Thursday, April 29, 2010

Singin' songs I knew

If I don't write about this now I'll never get to it, so: I saw Jakob Dylan and Three Legs last night at the Pabst!  I confess that I bought a ticket to this show for two main reasons: first, Jakob Dylan is touring with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, whom I like very much.  Secondly, in high school I had a bit of a crush on Jakob Dylan.

Even if these weren't the soundest of reasons to attend a weeknight show in Milwaukee, I enjoyed myself.  Guitar player Paul Rigby and Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel were major reasons for that.  Jakob Dylan has really assembled an excellent band.  Most of the songs played were from Jakob's latest album Women and Country, but there were some selections from his previous solo album and two from Bringing Down the Horse ... a record I remember fondly from 1996.  It was a trip to hear "6th Avenue Heartache" live, with Kelly Hogan and Neko Case singing backup.  Neko and Jakob had a lot of fun singing together on "All Day and All Night," complete with some graphic hand gestures from Neko.  Kelly got a great response from the crowd for her lead verse of "Three Marlenas."  I'm glad I made the trip to Milwaukee - after all, what would I have done at home instead?  Packed for the wedding weekend instead of doing so right now?  (Eeep!)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The List

I'm always referring to The List, as in The List of Places I Want to Go Someday (Preferably Soon).  "Oh sure, that's on The List."  The thing is, there never was any list.  I had destinations in my head, but nothing keeping track of them ... until the other day, when I decided to make a first pass at creating The List in written form.  Here's what I came up with.  Destinations are roughly in order of how much I want to go, at least the first half.  The second half devolves into "Now that you bring it up, I would like to go there."  I'd appreciate any feedback.  Are there glaring omissions?  Specific recommendations?  Cautionary tales?  Lord knows I love to plan ahead.

The List

Nashville (Ryman Auditorium)
Louisiana (New Orleans)
South America (esp. Chile, Argentina, Patagonia)
Amalfi Coast
France (Paris)
Carribbean (somewhere)
South Africa
Extensive Route 66 road trip
Montana (Yellowstone)
Mississippi *
Omaha or Lincoln **
North Dakota ***
South Dakota ***
Shetland Islands
Nepal or Bhutan (Himalayas) ****
UAE or Qatar
Cook Islands or French Polynesia
Switzerland (Alps)
Northern Ireland

* I've driven through and stopped, but feel I haven't really experienced Mississippi
** I haven't seen much of Nebraska
*** Sort of obligations to round out the 50.  Sorry, Dakotas!  I'm sure you're great!
**** Bhutan has extensive tourism rules, which makes me want to find a way around them

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Week in review

Last week, that is.  I returned from Pennsylvania on Monday.

Picked up bridesmaid dress from the seamstress.  Then, David Sedaris at the Overture Center.  I enjoyed myself right from the opening selection, a preview from his upcoming book of fables.  Or, as David said, not fables - since fables have morals.  He also read a story I'd seen last year in The New Yorker, "Laugh, Kookaburra."  I liked it at the time, but hearing him read stories brings them to a whole new place.  There were more anecdotes and stories, a brief mention of genocide in Rwanda (so that some college kids who attended could get credit for the talk) and a book recommendation: Irish Girl by Tim Johnston.  David mentioned that the title story had been included in a compilation he edited some years ago.  Proceeds from the book went toward ... toward ... "It was for fucked up kids.  I don't remember what was wrong with them.  I did it so I would seem generous."  I love you, David Sedaris.

Wisconsin Film Festival!  I saw The Exploding Girl at the Chazen Museum.  I liked the movie, though it moved very, very slowly and not much happened.  The lead actress reminded me of a young Kristen Schaal, though her character was nothing like Kristen Schaal.  I thought the film did a surprisingly good job of building a tense, suspenseful mood throughout what was actually a not-too-suspenseful plot.

Wisconsin Film Festival official opening night.  Some friends and I saw The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls at the Orpheum.  Lynda and Jools Topp are lesbian twins who have a successful comedy and music act in New Zealand.  The documentary was top-notch.  I was completely unfamiliar with the Topp Twins beforehand, but I came away with a great sense of their personalities, their history, and social and political issues in New Zealand.  It was both entertaining (I think my favorite Topp Twins characters are Camp Mother and Camp Director) and unexpectedly touching.  Director Leanne Pooley answered questions after the film, and said that Jools and Lynda will be performing in San Francisco when the film screens there this year.  I'll continue to dream of them playing our local county fair.

Harmony and Me at the Union Theater.  A comedy set in Austin about a young, quirky, recently-broken-up, sometime-musician guy with oddball friends and family.  Much of the movie was improvised, and as a veteran of seven 24-hour improv benefits since 2003, I could tell.  In a good way, mostly.  The film was very funny in many places, although as you might imagine from the description, it was also a little ... overly self-aware ... at times.  Regardless, I enjoyed it.  The director, Robert Byington, came out for a Q&A session afterward.  Byington also played Harmony's older brother in the film - one of my favorite characters.  It was a nice ending to my 2010 film festival experience.

Gina's bachelorette party in Chicago!  I checked into our kick-ass suite at the Dana Hotel and Spa before my facial.  It was a actually more than just a facial (that sounds dirty) - there was also a massage involved, and lots of heavenly scents and creams and aromatherapy.  The only part I didn't enjoy was when the esthetician did the "extraction of impurities," at which point I swear to god she started beating me up.  Maybe not quite, but holy crap!  My nose!  Was not expecting that!  Anyway.  Overall, it was great.  I want to live at a spa.  Or at least get treatments for an entire weekend sometime.  Which would cost seventy-eight bajillion dollars, but might be worth it.  While the others got their spa treatments,  I had enough time to Brown Line it over to Laurie's Planet of Sound to celebrate Record Store Day with Sam and co.  I picked up a CD, and - find of finds - spotted the book David Sedaris edited for fucked up kids in a used book box!   Score.  As a bonus, I heard ten minutes of DJ Pat Sansone spinning some sweet tunes before heading back to the Dana.  Drinks with the ladies at the hotel bar, dinner at Nacional 27, liquor store, back to the suite.  Mindful of lessons learned last summer at the hands of Europeans and patxaran, I suffered no ill effects from drinking.  It was just a really fun night.  Hooray for Gina's waning days as a bachelorette!

A short, brisk morning walk made me realize that I could live in a high-rise on State and Erie in downtown Chicago and be perfectly happy for a long time.  Sunny, early spring days obviously strengthen that impression, but really.  The area is bustling with activity, grocery stores and restaurants and shops everywhere, close to the CTA, view of the lake.  Quiet on the twenty-third floor.  And I could take public transport to parks or the 'burbs if I wanted, right?  So when I come into a ton of money, it's settled: I'm moving into the spa at the Dana.  Brunch was at Cuatro in the South Loop (shared coconut milk pancakes! chilaquiles!) and afterward it was time to head back home.   I can't wait to see everyone again at the wedding in less than two weeks OH MY GOD.    

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Same old thing we did last week

This entry began as a place holder for a more extensive account of my "Evening with Wilco" weekend finale in Pennsylvania.  Three quarters of the way through a very busy week, I have to acknowledge that a formal narrative just isn't in the cards.  Here, then, are various facts about my weekend in bite-sized chunks.  Bullet points: the lazy blogger's best friend.
  • The weather last weekend was gorgeous.  A bit nippy in the shade in Philly, but that worked itself out by the end of the day.  I love how much further along they are with spring out there.  As you can see from the picture above, cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
  • Heather and Russ took us to Reading Terminal Market in the early afternoon.  So much to see!  Such a long line for the ladies' room!  It reminded me fondly of other indoor markets I've visited over the years.  After gawking at the cake and candy counters after lunch, members of our party bought some amazing cookies for future snacking.  A wise choice.  
  • Tamala and I toured the house where Edgar Allen Poe lived in Philadelphia, which was a short walk from the Electric Factory.  Our guide was very nice, but seemed to believe she knew Poe personally (and called him "Eggert.")  Perhaps she doesn't actually work there at all, but shows up on weekends in a homemade uniform to give tours.  I bought a Poe-stcard on the way out, passing up Poe-sters and books of Poe-try.  (I know.  I had a million of them.  Be grateful you weren't there.)
  • We returned to the Electric Factory just in time to hear (from outside, but very clearly) a soundcheck full of cover songs.  They weren't being checked for any particular purpose, but even hearing the whole band play them through thin walls was good enough for me.  "A Fool Such As I," "The Losing End," "So Much Wine," "Thirteen."  Lap steel.  Sigh.
  • Another crazy long show in Philly.  The band ended with a Mike-laptop "rave" version of "I'm A Wheel," and if you count that, thirty-nine songs.  Hot damn.  I happened to be looking back at a setlist from a few years ago, and they'd played about twenty songs.  Oh yes.  Officially spoiled for all time now.
  • Because I see a lot of Wilco, I'm uncomfortable requesting songs unless specifically asked.  This means I don't make much use of the show-specific "request" feature on the band's website.  I've done it on occasion, but not more than once for a particular show, and then only rarely.  The odds are good I'll someday hear whatever it is I'm looking for, so I figure I shouldn't mess with anyone else's chance to hear a song they want.  That being said, I did request "That's Not the Issue" for the first Montclair show.  It wasn't played that night, but showed up a week later in Hartford.  Luckily for me, they played it one more time in Philly!  Long live the banjo!
  • At some point Saturday night, I tried a sip of Tamala's Wilco Tango Foxtrot (WTF) beer.  Still not a beer fan.  Good to know.  I think Paul also wore a bull mask, but that could be the WTF talking.
  • There was 2:00 a.m. cheesesteak.  
  • Sunday morning, off to Pittsburgh.  We drove right through Amish country.  Almost stopped for shoofly pie, but thought better of it.  (Are you sensing a food theme here?  That's because on our trips, there almost always is a food theme.)
  • I've been to Pittsburgh a couple times before, but never to the Pitt campus area.  I liked it very much.  It had more of an open, big-city feel than even the larger midwestern campuses I'm used to.  Everything seemed more substantial; more "real."  Museums, halls, parks, statues.  Outdoor dim sum/sushi/bubble tea pavilions.  There was also a carnival underway on Bigelow.  We narrowly missed an outdoor show by Jack's Mannequin!  We did see about twenty students wearing Jack's Mannequin shirts, though.
  • Met up with hometown boy Kris and his friend before the show, and learned more about comics than I knew before.  Which was nothing.
  • Carnegie Music Hall was much older and more ornate, and much smaller, than I'd been imagining.  It was beautiful inside, and we had a good view from the seventh row, but the show felt different from the previous general admission blowouts.  People alternated between sitting and standing, and didn't move much even when on their feet.  Happily, the sound quality made up for any weirdness in atmosphere.  Hearing every note clearly made the band playing "More Like the Moon" again that much sweeter.  The harmonies in "When You Wake Up Feeling Old" sounded excellent, too.
  • I'd been planning all week to eat the hell out of a Primanti Brothers sandwich in Pittsburgh on Sunday, but we made the mistake of putting it off until after the show.  When we walked in, they announced they'd just sold their last two sandwiches.  Damn it!  Never fear; I got my quota of late-night crap food anyway: a superdog (with bacon and American cheese) and a mess of fries at The "O."  One of these days, Primanti Brothers.  One of these days.
I won't be seeing any more Wilco shows before August, so it was nice to get my fill of these "Evening With" concerts while I had the chance.  For now, it's on to other things.  I'm currently in the midst of a do-something-downtown-every-night week, which is fun but messes with stuff like laundry and grocery shopping and trying on my bridesmaid dress with various shoe pairings.  And packing ...  this weekend, Chicago.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Thank you friends

I took an Easter trip to New Jersey and Rhode Island this past weekend to see Wilco.  If you can believe it,  I almost volunteered to work instead.  I could've spent the holiday weekend in a Dakota (both on my list of states I've never visited) and taken some recovery time afterward.  But as I struggled to figure out a way to make it all work, I realized: what was I, crazy?  I already had two business trips scheduled.  I was really going to forego rock tourism to do a third in one month?  Nope.  Besides, I'd never been to Rhode Island, either.

Trust me, it was a great decision.

If you read this blog with any frequency, you may be aware that I see a lot of Wilco shows.  When the band announced an "Evening with Wilco" tour for March and April, the press promised extended sets spanning all of the band's releases.  Still, I was skeptical that the shows would be markedly different from those I'm used to.  No opening band is a sweet perk, but I've seen the band without an opener.  Those shows are typically longer, and often contain surprises, but I wouldn't say they're a different experience.

In order to conserve vacation time, I limited the scope to open weekend dates on my calendar.  New Jersey/Providence (three shows) and Philadelphia/Pittsburgh (two shows) were the contenders.  On one hand, a tidy weekend in Pennsylvania.  On the other hand, back-to-back shows in Montclair and my inaugural visit to RI.  All the while, there was the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that these shows truly might be unique.  Obviously, Wilco's "normal" show is incentive enough for me to take a trip.  But if these turned out to be different, I'd kick myself later - hard - for failing to maximize my opportunities.  So, both, then.  Two weekend trips, in the middle three months already full to bursting with plans.

Trust me, it was a great decision.

Over the two nights in Montclair, Wilco played 60 different songs.  Plus fifteen repeats.  Then another 36-song set in Providence, adding four new ones to the tally (five if you count Mike's "Easter Bunny" synth number) for a grand total of 111 songs performed over three nights.  Over nine hours of music.

When it comes to Wilco, I don't think I've felt quite so giddy as I did that first night in Montclair since the residency.  It was that sense of having no idea would come next.  Each show included a stripped-down, intimate set on mostly acoustic instruments, played at the front of the stage.  (This arrangement is expertly set up and broken down without interrupting the music.)  The setlists included new arrangements of songs I'd heard before, songs I'd never heard before, covers of Big Star (two!) and Buffalo Springfield songs, songs I'd dreamed about hearing again someday, and a side project song that I never thought Wilco would reprise as a full band.  They played "More Like the Moon!"  And "Dreamer in my Dreams" twice, with two different setups!  "Candyfloss!"  "Too Far Apart!"  "Laminated Cat!"  Pat played a banjo.  John played a standup bass.  Nels played an acoustic guitar.  They gave away gift certificates for free dinners.  The two nights in Montclair and the night in Providence - especially Montclair - more than exceeded my expectations.

Those were the shows, but there was also the tourism.  Providence seems to be a great town, and I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to explore it on a day that wasn't Easter Sunday.  Montclair also impressed - both Cafe Eclectic for drinks and Raymond's for brunch get a thumbs-up from me, and I could have spent hours in rooms upon rooms of the nearby bookstore.  Montclair had some great houses, and though we didn't see many residential areas of Providence, the old buildings were impressive.  Mail chutes!  Architectural details!  The weather was sunny and warm the entire time, too.  Sitting on the steps of Providence's City Hall at 12:30 a.m. with friends, cracking up, enjoying refreshments from the legendary silver truck parked nearby, I realized for the thousandth time how much I just plain love doing this.  I'm so glad I had the foresight to plan for another round next weekend.