Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Outdoor music

Despite Wisconsin's mostly miserable intro to spring this year, outdoor music season is upon us again! To celebrate, last weekend I took in two al fresco performances.

The Baseball Project

On Friday evening, The Baseball Project played at a Madison Mallards game. A small but enthusiastic crowd turned up for the pre-game concert in the stands behind home plate, and more folks arrived as game time drew closer. Seeing the band at the Duck Pond was a treat in itself, given their oh-so-appropriate subject matter. The ubiquity of parents with children inspired a family-friendly version of the song "Ted 'Freaking' Williams," among other baseball-related favorites. Each frontman also took the lead on one of his own songs: Steve Wynn's "Amphetamine," Scott McCaughey's "Lies of the Living Dead," and an excellent version of R.E.M.'s "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" with Mike Mills on lead vocals. The Baseball Project looked as comfortable as one would expect at a baseball game, clad in sport-appropriate attire. (Steve Wynn joked that he wore a pinstriped jacket and slacks in honor of the Yankees.) There was also a classic Wisconsin ballpark touch: a fresh basket of deep fried cheese curds was brought to the stage midset. "This is the best day of your life!" drummer Linda Pitmon joked after Steve called attention to the cheesy treats. All this plus a free Maynard bobblehead and a Mallards win: a good night at the ballpark.

Robbie Fulks and Nora O'Connor

Sunday afternoon found me at the Yahara Waterfront Festival, enjoying music and empanadas (and "Recall Scott Walker" sign-sporting sailboats) on the shore of Lake Monona. I caught some of the Campbell Brothers' set, as well as Sleeping in the Aviary, but it was Robbie Fulks I came to see. Robbie's performance at the Second City 24-hour marathon every December is one of my favorite parts of the event, so I was happy for a chance to catch him in Madison with a full band. As it turned out, he even brought a bonus singer along: Nora O'Connor. Nora sang with Robbie for most of the set, including a couple of excellent duets. Nora also took lead on a verse of "The Girl is Mine," one of two Michael Jackson covers Robbie played. "The Way You Make Me Feel" and a rousing version of "Let's Kill Saturday Night" were my other highlights ... that and watching toddlers dance madly in the grass. Summer music season, can you stay forever?