Stolen Wallpaper

Words but a whisper, deafness a shout

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Location: Zeeland, Michigan, United States

Hi. I wish I had a job selling squirrels. They're so furry, and give you toothy grins. Unless they're rabid, in which case they will eat your face off and then find the rest of your family. That's not so good, I guess.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Live Music Log, July 2017

7 1 17  THE RIGHT NOW/RED RIO  Founders, Grand Rapids  After the previous night's barhopping, I picked one show and stuck to it, and a good one it was.  Founders' bookers really go out of their way to bring things to GR that might not otherwise come through, and the Right Now, from Chicago, is a sound we could use more of.  It's a seven piece soul-pop band with a hot blonde singer and a thoughtful guitarist who looks like Paul Kantner.  (These two seem to write most of the songs, too.)  Sounds a lot like Vox Vidorra with a lot less on its mind:  not nearly as complex or deep, but big, brash, and a whole lot of fun.  Somehow it's the drummer who has chronic Guitar Face, while the guitarist throws out his licks while remaining placid of puss.  This is the Triple A ball version of what Hannah Rose Graves is doing at the Single A level, and Sharon Jones would have been considered the majors.  All originals, except for an unlikely funked-up For What It's Worth and a semi-karaoke version of Heart's Alone, a terrible song sung impressively.  Another highlight, despite sounding like Get Lucky:  Up All Night.  I got their newest CD at the show, and it's....all right.  Much more poppy and generic.  But this band is not to be missed live, the energy and oomph and sheer fun coming off that stage is why random nights out can pay off.  Opening was Red Rio aka Alexis Brooke, torch singer and Founders employee, with the intensity and appearance of the young Roberta Bradley, but more angsty than bluesy.  Minor key heartbreak with just her own guitar backing her up.  Highlights:  a slinky Hit The Road Jack, and a sweet song about her parents, sung TO her parents in the audience.

7 7 17  Crane Wives #28  Thornapple Plaza, Hastings  The city of Hastings is using an NEA grant to put on an impressive 80 different musical performances this summer at three different venues, and this was one of 'em.  Bandshell only a couple years old, good hot dogs, cold beer for those who want it, big curious crowd.  Small town tax dollars put to best use.  So many moppets pogoing to Rockslide and all the other big-tempo numbers.  The neatest trick this band pulls is the outright jubilation it inspires with its sad, angry songs, simply by playing them in such an upbeat, sprightly fashion.  Safe Ship, Harbored is a portrait of frustrated defeat, and crowds go absolutely apeshit for it.  Easier is about caving in and swallowing your pain, and grandmas do the do-si-do.  Sleeping Giants is about a fricking earthquake, and fists pump the air.  There is catharsis in setting fear and pain to a major key, even if the audiences don't quite realize what's going on.  I lent Kate a big bag of books in the most awkward way possible.

7 8 17 Megan Dooley #11/Carrie McFerrin #9/Darcy Wilkin #4  Memorial Park, Mattawan  WMD saddles up, and rides for possibly the last time this year, if my show falls apart like it's starting to look.  Absolutely gorgeous summer day:  if they were all like this, I might hate this season a lot less.  Outdoor park show meant I could take Sheila to meet the ladies.  Jonny's dog wanted to eat her soul.  Jeffrey Babbitt, the organizer of the show (through the auspices of the village library), opened the show with a few songs, not bad at all, apparently he does the open mics in Kazoo on occasion.  Then came a man named Steven McLain with his son Dan, doing some pleasant Buffettish tunes, including a First World Problems anthem about having it too good to sing the blues.  Darcy, her hair red and blue like the world's saddest sno-cone, serenaded the park populace with her alluring downers.  Most upbeat song:  "enjoy yourself, it's later than you think."  Dooley Dooleyed it up good, rocking the Uncle Jesse lifestyle, singing the reefer anthem to little kids like it's no thing, momentarily nonplussed by a VERY fast train passing right behind the gazebo stage thingy.  Carrie flew without a setlist net, enjoyably scattered, telling stories around every song.  No Wolves for the first time I've seen, but Gypsy Queen sounded great solo.  All in all a very gentle, relaxed show in a beautiful setting.  I want this to become a baaaaaaand.

7 8 17 Delilah DeWylde & The Lost Boys #4  New Holland Brewing, Holland  The early show in Mattawan left me plenty of time to catch this late one in Holland, didn't start till 10.  Down The Line, from the Buddy Holly show, seems to have taken up a welcome place in the permanent set list.  These tunes, from Elvis, Janis Martin, the Burnettes, Patsy Cline, plus the occasional nice original, are the definition of musical comfort food;  you can pick 'em up again whenever you feel the need.  It took me waaaay too long to figure out where I knew her from:  she was Aaron Klamer's big sister.  Steve was there, his superfandom of Delilah mirroring mine of the Crane Wives.  He's my canary in the coal mine, I guess.

7 14 17 Crane Wives #29/GRACE ELIZABETH LEE  Otus Supply, Ferndale  Warring impulses:  Must see Crane Wives!  Must not leave zone o' comfort!  For all my lifetime lonerdom (with the weird seven year interruption), it's still nice to have familiar surroundings, a sense of control over my environment.  This was a new venue in a Detroit suburb I had never spent more than a few minutes in.  I was super early, didn't wanna be That Guy, so I took a long walk (gorgeous night, streets closed for a big pork-and-booze festival, had me a shave ice) and then I was too late for a good seat.  This room was surprisingly small, about the size of the Intersection's front room known as the Stache.  Maybe a little bigger.  The opener was a 17 year old girl who held the audience's attention mainly with her teenageness;  Zito said they didn't know her from Adam.  I was feeling the pressure of not knowing anyone in this whole damn county except the four people on stage.  So....I took my glasses off and put them in my pocket.  No eye contact = much less social anxiety.  I sang every line, I clapped in the general direction of the blobs on the stage, I soaked in the life giving tuneage (very good sound tonight, with a very engaged crowd), and I existed in my own little myopic bubble for a couple of hours.  Never bought a drink because the waitstaff ignored me completely.  Said hi at the end.  Buggered off into the night.  Not to be seen again till after Vegas.

7 15 17  Brian Koenigsknecht #3  Harvey's, Kalamazoo
7 15 17  May Erlewine #5/KAITLIN ROSE  Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo  The very next night was a Kalamazoo double show, and it felt so much better it's ridiculous.  There are more people there who smile when they see me at this point than in my home town.  Started off at Harvey's, a relatively ancient place downtown that just revived live music, on an upper outside deck, pleasantly ramshackle, nice breeze in off the river.  Brian was performing as a benefit for Graham Parsons' Walnut House charity, a musical youth center.  He learned 21 (!) songs by Michigan artists to cover, along with his own fine originals.  I was frankly dismayed at the low turnout, but who did turn up was quality:  Abe Savas, T Rex Roth, Grace, and Kevin Hamman, among others.  My videos, above, are excellent:  his own Last Of The Venues, a charmer about the old days of playing out, and the Crane Wives' How To Rest, my own white whale I donated to hear.  He also did songs by May Erlewine, Seth Bernard, Carrie, Kaitlin Rose, Nicholas James Thomasma, and many more, including the late great Patrick Carroll.  Then I walked (because Kalamazoo is wonderful) over to Old Dog, in the back yard, for a May fix.  Kaitlin Rose opened, my first time seeing her do a full set of her own stuff.  I did not take notes, but it was good and I want to hear more.  I love that her mom is in her band.  And then May, the exception to my garden gnomedom.  Not quite Motivations, not quite folkie time:  Shimmin, Lockwood, Phil Barry, and the kid whose name I keep forgetting.  She's an angel, she sings like one, and cynicism has no place while she is singing or playing or speaking or awkwardly dancing.  I even saw her sit on the wall down among the crowd to listen while Kaitlin Rose played.  I saw Grace again, and Kevin, and Brian K, and Darcy, and Dan Lauterbur down in front worshipping his deity.  I keep getting tempted to drive forever to see people, and I really just need to wait till they play K-zoo.  Because everyone does, eventually.

7 21 17  Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys #3/CURVED EARTHWARD  Park Theatre, Holland  Ticket said show at 8, marquee said doors at 8, which led to a confused mob on the sidewalk.  It got better from there.  Curved Earthward is a couple of hobby codgers, off key and enthusiastic, with some fun original songs.  The younger dude's three kids were sitting (and standing, and running, and asking their mom to do cartwheels) next to me, all thrilled at their dad being up on the big stage.  And then the Flatbellys, four mics but plenty of instrument swapping, unearthly harmonies, many new songs, many from Ionia, basically nothing older.  The Voice (see my video) is going to be an absolute monster on the record, I just know it.  Good crowd singalong on Shining In The Distance.  Fun surprise closing cover of King Harvest's Dancing In The Moonlight.

7 28 17  Olivia Mainville #11 & Brandon James  Tripelroot, Zeeland  Wasn't gonna go out this night, but found out the Duo in Black were playing in Zeeland so I spent some time with them before going over to the mother for teevee.  Relaxed fun, no one paying too much attention but no one minding the atmosphere that live music generates either.  The big garage doors open at the front, good summer breezes, tasty cider, really tasty blueberry stonebread thingy, and the friendliest smiliest goths on earth.  Brandon played Riddles In The Dark for me.  Olivia's On A Grave is a top ten hit in an alternate universe, a better one.  I pitched my show again, and she's a maybe.

7 29 17  THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT/GERALD DOWD/LISA MACKIE MOAIERY  Louie's Trophy House, Kalamazoo   This one was special.  A room full of people, maybe a third of them other musicians, who hung on every note.  I had not seen Lisa before, she was a new Kazooan to me, but she was good, very informative with a song about the women who built Gibson guitars during WWII.  An arresting line from one of her songs:  let's keep off the straight and narrow.  She closed with a chiming cover of Mazzy Star's Fade Into You that gave me major dorm room flashbacks.  Gerald Dowd is from Chicago, but he married a woman from Kazoo, so he's connected too.  Primarily a drummer, for Robbie Fulks among others, this was him playing acoustic balladeer.  He stated that many of his songs have jerks for protagonists, I need to give them another listen to detect all the jerkage.  The clear standout was My Sweet Old Etcetera, reminiscent of McCartney's Honey Pie, a sweet little trifle sung in an affected accent.  Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, whom I had previously seen play an abbreviated set at that church show in May, are one third of the Corn Fed Girls, who have their own thing going on the side.  (No, not like that.)  Phil Barry and Sarah Halsey Fuerst have the magic harmonies that only a select few can achieve.  I know I say a lot of people have great harmonies, but this is Next Level Black Magic.  The first set was just the two of them acoustic, the second featured a full band (for the first time) including two more Corn Fed Girls.  (A fifth, Darcy, ran merch for 'em.)  At one point, a door kept banging in the back where people were passing in and out of the back patio;  Darcy had propped it, but that led to loud voices marring the sound, so it got closed again.  Sarah said something about having to endure random bangs, to which I automatically called out "That's what she said!"  The room erupted with laughter, to my comingled delight and shame.  Highlights:  Dearly Beloved, a realistic set of wedding vows, and Can't Be Trusted, a haunted and haunting tune.  Closing was two Stones covers, Dead Flowers and You Can't Always Get What You Want, to which I probably sang along too loudly.  I was sitting with Matt Borr and Brian K, like I actually deserved to be in their company, which I don't.  (Matt is 46.  I feel like a rusted VW bus parked next to his Bentley.)  Before the show, I spent a couple of hours in Carrie's backyard:  she had a popup store set up for her Quirky Bohemian line of clothing and jewelry, with Bride of Fleckenstein jamming acoustically, and serving the strongest margaritas I or anyone in attendance had ever experienced. Pleasant folky strummage:  Wagon Wheel was heard, as was Elton John's Roy Rogers. She looked positively glowing, but that may have been the Xanax.  Finally met her husband, drank more than possibly ever in my life, and just generally relished being a person that other people like to have around on occasion.  Thanks Carrie, hope you made a buttload of cash on the day.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Live Show Log, June 2017

6 1 17 Crane Wives #25 Relax At Rosa Series, Rosa Parks Circle, Grand Rapids I could only stay for 70 minutes of this noontime lunch show downtown on a Thursday before heading to work. Just enough to get my fix. They looked a little dazed in the concrete sun, but sounded great. Take Me To War now full throated, confident, boot stompin’. I sat with Michele Clark, the Brazilian partially hinged superfan, and her daughter. I ate an overpriced food truck sandwich. And I skedaddled.

6 2 17 NELSONVILLE MUSIC FESTIVAL: Apple & The Moon, Caitlin Kraus, Wished Bone, Sara Watkins #2, Frazey Ford, Honeyhoney, Rodriguez, They Might Be Giants Hocking College, Nelsonville, Ohio I took a half day of work, then got up super early and drove six hours south to Nelsonville, a bucolic Zeeland-size town south of Columbus in the Hocking Hills. This festival was set up on the grounds of a small college that was out of session, with camping along the river and stages set up interspersed with some old timey cabins permanently erected as a historical village-ish thing. I checked into my frightening hostel (of which more later) then settled in for a day of tuneage. (Just one day of a four day shindig.) There were 27 performances this day, I saw eight. Apple And The Moon: local heroes, around my age, woozy pleasant psych bluesy dad rock, female fronted. Slight redneck bent, impressively no covers. Basically what I would be doing if I could play at all: out there havin' fun on the weekends. Caitlin Kraus: looks like Lorde, sounds like baby Kristin Hersh. Shorthand: organic goth. Around 25, may be going places. Aaron Lee Tasjan: smokin' dope for Jesus. Hard pass. There was a small stage set up at the Gladden House, one of the olde tyme cabins, for major acts to play short sets for public television: a good idea, completely ruined by noise bleed from the second biggest stage right behind it. Both Frazey Ford and Sara Watkins were damn near drowned out; if they got usable takes, then their sound engineers are wizards. Right next to Gladden House: No-Fi house, a faux-old one room schoolhouse hosting intimate performances. Again, a great idea, killed by the THUMPATHUMPATHUMPA from next door.In there I saw Wished Bone: four youngsters, female fronted, grinning profusely. Room so small the pianist had to reach his bench by climbing through the back window. In my notes I mistakenly wrote "Whitey Bones," which pretty much sums it up. They were kinda terrible, but it was still enjoyable: communal experience, hard to replicate, with so many young pretty people in very little hemp clothing and no deodorant actually LISTENING, not chatting while quaffing like so many events in GR. Trudged up to the main stage for Sara Watkins; very little shade, what there was hogged by a sea of camp chairs. Picked a semi-shaded spot along the fence, laid down, and dozed in and out for Ms. Watkins (doing mostly her same show I saw at Bell's, some nice moody minor key work, a couple of Nickel Creek crowd pleasers) and for Frazey Ford, formerly of the Be Good Tanyas. Ms. Ford, A British Columbian, is doing something similar to May Erlewine's recent soul revues, with perhaps more rural grit and either real or feigned drunkenness. The pleasant surprise of the day was Honeyhoney. I have their first album from a dozen years or so ago, the poppiest possible roots rock, sold on the strength of Suzanne Santo's gorgeousness. She's still gorgeous, but all these years of touring as a third string act have added a lot of authenticity she never had before. I can't say I'd ever watched someone get a sunburn in real time before this set. The sound is actually similar to the Crane Wives; roots instrumentation for solid pop songs of the kind that can't get on the radio now. One raucous number morphed into Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," with some convincing Ann Wilson-style belting from Ms. Santo, after which she collapsed to the stage. "I just need a second y'all...." Rodriguez is an interesting fellow: a man out of time, beamed forward from 1970 with his old time skills intact, for better (his startlingly original originals) or worse (a half dozen covers of the most overplayed songs ever). Think the midpoint between Paul Simon and Lou Reed, with some Daniel Johnston for seasoning. Dooley opened for him once at Bell's. A fragile man with big muscles, a writer of drug anthems who actually called for "hugs not drugs" with zero irony, a band that was patient with his fits and starts. See the movie Searching For Sugar Man for his whole story. And then, the murderous sun finally set, the crowd all gathered at the biggest stage, and They. Might. BE. GIANTS! Despite the playing of Older and When Will You Die, no band is better at making me forget the rapid hurtling certainty of my own death, not even the Beatles. Every song is a singalong anthem, even Spider if you try hard. Opened with Damn Good Times, and damn they were. My ex wife loved (loves?) TMBG, so this show was a big first step in Taking Back The Tunes. Ana Ng! Fingertips! Istanbul, with an extended flamenco intro! NUMBER THREE, for God's sake! Everything Right Is Wrong Again sent me into actual spasms of joy that might have been mortifying if I knew anyone within 300 miles of there. So very good. And then, since I cannot camp, back to the hostel. Up a long set of steps at the top of a hill was a scary, stinky house. The room I was assigned had no fan or AC, so the creepy owner came up from the basement with a miners lamp on his head to change my assignment. Everything was clammy. I did not dare remove my socks. Surveillance cameras everywhere. If I was younger, or female, I would have gotten the fuck out of there. But I was so tired I just squelched into bed, fired up the Sleepy Podcasts, and Dealt With It. (Note: this is the second draft; the first was eaten by Facebook Notes when I tried to attach a picture. That, of course, was witty, erudite, trenchant, and this is doo-doo. Stupid technology.) Apple & The Moon Caitlin Kraus Frazey Ford HONEYHONEY RodriguezMusic They Might Be Giants

6 3 17 Crane Wives #26 Local First Street Party, outside Bistro Bella Vita, Grand Rapids Super late show, 11 pm, downtown at the tail end of Festival. Not fully recovered from the epic drives of the two days before, so I don’t remember much beyond bellowing along unashamedly with Superfan #2 Michele Clark. (I’m #1, Dan Lauterbur is #3, Carlton might be #4, everyone else can fuckin’ get in line.) Saw Sarah Craig briefly, then I think she had to go deal with the immediate aftereffects of overimbibing. Shut down by the fuzz promptly at 12, leaving Easier as the accidental low-energy closer. I wish the hometown crowd had been bigger....but I still think this is the year the crowds in other places are going to grow and grow. Maybe I won’t get to see them twenty times a year, but thousands of other people around the country are going to get to discover their new favorite band, and I can’t hate on that one bit.

6 9 17 Darcy Wilkin #2 Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo
6 9 17 Brian Koenigsknecht #2/Carrie McFerrin #5/Matthew Borr #4/KEVIN HAMMAN/THE MISSING GENERATION Louie's Trophy House Grill, Kalamazoo How can someone so hilarious be so sad? Such is the question engendered by the spectacle of Darcy Wilkin Solo. Only the second time I've seen her do her own thing, and the first time alone. Just her and a guitar, separated from the Old Dog patrons in the backyard by a sea of grass, occupied by college kids playing beanbag toss. (I messaged her, and she read it from the stage: "Name of your live album: Upstaged By Cornholers.") Only a few people in the beer garden were paying much attention to the opening act to the opening act, but she sounded great when not stymied by mic problems or traffic noise (which teamed up to completely abort one song). "Here's a murder ballad, and then a palate cleansing ode to alcoholics!" "I don't know whose gear this is, but it makes me feel much more rock n roll." Jokes and sad songs, in her plaintive, been there done that burned the T shirt voice. She asked me when the hell I was moving to Kalamazoo. I heard a guy in a pink mohawk (member of the next band) say gosh dang. In my notes, no memory of the context: anusbags. Went a few blocks down the road (gotta love Kazoo) for a songwriters night at Louie's, much less stinky than my last visit. Still a giant bison head looming over the stage though. "Time is a healer, an invisible drug dealer, it burns your heart and turns it into coal." Brian Koenigsknecht has the intensity of Scottie's beloved Mikel Jollett without any of the accompanying douchery.He played Istanbul Sky at my request: goosebumpy. Then Carrie: "this is a night of our youth!" To which Brian replied: "You say that at every show, It's like how Art Van is always having a sale." Really good version of Wolves with Brian and Matt assisting. That song is as good as anything written by anyone around here ever, a stone classic. There was a newer one too, Honey Darling, played on a shiny new banjotar. Guitbanjo? Matthew Borr: mild mannered professor by day, mild mannered guitar hero by night. I had met Kevin Hannam several times at Old Dog, but had never heard him sing or play, and he's the male Carrie: got other things to do but the songs MUST COME OUT or aneurysms will happen. He has a Craig Finn quality, a joyous desperation in performance and lyric. I could not make out many of the words, with the good drumming (by the tiny happy drummer girl) and the bad PA, but I revisited on Bandcamp later. Songs good. The Silent Generation is a bunch of sheepish dudes, early to mid thirties, playing thoughtful trad rock. Sitting in was Abe Savas, whose song Maxine is a marvel and I want on YouTube now (please sir). A great night of music in Kalamazoo....they almost always are.
6 10 17 LAITH AL SAADI/DANIELLE NICOLE/Megan Dooley #9(with Saxsquatch and Bridge Band) Bell's, Kalamazoo
6 10 17 THE GASOLINE GYPSIES/Carrie McFerrin #6 (with Michael Powell) Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo Megan got me and my new friend Sarah into this show; I was hoping to meet with her about the October Taking Back The Tunes show (I really need a decent title), but there was no time in the end. this was my first time seeing her with a full band: drums, another guitar, the works! And she was jazzed about the big big sound, wide shark grin beneath cool-girl sunglasses. Newish, or old reworked song, Glad You're Gone: excellent kissoff, hope she'll play that one in October. Absolutely epic Whipping Post in honor of Gregg Allman's passing, the Dooley howl cranked to maximum. Danielle Nicole I knew nothing at all about coming in, and I'm here to tell you that she's frickin' awesome. Found out later she was in a blues band with her siblings till very recently, but this show was definitely blues-influenced RAWK, low down dirty gutbucket division. A lonely row to hoe, especially for a woman, but a singular sound and artistic success. Highlights: original Wolf Den, a titanic Spoonful, a left field cover of a 1989 Aerosmith track that segued into another excellent original. Rock and roll isn't dead, it just moved into the backyard. Ann Arbor-based Laith al Saadi was apparently on that Voice reality show? And did well? I know not of such matters. He had a pleasant voice, a song selection stuck very firmly in the late sixties, and an absolute monster of a guitar tone. Highly fleet of finger. Early impression was that he's who Seth Bernard wants to be when he grows up, but then the sixties blues rock covers started piling up. Seth is leading us into the future, such as it is; Mr. al Saadi will lull us with an excellent recreation of our past while our asses slowly get fatter. Lest this sound too harsh, let's celebrate the fact that a shit-hot guitarist with a vaguely Islamic name playing old songs tore it up good on American television, and that is something to toast to. Crossed the street to Old Dog for a late show (hoping to catch the spillover from the Laith show): Michael Powell was Carrie's first collaborator; they play together less often than Carrie and Matt these days. He brings a light, slightly jazzy feel, with nimble acoustic skills. He was firmly placed in a support role, sang no songs of his own (he has at least one very good one, but they told me later the vibe wasn't right). Gypsy Queen was a highlight, along with the secretly pleasant mortification of being shouted out from the stage. And then, the Gasoline Gypsies, from Port Huron. They are in the same JBL contest as the Crane Wives, also made the top five, and I Do Not Get It. My line: What if Pop Evil wanted to be taken seriously? Another man's take: a poor man's Los Lonely Boys. Undeniable instrumental talent, polished presentation, songs that flew past me on their way to the HopCat bros. Dressed like Mumford and Sons, sounding like every GR band of 1996 (of which Pop Evil was one), really strong harmonies. "I wanna get laid but don't feel like trying, I wanna get high but I don't feel like buying." Ugh. They grew on me a tiny bit during the show due to sheer tuneful competence, but everything's better live. They are someone's favorite band, every town has one, every town needs one. Port Huron can have them.
6 16 17 May Erlewine #4/THE STRAPPING OWLS  Park Theatre, Holland  This was Motivationless May, back in folk/acoustic mode:  full sound, but a four piece band, much smaller in scope and impact while still having a bigger sound than straight hootenanny folk.  My notes are not good and I waited too long to write, but I can say that time spent in the presence of May Erlewine is always time well spent.  She is self-effacing, charming, adorable, firmly political, motherly, steel inside chintz.  Le sigh.  The exception that proves my rule.  Really good new song about "setting my hope on fire," aimed at Cheeto Mussolini.  Pin-drop perfect version of "Wild," recorded by me and posted here.  The Strapping Owls were pleasant ramshackle blues, with bass provided by a sousaphone played by the organizer of Park Theatre's folk series.  Somehow the sound mixed Van Morrison and Rickie Lee Jones, with some Deep Fried Pickle Project weirdness around the edges.  They played second, allowing the audience to trickle out in twos and threes.

6 17 17 The Crane Wives #27 Summer In The Village Festival, Lathrup Village   This seen-better-days suburb of Detroit hosted a small shindig for its residents:  pony rides, food trucks, bouncy houses, bbq cookoff, the world's tiniest petting zoo, and the Crane Wives.  3 pm show, would have been sparsely attended if most of Emilee's family hadn't come down from the tonier suburbs.  I said hello, then moved, but they all oozed along with me to a tent closer to the stage.  (Hot day, multiple canopies thoughtfully strewn in the show area.)  Was good to sing my head off among people who did not mind at all, being related to the author.  Emilee's mom and aunt did some dancing here and there, barefoot on the grass, and it was frickin' adorable.  Sound was ok, par for the course for thankless sun-baked outdoor obligations;  really good rendition of October, just for Mom.  Dan grinned in my direction pretty frequently, always making me feel like coming out is a good idea. Only occurred to me later that this was the first time I had not heard Safe Ship Harbored.  The past is being left, very slowly, behind.  Up and out.  Vegas beckons.

6 23 17 Carrie McFerrin #7/Matthew Borr #5  Brews, BBQ and Bourbon 2017, Ah-Nab-Awen Park, Grand Rapids  

6 23 17  Fleetwood Mac's Rumours Tribute:  Amy Andrews/Megan Dooley #10  Coppercraft Distillery, Holland
6 23 17 Libby DeCamp #3  Fireside Brewing, Holland   Triple Show Friday kicked off at a two day boozefest in the park by the river;  Matt and Carrie were the first act of the first day, and were about 50 minutes late getting started.  The next act, the Douchenozzles (not really, but shoulda been), were setting up a drum kit in the middle of what should have been their set.  The lower rungs of showbiz are littered with such indignities, I look forward to seeing them climb a little higher.  In my notes, not sure of context:  Carrie proclaiming, "It's like, I care, but I don't give a fuck, you know?"  Matt: "[This songwriter] is a beautiful man.  Well, he's passed away now, so not AS beautiful...."  Great harmony on Trains In The Field, maybe a dozen people around as this event just barely gets started.  Got a free whiskey sour because it took so long.  "This is an old Robert Johnson song!"  "Well, there aren't any new ones."  Matt's stomping was semi-hilariously arrythmic.  I enjoy what they do, even if I seem to be the duo's one and only fan.  Over to Holland, where the show was preceded by a motorcycle crash right in front of the place on 120th by the tracks.  Megan and her boyfriend both ran out to make sure everything was okay;  Barrenger saw it happen when he arrived.  Broken arm, lucky as hell.  Amy Andrews is from Maryland, I believe, with some Holland connections that led to this show.  Still hazy on how Dooley got involved, but it was a good idea.  There were three very young guys from Virginia who served as house band, none of whom had met before this;  I really should get the story from Dooley and rewrite this later.  the first side was played, with Dooley CRUSHING it on Songbird, then some other Mac songs to fill a full show. Ms. Andrews acquitted herself well on Dreams. I left before the second side started (during some semi-dippy noodle-jazz), but I wish I had stayed, because Libby's set was in the worst venue I can imagine.  Fireside Brewing is in part of the old Holland Ladder plant; the show was in a cavernous back room that stank of wet paint (Live Art was happening apparently) and sounded like crap.  Libby sounded great, but she was sticking to one mood;  slow, languorous, sleep-inducing. Solo guitar, no Adam. I almost fell off my stool.  A foosball game at the back kept drowning her out. At the end I requested Put The Kettle On, to remind the audience (and Libby) that she possesses more than one gear.  And It sounded swell.

6 30 17 Olivia Mainville #10 & Brandon James  HopCat, Kalamazoo

6 30 17 Carrie McFerrin #8/Matthew Borr #6/Darcy Wilkin #3  Feed The World Cafe, Oshtemo  A night of Too Many Choices in Kalamazoo.  I skipped a Janis Joplin tribute at Bell's featuring Molly, Kaitlin Rose, and Hannah Rose Graves, and a singer songwriter night at Craft Draft 2 Go with Dooley and Brian K.  I started with about 75 minutes worth of Olivia and Brandon playing to a rain soaked beer garden, no one in front of them, about 20 people up on a balcony to the right, and me and a few other people at a bar BEHIND them.  Weird.  I kept distracting them, especially Olivia, felt guilty about it later, but with no one out on the wet patio it felt like a private show.  Excellent new song I have dubbed The Trudge.  On A Grave still my fave, hey that rhymes.  Out to the sticks for W and M with a side of B, at a charity cafe that donates food for every meal purchased.  Wonderful cause, too bad my food and service were non-good.  Darcy;  the saddest songs, the sparkliest shoes.  I think two thirds of that crowd was her family and friends.  The crowd steadily dwindled through the night, because the kitchen closed at 8:30 for an 8 to 10 show.  Take You With Me is a goddamn American classic, good enough to go toe to toe with her beloved Prine and Van Zandt.  And then Carrie and Matt:  dizzy banter, intricate guitar, great harmonies, tiny tambourine, no Wolves tonight.  Shellshock from driving four hours from Royal Oak for a rib festival, and they didn't even get any ribs.  They shouted out this blog, and I turned pretty red, it is so not worthy.  On the way out I stuck my head in at Dooley's thing to see if anything was still up:  just in time to hear Nothing But Trouble.  But a loud buzzing was marring the sound, the patrons were chock full of Not Giving A Fuck, and the hinted-at jam session did not happen.  Pete Weir was talking to a very loud unpleasant woman who proclaimed the charms of wheat thins all over Dooley's singing.  It was awkward.  I drank a cider and left.

Friday, June 09, 2017

School Section Lake

The only thing I’ve written between college and now that was any damn good. Its old web site vanished, so putting it up here.
Fearless in one way, terrified in most others
He points the nose of the car at the North Star
White lines zip by like Minute Rice
Heat on, window rolled down
Occasionally slapping himself in the face to keep alert
Gaylord, Grayling, Wolverine, Vanderbilt
Towns built by men who did great works
Hewing and hauling great logs for great endeavors
In a time before consquences were more than dimly understood
Floated down rivers to be subsumed into society
An unseen labor, like making sausage or sewing flags
Best not to think about cocooned by weak modernity
Trees trees trees mailbox trees trees trees dirt sidetrack trees
What was once logged over is now again impenetrable
Nature and 1929 teaming up to reclaim their dues
Fresh gravestones two miles from any lonely outpost home
History rolls past unceasing, but genealogy shudders and jerks
2009 on the road, 1972 on blocks in a front yard
Abandoned trailers: the second or third wave of northern failure
But at least up here you smell pine more than motor oil
He slows down, flicks the brights, squints at the street signs
Finds his turn and leaves the wider world behind
Grass growing in the middle of the “road,” tickling his muffler
Pin straight thanks to Herculean surveys that were overly optimistic
But eventually impassable to the new order
Trees closer, crickets louder, stars bright
But here is the white sign that says “White Sign”
And here is the nearly forgotten cottage on a nearly forgotten pond
And here are the ways and means to be a bit more yourself
Than these days of Apple and Amazon will usually allow
The cot creaks concernedly but holds
He sleeps with fire in his eyelids, like his ancestors did
And for an evening finds peace

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Open Letter To The Womenfolk

I am a strange little man. At my advanced age I am well aware of this. What I am not, is a creepy little man. All the creep was leeched out of me by successfully getting married, and that marriage ending has not seen it return. I AM getting over my divorce, at long last, largely through the healing power of as much live music as I can cram into my earholes, and my bewildered dog Sheila. If I want to spend time with you, if I comment on your Facebook stuff, if I invite you to a show: I am NOT hitting on you. I think of myself as a former heterosexual these days: I am capital D Done Divorced Dead Inside. My friends have always been mostly women. It is so hard to make friends as an adult as it is, and gender roles make it even harder. (That's what she said.) I don't seek entry into your trousers, I simply like you and want to share my metaphorical Legos. If I think you're pretty, it's a fact, not an opinion, if that makes any sense: it has zero bearing on how I interact with you. If I ever do recover enough to actually attempt dating again, it will be with someone near my own age: no cradle robbing ever again. My god, when I found out one friend was one WEEK older than my ex wife, I swear my testicles tried to escape. I have had a very good year and a half, I have gotten out there and met a whole lot of awesome people, most of them female, and I want to be transparent. I want to be your favorite garden gnome, not your boyfriend.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Live Show Log, May 2017

5 6 17 BLUE COLLAR SONGWRITING SERIES: TRIBUTE TO THE POSTAL SERVICE House show, Grand Rapids I have a long and tortuous history with the Postal Service’s sole album, Give Up. It was Scottie’s favorite album, the only one she bought on vinyl in her impoverished late teens. She played it at least once a week. I learned to look past the electronic textures to the bleeding heart at the center of these fractured songs. I thought hard about whether or not I could go to this show and not end up a blubbering mess. But I need to reclaim good music from the Ex Wife Black Hole, it’s been three damn years. Kate and Justin are gracious hosts, and as it turns out, talented musicians, and it was good to see Carlton and Emilee. I survived. Almost knocked a picture off the wall. Best part was hearing so many musicians for the first time live, lotsa names to look up on YouTube and Bandcamp. The clear highlights for me were Kevin Fein’s haunting acoustic guitar rendition of Sleeping In, Emilee’s Clark Gable, Alexis Brooke/Red Rio’s delicate Brand New Colony, Jes Kramer’s robotically heartfelt Be Still My Heart, and Justin and Kate’s rousing singalong of Such Great Heights. The ghosts aren’t vanquished, but at least I’m not unarmed any more.

5 12 17 Crane Wives #24/RACHEL B Red House Concert Series, Tri Cities Museum, Grand After the slight weirdness of Marquette, I might have passed this one up. But A. Already had a ticket to a sold out show, and B. I actually had company, of the female-near-my-own-age variety, for the first time in...fifteen?...years. The second floor museum space was packed to the gills, so awesome to see such a huge enthusiastic crowd for this band that really should have graduated from Douche Bars by now. Rachel B....seems like a very nice person. I don’t know who actually reads this thing these days, so my apologies if you enjoy her music, but for me, born too early for the boy band era, that was excruciating. It was late 90s radio pop. It was Britney Spears. It was entirely synthetic except for her live vocals. Gyrating in front of senior citizens was involved. It was the worst match for the Wives I could think of. My friend and I kept looking at each other, wondering if we were being punked. She picked up a keytar for one song, easily the best one: proof that everything is better when ridiculous instruments are involved. And then the Wives: Sly Kate, Laconic Ben, Happy Dan, and Giant Pole. (We had obstructed seats.) The energy level, feeding off that many people, was off the Richter scale. The two new singles were received as rapturously as the oldest classics. Kate thought my friend hadn’t enjoyed the show, since she sat hands folded stone faced throughout, but I reassured her that’s just how Zeelanders are: never show your hand. She actually loved it and bought all three available CDs. The Garden was an absolute monster. Best moment: At the end of New Colors, they came to an ending, rather than go right into Kick Drum Heart as they so often do live. The crowd, led by Jack Clark, the show’s promoter, was not having that, and the stomping and clapping commenced. The band looked at each other in confused delight, shrugged, and duly launched into Kick Drum Heart. There are real fans of this band, and they know what they want. Sleeping Giants was a roar, biggest crowd response I’ve seen since Founders over a year ago. I wrote a new bio, it got approval, trying not to check the website hourly to see if it’s gone up: I know my devotion seems excessive--hell, it does to me--but these 55 songs represent the fourth or fifth act of my life, and I would like it to keep going well.

5 13 17 PEACE PARTY: A Concert To Benefit KNOW (Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents Of War) featuring Kaitlin Rose and Matt Gross, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and The Corn Fed Girls First Congregational Church, Kalamazoo
5 13 17 May Erlewine #3 (with the Motivations) Founders Brewery, Grand Rapids So much great music this night, with emotions overcoming both the oldsters and the hipsters. Many more people are familiar with the Corn Fed Girls than with Darcy as a solo act, so I came at my fandom backwards, but the dates finally aligned in such a way as to see her in context. This antiwar benefit in a huge beautiful church in downtown Kazoo kicked off with an acoustic set by Kaitlin Rose, shorn of Bob wig, and Matt Gross, whom I had never heard of but now want to be when I grow up. Rose In A Cornfield was a soaring epic, and With God On Our Side started acapella by Matt with a chorus of the night’s other musicians eventually filling in behind him. He was shaking with emotion by the end, it was so powerful. And then the tension was expertly punctured by a quick jazzy Route 66. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a male/female duo who are both also part of Corn Fed Girls, were next, with strong harmonies and quirky mainstreamish songs, along with a cover of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire that somehow didn’t bring down a lightning strike from Jeebus. A collection plate was passed, a very brave recitation of “Amazing Grace” happened, and then, at last, CFG. Six members, only two of them female, highly versatile instrumentally and vocally (Darcy played drums at one point!) Thy would have been a perfect house band on the old Prairie Home Companion: organic, accomplished, reverent of tradition but just subversive enough to add a twinkle to Garrison’s eye. Highlights: acapella closer Golden Band, Darcy’s Magdalene, Mike Fuerst’s amazing vocals, and John Campos’ Life As A Bachelor, which puts the best possible spin on abject loneliness. I should try hard to become everyone’s favorite parasitic hanger-on so I can witness more musician lovefests like this. And then, I drove up to GR for May. Had originally planned to just see May tonight, but the lure of CFG was just too great; I missed the first 35 minutes or so of The Motivations’ set, but that’s okay. I got to hear two right away from The Little Things. A seven piece band, so reahearsed and tight you could bounce a quarter, paired with May’s blazing heart and feisty resistance to the Way Things Are, makes the Motivations perfectly named. Mr. Big Stuff, again dedicated to Cheeto Mussolini, lifted the roof off, as did a surprisingly raunchy Beast of Burden and the closing Soulful Strut, for which May just got to dance (with Max’s sister). This woman is pure sunshine, and beyond adorable. The Corn Fed Girls Thunderbolt & Lightfoot

5 19 17 Carrie McFerrin #4/Matthew Borr #3 Craft Draft 2 Go, Kalamazoo
5 19 17 Vox Vidorra #8 Bell’s, Kalamazoo Kalamazoo is the true music mecca around here: so many venues so close to each other. Except for this new place, Craft Draft 2 Go, way out on the edge of town in a nondescript strip mall, not even very visible from the road. But, it’s nice inside, and they’re aggressively booking in local talent for live music, so yay for that. I had about 45 minutes for Matt and Carrie, in a super laid back atmosphere. Hilariously so: Carrie introduced a song and then wandered off to talk to someone, leaving Matt confusedly vamping. Impressions: great harmony on Trains In The Field, wonderful cover of a Kaitlin Rose tune, and an annoying grinding noise from behind the bar that marred the whole set. Carrie had a small fan at her feet, which was maybe not the best choice to go with her billowing skirt: despite a valiant effort not to, I did occasionally glimpse France. On to Vox Vidorra, at a Kalamazoo Pride event at Bell’s. I was at this same event last year with the Crane Wives, at which the place was packed; tonight it was bizarrely sparse given the extreme excellence of the music played. Even at gay pride events, Bell’s always has drunken morons: this guy kept sitting ON the stage and talking to the band mid song, and staff didn’t intervene. You can see him in my video below. Very heavy on new songs, this album is going to be so insanely good. Molly, henna tattoos up and down her arms, was in strong voice; that Kraftwerky one whose name I can never remember was flippin awesome, and there was one I hadn’t heard before with a strong early Fleetwood Mac vibe, possibly called Check Me Out. I met Sarah Craig, who seemed to be the only other person in the room who knew all the words; we both got slightly drunken hugs from the Schultzes at the end of the night. I would be a better ally if I knew more actual non-basic people, but I do what I can, and coming to this show was not exactly a chore.   

5 27 17 Olivia Mainville #9 (with Brandon James) Tripelroot, Zeeland
5 27 17 Libby DeCamp #2 (with Adam Schreiber) HopCat, Kalamazoo
5 27 17 Megan Dooley #8 Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo
5 27 17 BIG DUDEE ROO Bell’s, Kalamazoo In which I GO TOO FAR. Four shows in one day, not even a festival involved. It all started with Olivia and Brandon in Zeeland, an inherently hilarious concept. Brandon was wearing a shirt with diaphanous sleeves; this is not the kind of place where anyone would even admit knowing the meaning of “diaphanous.” Despite the Dooley-hosing, Tripelroot is a nice enough place, with the music mostly being ignored, so they could basically just amuse themselves, or me. Danger Death Ray, On A Grave: need recordings for my earhole. Brandon busted out an unrecorded Halloween tune, to amuse Olivia. I met Olivia’s dad, who is one year YOUNGER than me. Kill me. Left after the second set to get a dog walk in, then it was off to Kazoo for a triple play, including the first Dooley show in almost three months. Libby DeCamp on the back deck at HopCat, with Adam on drums: just like Tripelroot, big disconnect between the effortlessly cool black clad hip kids and the gomers in cargo shorts perched atop metal stools, myself included. Languid ballads by ethereal redheads are maybe not the natural tuneage for this swill-soaked environment. But it sounded great: The Blues was a nice song she wrote at age 15, Vernal Sway was wonderful as always, Orchard was a baroque number coming out on 7” soon, and a Waitsish number about killing the conductor went over well. And she tells jokes! “This one’s a dance number about factory farming.” “Any General George Armstrong Custer fans out there?” These four need to put together a Randy Newman tribute night. Next door, and my return to Dooley-watching. The Plainwell weirdness was on my side only it seems, she was glad to see me, friendly, fresh outlook after London misadventures and other life events. No big changes in the setlist to match her dramatic haircut. The crowd got Part Of Your World without quite deserving it. One super cool addition, a twenties tune called Sugar Blues. And then, show four, the new experience of the night: Big Dudee Roo, another case of strange name for a great band. Led by Max Lockwood, who I’ve seen several times backing up May Erlewine and Seth Bernard, with Nate Wagner also writing and singing. (Like the Goo Goo Dolls: hey, let Robbie sing one!) Just like last week, the crowd at Bell’s was uncharacteristically sparse, but I missed both opening acts and it was the holiday weekend. MUCH louder live than on record, trading a little nuance for power, but hey, power has its place, and I have the records on Bandcamp (what if Tom Petty fronted My Morning Jacket?). Newish drummer kept up a hell of a great noise. New song, The Game Is Rigged, excellent and propulsive; new Nate song, Hunker Down, reminded me of Bottle Rockets with its light twang and its wryness. Then to underline Max’s Pettyishness, they actually finished with You Wreck Me, with a little Blitzkrieg Bop mixed in. Sounded like a mission statement. 
5 28 17 HANNAH ROSE & THE GRAVESTONES/Big Dudee Roo #2/JESSE RAY & THE CAROLINA CATFISH HopCat (outdoors), Grand Rapids A Sunday afternoon show, to commemorate both the end of HopCat’s 5K race and the release of Local Spins’ 5 year anniversary CD, a collection of live tracks by 12 local bands, including Olivia and the Crane Wives. I stood under a tree in the semi-shade and observed the hip, the fit, the fat, and the nearly famous intermingle in a roped off parking lot. Jesse Ray is a high energy rockabilly player, who I’m told used to do Jonas Brothers, but kinda samey. Duo: the “Catfish” is just one guy on drums, but he is very good and they are very loud and fun and they could have been in GR fifteen years ago. Second day in a row for Big Dudee Roo, I actually think they sounded better in the open air. Michigan is a pander, and also a great song. Hannah Rose has apparently put her guitar aside again, and assembled a new seven piecee blues/soul revue that sounded fantastic, a leap above the band I almost saw at Billy’s a few months ago. Bluesy swing, not a million miles away from what Roberta Bradley and Gypsy used to do: maybe more low end and less Latin flavor. Horns make everything better. Highlights: James Brown’s I Feel Good and smokin’ original Hot Damn. Sinkevics liked my Crane Wives shirt.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

CW Bio Attempt

In Japanese folklore, the crane wife is a bird disguised as a woman who spins fine silks from her own feathers, until her identity is discovered. The Crane Wives spin fine songs from whole cloth, and you will never want the melodies to leave your head. From murky origins in Chinese restaurants, high school ska bands, and dorm room jam sessions, the band came together in 2010 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and immediately began gathering a following with intricate melodies, sister-harmonies, and compelling songcraft.  Initially part of the indie folk boom, their sound has grown and broadened with each new recording till categorization becomes difficult:  rock, pop, folk?  Just call it really good music.  Audiences and critics agree:  seven "Jammie" awards from influential radio station WYCE in '11, '12 and '17;  winner of Best Folk/Country song from international competition ArtPrize for "Easier" in '12; and selection as one of ten "Entries We Loved" from the renowned NPR Tiny Desk Contest for "High Horse" in '17.  Kate Pillsbury:  guitars, vocals, a twinkle in her eye that tells you she sees through your BS but chooses to be amused by it.  Emilee Petersmark:  guitars, banjo, vocals, boots that will stamp out injustice wherever it may lurk.  Ben Zito:  bass, occasional howls, secret production weapon.  Dan Rickabus:  drums, harmony vocals, engineering, relentless and frankly exhausting levels of positivity.  Four albums released to date:  "Safe Ship, Harbored (2011), "The Fool In Her Wedding Gown" (2012), "Coyote Stories" (2015), and "Foxlore" (2016), plus a series of new singles in 2017, all available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Bandcamp, CDBaby, and hell, even Myspace.  If you want to hear about love, life, fear, hope, pain, and the occasional natural disaster, this band, and these songs, are for you.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Live Show Log, April 2017

4 8 17 TOBIN SPROUT The Old Art Building, Leland Guided By Voices, having regrouped yet again, has released its first double album, touted by Robert Pollard as his 100th overall. I can’t get excited about it. I listened to it on Spotify, and all the best songs are by the new guys. I watched the “classic” lineup reimplode a couple years ago. I chose to go see the Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon/McCartney, Mr. Tobin Sprout, instead of dealing with the terrible Pyramid Scheme for the upcoming GBV show. Sprout’s songs are angular, strange, yet seem utterly sweet and mainstream within the context of GBV’s early output. He looks and carries himself like the actor Richard Jenkins. He’s a mensch. He’s made himself a home in the far north town of Leland, having escaped the toxic alcoholic stew of Dayton; his band are all ten to twenty years younger than him, possibly younger than his ancient guitar amp. This was a warmup show for a North American tour behind his (excellent) first solo album in seven years, in his town on his terms. Just barely advertised, the audience was about 50% friends and family, 40% GBV superfans traveling great distances, and 10% curious randos off the street. His sister is in charge of the arts organization that was putting on the show, for Pete’s sake. The big rock sound bounced off the walls of the cavernous old town hall and out the open doors into the brisk spring air, inducing grins all around, even in those not often up for such amplification. I felt a little bit cheated by the show’s brevity--75 minutes compared with GBV’s three hour marathons--but the sound was so big hearted that grudges are not holdable, even during the two hour drive home in the pitch dark. Plus, the songs are so short that that 75 minutes held about 20 songs, concluding with magnificent covers of “My Back Pages” and “Heart Full Of Soul.” I can dig it. Tobin Sprout ADDENDUM: At the time I put up a Facebook post stating I must be the only person in the universe trying to decide whether to go see Tobin Sprout or Vox Vidorra. Unbeknownst to me, Tommy Shichtel, who produced both VV albums at his amazing retro studio, Goon Lagoon, is playing guitar in Tobin’s band. Mind goes kaboom.

4 14 17 Crane Wives #21 New Holland Brewing, Holland So much has changed since I saw them here a year and change ago...but in some ways almost nothing has. Still working too much, going out alone most of the time, super awkward, really quite fat. But. Instead of sitting in the balcony, I sat right down at the band’s table, and for some unfathomable reason they let me. Instead of listening quietly, I bellowed along, not caring (much) how it looked. Instead of being alone, Carlton my show buddy was there, and much more surprising, my brother came out for a while. (Tony and Emilee talking was a really strange collision of worlds for me.) I am, if not out of my shell, at least sticking my head through the cracks. I confirmed the existence of the elusive Jenny Yonker. I drank a gin cocktail that left my head spinning briefly. And I soaked in the life-giving music. 10 to 1 am, three full sets, “Once And For All” back in the fold again, Dan literally played the house, appreciative audience, “Crazy” made the crowd go nuts, “The Hand That Feeds” still the soundtrack of my life. “The Garden” encore left ‘em bleeding. I know when Emilee is going to jump. I know when Zito is going to howl. I know I love these people. Thanks for the pinwheels, Tony, they were tasty.

4 15 17 SWEET WATER WARBLERS Seven Steps Up, Spring Lake I was already a big fan of two of these three women going in, and I had been warned that it can turn into The Rachael Davis Show. And it kinda did, especially in the first set....but she’s so talented and funny that it was AOK. Think Melissa McCarthy with a banjo. Lindsay Lou and May Erlewine are so amazing and well-established as artists that it was startling to see them play second and third fiddle to a woman I’d never heard of....but the not-hearing was my failure only, she’s been on the folk scene since God was a toddler. The first song of the night, “Circle of the Sun,” was literally about the day she was born. These three women clearly revere and appreciate each other’s talents, and the harmonies they achieve are not of this earth. In the second set especially, Ms. Davis took more of a step back to support her bandmates. Rough shorthand: Davis = Parton, Lindsay = Ronstadt, May = Harris. I wish I could remember more details, but I am not John Sinkevics, I am not a journalist. I felt the need to keep the phone in my pocket and soak in every second of this sparkling music in this perfect acoustic space, a fairly new “listening room” where quaffing is minimized in favor of actual music appreciation. “Lazarus” is the best possible zombie apocalypse. Rachael told most of the jokes (a good one: tuning mid-show is the musician’s version of the morning commute), but the others got some good ones in too; the best was May literally falling to the floor in disbelief at a verse about how corporations have our best interests at heart. (Shouted chorus: “that’s a lie!”) It must be said that these are three exceptionally attractive women: why do talent and looks go together so often? Really quite unfair. They are billed as Pin Drop Concerts, and it’s not hyperbole. Lindsay liked my Crane Wives shirt. Other highlights: May’s “The River Jordan,” her surprisingly moving cover of George Michael’s “Faith,” and Lindsay’s “Sing Me A Song,” where she beat on her sternum for percussion. These are three exceeedingly busy musicians, two of them also mothers, who have limited time to come together; if they ever do again, make sure you go see them. The Sweet Water Warblers

4 21 17 RED TAIL RING Blue Collar Songwriting Series (house show), Grand Rapids I arrived half an hour before the show, but was still the first guest; for the sake of my self-consciousness, I must unlearn punctuality. Beautiful house, super nice couple hosting the show (Justin Stover performs as a one man band, and makes soap too!), wine (hic). Michael and Laurel, the Kazoo-based duo that make up Red Tail Ring, are musicologists, following in the footsteps of Harry Smith and Smithsonian Folkways, preserving the best of the past while also leading the way forward with new songs in old styles. Both multi-instrumentalists, Michael on acoustic guitar and mandolin, Laurel on the sleekest banjo I’ve ever seen, mandolin, and three different violins. (Too lazy to keep retuning, she said.) Any reader of this blog knows I’m a sucker for harmonies, and maybe I’ve overpraised some acts, but these two are otherworldly, at one point employing the Louvin Brothers’ method of trading the melody line back and forth within a song. I didn’t take notes, again, choosing to revel in the incredibly intimate sound of this exquisite music happening six feet from my face, but I remember Fall Away Blues as a clear highlight, as well as Rank Stranger, a song about not fitting in when you return to a home that’s changed. There was a giant bunny to play with. Only about twenty people in attendance for world class, spellbinding music. Red Tail Ring

4 21 17 STEVE LEAF & THE EX-PATS New Holland Brewing, Holland Red Tail Ring was done by 9:15, so I had plenty of time to get to Holland by 10 for Mr. Steve Leaf and his cohorts. Based in Chicago, friends and collaborators with the Crane Wives, they seem to spend more time in Michigan than many Michigan acts, though this was their first time in Holland. Intense originals (met with crickets) interspersed with fun, well played covers. (“That’s one’s from Dire Straits. Really blowing up right now. You should check ‘em out.”) There was a blown house speaker that mucked up the whole show, sadly: I could make out very few words in the originals. I have heard them on Bandcamp, but not often enough yet to sing along. The crowd in there, with some nice exceptions, just wanted to drink their beer in peace. A Following has to be built, and you gotta start somewhere.... Their sound is hard to pin down: sincere smartassery? The Posies is the best reference I can think of, volume or subtlety deployed as needed to get the job done. Dan Haefs is a highly inventive drummer, creative beats ahoy. Nick Young occasionally handed his bass to Bill “Talk Shit Get Hit” Chesney to play some nice guitar counterpoint to Steve’s unique tone (an asset to Public Access as well). Highlights: Mail With Your Name, Go To The Pines, a drastic reworking of David Gray’s Babylon, and a strong take on Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So. Looking forward to hearing them on a better PA someday soon. Steve Leaf &The Ex Pats

4 22 17 Vox Vidorra #7 Creston Brewery, Grand Rapids   Molly and Scott are co-owners of this establishment, and this was the band's first "home game." They were visibly jazzed to be on their own turf for this celebration of both Earth Day and WYCE community radio (three other bands had played earlier). But the sound....this beautiful old furniture store has high tin ceilings, and terrible acoustics. I could not make out words of the songs I didn't already know. I felt severely out of place, not being young or a beer drinker, but I sat with a nice couple, listened to the pretty music, and scuttled off into the night.

4 28 17 Crane Wives #22 Ore Dock Brewing, Marquette

4 29 17 Crane Wives #23 Ore Dock Brewing, Marquette This trip turned out to be a non-great idea, but I still think I made the right choice.  I have a better idea of limits:  to my endurance, to my fandom, to my tolerance for solitude with my own thoughts.  I had the weekend free, so I figured hey, two night stand, awesome. Seven hours one way to Marquette.  (Went through the Tunnel of Trees:  always worth it, even in dead stick season.  Stunning lake vistas, and the thrill of no center line, dodging branches, critters, and pokey senior citizens.)  Weird hotel, formerly an outside-door sort that enclosed itself, with long tentacle-like hallways wrapped around the outside of the building.  Clean and comfortable, though.  The UP has a desolate beauty that is different from northern lower Michigan:  you get the sense that the money is gone and won't be returning, but the water is forever.  I spend most of my time alone, but this was a different kind of alone:  in Ottawa County, I know I can't swing a dead cat without hitting a relative.  In Marquette, I knew no one except the band, and they had other things to do than hang out with their weird old fan who showed up weirdly far from home.  (All in my head it seems:  Emilee sat down right next to me at the Postal Service show, no arm twisting involved.)  I had a long long walk around Marquette, a nifty town that can't quite be called beautiful with all the money gone (and the ugliest university campus in the state system).  I drove up to Big Bay and looked out over Lake Superior.  I miss my wife, or rather the friend she was to me more than the marriage.  I have no one to share this with.  I never did get a straight answer as to why she blew up our lives.  A Crane Wives song that never hit me hard before, Steady Steady, gave me some hints:  "I can take for better but for worse I can't condone/Most of all for good just makes me ache to be alone/How long is forever?"  I raced to get home for work, I felt sick, and ended up calling out anyway after all that stress.  At least Sheila had a good time at Julie's.  And, oh yeah, the music was wonderful.  Emilee, sick as a dog, sounded just fine.  Dan made me feel good every time he grinned in my direction.  For some reason I felt compelled to tell Kate about Goats Goats Goats.  Great new song, posted above, about them troll stompin boots.  I should spend more time in Kalamazoo, I think.