Monday, February 21, 2011

We all wanna change the world

Most people are probably aware of the protests that have been going on for a week now in Madison, over Governor Scott Walker's "budget" bill.  My mom has worked in Wisconsin public schools for more than twenty-five years, so I don't think I need to explain where my support lies.  I've had friends out there daily, marching and holding up signs in support of our state's workers and unions.  On Saturday I went downtown to take part myself, thinking it would be interesting to see everything firsthand.  Well, it was more than interesting.  It was amazing.

It might seem odd considering what's at stake, but the mood around the capitol was overwhelmingly upbeat.  I think people understand that no matter what happens, the very act of coming together in support of something they truly believe is vitally important.  One sign I saw said it well: "You can take my money, but you can't take my voice!"  Everybody was polite.  More polite and friendly than your typical Saturday on State Street, for sure.  Considerate of people crossing the streets, of everyone in the crowd.  There was a union-sponsored van set up on Wisconsin Ave with a grill, handing out free brats to a long line of people.  There was free bottled water there.  I saw another man set up on a bench on the square, making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for anybody who wanted one.  Ian's Pizza on State Street has set up an online system for people to buy pizza for the protesters on the square, and they've been selling out.   

Folks were handing out signs printed up by WEAC, and thousands of people had their own homemade signs.  Some mentioned where the protesters came from ... Wauwatosa, Kenosha, Minnesota, even Mississippi.  And there were so many families.  Speakers were set up along the square, playing a sort of protest mix ... the Beatles' "Revolution," "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror."  Some of the marchers had drums and tambourines.  There were lines of Union cabs driving around a block away, honking and waving, to mass cheers from the crowd.  Many cars honking on Dayton as they drove past.  For a few minutes I stood near firemen who were waving flags.  The many police officers around were relaxed and friendly.  They seemed more like spectators. 

Sixty thousand people congregated downtown on Saturday - from both sides, although anti-Walker protesters far outnumbered supporters - and no arrests were made.  Nobody was injured.  The Madison Police department actually issued a statement in praise of the crowd.  That's incredible to me.  Even if I'm ashamed of our governor, I'm so proud of Wisconsin right now.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A panoply of song

Though I realized it just days ago, I didn't see the Decemberists in 2010.  They weren't touring anywhere in my vicinity, but the fact remains that 2010 was the first year post-2003 that I failed to see them at least once.  It felt good, then, to be able to open my 2011 concert season with a Decemberists show at the Riverside in Milwaukee.  (I don't know if Mamma Mia! last weekend counted as a first concert.)

After a brisk wait in line and a pretty set by Mountain Man (a band that, interestingly, contains no men), we were ready for the main act.  The Decemberists opened with "Leslie Anne Levine" from Castaways and Cutouts, and we were off.  Nothing like a song narrated by a dead girl to get things started right!  There were more trademark vivid narratives to come, but many of my favorite songs of the night were from The King is Dead.  The new album came out a few weeks ago, and I like it more with each listen.  "Rise to Me" and "June Hymn" were particularly lovely at the Riverside.

Despite the prevalence of newer, more understated material, the show wasn't short on band theatrics.  Chris Funk, John Moen, and tour guest Sara Watkins took to the house as the Decemberists Family Players during "A Cautionary Song," acting out three tableaux of Colin's choosing: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the sinking of the Titanic, and the Roman Polanski scandal.  Colin handed Chris Funk's flask to a kid in the front row.  The band collectively perished on stage, with much flopping, after everyone got eaten by the whale in "The Mariner's Revenge Song."  I'm not the biggest fan of that tune on Picaresque, but I definitely get its appeal in the live setting.  We even got a verse and chorus of "In the Air Tonight," by Phil Collins.

All of the above and more made for an excellent show, but the best moment of the night for me came when Colin said the following words: "We're gonna play a song about San Francisco."  For years now - six, to be exact - I've hoped to hear "Grace Cathedral Hill" in concert.  Not living in the Bay Area, the pickings are slim.  They played it the first time I saw the band in 2004, but I longed to hear it again.  This was the state of things on Friday evening, when I happened to check Twitter just as Colin solicited requests for that night's Chicago concert.  I took a chance on a request for Milwaukee instead, hoping a mention of last hearing the song at Luther's Blues in '04 might help my case.  I'll probably never know if my request had anything to do with it ... but I do know that on Saturday night the Decemberists played "Grace Cathedral Hill," with plenty of pedal steel, and it was gorgeous.

I drove back home early Sunday morning with a guitar pick in my pocket and songs swirling around in my head.  And the next night, the Packers won the Super Bowl.  Banner weekend in Wisconsin!  The Decemberists announced today that they'll be back at the Overture Center in April.  Me too.

Setlist (as displayed by Matt):