Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Briefly Noted:

I've got to make this quick, since I have to be leaving work for the weekly poker game. That means no taking an hour after work to draft up a post. But I am struggling to get back into the game here. So here's a quick update of the things that have happened recently:

1. I went with E Eugene to the Capital Brewery Beer Garden on Friday night. The Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band was playing, the weather was perfect, and the beer was delicious.

2. I went down to Illinois on Saturday (following the move) for my cousin's college graduation party. This also partly doubled as a college graduation party for my sister. Congratulations to both of them.

3. Last Wednesday I drove up to Silver Bay, MN for a site visit. Here's a picture of my car on a hill near the tower site. I wanted to get a shot of my car near the scenic overlook, with Lake Superior in the background, but it was not to be.

For those that don't know, I always take a picture of my car at the various sites that I visit for work. I've got some good ones. One of these days I plan on putting together a PowerPoint, but for now you all will have to stop by the office to see.

That's it. I've got to fly. The next show to be reviewed will be the Silver Jews at the High Noon Saloon.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Lawrence Arms

Two days after I saw Th' Legendary Shack Shakers at the High Noon Saloon, E and I ventured out again to see the Lawrence Arms at a new venue in Madison, Journey Music, on March 18. The weather was very agreeable for mid-March that Saturday, and I trucked over to the Chalet late in the afternoon. I had been excited to see one of my favorite punk bands playing a small club here in Madison. While the majority of the live shows that I have seen in the last few years have all been rock and alt country, I do so enjoy the punk rock. I'll have to touch up a bit on the backstory:

Back in the day I was a musical neophyte. I listened to whatever was on the local alternative rock radio station, which didn't even come in clearly at my parents' house. Basically, I knew nothing about music. I missed out on the whole 80's thing growing up, and since I wasn't one of the cool kids at school I didn't have a bunch of friends to mimic. I came of age virtually a blank slate. I owned a couple of U2 tapes, and Use Your Illusion I & II, among other random things. Unlike now, music was not a big part of my life.

This all changed one day when I was sixteen. I had recently seen the music video for Blink 182's "Dammit" and bought Dude Ranch. I had previously purchased Dookie, and I soon found these two albums dominating my personal playlist. I didn't know a single thing about what else was out there, and I found myself wandering the aisles at the Exclusive Company. Then, on a whim, I picked out NOFX So Long And Thanks For All The Shoes. I don't know why I bought this or how I had even heard of NOFX, but it completely changed my musical tastes and to this day remains one of my favorite albums.

So what does this have to do with the Lawrence Arms? Here's how: the Lawrence Arms are signed to Fat Wreck Chords, which was started by the lead singer of NOFX. There you go. I came into knowing and loving this band one day while fucking about on the Internet instead of writing a mid-term back in the college days. I cruise on over to the Fat Wreck site. I watch this video for a song called "Porno and Snuff Films" by this band I haven't heard of. I love it. I go out and buy Apathy and Exhaustion it at B-Side. It quickly becomes one of my favorites, and following college it becomes my #1 album to listen to while on long drives.

So early this year I see their follow-up, The Greatest Story Ever Told, at B-Side and I snap it up. It is good. I bring it over to E Eugene, and he concurs with my opinion. It is at this time that I stumble across the news that the Lawrence Arms will be playing in Madison at this place called Journey Music. Now, I like to think of myself as somewhat "with it" when it comes to the Madison music scene, so I was a bit unsettle to find out there was a venue that I didn't even know about - and not some underground place like Mierda Verde. As it turns out, Journey Music is a fairly new establishment. So that's my excuse. I read up on the show. The Lawrence Arms are embarking on a small Midwest tour supporting the release of their newest, Oh! Calcutta! I went out and bought this the day it came out. It is the best punk album I have bought in the last five years.

Let's get to the point: E and I drive over to Regent Street, park, and find the place. It is underneath the old Urban Pizza at the Corner of Regent and Monroe, near Camp Randall Stadium. We walk in to the sounds of basement punk, sloppy and raw. As it turns out, Journey Music is one of Madison's precious few all-ages venues. This means the majority of the crowd in attendance is of the high school variety. Nothing wrong with this, but I haven't been to one of these shows since I was, well, in high school. Currently playing was one of the four opening acts, so E and I decamp to Lucky's for a round or three.

We come back and catch the last of the openers. It was a real trip down Memory Lane, bringing back all of the nostalgic memories of being a high school punker and hanging out at the New Loft. Back then you went because it was a social event, not necessarily out of a desire to see the particular band. It was a bit surreal to see the teenage boys with unbridled enthusiasm for the music, tentatively throwing themselves around in the impromptu mosh pits, unsure of their own strength. Was that me? Did I look and act like that ten years ago?

Thankfully, introspection didn't last too long. The Lawrence Arms came on, and I was sixteen again. I stood near the front, to the left of the intermittent pit, and sang along to every word. It was bliss. The Lawrence Arms consist of a drummer (Neil), a guitarist (Chris), and a bassist (Brendan). On the two older albums, Brendan and Chris alternated between lead vocals, while on the latest both seemed to sing together on each song. Listening to them live, it would seem that Chris had nearly blown his voice out. Yet that didn't matter, because the allure of the punk rock show is not in the tight harmonies, but in the raw waves of sound that drive you to a fever pitch.

The show was over early. One of the nice things about the all-ages venue is that shows aren't pushed late into the night as a means to sell more drinks. E and I walked out into the chilly night, the sweat on the back of my neck quickly stiffening up and pulling my shoulders together. We both agreed that the show was great, but there was something about the show that we couldn't quite describe. Maybe it was the abundance of youthful faces that made us seem old. Maybe seeing the incarnation our past selves acting like punks disrupted the self-images of our youth. Maybe we weren't as cool as we had once thought... Or maybe the Lawrence Arms kicked our fuckin' asses, and we were stumbling for metaphors to describe the experience. It doesn't matter in the end.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers

As I previously mentioned, I have a few concerts reviews that I'd like to get out of my system. I started the whole shebang off with a review of Nada Surf, way back in March. So why don't we leave off where we started, with the next show I saw: Th' Legendary Shack Shackers at the High Noon Saloon on March 16th.

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers put on what can arguably be described as the Craziest Show Ever. I first stumbled into this band right out of college, when I heard "Pinetree Boogie" off their Cockadoodledon't album on an internet radio station that I listed to religiously back then (in those sephia-toned pre-iPod days). I fortuitously came across this CD while browsing the racks at B-Side and took a chance - I have a rule that I don't buy albums unless there are at least two songs I like on it. I burned a copy for E Eugene, and we both enjoyed their fringe alt country sound. He and I then proceeded to miss two shows before finally making it to the High Noon back in early '05. It was a life-changing experience. Following the show I picked up their then-new album, Believe. E also had an encounter with the local constabulary that night for excessive velocity, and I gallantly offered to pay half the fine. I'm a swell guy like that!

Fast forward to this year: the month of March was crazy busy for me. I saw the Shack Shakers were playing the High Noon on a Thursday. If memory serves, the night of the show we went out for to dine at the Old Fashioned, a delicious restaurant on the Square and the perfect way to start any evening. We made it to the High Noon just before the first opening band, Goat Radio, came on. They are a Madison band that I don't believe I have previously seen. E and I got some sweet seats up in the little balcony area and had a few delicious pints. Although I can't say much for their name, I really enjoyed Goat Radio's sound. They played a guitar-driven roots-rock that is perfect for a place like the High Noon. In their duties as the opening band, they succeeded most admirably, since everyone seemed to be up and about, ready for more, when they wrapped up their set.

The second opening act was The .357 String Band, an group out of Milwaukee that plays self-described "Street-Grass." They opened for the Shack Shakers last year, but neither E or I remembered them as being as good as they were this night. We left the balcony for the front row and watched them tear through their set. It was great. As the name implies, they've only got strings, namely a stand-up bass, a mandolin, a six-string guitar and a banjo. One of the many highlights of their set was when the mandolin player stood on top of the bass while the bassist played it. They must build those things to last. I attempted to get a CD from the mandolin player after the show, but he didn't have any. I wasn't too heartbroken since he told me their studio album isn't due until this summer, and the CD they do have is a compilation of live tracks that they threw together to help pay for the studio time.

Next up: the main event. The Shack Shakers have a guitarist, David Lee, stand-up bassist, Mark Robertson, and drummer - all of whom you will not notice during a show. This is because your eyes will be transfixed on the frontman, Colonel J.D. Wilkes. He "sings" and plays the harmonica, but his presence along is entertainment alone. He came out on stage wearing a black leather mask, green lederhosen, a brown jacket with "The Colonel" stitched on the back, and carrying a walking cane. Momentarily he was wearing nothing but the lederhosen. Now, this is important: you WILL NOT understand the lyrics or make out much semblance of music at one of these shows. Many times it would take me half the song to figure out what song it actually was. This is not a drawback, however, because as good as their songs sound on the albums, hearing them live is on a completely different plane of reality. There have been precious few shows that I have been to that have had anywhere close to the frenzy of a Shack Shakers' show.

The show didn't last all that long, because nothing of that intensity could safely be carried out that long. The band blew through what had to be twenty or so songs in less than an hours time, and toward the end of the show the Colonel lost his singing microphone after hurling it to the ground. He finished out the show using an "old-timey" mike with a ton of distortion, which you can see in this picture here. I came away thoroughly sated, a little woozy, with a nagging voice at the back of my head telling me that nothing that fun can be legal. I picked up their newest, Pandelirium, at the merch table. E and I gave it a listen on our way home, and E came up with close to the best description of the Shack Shakers' sound that I have heard: Carnie Punk.

So there you have it. The next show that I went to was the Lawrence Arms.

Friday, May 19, 2006

While I'm on the subject...

Despite my fatigue, I have come to the realization that I like to post on the shows that I have seen. So I would like to take a moment here to offer a preview of the (belated) concert reviews that I feel inclined to discuss:

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers

The Lawrence Arms

The Silver Jews

John Prine

Stay tuned...

Drinking Pabst at the Pabst with DBT

I am currently staring down the clock, waiting for a suitable time to stage my departure. As for me, I've had worse days, certainly, but today was one long grind. Here's why:

Last night I ventured over to Cream City to catch one of my all-time favorite bands, the Drive-by Truckers, play at the Pabst Theater. I learned of this momentous show from one of my daily visits to Muzzle of Bees, my hook-up for all things happening here in the Dairy State. I immediately made plans to go. Originally four of us were making the trek, but E Eugene cancelled to pursue his gardening fetish. This left Natan and Joe with yours truly manning the helm.

Natan and I left Madison, and had to go to Racine to pick up Joe. This took longer than expected, and we ended up missing the opening band. We got to the theater just as DBT came on, opening with "Gravity's Gone" from A Blessing And A Curse, their new album. I was ecstatic. I bought the new album the day it came out, and I have been anxiously awaiting my chance to hear these songs live.

Originally I wanted to be up front, as close as I could get, but we ended up getting seats up in the balcony where the view was a bit cleared. While watching the show Joe and I had a few Pabst tall boys. This seemed perfectly appropriate to the setting. One great song followed another, mixing the selection of new songs with old favorites from their past albums.

The show ended around 11:30, and I swung by the merch table to get a shirt. My old DBT shirt had gotten mysteriously ripped in the wash, and I wanted to get a replacement. While waiting for this, I saw that the band has a live DVD, Live at the 40 Watt. Now I can watch a DBT concert whenever the mood strikes me.

To sum it all up, I am tired but happy. We didn't get back to Madison until 1:30, and Joe and I were up until 2:30 watching the DVD. I still made it in to work by 7:30. I unwisely scheduled an appointment for 4:30 this afternoon. That probably won't go well. But I'd do it all over again, because the Drive-by Truckers are just that damn good.