Tuesday, November 18, 2008
with Ivan Howard, Billy Bragg, Megafaun and Bowerbirds
A daytime show!
A free daytime show!
A free daytime show featuring one of my favorite bands of all time, Superchunk, and a bunch of other great acts!
Yes, you could say I was fairly excited...this was an event that met all of my parameters for what makes quality entertainment, short of providing me a free chocolate milkshake (let's get on this people...it's not like Ben and Jerry's don't sponsor crap all the time). This whole affair was put together to celebrate/draw attention to the final day of early voting for this historic election (spoiler alert: Obama won!).
When I got there, things were already in full swing, a wide variety of folks gathered on the plaza to hear a little music, maybe do a little voting, and enjoy the amazing weather. Bowerbirds were the first group I saw play, and I'm damn glad I got there early enough to make their performance. I'd only heard a few songs online of these Wisconsin transplants before the gig, so my expectations were low, but they were absolutely fantastic live and this mellow setting was just perfect for them. My first impression of Bowerbirds was a sound that was similar to Beirut crossed with beautiful melancholy folk music, and it was a mix that will definitely have me coming back for more shows by them. And soon hopefully.
Another new-to-me local group (also transplants from Wisconsin) were up next - Megafaun. They played beard music, which made sense given all three of the lads had quality beards, real top notch chin sweaters. Like most beard bands, there was a banjo involved, and god knows I love the banjo...the band picked and grinned and played their hobo folk music that sounds like modern adaptations of some Alan Lomax mountain music recordings. They even too their final song out into the crowd, away from the microphones, wandering around and about the kids and couples and college students who littered the plaza on that fine sunny day.
There was a late-minute addition to the days festivities, a deviation from the fine selection of local rock that had so far been entertaining the crowds. It was none other than Billy Bragg, who just happened to be in town for a gig in Durham later that evening. Not one to shy away from political matters, Bragg took the opportunity to split his time between playing a few songs and speaking to the crowd about the possibility of change facing our country. I knew what to expect with his music, but he was a surprisingly effective and engaging speaker, and often funny to boot.
Ivan Howard from the Rosebuds was next up, and following Billy Bragg is no easy task. As many times as I've seen the Rosebuds, and even his old band Reverse, this was my first time seeing Ivan perform solo. It mostly went as expected - somewhat mellower, acoustic versions of the Rosebuds songs we all know and love (and if you don't know and love them, you're doing something wrong). Nearly every song he played could be filed under my favorites, songs like "Boxcar" and "In The Backyard". And to make things better, for the last two songs ("Bluebird" and "Nice Fox"), he had fellow band mate Kelly Crisp, Megafaun and Bowerbirds come up and act as a backing chorus, and it sounded brilliant.
I missed the rare Superchunk show a couple of months back due to a trip to SF, and while an acoustic performance isn't quite the same as the the full band rocking out, it would have to do, and it did. This was just Mac and Jim - it was stated that Wurster was on tour with another group, and Laura didn't like to be around when the band got all sensitive. Like the rest of the groups it was a short set, but any 'Chunk show is sure to be packed with hits. This time was no different..."Cursed Mirror", "Throwing Things". "I Guess I Remember It Wrong" all spring to mind, but what really hit home was "Detroit Has A Skyline" one of my all-time favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite bands (if you do the math, that means I really like the damn song). I might have wet my pants, just a little bit, when they hit the first notes of this song. Even half of Superchunk, unplugged, is better than most bands could ever dream of being.
Things were still going strong when I left to attend to some other engagements, but I gotta say it doesn't get much better than seeing five music acts that you really like before you've even had lunch.
This review will be not unlike the show itself - short, sweet and to the point. I thought I was getting there early enough to see the openers Cola Freaks (I'd heard good things from the cool kids), but as I get to the front of the club Jay Reatard and his boys are already setting up...thumbs down to missing the first group, but a big thumbs up to what was clearly going to be an early show.
Any Jay Reatard show is going to be hit or miss, depending on his mood... apparently on this fine evening his mood was all business. This is mostly great, as I'm a big fan of the songs, but there is still that little piece of you that is kinda hoping for a drunken mess and/or a royal freak out and/or abusive audience members to piss him off and create havoc. But there was none of that, just the man himself playing mostly a bunch of tracks from his new singles compilation that was recently released, with a couple of old tracks peppered in here and there ("It's So Easy" from Blood Visions is the only one that immediately comes to my addled mind though). The whole affair couldn't have been more than 25 or 30 minutes long, if that, which doesn't add up to much value time-wise but when you break it down to a per-song basis, you're sitting pretty on your investment...if this were the stock market, which it isn't, and now I've confused myself yet again. There may be a pork barrels joke in here somewhere but I'm blanking right now. Anyways, as the kids say, it was a "good show."