sat down to type, all of my time at home has been spent asleep, getting ready for work, or getting ready for bed. The rest of the time? Work, and Milwaukee.

Here's a photo of my dining room table at the moment - after four days of serving as a place to toss random crap as I'm coming or going. (There would be a Brewers mini helmet there too, but due to nacho cheese sauce remnants I was actually forced to wash it. Therefore, it's in the sink.)

Monday: Work, then Brewers game with Rob, Tamala, and their adorable and energetic girls. First (third) pitch by Jeff Tweedy, sausage races, an interminable top of the 3rd inning, two Brewers home runs despite the loss (see third inning). A mini-helmet full of cheese fries. Seats 8 rows behind home plate. Leave after seventh inning stretch due to long week ahead (and possible lameness.) Drive home. Night one of very little sleep.

Tuesday: Work, then back to Milwaukee for Wilco's first of two shows at the Pabst. Party at Nate and Noel's sweet apartment. A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Slew of friends in from Chicago. Wilco. Two new songs, Wisconsin-centric banter. Great performance of Theologians. Friendly show neighbors. PBR tall boys. Way too late of a night afterward. Drive home. Fill up gas tank. Night two of very little sleep.

Wednesday: Work, then back to Milwaukee for Wilco's second of two shows at the Pabst. Witness part of photo shoot for possible album art featuring fans in line, fans in Nudie suits, and a mysterious birthday cake. Dinner at Safe House. Tamala finds a 6th row ticket on the street and turns it in. Lobby socializing. Wilco. Awesome version of Shouldn't Be Ashamed. General Nels Cline appreciation night. Glenn tries something different in lieu of the Todd Trainor tribute, holding up some huge unidentifiable prop instead. Jeff's Brewers hat is back for the encores. Rocking finale. More lobby socializing. Drive home. Night three of very little sleep.

Thursday: Work. Actually go home, as opposed to Milwaukee. Contemplate how lovely it is outside, but today's ten-minute outdoor walk after lunch at work will have to suffice, because no longer able to move.

All in all? Fantastic. Can we do it again next week?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You'll be where you want to be

Five years. Five years of our basement show at Hotel S'n'S. Five years of weekends when a gaggle of friends convenes in Chicago for a few days of music, food, and general revelry. I was blogless the first year, which means that this is the fourth time I've written about the experience. What more can I say? Let's see.

Following tradition, Friday night was a theme party: this year, Canada. There were many great contributions to the evening, but the star of the show was our very own Canadian Judy. From Canadian snacks to Canadian hats to Canadian books, she provided for our every CanCon need. Sam had the basement decked out with Canadian LP's, a Canadian mix featuring real-time voting via iPhone Remote, and Nardwuar playing on the big screen. Costume highlights included various Degrassi cast members and Avril Lavigne. I myself became Anne of Green Gables for the evening, although I was mistaken more than once for Holly Hobbie. As if! Holly lives in Massachusetts, people. Throw in the proliferation of Chelada and some man-on-man dressing squirting action, and you have quite the ... Canadian affair? Maybe, maybe not. But no matter what, it was exactly what I'd expect from us.

Saturday, then, was the show. Some of us bucked tradition and did Hot Doug's a day early, freeing up Saturday morning and early afternoon for errands, cleaning, cooking, and - most importantly - saving our appetites for the evening potluck. The traditional 5th anniversary gift is wood, so it was only appropriate that Uyen brought some handsome and delectable woodgrain cupcakes along. I've enumerated the delicacies comprising our feast in the past, but I'd have to say that the big honors this year go to Walrus with his soft serve machine, 500 cones, and boxes of fixings. Amazing.

Jeff and Susan arrived, as they do, and the performance portion of the night officially got underway. Jeff sat in front of the CanCon LP shelf, we settled in amongst the chairs, couches, stairs, dogs, and beer bottles, and the music began. We were much better prepared this year, having communicated some more obscure requests beforehand. Sure enough, it paid off - in addition to many of the tried and true singalongs and favorites from years past, Jeff dusted off a couple of nuggets from our very first year: the Split Enz duo of "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" and "I Got You." There were some joking comparisons of Neil Finn's output at the age of 18 or 19 to Jeff's own output ("Flatness," one of the first requests of the night) but I think it's fair to say that both were enjoyed equally this night. And after singing it with Split Enz and an arena full of pogoing Kiwis last March in Wellington, I can add yet another unique "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" experience to my memory banks. That song might win for the greatest personal associations.

It wasn't all covers and Uncle Tupelo songs. "At My Window Sad and Lonely" sounded great, and I don't know if I'd ever heard a solo version in person before. "More Like the Moon," though Kristina apologized for requesting it again, is a request for which one should never, ever apologize. There was a nice moment, too, when we heard a small clatter from upstairs seconds before Jeff sang, "everything is breaking..." Synchronicity.

It seems like there was something else ... oh yeah. We also listened to the new album, which Jeff had brought along. After reading a handful of seemingly conflicting reports, I had no idea what to expect. It was definitely too much to take in fully on one listen, but there are parts still kicking around in my head. Loose phrases, sounds, impressions. On one hand, I can't wait to hear it again; to examine things more carefully and get to know the songs. On the other hand, there's something great about the fact that my only impressions of these songs as finished products (though unmastered) came from this one listen, on this night, in this environment. I kind of want to hold onto that for awhile.

After the album and a few other tracks, Jeff returned to the spotlight with a bowl of pretzels and his guitar for the encore. There were more requests, and Jeff jokingly turned down someone's proposal that he play another song with Mart this year. Nope, he insisted, not going to happen. Not this year. (Stage whisper to the couch: "He's really good!") We had a couple of excellent sing-alongs to "Gun" and Blondie's "Dreaming." And then Jeff asked if he got to make the last request. "Of course," we replied. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't this: Jeff requested that Mart play "Sir Duke," and held out his '53 Gibson. Mart took it, Jeff went to sit with Susan, and Mart played and sang the hell out of the song. We danced and sang with him. It was great finale.

The night wasn't over, of course. There was much more excitement to follow after the guests of honor left, including additional musical performances by Martin, Dave, Hamilton, Rob, and Patti - with Judy and Tamala taking turns on the Dr. Teeth tambourine. (Judy absolutely owns the tambourine windmill.) More Chelada. The arrival of Ted Kennedy. It was after 5:00 a.m. before I finally collapsed into the spare room bed.

It hasn't even been a week yet, and there are a thousand memories flying around my brain. Every year this feels more like family reunion, and I'm so glad to be a part of it. But as many years as we've been doing this, there are always a few experiences that make me marvel anew at my good fortune. Not too many people get to hear a band's new record for the first time two months before its release, in their friend's basement, with one of of its principle creators. And even fewer get to do so while eating an ice cream cone from a soft serve machine installed upstairs.

Also see:

Monday, April 6, 2009

My vote for new album artwork

I had a great weekend. More on this after I've collected my thoughts, and after I've spent 16 hours away tomorrow for a conference in Chicago. Oh, Chicago. It's been so long.