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

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