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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.

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