Lest you think I don't see any live music aside from Wilco and Jon Brion, for the last few months, you'd be pretty much right on the money. But in fact, I love seeing as many shows as I can--energy, time, and money permitting. Paul has been in town this week, so we embarked on an ambitious show-a-night campaign. The report from the trenches follows:
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Bimbo's, September 7, 2005: I've seen Ted Leo before and was impressed by his energy and passion. I admire his dedication to ideals and am glad to see that his (pogoing) fan base continues to grow. At Bimbo's, all elements were in place. He turned it on and engaged the audience easily, and I could see many faces around me who knew the words to every song. Even better, he did "Six Months in a Leaky Boat," and I got to hear his novel arrangement for the instrumental break in the middle and the end of the song. OK, it's not exactly Sam, Heidi, and me with acoustic accompaniment in a basement, but that's really for the better.
Olivia Tremor Control, Great American Music Hall, September 8, 2005: This whole week is turning into a jaunt down memory lane, and I've logged yet another reunion show this year. The last time I saw Olivia Tremor Control, it was the last millennium (errrr, late 1990s, at least) at a community center in the bedroom community of Palo Alto. Do you recall your elementary and middle school days when you were required to sit in a big auditorium and watch educational movies about the dangers of drugs or other scary elements in the world? In my admittedly vague memories of the night, that's exactly how I recall the show.
Well, sign my Alzheimer's papers because this show couldn't have more different than those fuzzy recollections. I'll commend myself for correctly placing the role of a saw as a musical instrument; it was front and center and part of the instrumentation from the very first song. But from that point on, I'm the least reliable narrator you can find. For one thing, there were nowhere as many people onstage as my tall tales would have you believe. Though I like to claim there were at least 12 people in OTC at the time, there were only (only?) 7 people in the group this time. And whereas I also like to say that the band was freaking weird, this time out, the music sounded very straightforward and wonderful. Sure, they're still raggedy and loose, but the energy was inspirational, and I had a smile on my face from the opening notes. I would never call them tight--and maybe that would be an insult to them--but the harmonies were effortless, and even the long instrumental stretches made sense when they morphed into rockin' tunes. This show was just what I needed, reminding me of how little surprises can await you at every show.
Michael Penn, Cafe du Nord, September 9, 2005: Full disclosure: we went to this show because the Son Volt gig was sold out, but we had been leaning in this direction anyway.
It's been a while since I've seen Michael Penn live. Again, it might've been the last millennium when I saw him on the Acoustic Vaudeville tour with Aimee Mann and Patton Oswalt. But I've always meant to check him out again; it was just a matter of finding a night without conflicting arrangements, and such an occasion finally coalesced. Michael seemed to have improved with the banter, though he claimed to be as bad as ever. I know it's not a requirement, but when you're a singer/songwriter with somber, sensitive tunes, it helps to add a little levity to your performance. It also helped this time that his band included Buddy Judge (formerly of the Grays, among others), who had no problem engaging the crowd. Michael did mostly stuff from the new album, of which I really enjoyed "Walter Reed," and he even dipped back to March days with "Brave New World," but no big hit (if you know what I mean). Parts of the show were a little too low key for my taste, but overall, it was a night well spent. I don't mind skipping Son Volt in the least.
M. Ward, Bimbo's, September 10, 2005: This was another show I went to 'cos Paul wanted to see him. I'm not a huge fan, but M. Ward put in an impressive showing. His guitar playing is, of course, above reproach, but he did a number of songs on the piano, for which I have a soft spot. Also, I didn't realize he did the looping thing that also drives me *ahem* loopy. For me, standout tracks were "Outta My Head" and "Undertaker." In what I hear is a departure for him, he was accompanied on guitar by a friend named Zach Rogers (?) for five or six songs; he added subtle and tasteful guitar, though he stayed in the background on the whole.
The openers were a band called the Joggers, also from Portland. They weren't too distinctive from other indie bands. At parts, their sound betrayed a hint of Modest Mouse, but they were fun and goofy onstage. The drummer wore a tie-dye shirt and a headband, perhaps as an homage to San Francisco. You really wouldn't expect to see them opening for someone like M. Ward, but there seemed to be a mutual admiration society between them.
The Decemberists, the Fillmore, September 11 and 12, 2005: Separate blog entry to follow. :D