Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bobby Bare Jr, Chicago Oct 7th, 2010 (or: Maybe I didn't say it first)

About a year ago my buddy Pete was at our house visiting and, as usual, we were eating, drinking, listening to music, talking about movies, telling lies and generally annoying members of our family unfortunate enough to walk through our conversations. During one of many pointless conversations, Dane Cook came up. Pete had been getting back into stand up and doing some open mics, so perhaps this is how Cook winds up in our discussion.

I do not have strong feelings for or against Dane Cook. I have seen a special once and had a few chuckles but was not so taken that I wanted to seek out more of his work. Nor was I so offended that I swore off ever watching him again. His bits seemed to be aimed at your traditional, middle of the road, frat type, of which I'm not. So, I make the proclamation that "Dane Cook is the Nickelback of stand up comedy."


Minimal words used to gently and cleverly mock Cook, Nickelback and fans of either.

As the conversation wandered through the afternoon in the back of my mind I kept wondering if not only am I the first person to make this incredibly insightful connection between Cook and Nickelback, but also the first to do it so elegantly.

"Pete, is there any way to find out if I am the first, because if I am, I want to make damn sure I get credit for it."

Well, with a few finger strokes of the iPhone Pete is able to find an earlier example of that exact phrase on a random blog. Mind you, the original utterance was no more than 3 months old at the time and, as much as he could try, he was unable to find another example of the phrase being used. OK, dream crushed, but not by much.

On October 7th, 2010 I had the good fortune to see Bobby Bare Jr. play at Schuba's Tavern in Chicago. I love Schuba's. I like that it is an old Schlitz building, I like the size of the room, I like that the performers have to walk through the crowd to get to the stage, I like the beer offerings on tap, I like that I can get right up to the front of the stage without much trouble. It is pretty hard to find something not to like about Schuba's.

My only other time seeing Bobby Bare Jr. was at the Bloodshot records 15th anniversary party. If I remember correctly the band for that show included bass, drums, trumpet and bari sax. Maybe a keyboard. The band sounded great and the set list was excellent, but the show was basically in a back alley behind the Chicago Department of Sanitation and the set seemed to end as soon as it started. The Schuba's show had Bobby backed by Blue Giant of Portland, a traditional 'rock band' type line up. Many of the same song, but presented with completely different instrumentation.

At the show I picked up his (fantastic) new record and The Longest Meow and listened to both on my drive out of the city. The next day I found myself switching between his albums all day in the car. All the songs, all the different instrumentation, all the colors that he can conjure up. None of the songs employ terribly complex chords or dramatic changes in rhythms, they are all presented in remarkably simple form. Everything from a full rock sound to an acoustic guitar and voice, are used to get sounds ranging from heavy grooving rock to straight ahead old fashioned country.

All this listening and thinking brought me to another Dane/Nickelback type revelation. I can't imagine I am the first to say it, and this time I really don't care, so here goes: Bobby Bare Jr is the Tom Waits of Nashville Music.

Done on the original album version with trumpets, elsewhere on youtube with just acoustic guitar and banjo, here is Valentine, three chords of greatness, done as a rock anthem with Blue Giant at Schuba's.

(more videos from this night posted to youtube)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Bottle Rockets vs. Farm Aid

I would not call my two daughters spoiled in the least, but in terms of seeing music, they are pretty lucky. Living in Milwaukee, less than 90 minutes from Chicago, we are located driving distance to all types of great shows and festivals. Milwaukee loves to tout itself as the "City of Festivals" and pumps up Summerfest as the World's largest music festival, but I find myself more impressed with the outlying WI festival line ups and the incredible offerings in Chicago at their various street fairs.

In the past two years my girls (age 7 and 9) have had the chance to see Slobberbone, Glossary, Backyard Tire Fire, Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare Jr., The Deadstring Brothers, Lucero, Airborne Toxic Event, Jeff Tweety, Built to Spill... I am guessing there are more, but that list alone is a pretty good start. The Bottle Rockets are on that list too. They have seen them twice, including this summer in St. Louis opening up LouFest. It is also fair to say that The Bottle Rockets albums are on heavy rotation at our home and in our cars.

This weekend, with my wife out of town, I decided to head down to Farm Aid 2010 and walk the lot to see if any scalpers were stuck with tickets. The initial draw for me was to see Neil Young live for the first time and to see Willie Nelson again. I pretty much knew that my girls could not last until 11:00pm but I figured this was a semi-historic event and there was bound to be some good music in the noon - 9:00 time frame. I picked up my teenage nephew, who is learning guitar and taking a big interest in music, and the four of us headed down to the bars outside the stadium to see if we could find tickets. Luck was on our side and we wound up with aisle seats in the first level in the 7th row. Absolutely perfect.

By the time we made it to our seats the Band of Horses was wrapping up. We stayed and saw Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real (Willie Nelson's son,) Jamey Johnson, Jason Mraz, Jeff Tweedy, Norah Jones, Kenny Chesney, Dave Matthews, and John Mellencamp. Willie came out and played with a few of the artists.

The girls loved being at the show. Lukas Nelson ripped it up. He played the guitar behind his back and with his teeth and you could see that he had broken a guitar string during the last song. The girls could not get enough of this. My youngest queued the classic Tom and Jerry line right on time: "You can't play guitar with out a guitar string." Jason Mraz was a hit as they knew the words to a few songs from the radio. My nephew was taken by Dave Matthews acoustic take on All Along the Watchtower and Satellite. Mellencamp came on when the sun was down and the full band and light show was pretty impressive for the girls.

Many of the artists played stripped down sets with no drums. My girls asked after every acoustic set "Will the next band play loud?"
Well, they are all pretty loud, don't you think?
"No, like with real guitars and drums?"

Ahhh. Be still, my heart.

As expected, girls were out of gas a little after 9:00 and we had to take off. Most of the car ride home was talking about our favorite bands or songs. When the discussion came to full band vs. acoustic sets my girls shared the following gems:

"I like rock and roll, like The Bottle Rockets."
"Yeah, they don't even have acoustic guitars."
"When we saw them in St. Louis, we almost knew every song."
"yeah, and every song has drums, and they are really loud."

I do not know if The Bottle Rockets have a Jr. fan club, but I have the feeling one might be starting at our house.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Worse ways to spend $5 on a Tuesday

It seems Minneapolis is better known for its' new buildings, fancy stadiums, big malls and clean downtown, but the more you get to know the Twin Cities the more you can find small special places that seem like they were pulled right out of a Tom Waits song or from under the tracks of the El in Chicago. Greasy spoons, private pawn and resale stores, insanely cool little guitar shops, and bars like Lee's Liquor Lounge. Lee's is located close to where the Minnesota Baseball Twins play and my visit happened to be on the day that the Twins clinched the AL Central title.

As much fun as it can be to watch a local win among townies this is certainly not what brought me out. I came to Lee's Liquor Lounge to catch The Deadstring Brothers for $5. $5. I still do not get how I can see a band this good for $5. I have played in a number of bands significantly worse (by all measures) than The Deadstring Brothers where we have collected $10 at the door. I have paid $10 and more to see buddies cover bands play at crappy bars. This price of $5 was so confusing to me I was a little worried there may be another band called Deadstring Brothers.

Yeah, I checked their website and this show was listed... right alongside all of the $15 and $20 shows. Second guessing aside, I was already in Minneapolis, a healthy pour of Jim Beam on the rocks was $3, and this was better than another night in a hotel room.

The Deadstring Brothers have always been an anomaly to me. Since my buddy Kyle told me to buy Winter Starving Report I have not understood why these guys are not being played on the radio. It is not that they play music that would easily fall into a current pop music category, but because their music sounds so much like lost Rolling Stones albums. With the recent re-release of Exile I enjoy playing DSB albums for friends and having them guess who the band is. Every time the guess is Stones, and more times than not they guess it is some of the tracks off the Exile re-release.

I do really love the Stones. When the gloves come off and British music discussions get to picking sides I tend to lean Stones more than Beatles. The problem for me in those discussions is having to defend all of the crap that came after Tattoo You. The convenient thing about the Beatles is that they broke up before any garbage was recorded. There are no Bridges to Babylon or Steel Wheels to account for. I can always point to McCarthy's solo work and some of the lows from Wings, but none of that is included in the Beatles body of work.

Where Emotional Rescue and Tattoo leave off these two DSB's albums kind of pick up. Incredible tight, yet somehow natural sounding harmonies, tasteful use of slide guitar, warm B3 organ sounds, and choruses that sound the first time as though you have been singing them since high school. Winter Starving Report is probably more full of hits, but the new album San Paulo is just brimming with nods to old blues music in a way only the Stones were able to do believably in the past.

This is not my first time seeing the Deadstring Brothers. I was at the Bloodshot 15th Anniversary party in Chicago and saw a load of great bands. That night the DSB were working in a brand new line up after losing a few members. The show was rough to say the least. It seemed band members were still learning parts and there was uncertainty about who was doing what. This show was vastly different. Unfortunately the pedal steel/lead guitarist who has appeared with the band in the past was not on hand, so the band was drums, bass, guitar/singer, and organist.

When the opening bands were playing and the Twins game was still going there may have been 50 people in the bar, maybe 65. By the time the Deadstring Brothers took the stage the Twins had won, Sox had lost and the division was clinched. Bar emptied out to about 25-30 people by the time they took the stage. The show was about 1:15 long and set list was heavy on Starving Winter Report songs with a few songs from San Paulo and the other albums thrown in too. I think the lack of a lead player may have had an effect which songs were played.

I have played rooms with 5-10 people. Not proud or energizing nights, but to this day I still run into people who saw one of those shows where we gave it all we had, playing like we were in a packed stadium even though we nearly outnumbered the audience. Invariably they speak of those shows with reverence. Every show is important, not just the packed houses. The Deadstring Brothers took this show seriously and I felt privileged to have been there.

And all for just $5.