Thursday, March 31, 2011

So flattered by fate

It's the end of the first quarter of 2011, and I finally got to see some Jeff Tweedy shows! On a short tour that hit just six cities, two of Jeff's stops were Madison and Iowa City. Clearly I was in for the short drive downtown on Monday, and Iowa City fell just within my reasonable weeknight range. Well, "reasonable." You know how I do.

Madison and Iowa City ended up being very different shows. Madison was a little longer, and a little more ... in control. Which is somewhat ironic, because there were probably a few more more disruptive folks, if we're talking sheer numbers, at the Capitol Theater. At one point toward the end of the night in Madison, Jeff started to strum "Be Not So Fearful" in response to a shouted request, but was completely drowned out by other requests and actually gave up. In Iowa City, however, the show was all but taken over for awhile by one particularly loud and insistent disruptive girl (who at one point squawked that she was the daughter of the mayor of Cedar Rapids), in addition to plenty of beer bottle clinking and some random comments and mysterious ripples of laughter. None of this meant that either show was bad, and I think Jeff has been handling the unpredictable nature of audiences better and better.  It's just that, like it or not, the audience can shape the show. Mostly-ruly Madison got a few more songs, as well as more singalongs and general crowd participation. Iowa City got some extended exchanges with certain audience members, and a pointed dedication of "So Much Wine" by the Handsome Family.

Not only was "So Much Wine" a fitting dedication for the mayor's daughter, it was also one of many musical highlights of the two shows. A new song, "Born Alone," was played in Madison and in Iowa City and is already stuck in my head. I loved hearing "In a Future Age" and "Airline to Heaven" in Iowa, and "Candyfloss" and "Pieholden Suite" in Madison. "Not for the Season" (or "Laminated Cat," if you prefer) was played both nights as well. Jeff mentioned in Iowa City that Nels gets credit for a lot of the guitar parts Jeff actually performed on albums, much to Nels's discomfort. "Loved your work on A Ghost is Born, Nels!" And Jeff's new(?) ivory resonator guitar proved perfectly suited for a duo of off-mic show closers.

These shows plunged me full-tilt into the spring concert season in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. I've got another show tomorrow, then the Wisconsin Film Festival this weekend, another show Tuesday, a show the following Monday, and then Friday and Saturday and maybe Sunday, and then Tuesday, and then the next Saturday and Sunday, and then that Tuesday, then maybe Friday, and then the next week Saturday and Sunday, and then I have a work trip and suddenly it's mid-May. I feel a bit like I'm in a roller coaster car that's just begun its trip down the first big hill, gaining momentum. Too late to get off!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I know a place

Many months ago, when we first read about Mavis Staples playing at the Oneida Casino in Green Bay, Tamala, Rob and I had the same reaction: really? Given the places she's been appearing lately, plus her recent Grammy and NAACP Image awards, it seemed too good to be true. When we figured out that the show was in the Oneida Lounge and free, well, that seemed way too good to be true. But we were definitely going to Green Bay Sunday night, on the off chance it wasn't.

As you've probably guessed, it was true. The lounge was a small area just off the main casino floor, with tables on platforms behind a semicircular bar. The bar seats offered the best view of the stage, which was directly behind the bar. And at every bar seat? A Keno/video poker screen. The catch, as we learned, was that to keep one's priority seat at the bar, one had to be playing. With $2.50 drinks and 5-cent poker credits, this wasn't exactly a hardship, but it did make for one of the strangest concert experiences I've ever had. I don't think anyone was paying much attention once the music started, but we still found ourselves guiltily dealing or betting during song breaks.

Mavis and her band were fantastic. We had our doubts about the atmosphere, but a crowd gathered behind the bar and at the tables, loudly cheering and applauding for every song. Even though we hadn't expected more than an hour or so of music with two more nights ahead for the band, we got a full concert on Sunday. Mavis was chatty - she even confessed to cheering for the Packers during the Super Bowl (as long as nobody was looking). The songs sounded great, highlights including "You Are Not Alone," "I Belong to the Band," and the classic "I'll Take You There." And after the show, we got a chance to chat with Mavis and many of the band members in the lounge. Rob was able to return for Tuesday night's show, but I'm glad I at least got to see Sunday. Green Bay isn't much farther away than Chicago ... maybe I should keep a closer eye on the Oneida calendar.

Friday, March 4, 2011

March forth

I hate winter - vastly preferring summer in the battle of Extreme Seasons - but I have a sneaking suspicion that deep down, I actually enjoy winter for the sake of this time of year. It's not spring yet, but I can feel it coming. And when spring comes to Wisconsin, I feel more than relief at the end of winter. It's a sense of triumph, that another winter has been vanquished. We won, damn it! I see winter as a foe, but if it were never below zero and blizzarding outside, I wouldn't be this giddy at the melting of snow and warmer breezes. I've been feeling sluggish lately, and I'm hoping the advent of spring will give me a jolt of energy. So why wait until the end of the month? On March 1st I abandoned my winter coat for a spring jacket, because eff you, winter. There's only a week until Daylight Saving time begins.

Of course, at this time of year I'm also full of spring and summer ambition.  I'll go up north!  I'll go camping!  I'll take walks at Conservation Park every week!  I'll swim in Goose Lake!  Mini road trips! Brewers games!  I tend to forget that summer no longer means I'm on vacation.  But hey, might as well start out with the best of intentions.