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.

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.


Friday, April 07, 2017

The Big Crane Wives Video Repository

























































Monday, April 03, 2017

Live Show Log, March 2017

3 3 17 LINDSAY LOU & THE FLATBELLYS Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Kalamazoo
3 3 17 Carrie McFerrin #3/Matthew Borr #2 Webster’s, Kalamazoo
3 3 17 BOB DYLAN TRIBUTE NIGHT Organized by Kaitlin Rose, Old Dog Tavern, Kalamazoo TRIPLE show night, made possible by Kalamazoo’s ArtHop event, a big multi-venue weekend revolving around the visual and performing arts. A free 6pm show at the museum started things out; Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys (mostly) started local, but have moved to Nashville primarily. For me they are interesting to compare with the Crane Wives; both acts started folky-acoustic, but where the Wives are branching out, the Flatbellys are polishing that nut till it shines like the sun. They gather around one antique microphone, just like in O Brother Where Art Thou. All four members are highly proficient on multiple instruments, and swap them often. The harmonies they achieve are simply astonishing; the records sound great, but when you see them live, they’re even deeper and richer, like they’re in each other’s brains. Lindsay Lou’s honeyed voice is of course front and center, but the three men all have above average vocal skills and occasional spotlights. Mandolin, dobro, standup bass, acoustic guitar: modern folk at its finest. The songs are not fusty or formal, they are simple and sober meditations on modern life and love...or often, sly and slightly goofy barn raisers. The Voice is a stunning standout among the new songs they played; Show Me a Brick Wall was a harmonic highlight. Sugar, “a song about addiction,” was a slinky number about needs and needs. Lemon Squeezy, requested by several small children in the (packed) audience, had to be aborted when they forgot the words, but they ended with a rabble-rousing pro-union song, which made me happy. I had time to catch part of Carrie and Matt Borr’s set at Webster’s. Played Wagon Wheel (Carrie called it “folk’s Free Bird”), The Wolves with Matt freestyling on electric,and Matt’s Shine was a highlight. Bought his EP on Bandcamp. Carrie’s new red dress was pretty smokin, not gonna lie. On to Old Dog and a night of Bob Dylan covers, a fun prospect since Bob wrote so many great songs and this way we don’t have to hear him sing them. when I came in, an intense fellow named Chris Brill was beating the tar out of his acoustic guitar, very nice Watchtower. Ian Gorman is a legendary local producer and renowned as a good guy; tonight he was barely audible. The Fair Weather Fans were possibly the youngest performers of the night, pleasant sound, ludicrously gorgeous singer. They had the misfortune to be followed by Marci Lynn, a lady of some years, who absolutely blew the doors off on Forever Young, best new impression of the night, a massive-voiced blues singer. Darcy Wilkin had hurt her arm and could not play her guitar, so she did her song full on a capella, her voice against a packed bar, one of the ballsiest things I have ever seen. The Northern Fires started off key. You could tell that the female singer knew it, if not the male. But then they righted the ship and absolutely burned down the barn on another version of Watchtower. Kaitlin Rose was dressed as Bob, a la Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, perfect wig, button down shirt and trousers; she emceed the night, then played her set at the end. I have yet to see her play her own stuff, but she sure sounded great as “Bob.” Dark Eyes was a highlight, and Everything Is Broken turned into a dance party. Despite my usual Old Dog seating difficulties, a great time was had.
3 5 17 Megan Dooley #7 Ransom Library, Plainwell
3 5 17 Crane Wives #16/Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys #2 Schuba’s, Chicago This day was unsettling, but uplifting in the end, came out of it committed to the path of following the music wherever it leads me. I had just received in the mail a shirt I had custom made for myself, since none of the shirts the Crane Wives were selling were big enough for my elephantine frame. I had asked Emilee to possibly give me a drawing to put onto a shirt, but she got busy and it slipped her mind, so rather than bug her again I just went onto her Tumblr and stole an appropriate image, plunked it on a shirt via one of those DIY websites. A little copyright infringement between friends is kosher, right? It turned out really well. But then the same day, a Facebook post by another musician, one I don’t know all that well, bemoaned the constant staring presence of her “stalker”: an old duffer who shows up hours early to get a seat, sometimes casing the venue first to make sure he can find it, always present like the proverbial bad penny. I saw way too much of myself in that, as the deluded old dude who shows up super early for a good seat, who thinks he’s gonna become pals with the much younger, mostly female musicians, who has pathetically little awareness of his own foolishness. I stung all over. If I wasn’t so Dutch as to not want to waste an already purchased ticket, I would have stayed home with the dog in our Den of Farts. But I went, and as a bonus, hey look, Dooley is playing one of her odd gigs at the library in Plainwell, super easy to swing by there first, right? So not right. When I walked in, she looked stricken. “Chad! Get out of here!” She was not kidding. She was having a bad day, had just been rear ended coming out of her driveway, got there with no time for proper setup, felt ill, did not expect to give a good show, and she was dismayed that someone she knew was going to witness a subpar preformance. My presence actually may have made her show worse. She was disjointed, began stories without ending them, almost accidentally swore in front of schoolchildren, noisy kids banging away behind her in the kids section. But, she sounded fine, no one but me would have known a thing...which is what bothered her. I will say that Blue Valentines was the best I’d ever heard her play it, the raw emotion bleeding through affectingly. It was awkward. I gave her cat food and left. I got to Chicago over two hours early, plenty of time to walk the streets and ponder my levels of self-delusion. But before the show...Kate, Emilee and Dan all expressed to me in various ways they appreciated my fandom and did not see me as Creepy Stalker Guy. Final omen: Zito accepted a friend request from months before. OK, I’m back in, at least as far as they are concerned. Such nice friendly people, and they would be among my favorite humans if they were a cut rate bar band from Newaygo, the fact that they are world class musicians is just icing on the cake. “Enough about you, Schmuckboy: how was the music?” The music was spectacular. Schuba’s is a long narrow room with a small stage, intimate without being cramped, with great sound. And, coming back from hiatus, the Wives have embraced rawk. No acoustics, no banjo, just devil horns from Margaret and Ripper. Most intense show yet, for an opening slot! Wonderful new Kate song, Empty Page. High Horse is sounding like a big damn hit. The Garden will come in the night for your children. Sleeping Giants and Rockslide confirm that Mr. Rickabus is angry enough a drummer for anyone, thank you. And then, the Flatbellys. Like I said above, they are successfully mining the folk rock vein the Wives seem to be leaving behind, making the bands less of an obvious match than they maybe used to be, but that Michigan collaborative instinct is ever present in both acts. One microphone, multiple instrument rotation, impeccable harmonies, songs both sly and earnest: I have a new band to follow creepily whenever possible. A pleasure to hear them twice in one weekend: rowdier here than the museum, obviously, but not one bit less (or more) professional and impeccable in presentation. And a hell of a lot of fun. My takeaway from the day is to stop worrying, as much as I can, and soak in all the music. They either don’t notice me and couldn’t care less, or they want me there. And if they don’t, they will let me know.....
 3 10 17 Crane Wives #17 Rare Bird Brewpub, Traverse City Existential crisis averted, I headed to this one with no doubts. Rare Bird has crappy stageside seating, but a group of Kate’s friends made room for me (even the people they know are great). (Mostly.) I wore my Giant Dork DIY shirt, and about a dozen people asked me where they could get one. Emilee was stoked, which is good since I stole her art for it. The new rockin’ sound was very much in full effect. Don’t want to overstate the change, these songs still sound as rousing or affecting as ever, and they’re not miles different, there’s just...more muscle behind their delivery. The rhythm section is clearly reveling in this upping of the ampage. Coming back from a brief touring hiatus, the singers’ voices are clearly more powerful, more sustained, more rawk. Emilee’s performance of Tongues and Teeth and Kate’s The Hand That Feeds were the standouts in this regard (the latter is where the crowd put down their phones and really started cheering). I took a video of Hard Sell, my first YouTube upload. (Apologies to the band, didn’t realize the flash would be on the whole damn time.) At first I thought, huh, Dan is really out of tune. Then I realized that was me, unable to stop myself from singing along even as I filmed. For better or worse, the sound these four people make is my happy place.
3 18 17 Vox Vidorra #6 Rare Bird Brewpub, Traverse City Drove up to TC for the second weekend in a row, I just couldn’t pass up the chance to see this band for the first time since New Year’s. I brought Carlton with me for the company and the keeping me awake in the car, because I knew he would love their sound. I almost called them “GR’s preeminent soul band,” but that’s a gross oversimplification of what they do. It’s more complex than soul, more relentlessly melodic than jazz, more, er, soulful than alt-rock. The setlist was almost half new songs; Scott said the new record may be out by June. It is going to be so freaking incredible. I may get some titles wrong: “Good For You” is a funk-bobber that will not stop grabbing you; “Making Me Wonder” is impossible to sit still for; one whose name I didn’t catch is a real curveball, an insistent almost-motorik beat with a harder rock edge. Molly’s vocals were near the best I’ve ever heard from her, and everyone was having a ball, feeding off the good vibes of this crowd. The cover of “Kiss,” reprised from NYE, won their undying love. We didn’t choose the best seats, we were not really able to see much (especially poor normal-sized Carlton), but we could hear just fine and that is the reason for the 2 1/2 hour drive. I really think they’ll be the first GR band to break out. Hope their coattails will be wide.
3 22 17 Crane Wives #18 Salt of The Earth, Fennville This is the week where I will see this band more than my own family. Unhealthy? Possibly. Salt of the Earth is a schmancy restaurant in the heart of wine country whose music booker has amazing taste. I can’t attend most Sunday shows there, but I took off work (for a few hours) for this Wednesday show. Seating for about 50, hushed but not funereal, excellent place to really hear what’s going on musically. And even in the smaller room, they continued to bring the rawk. Basically anything that relies too much on acoustic or banjo is out until they can figure out new arrangements. It’s not exactly an overamped avalanche, it’s still sweet tempered with bitter, but it’s muscular, driving, and other power buzzwords. They played The Garden last, they were seriously going to send that restaurant crowd stumbling stunned and confused into the night, but were goaded into a Safe Ship Harbored encore. I had a macaroni pizza.
3 24 17 Crane Wives #19 Alley Door Series, Frauenthal Center, Muskegon A lot has changed since I saw them at this same (bizarre) venue last year. I’ve put myself forward as somewhat of a band mascot. If you had told me a year ago I’d be standing in front of the band in the weird barbell passage between the two sides of this third-floor conference room, I would have said you were on the crack. The crowd was much more into it this year too, with a lot more dancing, a lot more enthusiasm, a lot less confused applause. There were some adorable young girls dancing to nearly every song, who knew nearly every word. They are the natural audience for the band, I suppose, not a hulking middle aged dude like myself. I am learning to stop caring. To my surprise and delight, a whole lot of second-album songs were dragged out of mothballs to fill a slightly longer set. No Garden, a powerhouse Once And For All instead. A beautiful Nothing At All, my video of which completely ruined by my distressed-yak singalong. Carlton had a date! 

3 25 17 Crane Wives #20 Rockford Brewing Co., Rockford After the sedate restaurant and the weird conference room comes the sweaty beer hall, which, for better or worse, is closer to the band’s natural habitat. I somehow had the brass balls to commandeer a seat at the band’s reserved table, and they had the kindness and grace to let me. Ninth wheel! Very very crowded, hot and seaty, Viking longboat of a room (could almost picture the oar shackles), pretty tasty shepherd’s pie. Fewer curveballs in the set list, but a big one at the beginning, with Dan playing a solo set on ukulele of his songs from his upcoming Kickstarted solo album. Very hard to make out the lyrics, look forward to another listen. An adorable little girl, maybe seven, wearing a T shirt bearing the words “I was folked by The Crane Wives” came forward to dance during his set, and then through most of the show. Occasionally with Emilee. Not a show for subtle nuance, but the twin-axe rawk power really fit the venue for a fun run through the great great tunes. Empty Page is monumental. The Hand That Feeds haunts me daily. And High Horse is gonna bring in some cash. Three shows in a week and I am not even remotely sick of hearing these 30 or so songs they have in rotation. I would spread the gospel far and wide if I actually knew any people who weren’t already musicians....
3 31 17 BRIAN KOENIGSKNECHT House Show, Kalamazoo I had met this gentleman a couple times at Old Dog shows, and I was a ware of a show he’d done playing songs by other KZoo artists, including Carrie and Dooley. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I’m glad I did. This was my first house show, hosted by another local musician in a grand old house on the north side, food included for your donations. Brian is my age, lived a similar blue collar life (except for the wife and kids part), and his songs are mostly very narrowly drawn from his own life and experiences, not universal or general. He tells stories. He immortalizes moments and details. Odes to the earth, his family and his friends, sung directly TO his family and friends in this living room. One exception is a scene from the book 1984 put to music, a highlight of the set. Kinda Seth Bernard Lite, and that is not a diss, the intensity of Seth could use some dimming at times. Another comparison might be Loudon Wainwright at his most earnest and confessional. His very young daughter cavorted in front of him during one song, either oblivious to the audience or performing for it. That much cheerful self-confidence must be a nice thing to have. “From the shallows to the deep, you are the light in the house you keep.” Thanks for the tasty chili.