Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bindlestickin' Tacoma: Travis Larson Band – Harmon Tap Room Underground, Tacoma, WA – 4/20/12

Despite the gruff exterior and general grumpiness, people tolerate me reasonably well. Inexplicable, but sometimes it works to my advantage. Like when my good buddy LA Ray, who I’ve known since we fought along side each other in the Union Army back in the 1860’s, invited me to meet him in Seattle for an extended weekend of music and mirth. I thought the mirth part was a little weird, but I found some Crest whitening strips at the flea market last month and thought it would be a good chance to see if anyone noticed my sparkling smile. They must have worked as I was constantly being mistaken for Will Smith all weekend. But I digress.

We stayed with one Seattle Ray, who will be the subject of another installment of Bindlestickin’, but in this story will play the part of our dashing and gracious host and event planner. Just like Julie on the Love Boat. Except without Gopher hanging around all the time. You’d think “Your Yeoman Purser” would have more to do. I digress, again.

Seattle Ray told us we’d be seeing the Travis Larson Band on Friday night. I thought Travis Larson might have been the guy who won a PGA tour event in Pebble Beach back in the 90’s, but I was mistaken. Before I could confess such ignorance, Ray took his eyes off the road for a disturbingly long stretch of time as he searched for some TLB on his phone to play for us. I buckled up because even though the distracted driving didn’t wreck me, the TLB tunes might have. Instrumental guitar-driven rock. Prog-rock, fusion, hell if I know how to classify it. It’s not like there’s a Dewey Decimal System for music nor should there be one. But these folks obviously know how to play their instruments and seemed to have a bit more training than the Roy Clark Big Note Songbook that I’ve been using. Like they graduated from that shit while I was still learning to Velcro my own shoes. But the next cool thing is that they use these skills for good and not evil. Meaning no tired three chord progressions and somebody done somebody wrong songs. Heck, maybe they are somebody done somebody wrong songs and I just don’t know it because they’re keeping the lyrics from us. Bastards.

Sorry. I didn’t mean that. The music reminded me a lot of Andy Timmons, a guitarist I had the pleasure of seeing almost weekly when I hung my hat in Dallas. It was all enough to give Seattle Ray instant credibility and calm my fears of having to watch Candlebox tribute bands all weekend.

On the afternoon of the show, as we were driving around the greater Tacoma area Seattle Ray received a call. We turned down the Candlebox CD and he pulled safely off the side of the road to take it. Or maybe not. But he didn’t kill us, which is good since TLB needed a place to stay and he opened his home to three more guests. I got to meet the band that afternoon and they weren’t dicks or anything. In fact, they’re pretty awesome and I had nothing to be annoyed about. That’s mighty rare.

As usual, 500 words in and we haven’t even gotten to the show yet. Welcome to Thwartness. And now the only two words that count: They rock.

Dale is on drums and keeps this machine moving forward, knocking out everything from the standard 4/4 stuff to time signatures in fractions I never even knew existed. Jennifer owns the bass and travels over the fretboard like a spider hopped up on espresso while her other hand keeps perfect time with both Dale and Travis, bridging the gap between rhythm and melody. Brooklyn Bridging the gap, none of that shaky suspension bridge shit. This unit is solid. Which is even more impressive since they’re keeping up with Travis, who is technically impressive enough to shred with the best, but knows when to dial it back enough to keep it interesting and knows how to write a hook with just six strings and nary a word. They mostly focus on the task at hand because this isn’t any formulaic bullshit that runs on auto-pilot. TLB moves through each song with the precision of a Blue Angels show, hitting their marks without fail. Travis and Jen often fly wing to wing, and it’s during these maneuvers in which you may see smiles slowly break on their faces like the twilight hues of a desert sunset. God, that was a horrible simile. They know they’re badasses but the smiles aren’t cocky; the smiles are because they’re loving what they do and they know they just made it worth your effort to come see them that night. Or what do I know… maybe they are cocky bastards. Go see them and decide for yourself. Say hi after the show and buy a CD. Take them to Denny’s for breakfast. Just don’t follow them city to city and camp beside their van in a tent every night. That would be creepy. They told me so.

I confess that I often get distracted by shiny new bands coming through town, but TLB reminded me that this genre is far from stale or dead. I spent the next few days listening to their latest CD Soundmind, as well as revisiting some other similar music from my past – Andy Timmons, Steve Morse Band, and Rush. I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while, baby. It won’t happen again. Just give me one more chance.

Cracky says show TLB some TLC.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wild Flag - Metro - 4/5/2012

My good buddy Moist Rub joined me for this show, which is good since time has been scarce and I could use an assist to get a review done in a timely manner. So here it goes.

I was detained due to undisclosed circumstances and missed the opening act, Hospitality. I often give the openers a listen and was disappointed to have missed them, so while en route I texted:

Cracky: How was Hospitality?

Moist Rub: Monotonous.

So there you have it. Hospitality is monotonous. Just like these reviews.

I arrived and found Moist Rub in the back of the club, also known as the grumpy, old music critic section. A couple songs into the show I made my move and positioned myself a little closer to the music and center stage, near the sound booth. Moist Rub followed me the same way a shot of tequila usually follows another shot of tequila, until the worm is begging for mercy and the cops need to be called. But I digress. We don't talk much. There's really no need for it. But I think the show can be summed up by a brief conversation we had between songs in the encore:

Cracky: You know what I like about them?

Moist Rub: Their ability to transcend gender roles in rock, yet maintain a simple sexuality without even trying?

Cracky: Well, yes, but I was just going to say that I like that they don't play their guitars like girls.

Moist Rub: Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. They don't look like girls when they play.

Cracky: Yeah.

Moist Rub: I'm also capable of transcending traditional gender roles. Want to talk about your feelings?

Cracky: Shut up, Carrie is talking.

Wild Flag. They don't play like girls. Crack Approved.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fiona Apple – Lincoln Hall – 3/18/2012

Fiona is back. She apparently releases new albums about as often as Cracky gets laid… and the time between releases (pun intended) is growing exponentially longer. Her last one was 2005. She has a new one coming out in June called The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. However, unlike Cracky, Fiona needs to practice a bit before performing before a large crowd. So she booked a couple nights at intimate Lincoln Hall for about 500 of her closest friends. When tickets went on sale, the server crashed harder than a vision-impaired drunk on a dirt track date. The 20,000 Fiona fans who all felt entitled to a ticket or two acted as if Lincoln Hall had roofied Fiona herself, raped her and posted the video on YouTube just to taunt them while they hosted a cocktail reception for ticket brokers and passed out golden tickets like beer nuts. Chill out, folks. Lincoln Hall is the best damn venue this city has, from booking acts, to taking care of bands, to giving us great sound and a pretty damn nice place to catch a show. Security and bartenders and everyone else associated with the place are first class, and for Fiona fans to act as if they were on a mission to screw every one of them over is more ridiculous than Gallagher as president of these United States. I didn’t get tickets to the show when they first went on sale. But I didn’t threaten to burn the place down. Like a normal human, I said, “Well, that sucks” and then got on with my life and probably watched some porn or went out for nachos.

Remember Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult? Doesn’t matter because he is irrelevant to this post but his name does rhyme with karma, and I’m about to get metaphysical on your ass. You see, I’m pretty much an ass. But when I find myself with extra tickets to a sold-out show, I do my best to find a fan to whom I can sell them at face value. And in turn, the ticket gods take note and make sure I gain entry to a venue when I need to. Take note, Fiona fans. I didn’t tell Lincoln Hall to shove a Blue Moon tap up their ass, and by the time Fiona rolled into town I found myself with a pair of tickets. I almost died before the show due to a severe allergic reaction, but that’s an irrelevant story for another time. I ended up recovering before showtime and here’s my review.

Concert reviews are really stupid. It’s a one-time event. It’s not like somebody is going to read the review like a movie and say, “Hey, that sounds awesome, I think I’ll go see it tomorrow night. Oh, right, it was a concert and I missed it.” I suppose they can be useful to somebody who was at the show and is so motherfucking indecisive that they need to read the reviews before they can decide whether they like it or not. Or got hammered on Kamikazes before the show and doesn’t remember it. Speaking of which, why don’t people drink Kamikazes anymore? They were good enough for Cracky to blackout during a painfully boring James Taylor concert in 1994 and wake up in the backseat of a strange Ford Probe on a street nowhere near his own. But I digress. Which is my point. You don’t want to read a review of a show, right? Perhaps you do. If so, read this one. He pretty much nailed it and it will save me from having to say the same thing. Thanks, Andrew.


Fiona is the apple in Cracky’s eye. And not the crusty stuff in the corner when he wakes up.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nneka – Double Door – 3/21/2012

Sometimes I can be a real dumbass. Two years ago Nneka played the Double Door on Valentine’s Day. And I skipped it. Knowingly. It’s not like I had a date… have you seen my profile pic? I’m sure I had a valid excuse, such as having to draw mustaches on all the models in the latest issue of Vogue. Sure, it was hilarious, but I regretted that decision for two long years until Nneka gave me a second chance and returned to the Double Door. If I had come all the way from Nigeria and Cracky couldn’t make the effort to don his parka and go a few miles down the street, I’m not sure I’d give him another chance. But that’s because I’m a vindictive ass.

However, in my defense when I tried to get a ticket, Double Door asked if I could do a favor for one of their best customers, Admiral Clement Okon, and purchase his ticket by Western Union wire transfer, since he was currently away on an off-shore oceanic expedition without access to Internet, and he would pay me back at show along with an extra $10MM USD for the inconvenience.

I never heard back from General Okon, but I did make it to this show early and planted myself up front. Which was one of the better decisions I’ve made recently for two reasons.

First, holy crap, is she good. From the moment she walked on stage I was drawn to her in every way. Simple, natural, passionate, informative, grateful, professional, beautiful, confident. Oh, yeah, and talented. The music has a decidedly reggae feel, but has elements from hip hop, blues and soul. And the band she has assembled moves between styles and keeps up with her every step of the way. They pour it all into a Nneka branded blender and serve the music up like a socially-conscious smoothie. But unlike a large corporation plastering carefully-crafted slogans on their cups and bags just to make you feel good about buying their crap, these songs have meaning for Nneka. And she wants them to have meaning to you. Which brings me to my second reason I was happy to be up front.

Most of the crowd that showed up was not worthy of this woman and should have been tossed head first into an industrial slicer. Being up front put fewer of them between me and the band. First, people, shut the fuck up. I still have no clue why anyone pays ten, fifteen, twenty plus dollars for a concert ticket and then talks through the whole show. Here’s a consumer tip from your Uncle Cracky – stay the hell home and listen to the CD or go around to the corner to one of hundreds of taverns around Chicago which has been specifically designed for that purpose. Hey, I get it, this ain’t Carnegie or the symphony, but when you go to a bar offering live music and you pay to get in and the artist is trying to tell you what the song means to her or is serving up a quiet acoustic number, how about giving those vocal cords a rest, Slappy, before someone gives you a roundhouse kick to your flapping jaw.

Furthermore, maybe you won’t show your complete ignorance over what is going on, as witnessed from the following paraphrased exchange between Nneka and a crowd of people whom I am ashamed to call my fellow Chicagoans. Although I have a feeling poor Nneka encounters this in venues throughout America. She’s giving the intro to a tune called V.I.P. (Vagabond in Power), basically about the abuse of power and the high proportion of dickheads who end up in those positions. Except she’s a bit more eloquent than I.

Nneka: Corporations exploiting the resources of Africa… because they consider the people of Africa… unimportant.

Crowd: murmur, murmur, murmur, my drink is empty, murmur, what are you doing after the show? murmur, hey baby, murmur

Nneka: Western VIP’s….

Crowd: murmur, wait, what did she say? VIP’s? We’re all VIP’s!!!! Yay! Woo-hoo, VIP’s!!!! Yeaaaahhhh!!!!!! VIPeeeeeesssss!!!!!!! Woo!

Nneka: sigh

Sorry, Nneka, we’re all not that ignorant. Really. It just seems that way. But if it means anything to you, this was easily one of the best shows I’ve seen this year and I promise not to miss you ever again.

Cracky and Nneka, sitting in a tree.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Alabama Shakes – Reggie’s – 3/10/12

The Alabama Shakes hit my radar last year like a B1 Bomber entering urban airspace. So I was excited to find out they were coming to town last December to the small, yet inviting Hideout. And then I was disappointed to find out it was the same night as a Wilco show for which I already had tickets. But then I was excited to find out that they were doing a second show a couple days later at the sterile, seated, yet acceptable SPACE in Evanston. And then I was disappointed to find out it was the same night as my Christmas dinner for work. I considered blowing off dinner but since there were only eight of us, my absence might have been noticeable. I still considered it, but ultimately put on my bib and got down with some crab legs. But then I was excited a couple months later when they announced a return trip to Chicago for a gig at the venerable Lincoln Hall. And then I was disappointed to find out it was the same night Dave Alvin was in town. If you read my previous review, you’ll understand that missing Dave was not an option. Yet I was still tempted. And then I was excited to hear that they were doing a free WXRT show at Reggie’s the following day at high noon. Would Brittany finally be Cracky’s bride instead of his bridesmaid? Hell yes. I even shimmied down the retired dumbwaiter to gain early access to the hall and secure a front row spot.

Was she worth the wait? Hell yes. Can I do the rest of this review as a Q&A format? Hell yes. Did I really get that excited about a band that hasn’t even released their first full-length record yet? Hell yes. Check out YouTube. Okay, enough of that.

The music. It’s as if Otis Redding were born a woman and adopted by Mama and Papa Allman and raised along side Greg and Duane and then turned loose with a guitar and a notebook plastered with Zeppelin stickers.

Clothes make the man. So before you go making fun of my Wham! t-shirts, perhaps you’d be interested to know that vocalist Brittany Howard kicked this band thing off by inviting the weird kid in her psych class to play with her because she liked the band t-shirts he wore. They eventually found an additional guitarist and drummer and hatched this Alabama Shakes thing.

Brittany commands center stage, filling the place with her impassioned vocals and then attacking her guitar with similar vigor. It’s always nice to see a guitarist who knows more than the same three open chords that I do. But I digress.

The band stays largely in the background, recognizing that Brittany is the lobster in this bisque and they are the cream holding it together with just a dash of sherry to remind you that they’re there. It works. My only complaint is that the set clocked in well under an hour, but I'll shove that complaint up my own ass since it was a free show and the fact that they played less than 12 hours the night before and were due back on stage in Milwaukee later that day. Take care of that voice, Brittany, or else you'll end up like Drew Brees after that shoulder injury. And we all know how that turned out.

Bottom line: She’s fun to watch. They’re easy to listen to. You’ll dig the tunes. Cracky shakes his tailfeather.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones - Fitzgeralds - 3/9/2012

This was Uncle Dave, telling some bedtime stories, except instead of fairy tales about princesses and ogres and make-believe crap, his stories are about lost friends, badass old-timers, runaways, barroom troubadours and the women who love them, and other assorted characters on the fringe of society that most of us rarely encounter, may not want to encounter, but can’t help being drawn to when introduced to us through Dave’s eyes. He brings the stories home with six strings, some of them stinging us with the pain of a lost soulmate, others coming together in chords that give us a glimmer of hope that the runaway girl just might find a place to call home for the first time in her life.

There will be no falling asleep, either. Uncle Dave comes to town and tells your parents he knows it’s your bedtime, but you revel in the dark side and get chills as you hear the buzz of his amplifier fill your room. There’s no sleeping when Dave comes to town.

His van is filled with his cohorts… a supporting cast of players who know the stories well, yet are ready for a new twist he may add any night, taking their cues from a slight hitch of the guitar, a look from the corner of his eye, a nod of his head as he turns the page on the next guitar riff. Chris Miller handles the other guitar duties, often taking to the slide as the set up man for Dave’s next verse or solo. Brad Fordham keeps things rumbling on the bass clef so Dave can focus his efforts higher up neck. Alvin is clearly the star here and commands your attention in his boots and jeans, leather jacket, ever present bandana and worn cowboy hat and swagger, but the ringmaster who pulls them all together is drummer and Guilty Woman Lisa Pankratz. In a show a couple years ago Dave credited her for keeping him in line since he claims to have no sense of timing, but it goes beyond just keeping the beat. She gives off a sense of hyper-awareness, often staring intensely in Dave’s direction. Not always getting those cues, but sensing exactly when and where Dave is going next. She can take the beat down while he ponders his next move or pauses to carry on the narrative, building tension with some steady, subtle rhythms, but then just as easily she can rally the beat and send Dave off crack-the-whip style into a climactic solo that will leave you tattooed with every emotion that song conveys.

This is the best band working on the road today. Dave is the real deal, and he surrounds himself with the top people in the business. I normally go off on some ridiculous tangent in these show reviews, but I have too much respect for this band. Cracky says you’re a fool if you miss an opportunity to see Mr. Alvin.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Punch Brothers – Park West – 3/1/2012

I thought Punch Brothers was a machine shop on the west side of Chicago or a bad improv group so I was less than intrigued when a friend invited me to see them. But I keep an open mind about stuff and found out that it’s a band led by Chris Thile. I wasn’t sure, but didn’t he play second base for the Mets back in the 80’s? No? Apparently he was in Nickel Creek, a band for whom several friends got raging boners, but left me feeling less than satisfied. However, I checked out some of the Punch Brothers stuff and found it, well, punchier than what I had expected. I’m also going through a bluegrass phase lately and have been debating whether to purchase a mandolin or a banjo so that I can rightfully suck at another genre of music. I’m leaning toward the mandolin since it’s much smaller and probably easier to carry around. I can also finally dust off that Hooters’ songbook that’s been sitting on my shelf since 1985. You remember The Hooters… that Philly band that did “All You Zombies” and “And We Danced” before they opened all those stupid Hooters restaurants? But I digress.

Sometimes I overestimate the number of friends I have and purchase 20 tickets for a show and end up having to sell 19 of them on Craigslist in exchange for faulty curling irons and used copies of Kirk Cameron’s autobiography. Recently, though, a friend has come through for me a few times so that I’ve only had to sell 18 extra tickets, so I decided to repay the favor and take one of her 20 tickets to the Punch Brothers.

I got there about halfway through the opener, Aoife O’Donovan, and was informed that she’s “pleasant”. An odd description but spot on. Too bad Scrabble doesn’t allow proper nouns because her name would be a killer play when you end up with a rack full of vowels. Just missing the U and sometimes Y. Ah, yes, back to the Punch Brothers.

So the Punch Brothers aren’t really brothers, they didn’t punch anyone or serve punch, and they don’t have a drummer. But they did bring an upright bass player, a guitarist, a banjo-ist, a fiddler off the roof, and Chris Thile, the said mandolinist.

Going to a Punch Brothers show is like watching the snowboarding events at the Winter Olympics, except it’s not as cold. The boarders all do some crazy shit and even though it’s a competition they’re out there partying, cheering each other on and all go apeshit every time someone nails a triple-lindy in the half-pipe. Same thing… individually the Punch Brothers are immensely talented, but as each one takes a solo or is featured in a tune the other four are dialed in and smiling in disbelief that they are in the same band with these other fuckers. Chris Thile flailed on that mandolin like I’ve never seen, and then takes a ringmaster role as he physically moves the music through and across all the other members. And they all deliver. But even more “pleasant” is how they all mesh on every song. Their timing is dead on, through the barnburners and the ballads, and they nail tempo changes and creative arrangements as if they’ve been playing together on the front porch all their lives. This was a fun show. Cracky drank the punch.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Diamanda Galas – Museum of Contemporary Art – 2/25/2012

Cracky got a Kindle from Kris Kringle for Christmas. And I also overdo the alliteration any time I get the chance. Between skee-ball tournaments and pickling hard-boiled eggs for the corner tavern, I stay pretty busy and lose track of any books I’m reading and where I left off. The Kindle has kept me more focused, more efficient and somehow even more hygienic. It’s truly a miracle device.

One of the books I’ve been reading is "Get In The Van" by Henry Rollins, which is essentially his journal from his days in Black Flag in the early 80’s. At this stage in the book, he’s living in a shed, largely withdrawn, and not talking to anyone very much. So, yeah, living just like Cracky. However, there is but one person with whom he likes hanging out, exchanging letters and even talking on the phone: Diamanda Galas. I had never heard of her, but I was intrigued enough to check her out and stalk her online. Since she has a Wikipedia entry and music on Spotify, it was much easier than stalking that woman on the bus. But I digress.

Allow me to quote three lines from Wikipedia:

Galás has been described as "capable of the most unnerving vocal terror", with her three and a half octave vocal range. She often screams, hisses and growls. Her works largely concentrate on the topics of AIDS, mental illness, despair, injustice, condemnation, and loss of dignity.


Fast forward a couple days and I’m flipping through Time Out magazine around 3 a.m. on a Friday night trying to find the best place in Chicago to get my chest waxed when who should I see peering back at me from the pages of the magazine but Diamanda Galas herself. She’s in town and performing on the 23rd! Shit, that was yesterday. Why couldn’t I have gotten the urge to wax my chest a couple days earlier? Wait! Another show on the 25th! Tomorrow. Sweet! Argh, sold out.

I decided to head down to the MCA early when the doors opened to get on the wait list, and when I arrived they had exactly one solitary ticket left. I pushed the sickly looking goths in front of me out of the way and threw my cash on the counter. Good thing I had turned down that transvestite on the corner who asked me if I needed a date.

It was my first trip to the surprisingly minimalist yet functional MCA theater. The lone grand piano, stool, and monitors on the simply lit stage were a perfect compliment to the space.

Diamanda came out in black tights and black fringed chemise, not nearly as goth as half her audience, yet reminding me of a Greek, slightly goth Beth Hart. She took a seat, got her sheet music in order and plowed right into the first chords. Oh, yeah, she’s a badass pianist. I would have paid just to see her play piano, probably because I don’t understand the value of a dollar, but I’m a sucker for piano music and women musicians the same way other people love kittens with baggies full of crack. Crack kittens.

But unlike the mythical crack kittens, Diamanda has experimented and trained her voice unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. I’d say her voice is a cross between Maria Callas, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, and John Lee Hooker. Her vocals are like a clown car… you can’t believe all those sounds are coming out of one human, or any human. The fact that it’s all happening while she’s pounding out these intricate melodies and rhythms on piano nearly made my head explode. I think I heard a couple heads explode in the back, after which they were asked to leave for disturbing the artist.

The songs ranged from covers of old spiritual tunes (“Let My People Go”) to original music set to early 20th century Greek poetry and Italian suicide poems to complete originals from her 80’s trilogy based on the AIDS epidemic.

I once worked on a job site where the risk of explosion was so high that the walls were cinder block, but there was a light tin roof above so that the force of any explosion would be directed upwards. Diamanda’s performances would work well in a room like this. If you’re feeling brave enough, step inside and be prepared to be blown away. Once you clear the tin roof, you might enjoy the ride. The rest of you may be better off staying on the other side of those walls. I went inside and Cracky’s alive. Very alive.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bindlestickin' New York City: Memphis - Shubert Theatre

I somehow found myself on the guest list for a dinner on the Upper East side of Manhattan earlier this month. I’m not sure how that happened, but I never turn down a free meal so I hopped on a big ol’ jet airliner and got my ass to NYC. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and like any Tony-loving fellow I decided to kick off my visit with a Broadway play. Book of Mormon was the obvious choice, but it is sold out until 2028 and I can’t plan that far in advance. Spiderman sounded cool, but general consensus is that the play sucks unless you get off on dudes in tights flying around your head. So I went down to Times Square and got in line at the TKTS booth with all the other cheapasses who don’t want to pay full price. I like my culture cut-rate.

Remember the thespians in high school? Well, just like I realized that a career in pro football was unlikely and hung up my stinky cleats after senior year, most of the thespians also realized that a Broadway career was unlikely and hung up their Kabuki masks and got real jobs as singing waiters at TGI Fridays. However, a few of them did not give up on the dream and can be found in Times Square wearing ridiculous costumes in the cold and passing out flyers to the shows for which they were rejected faster than was my application to Mensa. But I digress.

I perused the flyers and decided on Memphis on the basis of its 2010 Tony for best musical, the fact that featured some R&B music and because I’ve had some really good BBQ in the actual town of Memphis.

So, the play. The story of Huey Calhoun, a white dude in the 50’s who starts all sorts of shit for liking, playing and promoting black music. Back then such an atrocious act would be akin to going to Rick Santorum’s house with a plate of deviled eggs. So there’s your story, conflict and protagonist. In the course of getting to the end of the play, they dance and sing a lot. And there are some badass dancers and impressive singers that would make it to Hollywood on American Idol should they ever decide to stoop to that level. I usually hang out at infinitely off-Broadway theatres in which I’m lucky to find a folding chair and an usher not on crack, so I’m always blown away by the talent, sets, and general production value. But the songs were pretty generic, and well, like a musical. Almost as if they were written by Bon Jovi. Or their keyboard player David Bryan. What’s that? You say they were written by David Bryan? I can’t believe I got snookered.

Regardless, I was somewhat entertained, but left the theatre feeling ripped off. Like ordering the ten-piece McNugget and getting home only to find eight in the box. If you want to know why, then I must issue a semi-spoiler alert.

Huey doesn’t die. Huey doesn’t live happily ever after. The damn musical just ends. He should have died. Not because I’m evil and like sad endings. Cracky very much enjoys happy endings. But the story is pretty much based on real-life DJ Dewey Phillips. And Dewey died. Huey should have died. Cracky got had.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Charles Bradley – Metro – 2/18/2012

No, not Charles Barkley or Milton Bradley, although I think those shows might have been more fun. [Disclaimer: Cracky was severely ill the night of this show, but is trying to be objective. He sucked it up and got his ass to Metro as a service to his loyal fans, but might have been slightly altered. At one point Metro security came by and asked if he was okay and offered the services of the medic on site. Thanks, Metro, classy move, but I haven’t been shot or anything. I’m just trying to breathe and not puke on your shoes.]

I had been looking forward to this show. I found the Screaming Eagle of Soul, Charles Bradley, some time last year and he’s been a regular on my playlists. I highly recommend his latest record, and he’s even got a great backstory, complete with all the trials and tribulations, working as a cook for years, and then being discovered in his 50’s and finding success on Daptone records. Not much unlike my own story, except I can’t cook, I haven’t faced near the challenges he has, and I’m a tad younger. Oh, yeah, and I don’t have any musical talent.

There are obvious comparisons to James Brown… in appearance, sound and mannerisms (Charles, not Cracky). And it makes sense when you find out that Bradley has even worked as a James Brown imitator. But that’s what I felt like I was watching, even though he’s performing his own material. There are some great youtube clips of him performing in a bike shop last year during SXSW. He seemed genuine and sounded spectacular. But it seemed like headlining the show in Chicago at a mid-size club changed the dynamic. It was more about the show than the soul and he seemed to slip into James Brown mode again, maybe because he was more comfortable in that role on a bigger stage or thought that’s what people wanted to see.

So say I want a coonskin cap for my birthday because I’m feeling all Davy Crockett and my head is cold, right? Because I’m so awesome, you make a trip to the coonskin cap store and the salesman tells you, “Hey, every store is out of coonskin caps this season, but everyone is really digging these new beaver hats that we have in stock!” And indeed, you check out the beaver hat and it’s pretty nice. It’s warm, looks mighty fine, and because you’re as immature as I am, you giggle every time he starts talking about the extraordinary qualities of beaver fur. So you buy the hat, and it would have been a fine gift. But then you get home, try to make a raccoon tail out of papier mache, and try to color parts of the hat with a black sharpie to match the markings of a raccoon. Now I have ridiculous looking faux-shit hat. Sure it will keep my head warm, but it’s neither an authentic coonskin cap nor a pretty bitchin’ substitute beaver hat. And you just ruined my birthday. Thanks a lot. Cracky’s disappointed.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bettye LaVette - Old Town School - 2/24/12

Van Halen rocked the United Center this evening. I think. I wasn’t there. I almost got sucked into the hype and had a pair of good seats in my Ticketmaster cart and then I looked at the price and said, “Cracky, what the fuck are you doing? You’ve already seen those guys, and think of how many Swiss Cake Rolls and Nutty Bars you can buy with that cash! And you have tickets to Bettye LaVette that night, dumbass.” I kicked my cart over, flipped off Ticketmaster and got my ass over to The Old Town School of Folk Music.

The annoying dude from WNUR came out to tell us that the show would start about 30 minutes late because Bettye was delayed getting into town. I offered to take the stage and entertain the crowd with some funeral dirges on which I’ve been working, but they felt it unnecessary. I never found out the offending airline, but making Ms. LaVette late has not helped endear me to their industry. I’ve received better customer service from lemonade stands run by eight year olds. But I digress.

Concerts are just like sex. After a few times you’re ready for someone new. This was the fourth time seeing Bettye in the last three years so I was worried the show might seem stale. Bettye clearly sensed my trepidation and whipped out her kama sutra songbook and brought me to full musical arousal once again. Dang.

Bettye has been at this for almost 50 years, out there on her own before Don Cornelius ever uttered “peace, love and crabs.” I think that’s what pushed Don over the edge… seeing all those horrible t-shirts from Joe’s Crab Shack. Got crabs? Hilarious!!! Again, I digress.

Bettye finally gained more widespread recognition in 2008 after covering The Who’s "Love Reign O’er Me" as Roger Daltrey sat in the crowd Googling “singing lessons” while Pete Townshend gave him a charley horse. The record from which that cover came also includes other British classic rockers, except she shows them boys how those songs should have been done. Cracky has a voice that rivals Sinatra, but you never hear him sing for fear that LaVette will take one of his tunes and put him to shame the same way she has so many others. "I'm a better editor. If you make a statement, I can make it a stronger statement. And, if you write a story, I can make it a stronger story.”

And you can almost see her step into each song, pulling on the book jacket from each song’s story and assuming the role of the lead character. If that song tells a story of pain, she sounds like she just fell in the mud and got kicked in the head with an iron boot. A song of betrayal, and you have a feeling she just might kick you in the nuts if you look a little too much like the man who wronged her. And… scene.

She drew less from Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, more from I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise (female songwriter covers), and reprised some classics from her past. Her ‘tween song banter isn’t gratuitous (“Hellooo Chicago!) but very genuine, and her stories explain why she’s released the albums she has and why each song is on the setlist. She struts like she owns the joint on some songs, dances like someone 40 years younger on others, sat cross-legged on the stage floor for one and finished us off with an acapella performance which captivated the crowd as if she had just kicked our butts in a game of freeze tag.

Earlier that day, tickets went on sale for a Fiona Apple show at intimate Lincoln Hall. Demand obviously outstripped supply, probably ten-fold. The people who did not get tickets acted as if you had kidnapped their kittens, dressed them as Fiona herself, and decapitated them on closed circuit television while forcing them to watch "Clockwork Orange" style. Ironically, Bettye soldiered on and did a cover of "Sleep to Dream" better than Fiona could ever dream to sing. My point, get over it, Fiona fans, and find yourself another swell show to see. They’re out there. Bettye proved that tonight. Crack Approved.

Note: If you’re friends with Cracky on Facebook and use Spotify, the setlist from the show is on Cracky’s playlists.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Heartless Bastards - Lincoln Hall - 2/14/2012

Pretend, for a minute, that I am Alex Trebek. The answer is:

A) Pretty good, I need to check out more.
B) Not bad, I don’t need to fill my ears with sculpting clay.
C) Wow, I’m not sure we can still be friends.
D) Holy crap, I am so incredibly cool how could I not have known about this artist before!

The question is, “What are the possible responses when a friend shares music with you?”

I’d say most of the time my reaction falls into A. However, last year The Heartless Bastards captured the elusive D response. That is when Erika Wennerstrom and her cohorts came into my life riding on a flashdrive containing The Mountain record.

Erika has an extremely unique vocal style that I imagine is like listening to Chrissie Hynde while tripping on acid. For some of you it will be a mind-expanding experience while others may consider it a bad trip. But judging from the last two sold-out shows I attended, there are enough of us who dig putting a little tab of Heartless Bastards on our tongue for a couple hours.

Besides also hailing from the musical hotbed of Ohio, the comparisons to Chrissie don’t end there. The songwriting is solid and she’s not afraid to plug in her guitar and hit you in the face instead trying to strum you into submission with an acoustic.

On top of the irony of going to a Heartless Bastards show on Valentine’s Day, it was also the same day their new Arrow record was released. I supposed I should say “dropped” but that seems pretentious to me. If anyone “dropped” one of my records, CD’s or MP3 players I’d kick their ass. Unless they were bigger than I, in which case I’d still probably shake my head in disgust at their carelessness. Because the record is pretty damn good, and the new songs fit right in with the old favorites at Lincoln Hall that night. With four releases under their utility belts they put together a nearly two-hour set that never lagged or made me wonder if I was missing any Mercedes Ruehl original Lifetime movies on cable. I was completely engaged, riding the riffs and soaking in the vocals and planning a camping trip with Erika in my head. She can even bring the other Bastards, as long as they supply the marshmallows for the campfire.

By the way, I hope you remembered to stop pretending I’m Alex Trebek. Crack Approved.

Happy Belated Valentine's Day, you bastards.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cowboy Mouth - House of Blues - 2/10/2012

A small joint called Club Clearview had scheduled bands over the course of an entire day on 4th of July weekend in 1992, and after paying a $7 cover I randomly stumbled in about the same time Cowboy Mouth was taking the stage. I’d say there were about 20 of us loners there that day who didn’t get invited to a bbq that weekend and, as is typical of that size crowd, we were kind of spread out and not entirely engaged. This was clearly unacceptable to the drummer/vocalist, one Fred LeBlanc. His drumkit was already front and center but that wasn’t enough. He came out into the crowd and rounded us up like a kindergarten class at the end of recess, and then proceeded to make us sit on the floor of the club in a big circle. No exceptions. Just like a game of Duck Duck Goose. But instead of knocking us on the head for not getting into the show, he and the band finished their set right there in the circle with us. Making us share in the vocals and percussion and making sure that nobody left that damn club without knowing the name of the band they just saw and feeling like they just freebased every riff on the setlist.

I think each one of us in the crowd told two friends after that show and made sure they came with us to the next one. And then they told two friends, and so on and so on until everybody is washing their hair with beer shampoo and eating jambalaya with red plastic spoons.

Unfortunately, Cracky went missing for a few years and lost track of Fred and company. And when he came back the rest of the music world had discovered the Cowboy Mouth experience. It’s just like that small circle back in 1992, except the circle is about 50 times bigger and it’s not a circle anymore. It’s now best described by kinetic theory. Cowboy Mouth is presented an audience in the form of a solid. They heat that sucker up until the crowd is a mass of Brownian motion and ready to blow the lid off the joint.

The lyrics aren’t sophisticated. The music isn’t groundbreaking. But if you find the shoegaze genre confusing and illogical and want to go back to the days when rock and roll was fun and celebrate life no matter how bad your acne or diverticulitis is flaring up, get yourself a ticket to a Cowboy Mouth show. The House of Blues show was no exception. Crack Approved.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

He's My Brother, She's My Sister - Empty Bottle - 1/14/2012

If I had gotten inked twenty years ago like I had wanted, I’d be the proud owner of a Bill the Cat tattoo today. I’m not sure what that might be worth on eBay today, but it’s not like you can sell a tat on eBay anyway. But I digress.

My point is that you need to think about shit before you go and do it. This also applies to band names. There have been brother/sister acts before: The Carpenters, Cowboy Junkies, Donny & Marie, Hanson. Most of them just use the family name or come up with something weirdly Canadian. Which reminds me that I need to make it to The Calgary Stampede one of these years. Anybody up there have a couch they’re willing to share? Not share a couch as in we’re both going to sleep on the same couch. Share a couch as in you own a couch and when you go to your bed you’ll let me sleep by myself on your couch. Just thought I’d clarify.

But this brings me to the Kolars of Los Angeles, Robert and Rachel. You see Robert is Rachel’s brother and, in case you weren’t clear on the transitive property of siblings, Rachel is Robert’s sister. After apparently spending a little too much time in that SoCal sun, they decided to name their band He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister. Not only does it reek of gimmickry, but sounds like a local band that will spend most of their time in their parent’s basement and, at best, maybe play a party at the local rec center. And if that weren’t bad enough, they decided to add a tap dancer as a percussion instrument. Now I have to confess that Cracky here is a fan of the ol’ tap dance genre, from old school Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to the creative applications of Chicago Tap Theatre today. However, just like the angry dude with the chocolate bar who got really pissed at the other dude when he got peanut butter on his chocolate, and the similarly angry dude with the peanut butter who got pissed at the other dude for getting chocolate in his peanut butter, I didn’t realize how well they could work together.

Did I mention that I had tickets to the sold-out Walkmen show at Metro that night? Now I had seen The Walkmen open for Fleet Foxes a couple months earlier and it was a damn good set, but I decided I could sell my $35 ticket and check out this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of gimmickry known as HMBSMS for far less thanks to the Empty Bottle’s RSVP for free admission promotion. Nice call, Cracky. If you could pick stocks as well as shows, you’d be the next Warren Buffet.

HMBSMS has an indie folk vibe, which I think means that they write songs, dress like hippies and/or hipsters, and not a lot of other people in your office will have heard of them. So here’s your starting lineup… Brother Robert handles guitar and bass drum and vocals, trading off with Sister Rachel, who also doubles up on tambourine. My research is suspect since it depends on either a quick scan of Wikipedia or the Romanian prostitutes who responded to my ad on Craigslist for interns, but I believe it was Oliver on upright bass and Aaron on slide guitar. I’m not sure what happened to the cello player, but I like to pretend that he was left roadside in Des Moines, Iowa after a heated argument about the infield fly rule. But I digress. Finally, the lovely Lauren on tap shoes and percussion.

It sounds kind of whacked out, but it’s just crazy enough to work. Lauren lays down a tap rhythm that chugs along the tracks like an old-time steam engine, accenting the beats with the drums on each side of her, while the rest of the band adds some swinging textures over the harmonies of our sibling heroes. That alone is worth the price of admission, but the addition of the slide guitar gives it teeth that further differentiates it from all your other general indie folk hipsters running around out there these days.

I see they’re headed out to SXSW, so if you’ll be in Austin be sure to see them and tell ‘em Cracky sent you. They shouldn’t punch you out or anything since they seemed genuinely nice, and Lauren even sent me home with a signed poster. Crack Approved.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Hush Sound - Bottom Lounge - 2/4/2012

I confess I missed The Hush Sound the first time around. It must have been during my steel drum band phase. I can get obsessive. Eventually I realized I had to leave the islands before my brains got fried and return to Chicago. Upon arrival I heard that I needed to check out a band called Gold Motel. I don’t like being told what to do, so I didn’t. But it turns out they were opening for a Cold War Kids show and I did make an effort to get there in time to check them out. Gold Motel had a catchy, kind of pop sound led by a likable lass on keyboards and vocals. I had my crack staff do some research and found out the lass was one Greta Morgan, previously of The Hush Sound.

Turns out that a lot of Gold Motel fans missed The Hush Sound, and after checking out some old videos I missed them, too. Word must have gotten out on the street and eventually to Greta, because no more more than six months later The Hush Sound arranged a couple reunion shows at The Bottom Lounge just for Cracky. Thanks, Greta.

I obviously felt obligated to attend and picked up a ticket. As The Bottom Lounge filled up for the second of two sold-out shows, it became apparent that I did not fit the target demographic which consisted of 20 year-old girls and spider monkeys. I almost climbed into the rafters to hang out with the spider monkeys, but stuck it out on the main floor.

Greta handled vocal duties for Gold Motel but shares them with Bob Morris in The Hush Sound, which makes them the surf n’ turf of pop. I wanted to take them out for karaoke afterwards and force them to do a duet of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee, and then buy them ice cream with sprinkles. I totally get why the 20 year old girl demographic digs them.

I typically prefer my music darker or louder, but I appreciate a good pop song and musicians like The Hush Sound who can consistently write a hook that snags you like a hungry catfish. I also learned that the 99% that everyone is talking about refers to the percentage of their audience who sing along to every song, firmly ingraining damn near every one in my brain. Not necessarily a bad thing, but eventually Rob Zombie is going to have enough and evict them. Until that happens, Crack Approved.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lenny Kravitz, Raphael Saadiq - Chicago Theatre - 1/31/2012

Cracky is an on-time sort of fellow, but especially so when he drops over $50 on a ticket. I’m getting my money’s worth from a show, even if it means showing up early to catch an opening act consisting of tone-deaf, cross-dressing Pussycat Doll rejects. Fortunately, I was actually looking forward to seeing Raphael Saadiq open this show. I think I first saw him on SoulStage, and I was digging the old-school Motown groove. Saadiq is clearly not Tony! Toni! nor Tone-deaf… he’s got the right vibe to pull it off, and looked good in his mustard suit and skinny tie. It was enough to get me to download some of his tunes and add them to the rotation. The mustard suit was also enough to make me go get a hot dog. I should clarify that it was a mustard-colored suit, not a suit made out of mustard. That's too Gaga-esque.

Unfortunately, the opening set did not even come close to clearing the bar I put up there. First off, he came on stage with some shiny high-top sneakers, a hoodie and a jean jacket. Come on, man, I see that on the train every day. Put on the skinny suit and look the part. I was dressed better than he was and most days I'm lucky if I remember to wear pants. Second, I don’t remember him singing all that much. There was some prancing around, some guitar hero moves, some horseplay with the bandmates, some gratuitous Chicago banter, when all I really wanted him to do was step up to that mike and fuel that theatre with some Motown energy instead of turning it into an abandoned Motor City auto plant. Third, what was with the cheesy blues tune? I hope that wasn’t just for Chicago, because we have standards here. Don’t act like your guitarist is Albert King and we’ve never seen a blues solo before. Finally, I will admit, it wasn’t all your fault. It’s as if the Chicago Theatre sound guy decided to skip the opening act and send his accountant to run the board. It wasn’t nearly as loud as it should have been, and all I was hearing was mostly drums and some keyboards. I felt as if I were listening to the show in a fish tank with one of those little scuba diver statues stuck in each ear canal. Come on, Chicago Theatre, don’t treat the opener like Kibbles n’ Bits when you have bacon-wrapped dates on the plate. The highlight of the set was when he let his keyboard player, Charles Jones, take over the vocals on a tune, and that dude put more heart and soul into his performance than I had seen all night. Except for Puppet Bike, which was parked outside the theatre before the show. Always love a Puppet Bike sighting. But I digress.

Finally, Lenny and his band took the stage. Rock stars. That’s pretty much my review right there. Every one of them looked the part, had the attitude, and backed it up with unquestionable talent. Not one of them looked like they wandered in off the street after their shift at Maggiano’s. I loved that the white guitar player had the biggest afro on the stage and that the girl on bass was one of those females who can rock the shaved head look with aplomb, each one playing wingman to Lenny, who stood front and center. There was no doubt that this was their only choice in life. You can’t stash a genuine rock star in a cubicle or force them to wear a nametag.

The horn section was well-represented, and Lenny is cool enough to let them leave the confines of the brass platform to which they are normally relegated by most bandleaders. Lenny relinquished the spotlight willingly, the reason obvious as their solos, true solos with no other accompaniment, captivated the audience. I exaggerate. They captivated me, while others in the audience were busy taking drink orders or checking their email. Look, I know you all came to hear “Fly Away”, but you paid a lot of money to hear that one song. Pay attention and spread that ticket cost over the rest of this show like you slather that mayo over your bologna sandwiches, you bloated noisemakers.

Most of the audience was clearly there to hear the hits and he delivered; however, the new material from last year’s Black and White America held up with the rest and I recommend checking it out. He's got an interesting bio and you can catch some of it in the video for the title cut.

Lenny is just a general rock and roll badass. He knows how to write a catchy tune, he knows how to play that guitar, he knows how to keep an audience engaged, and I bet he can even make a mean Denver omelet. Crack Approved.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Top Shows of 2011: The Top Ten

Live music is better (bumper stickers should be issued). And after this year I’d have enough bumper stickers to cover the rental car fleet at O’Hare International Airport. While all y’all were out partying over New Year’s Weekend I was toiling in the mothership, trying to make sense of it all and seeing if I could rank them. I almost took the easy way out and said I liked them all equally, like a parent when asked about their favorite child, but that’s bullshit… I know parents have to have favorites. And I indeed have some favorite shows. Here are my made up rules:

A. This was a snapshot over this last weekend. If you asked me today, the order might change depending on my memory, the weather or this week’s guest on Meet The Press.
B. I did not separate out opening bands; however, I did list the ones who influenced my ranking of the show.
C. I excluded local bands, festival sets, shows at the CSO and other assorted noise that would confuse my fortissimo addled brain.

Without further ado, let's unleash this dragon:

1. Holmes Brothers – SPACE: I like venues loud and dirty, and SPACE is neither; yet these storied gents made me forget I was in the nurturing bosom of Evanston and transported me to a plane previously reserved for mind-altering drugs and tantric sexual sessions with Sting himself. Wendell, Sherman and Popsy have been at it for over 30 years, which is longer than I’ve been waxing my chest, but they still find joy in the music and share it like a dirty needle in a crack den. But I mean that in the best possible way. They’re number one, after all.

>Watch The Holmes Brothers

2. Wilco – Riv/Vic/Lincoln Hall: I confess, I got sucked into the Wilco hype the same way I was crashing weddings every weekend in 1996 just to do the Macarena. But instead of going home with a sense of shame after groping bridesmaids in the coat room, I left each of these shows with a greater appreciation for a band that combined strong songwriting and solid musicianship in so many ways that I’m pretty sure I know exactly how the Renaissance crowds felt when Michelangelo switched from his Sunday comic strip to house painting to sculpture.

>Watch Wilco

3. Arctic Monkeys – HOB: I liked these guys, but skipped their last show in town because I was too put out and snobby to go to the Riv. That would be like turning down Sofia Vergara because you didn’t like the color of her dress. Of course, I didn’t realize the error of my ways until I scored tickets to their Lolla aftershow at House of Blues. It was hot, sweaty, loud and the floor shook harder than the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. I felt like I was in a music video; not that A-ha where the guy turns into a comic book drawing, but Arctic Monkey’s own Brianstorm video.

>Watch AM

4. Arcade Fire / The National – UIC: Either of these bands would have been a top ten show on their own. Together on one bill was mind-boggling. It’s like the guy who invented a la mode. Wait, this pie just isn’t good enough… how about we put some motherfucking ice cream on top? The gentle intensity of The National followed by the musical orgy that is The Arcade Fire made for an evening so complete that I was able to forego my usual post-show kiddie cocktail.

>Watch AF
>Watch The National

5. Dave Alvin (w/Chris Miller) – Old Town School: I was reintroduced to Mr. Alvin a few years ago and my mancrush grows stronger with every show. His songs are stories that draw me in like a moth to a flame, and then he singes my eyebrows with his guitar while his cohorts, be it the Guilty Women, the Guilty Men, or only Chris Miller, mop up the floor. I found myself standing next to him during his opener at a fest this summer and was too awestruck or respectful or downright smitten to say a word. Here he is later that night:

>Watch Dave

6. tUnE-yArDs – Lincoln Hall: The upper and lower case spelling of this band’s name is so damn ridiculous that I used to ignore it. But as their music grew on me and after seeing them live, I decided to suck it up and give them the proper respect by spelling like an underage Romanian prostitute on MySpace. The music, largely a product of Merrill Garbus, is out there, but give it a chance. She is a complete freak showing up on stage with a painted face and a ukulele, looping drums and vocal riffs into a primitive, often dissonant tapestry that you might want to ignore at first because you haven’t seen it in Good Housekeeping magazine, but you need to take it home with you because it’s going to pull that room together in a way that you’ll never want to leave. I’m not sure what the hell that all meant, except that I love Merrill.

>Watch tUnE-yArDs

7. Fishbone – Bottom Lounge: “It wasn’t hip-hop, it wasn’t funk; it was just some different shit.” ~ Ice T. Yikes, the 25th anniversary tour. I saw them about 20 years earlier and remember it being insane. But they certainly couldn’t be as good as they were back then. After all, I get sore these days after going bowling. But any concern was instantly dismissed as I got kicked in the face by the lead singer Angelo as he crowd surfed overhead during the first song while the rest of the band tore it up on stage. And it just got better. The energy never waned. They kicked the stuffing out of that stupid Energizer bunny and proved that perpetual motion is indeed feasible despite what the physics books might lead you believe.

>Watch Fishbone

8. Bettye Lavette – Old Town School: A senior citizen has never given me chills before, but I’ll keep paying my Social Security taxes as long as a part of it goes to Bettye. If you ever write a song, make sure Bettye never gets a hold of it, because she will do it better than you could ever dream of. Just watch her do Love Reign O’er Me while Roger Daltry sits there feeling like a fraud.

>Watch Bettye

9. Twilight Singers – Metro: You remember the Afghan Whigs, right? Of course you do. Unfortunately, when they fell off the radar I also lost track of singer Greg Dulli until someone told me about his not so new band The Twilight Singers. Obviously not so new because there is no way a bad ass like Dulli would name his band after a bunch of pussy vampires. But I digress. Fortunately I found out about Dulli in time for his new record and tour. He brought the swagger as strongly as he did in his AG days… women swooned, men harrumphed, and children cried. It was beautiful.

>Watch TS

10. Screaming Females – Schubas: This, my friends, is what rock and roll is all about. Guitar, bass, drums. Make a record, draw some t-shirts, load up the van and hit the road, play guitar ‘til your fingers bleed, make noise, beautiful noise and help your fans pick out a t-shirt after the gig. It’s my new favorite t-shirt and Marissa is my new favorite rock star.

>Watch Marissa

Top Shows 2011: 11 thru 20

11. Ruthie Foster – MAC: From Screaming Females to the opposite end of the spectrum, Ruthie will not make your ears bleed or sucker punch you if you’re not paying attention. Ruthie will merely take the stage, endear herself to you in a way that you wish she was your neighbor so that you could share a cup of tea with her every afternoon, and then spew enough joy through her music that if you aren’t smiling then you must be super self-conscious about your teeth or something. Go see a dentist because that’s unacceptable at one of her shows.

>Watch Ruthie

12. Rhett Miller – Schubas: I own an acoustic guitar and I make horrible noises with it. But even if I knew how to play the damn thing, I’m fully aware how incredibly difficult it is to keep someone’s attention with just an acoustic guitar and irritatingly good looks. But Rhett is one of the few I’ve seen who can pull it off. He keeps the energy high, never lets off the gas, and his songs will keep you engaged as you round each verse with him as if riding a high banked race track in high gear. At the end, you can’t believe 90 minutes has passed, and Rhett is more sweat-soaked than an NBA team in the fourth quarter.

>Watch Rhett

13. Wild Flag – Subterranean/Empty Bottle: Anytime you start a band with 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney, you’re on the right track. These four women look like they’re on their way to a PTA meeting. But instead of talking about bake sales, they decide to kick the principal in the nuts, hit the road and pay for the new playground equipment by rocking out and selling merch to adoring fans across the country. Those kids are going to have a kick ass playground.

>Watch Wild Flag

14. Cage the Elephant/Florence & the Machine/Black Keys – Marcus Ampitheater, Summerfest, Milwaukee: I am a total music and concert snob now, and if the venue holds more 2,000 people I tend to turn my nose up and move along. But this triple bill was too good to ignore so I grabbed some tickets, played hooky from work and took a road trip to the land of cheese and bratwurst. The little dude from CTE flung himself around the pavilion like a Frisbee at an Ultimate tourney and stole the show, while Florence filled the airspace with a voice so strong you could almost see it, and then the Black Keys came out but I missed most of their set because I was caught up in my own thoughts of the irony of the band name given the fact that they don’t have a piano or keyboard player in the band. Then I started thinking that maybe I’d take piano lessons and tried to remember where the power adapter for my Casio was. Pretty soon the show was over, but the people around me told me it was spectacular. Too bad half of them were morons and missed CTE.

>Watch CTE

15. Split Lip Rayfield – Double Door: This one was a huge surprise. It was an impromptu stop on the way home because Suzanne Vega nearly put me into a coma and I felt dirty after sitting amongst all those old, clean Evanston-ites. I chose the Double Door because Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers were opening, but I stuck around for SLR and was blown away. Banjo/guitar, mandolin and a homemade stand up bass made out of a gas tank and piece of hickory. There was drinking, dancing, making out… and that was just me and the band. Some good-time thrash-grass music and seriously fun show for everyone there.

>Watch SLR

16. The Joy Formidable – Metro/Double Door: My buddy told me about this band. The day of the show. Thanks for the head up there, buddy. I’m a busy man. Actually, I’m not and I could have gone, but I skipped it and made him go alone to prove a point. I showed him! And I missed a surely awesome show at Lincoln Hall. Fortunately, he drove me to their free Lolla aftershow at the Double Door later in the year, and I also got to catch them headline a show at Metro. Ritzy looks demure in her coiffed platinum hair, well-appointed make-up and conservative dress. (Can make-up be well-appointed? I don’t think so, but I think you know what I mean, so stop being a stickler, will ya’?) But as soon as the music starts she tears into her guitar like a Tasmanian devil, blowing through songs like an EF-5 tornado (that’s the highest intensity tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, in case you aren’t a weather geek like me). Oh, and they’re Welsh and swear a lot. It’s loud and fun. And that’s all I ask. I’m a simple man.

>Watch TJF

17. Don Dixon & Marti Jones – Abbey Pub: Einstein said, “For us trusting physicists, the separation between past, present, and future is a bare, yet stubborn illusion.” I’m not a physicist, nor very trusting, so although that doesn’t apply to me it still was apparent that I was unable to attend more than one of the shows going on at the same time the night Don Dixon came to town. Fortunately, Do312.com helped me make that decision by putting me on the guest list. I discovered Don in 1992 when he took a break from producing bands like REM and Smithereens to put out some of his own material. Not the type of stuff you’d find on B96 between En Vogue and Billy Ray Cyrus. I first saw him on 120 Minutes, an awesome show on MTV that aired on Sunday nights for music geeks who weren’t jumping around to Kris Kross every night. His raw voice, songwriting and catchy hooks kept him a mainstay in my collection for nearly 20 years, meaning we’re both old and just happy to be alive. But I’m still going to pubs to see live music and he’s still enjoying playing it, and all was right with the world for those 120 minutes two decades later. It was just a bonus that he brought his talented wife Marti and turned out to be a genuinely nice guy to meet.

>Watch Don & Marti

18. Le Butcherettes – Subterranean: Mexican garage rock performed by a badass girl wearing a bloody apron. I’m going to leave it at that.

>Watch Le Butcherettes

19. Meat Puppets – Double Door: You might know them from their semi-crossover hit Backwater after Kurt Cobain insisted on including them in his Unplugged session. After that, brother Cris took the drug use to new level and ended up eventually getting shot for starting trouble at a post office. You know you’re fucked up when they have to shoot you at a post office. Somehow they got their shit together and are back on the road. The sound is still completely unique, the songwriting solid, and the set list was deep and wild, covering their whole catalog and then some. It went on way longer than expected but I loved every minute, like bottomless cup of resonance served up by a weathered truck stop waitress that still calls you hon’ no matter how long you sit at her counter.

>Watch Meat

20. Ted Leo – Pritzker Pavilion: I’ve dug Ted for quite a while and he’s responsible for one of my favorite tunes, but I had never seen him live. I’ve either been out of town or working or deathly ill or meeting with my Antique Road Show Fan Club. And the last time I made the fatal mistake of underestimating his popularity and it sold out before I could snag a ticket, and all attempts to get on the guest list by parading topless in front of his tour bus went ungraciously ignored. But thanks to the City of Chicago, this one was free and I got a nice seat up front and finally enjoyed in person the greatness of Ted. Apparently he gave security a heads up to make sure I kept my shirt on.

>Watch Ted

Top Shows 2011: 21 thru 30

21. John Hammond – Old Town School: You know those white boys doing Mustang Sally and all those other blues covers down at the dive bar in town? They should be ashamed of themselves. Hammond is the real deal.

Watch Hammond

22. Old 97’s – Lincoln Hall: It’s like a hip barn dance, but not at all, really. It’s not like that at all. If you like country, if you like rock, if you like fun, you’ll like an Old 97’s show. If you like barn dances you’ll probably like the show as well, even though it’s not like that. Actually I’ve never been to a barn dance so I guess I can’t really say with authority what it’s like. So forget I said anything. Generally a good policy any time I’m speaking.

Watch Old 97's

23. X – Bottom Lounge: The first couple of punk: John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Been a fan for a long time so I jumped on these tickets like a punk jumps on purple hair dye for his Mohawk. My first thoughts were, shit, John and Exene look old. My second thought was, yeah, they are old. At this point it was turning into a conversation with myself. I really need to find more people to go to shows with. But then I made an indisputable argument with which I could not even argue: They still sound bully. If you don’t know who they are, make an appointment with my secretary to come over so I may introduce you. We’ll have tea and listen to Los Angeles. Good times.

Watch X

24. Amy LaVere – Schubas: A petite girl in heels playing a standup bass twice her size and singing dark songs in a small club… a man swoons stage right.

Watch Amy

25. Hindi Zahra/Dessa – Lincoln Hall: Hindi was my new music crush this year and I made it clear to anyone who would listen that I would be leaving town with her after her show on October 11th. I would most likely settle with her in Morocco where I would make my fortune in phosphorus mining and continue to inspire her to make beautiful music. I’m still here, so it didn’t exactly work out that way, although the music was indeed beautiful. I also hate to admit that opener Dessa stole the show with her engaging, genuine personality and lyricism. Too bad following her back to Minneapolis doesn’t have quite the same romanticism as French Morocco.

Watch Hindi
Watch Dessa

26. John Doe – Old Town School: Yeah, the same John Doe from X back there in #23. He’s like my favorite kid and can do no wrong no matter what his siblings or teachers or neighbors say. I saw him with X, his side project The Knitter, and now solo, and I’d probably even go see him if he joined the Jonas Brothers. Are they even around anymore?

Watch Mr. Doe

27. Heartless Bastards – Schubas: Someone recommended HB to me earlier this year and I fell in love with Erika’s voice. She’s from Ohio, and there’s something about it that suggests Chrissie Hynde in attitude and timbre. And she won’t make you feel guilty about wearing your fur coat to her show.

Watch HB

28. Fitz & the Tantrums – Metro (2): I go through phases where I’m totally into the old school soul and R&B stuff. Since time travel has not yet been perfected and there’s always the chance of ending up in the Dark Ages, I’ve had to settle for some of the neo-soul stuff out there. Fitz captures some of that soul and keeps it fun.

Watch Fitz

29. Lykke Li – Metro/Vic: My first impression was that Avril Lavigne was going through a Goth phase and also got way into the whole Twilight madness. Fortunately Lykke is able to easily transcend that first impression as soon as the music starts. I’m sure she was a strange little kid, but weren’t we all? No? I digress. Wholly original tunes, ranging from haunting to funkadelic and dirty.

Watch Lykke

30. The Damned – Metro: Legendary punks, The Damned, hit the road for their 35th anniversary. Makes Fishbone seem young. Dave was looking a little old, but it didn’t show in his vocals. Captain Sensible was anything but sensible and still keeps the crowd entertained. I definitely missed Rat Scabies, not because the current drummer can’t handle the duties, but just because I wanted to be able to say that I saw a guy named Rat Scabies (and the original lineup). After all those years they can still bring it, but needed a brief intermission for a nap. Honestly, I think the show would have been better if they had pared it down to one awesome set instead of two pretty damn good ones.

Watch The Damned

Top Shows 2011: 31 thru 40

31. Airborne Toxic Event – Riviera: I was on the fence last time they came through town and missed out when they sold out two shows at Metro. I was still on the fence for this one (Riviera, capacity 2400), but Jam made it easy for me by putting me on the guest list. The music was strong and the band seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience and the support. It wasn’t, “Thank you, Chicago, we’ll call you!” It was more like, “Hey, I dig you guys. I had a blast, so let’s go to Chuck E. Cheese tomorrow and play some Skee-Ball. I’ll pick y’all up in our bus at, say, 4:30 p.m.” I’m off the fence and on their lawn now.

Watch ATE

32. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Lincoln Hall: I’m a Black Crowes fan. I recognize Robinson as one of the great rock vocalists, so I’m not sure why I passed on this show and watched it sell out before my eyes. Sometimes you do get second chances in life, so when they release some extra tickets, I grabbed them. These guys are good. Way good. But I have a feeling it would have moved way up on my list if I had been properly prepared with some Scooby snacks and a little more background in jam band material.

Watch CRB

33. U2/Interpol – Soldier Field: It’s an impressive production, like I said two years ago the first time it came through town. And U2 are some fine boys, but Soldier Field is really for football and not music. They make the list just on the strength of their catalog and that giant Lego spider they build for the show. You know it’s a good year for music when the biggest concert event of the year ends up as #33 on your list.

Watch U2

34. Imelda May – Park West: An Irish rockabilly lass should rank much higher on this list, but I got spoiled by seeing her in a small bar last year. And I was also annoyed by the douchebags talking through the whole show. Seriously, if you want to talk, I can lead you by the fucking ear to countless bars around the corner where you won’t have to pay a $25 cover to yap away, Slappy. But I still love you, Imelda.

Watch Imelda

35. Corin Tucker Band/Mecca Normal – Media Club, Vancouver, BC: I was at a mind-numbingly boring work conference last spring and ready to throw myself down the Winter Olympics luge run just to put myself out of my misery when I decided to check out the music listings in town. Corin Tucker Band… hey, isn’t she 1/3 of Sleater-Kinny, I asked myself. Yes, she is, I answered. So I told my colleagues to go fuck themselves for the evening while I went to rock out for a bit. Okay, so I didn’t exactly say that, but I felt it. It was a sparsely attended weekday show (which is really no excuse), so I got to hang out with the opening act for a bit and had a nice convo with Corin after the show. Thanks, Canada. Eh.

Watch CTB

36. Acoustic Africa (Oliver Mtukudzi, Habib Koité, and Afel Bocoum) – Old Town School: Three of the top African guitarists, all with a slightly different sound and from different regions. Individually any one of them could have put on a decent show, but having the contrasting styles and personalities kept it fresh and gave it a slight competitive feel. I even sensed a little nationalistic pride, so I guess this could have been considered the Olympics of African guitar. But I don’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt so I’ll take a lesson from little league and give them all a gold medal. Ah, screw that: Gold – Habib, Silver – Oliver, Bronze – Afel.

Watch Acoustic Africa

37. Architecture in Helsinki – Metro: Another one I was on the fence about until Metro put me on the guest list, and I’ll gladly pay for the next one. Pretend the B-52’s were born in Australia about 20 years later, and came to the scene with just a little less camp but still retaining the fun. Then you might have AIH. I feel that description cheapens their music and is off, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. The same way that a bag of chocolate chips is the first thing that comes to mind for breakfast every day.

Watch AIH

38. Death From Above 1979 – Metro: I confess, I missed DFA the first time around but checked them out when I saw all the hype around their Lolla reunion. I grabbed two tix to their aftershow and was blown away by the noise from just two dudes on drums and tripped out bass. Sometimes you just need a good dose of raw and primitive music to cleanse all that other crap that didn’t get properly filtered throughout the year. DFA is the colon cleanse of the music world. I mean that in a good way.

Watch DFA

39. Devotchka – House of Blues: First caught this band opening for Gogol Bordello and made a point to catch them headline. Kind of soundtracky at times, which is probably why they’ve been featured on some soundtracks, but it’s a band you need to hear live. Violin and tuba solos. Accordian. Upright bass. Just chill out and enjoy.

Watch Devotchka

40. Rocco Deluca – Villain’s: Remember that episode of 24 when Jack Bauer gets suspended and uses his idle time to start a record label and signs that guy who plays slide guitar and sings about rainbows or something, and then everyone gets annoyed by that song totally getting overplayed, so then Jack bails on him and then goes back to save the world from total destruction? That guy turned up at a neighborhood tavern this summer playing for tips, and I have to admit it was pretty damn good. Never doubt Jack Bauer.

Watch Rocco

Top Shows 2011: 41 thru 50

41. Lissie – Reggie’s: I knew a few of her tunes, so when WXRT sponsored a free show at the club less than a mile from my place I decided to waltz on over to check it out. It took me a while since waltzing isn’t the most efficient mode of travel, but I staked out a good spot and hoped for an unsucky show. Not only was it unsucky, but I’d go as far as saying it was rather good. I mean I’m not the president of her fan club, but I’d consider being an officer.

Watch Lissie

42. Poi Dog Pondering – Metro: Damn, another 25th anniversary show? I’ve been a fan since the early 90’s largely based on my purchase of one CD – Volo Volo. After that they apparently relocated to Chicago and I lost track of them a bit. So when they booked two nights – one for their Austin music and one for their Chicago music – I thought about a ticket for the former. Metro made it easy by giving me one, so I went and doggy-poi’d the hell out of it. Meaning you stand there, bob your head and sway along to the music and sing along when requested. It was nice.

Watch Poi Dog Ponder

43. Jim Jones Revue – Schubas: Prior to this year, the only Jim Jones I knew was the crazy one responsible for the annoying expression “drinking the Kool-Aid”. This Jim Jones is way better. I read a review describing his music as “Little Richard with a chainsaw and a nosebleed”. I can’t do better than that.

Watch JJR

44. City and Colour – Vic: Okay, this one was way out of character for me. C&C is really an alias for a singer/songwriter type named Dallas Green. Get it? Dallas (City) and Green (Colour). All that alone should disqualify him from this list. But something about this knucklehead’s songs connected. Maybe just the one about not sleeping, since that’s something I rarely do. I was even half expecting to be bored at his show, but the songs came alive and the arrangements worked. The dude knows what he’s doing, whether I care to admit it or not. Fine, I admit it.

Watch C&C

45. Broken Social Scene – Wrigleyville Rooftop: Another free show from WXRT, and another band I thought I might like just because they’re one of those incestual Canadian bands with way too many people whose members seemingly come and go as they please, but somehow always manage to have enough people in the right place when it comes time to record or perform. Amazing how those Canucks pull off shit like that.

Watch BSS

46. Fleet Foxes/Walkmen – Chicago Theater: I liked the new record but wasn’t sure how it would play live until I heard them impressively nail it outdoors at Pitchfork. So I grabbed tickets for the Chicago Theater, thinking it would be even more amazing at a venue like that. It was, but they suffered the same affliction as Hindi Zahra and were too damn mellow for their own good. It’s like eating the best damn risotto in town, but never really getting the main course. But it was still some damn good risotto.

Watch Fleet Foxes

47. Cowboy Mouth – House of Blues: I want to rank these guys higher, because no band on this entire list is more committed to making sure that the audience has fun and leaves everything behind for those 90 minutes while they’re on stage. The music isn’t terribly original, but there are several catchy tunes and they indubitably accomplish their goal of delivering a solid and fun rock and roll show. Like Mardi Gras in their hometown of New Orleans, a Cowboy Mouth show is something everyone should experience at least once. Or Fred will track you down and kick your ass.

Watch Cowboy Mouth

48. Tinariwen – Lincoln Hall: Desert blues from Mali. How cool is that? Too cool. As in so cool, that it’s best left for playing at home or on your iPod while you chill out. These guys are good, but it’s not much of a stage show. You know when you go to a restaurant and get a meal and you’re like, hey, I could have whipped this up at home in 20 minutes and saved myself $20…. that’s Tinariwen.

Watch Tinariwen

49. Robyn – Riv: Sorry, I’m a sucker for bad dance music from the last century. I was shocked to see Robyn at Pitchfork last year since I only knew her from her hit back in 1997 and was completely unaware of her big comeback. Mostly because I’m not gay. But I’m questioning that since I’m apparently I’ve been the only straight man in the crowd at her last two shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

Watch Robyn

50. British Sea Power – Lincoln Hall: I like these guys. The music was good. The songs are good. It was good. I wasn’t blown away. I want to be blown away. I know not every band can be and EF-5 tornado, but at least give me enough of a breeze that my hair gets a little messed up. You’ve got the world “Power” in your name, fer crissake!

Watch BSP

Top Shows 2011: 51 thru 63

51. Ezra Furman & the Harpoons – Subterranean: Not sure how this show fell out of the top 50! Ezra was one of the more likeable frontmen, the songs were catchy and his band was solid. Maybe because it was an all ages show. Which meant that I have t-shirts older than some of the girls who were there, and there were more than a few dispshit frat boys who thought it was a PBR drinking contest instead of a show.

Watch Ezra

52. Southern Culture on the Skids – Old Town School: I heard SCOTS put on a good show but this did not seem like the best venue for it. Old Town is perfect for the gentle musings of a Suzanne Vega, not for throwing fried chicken. I went anyway and I was right. Which should come as no surprise to those who know me. Even though they are classified as a semi-novelty act (I found a whoopee cushion on my seat), I was impressed with their musicianship and catalog. It was no barn dance (unless they play surf music at barn dances), but I still managed to have a good time.


53. Jeff Beck & Imelda May – Cadillac Palace: Argh. I respect Jeff Beck. He’s really damn good in case you didn’t know. But it’s still not the kind of music I can listen to all afternoon at home, you know, like White Zombie. So a couple years ago he toured with Beth Hart and I went, thinking she might bring something new to his music, but she only did a handful of songs and I wanted to punch him in the face. And that wasn’t very nice of me. This year he toured with another favorite, Imelda May, so I decided to go again. This time I was full ready for a Jeff Beck show with a hint of Imelda and thyme, but it was all Imelda and her band with Beck basically an added guitarist. Good stuff, but I wanted a Beck show. Not two turntables and a microphone, but Jeff Beck, you moron. I’d never punch Imelda in the face, but I was still a tad disappointed and would likely express it to her in the form of a haiku.

Watch Jeff & Imelda

54. Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Old Town School: Damn, these guys sound amazing live, but as I write this I’m realizing that most of this world music stuff I’m seeing has been a tad disappointing. Not musically, but performance-wise. I don’t think I’m so shallow that I need you to start the club on fire like Great White, but surprise me a bit. Don’t make me feel like I’m sitting on my couch at home watching a DVD. Go crazy… I promise we won’t revoke your visa. We let the Sex Pistols stick around, after all.

Watch LBM

55. Shelby Lynne – Lincoln Hall: I walked in and found chairs on the floor of Lincoln Hall and in my best Tom Hanks voice from A League of Their Own I stated, “There’s no sitting at Lincoln Hall!” And then I took my seat. Shelby has an amazing voice, one of the best I heard this year, but, jeez, lighten up, Francis. I know life hasn’t been easy, but I use music as an escape from my own pathetic life and don’t need to be depressed about yours, too. Actually, the record is really damn good… I’m just angry that I’m not sophisticated enough to reconcile the beauty of the vocals with the raw sadness of some of the lyrics. That said, I’d totally see her again, so maybe this should be higher…

Watch Shelby

56. Booker T – Old Town School: I’ve seen him a few times before and it’s an enjoyable show. He’s a legend, full of talent, and the sound of that Hammond B-3 is literally music to my ears under his conservatorship. But once you see his show, experience that history, gain a full appreciation for his status; I’m not sure you need to see it again. Like Mardi Gras. Everyone should go once: Get blasted, throw beads, get naked, piss in an alley, make out with a stranger and wake up in the pokey with a fresh tattoo of Meat Loaf (the singer) on your back. Wow, that was fun, but I’m not sure I need to do that again.

Watch Booker T

57. Monte Montgomery – Fitzgeralds: Oh, Monte, it pains me to see you down here. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve seen you so many times and adore your playing, your humor, your gentle smile… oops, did I say that out loud? And your band is one of the best I’ve seen on the road. It was an impressive set. Maybe I was tired. Maybe it was because it was the second night you had to spend in Berwyn. But I wasn’t feeling the energy that I normally do. I’ll be back. And we’ll have mindblowing make up sex.

Watch Monte

58. Cold War Kids – Metro: I like the band name. I like the tunes. They definitely have a unique sound. I was excited to snag a couple tickets to their Lolla aftershow. So why did I leave the show thinking, “I should probably finish laundry when I get home.”

Watch Cold War Kids

59. Suzanne Vega – SPACE: I was on the fence for her show last year but went and was pleasantly surprised. She was likeable, her catalog was solid, and it was interesting hearing some of the tunes in a live setting. So when she came back to town this year, I was there. And bored. Silly. And annoyed by the crowd. Not because they were doing anything annoying, but they were just sitting there drinking their wine, wearing their sweaters and looking self-important because they were at a Suzanne Vega show. I know that’s probably not reality, but it was my reality that night and I can get in a weird place sometimes. But that experience did lead me to stop at the Double Door on the way home and see one of the best shows of the year, so I guess she came to town and served her purpose in that respect.

Watch Suzy

60. Leon Redbone – Old Town School: I went to this one out of curiosity. Curiosity satisfied. He was charming, talented, and it was cool in an extreme retro way. The reading lamp was a nice touch.

Watch Mr. Redbone

61. Richard Buckner – Schubas: After the Heartless Bastards show, someone had free tickets to the following Richard Buckner show. It’s music, it’s free, and what else am I going to do? Go home and practice drawing free hand maps of Minnesota? Try to create new recipes using that can of peaches in light syrup that’s been sitting in my cupboard for about four years? It was a solo show with fuzzy, looped guitar riffs, suggestive of a dark movie soundtrack, with trance like vocals mourning over the dirgeful noise. I liked it, but it got a little monotonous toward the end.

Watch Richard

62. Marcia Ball – Old Town School: I’m down with the boogie-woogie piano and the R&B influences and the whole Austin music scene and was really looking forward to seeing Ms. Ball. She looked grand, sitting behind her keyboard, casually sitting with one leg crossed over the other, gently rocking to keep time, while her fingers flew across the keys with the efficiency of a Japanese auto factory. But that was the problem. It was too polished. It didn’t seem risky and lost any sense of rawness that kind of music should have. I didn’t feel like I might trip and fall on the serrated edge of the melody, requiring a trip to the emergency room but making for a great story for years to come. Instead, I just felt like I had been handed a butter knife and asked Marcia to pass me a dinner roll.

Watch Marcia

63. Cedric Watson – Old Town School: I spent a lot of time in New Orleans after Katrina, and I loved being able to take a walk down Bourbon Street after dinner on any weeknight and wandering into whatever random bar had Zydeco sounds leaking into the street. In those bars, I would, without fail, find a group of musicians who looked like they were having the time of their lives, whether playing an accordion, a washboard, guitar, bass or drums. The crowd, mostly local, also seemed to be living life, dancing with each other only to share the experience of the music they were feeling with another. I guess I wanted to recreate that feeling when I went to this show. Cedric was damn good, but it wasn’t the same. A trip to New Orleans is in order.

Watch Cedric