Wednesday, 30 May 2007

I’m still working my notes for the last few shows of my spring road-trip, but I just wanted to drop in a quick thought.

I was waiting outside The Varsity before a show, standing right next to a big poster with times posted and a sign on the door saying that doors opened at 7PM. Besides me, there were several others milling about, obviously waiting. In the space of 15 minutes, at least a dozen people pulled on the door then asked if it was open yet, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

I really wanted to say “Nah, we’re all ducks in disguise and we like standing out in the rain.” I don’t know that I could have held back had someone been there with me.

Thank goodness for internal monologues.

P.S. I should have all of my RCPM pictures and road trip stuff posted this weekend. Other than replacing some storm-damaged screens, I don’t have any other plans.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

9am came awfully early for having been awake until three the previous night. I ran out to get a quick bite to eat and pack things up to head for Brookings. I ended up getting started nearly an hour later than I really wanted, but it wasn’t a big deal. I would be meeting up with Todd in Brookings and by all accounts it wasn’t like a regular club where you need to get there early for a popular act.

I got to Skinner’s around 4:30pm and since Todd wasn’t there yet I decided to check out Downtown Brookings. In my wandering, I ran across a few grain cars and a DME (Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern) locomotive parked near the local grain elevator. Downtown is maybe 1 square mile, at most, so you can truly walk wherever you want to go. Being a bit of a train nut I stopped to take a few pictures. Like any of my snapshots, it’ll take me a while to get them on-line since I’m so far behind, but I got a couple great ones of the loco, including my favorite head-on shot.

Todd called when he got to the hotel and we met back at Skinner’s around 5:00 or so. We caught about half of the RCPM sound check and it went much like the previous night but without the applause. At one point Steve started doing the guitar part and vocals for “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode. It sounded good, but for some reason it struck me as funny. Different, but better than the original. More twang, less synth-pop — imagine Johnny Cash doing the song and you’ve about got it. Pretty cool if you ask me.

The guys from Shurman were late getting in due to a misguided oil-change on their van. Once they arrived, the whipped through set-up and did their sound-check as well.

Skinner’s itself is really a bar that happens to do live music. As you come in the door, the only bar is along the right side with the stage toward the far-left corner. The green-room is behind the stage and there’s a small game-room upstairs which overlooks the stage from behind.

They also don’t serve food, but rather refer you to one of the other fine establishments Downtown. Menus are available at the bar, so we chose the pizza place across the street because we wanted onion rings in addition to the pizza. The pizza place (George’s, I think) was willing to deliver right inside the bar without a second thought. Todd and I chowed down while others started to arrive, including a few folks I had seen in Des Moines and others I had met in Minneapolis.

Come show time several of us took our places right up front. Most of the fairly thin crowd stood a ways back during Shurman’s set, almost like they were afraid to get too close. There were only about 6 or 8 of us until it was time for Roger to come out, then people started moving forward.

The Peacemakers set was great and I met a lovely young woman named Lana with whom I shared a dance or two along the way.

As usual I got a picture of the set-list, which read: Andale, Wanted, Noisy Head, Americano, Maybe We Should Fall In Love, Tell Yer Momma, Winter In Your Heart, Mexico, Plenty, Banditos, God Gave Me A Gun, World Ain’t Gone Crazy, Counterclockwise, Bottom of the Bay, Your Name on a Grain of Rice, Wake Up Call, Who Let the Goon Squad In, Junebug In July, Mekong, and Hello New Day. The encore was Hourglass, Down Together, and Lemons.

Yes, “my song” was on the set-list! How cool is that? It just one of the many reasons that Roger Clyne is a great guy and another example of how he values his fans. That one thing made my night, as if the whole show didn’t kick ass.

After the show I talked to all the guys in the band for a few minutes and hung out with Steve for a while too. It’s fun hearing him tell fishing stories; and he’s got some good ones too.

Finally I headed back to the hotel and crashed at 3am — again. Sleeping until noon helps, but I’m not sure how long I can actually last this way. If this is how I go, at least I’ll die happy.

Updated: Fixed the entry title. Somehow I updated the date, but not the location.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

After hanging around after the show Saturday night, I didn’t really leave town until almost 11am. Des Moines is roughly a 4-hour drive from home, so that gave me plenty of time to get there, check into my hotel, grab something to eat, and head over to the show. It’s a straight drive down I-35 and went by uneventfully.

Todd wasn’t along with for this leg because he decided that seeing Megadeath and Black Sabbath (with Dio on vocals) was more important. I’m not sure I agree with him, especially after hearing his assessment of the Sabbath portion, but to each their own.

Keyster’s is actually in Urbandale, a Des Moines suburb. It’s set in a strip-mall that is off the beaten track with nothing around it worth mentioning. I understand they’re normally not even open on Sundays and that they make an exception when Roger comes to town.

The main bar runs the whole left side of the joint starting just inside the door. Other than that, it’s got a little space for a dance-floor near the stage and a bunch of tables throughout the rest. All-told I’d guess the place is about 60-feet wide by 120-feet deep, including a decent sized stage.

I should also mention that drinks and beer were cheap. They didn’t have any really good tequila, but Guinness pints were only $4 with a 2-for-1 happy hour until 7pm. A guy could get really drunk if he didn’t have to drive back to the hotel after the show.

But really, how fun it is to be completely hammered if you’re over 25?

I was actually there early enough to catch sound-check. As you’d expect, it’s a bunch of “check check” and goofing around while the sound-man sets house levels and everyone gets the stage monitors set the way they like. Then they do a couple songs just to make sure things are ready to go. A few people applauded after one of the songs and Roger, with a great big grin on his face, “Hey! It’s sound check! There’s no applauding for sound check!”

I met a whole ton of people there. Basically it was a group of friends that come out for the RCPM shows and mostly live in the Des Moines area. There was a Doug, Mary, Stephanie, Diane, and at least two guys named Dave. I hope I’ll be able to put the right names with all the faces next time I see them. I also saw John and Beth from St. Louis whom I met at the Minneapolis show. They were truly a great bunch of folks and the perfect example of the generally friendly people you find at most Roger shows.

Shurman put on a great opening set and I’m getting to know some of the guys in the band. I made sure I picked up one of their CDs. They actually ran out of the regular studio produced discs and had resorted to burning a double-album thing with a couple laptop before they took the stage and while Roger played.

As always, Roger, Steve, Nick, and P.H. put on a great show. It ended up being a 22 song set, including 3 songs in the encore. Although I didn’t manage to get an actual set-list, I did get a picture of one after the show. As written, it went as follows: Contraband, Maybe We Should Fall In Love, Down Together, Counterclockwise, Noisy Head, Wake Up Call, Leaky Little Boat, Sin Nombre, Mexico, Who Let the Goon Squad In, Bottom of the Bay, Plenty, Hourglass, Junebug In July, Hello New Day, Americano, Mekong, and Andale, with Jack vs. Jose, Yahoos and Triangles (King of the Hill Theme), and Lemons for the encore.

I’ve finally been to enough of the shows that I get recognized from stage during the show. I always get a nod from Nick early on and Roger typically notices as well. It doesn’t make me any cooler or more “in” than anyone else, but it is a pretty good feeling just the same.

They actually left the stage at about 11pm due to local noise ordinances, but everyone hung around the bar for quite a while after the show. All four guys came out for a while, Nick and Steve pretty much stayed in the bar while Roger and P.H. stuck close to the bus. The guys from Shurman also hung out and I got to talk to them for a while too.

When I was talking with Roger he asked me again if there was something I wanted to hear at one of the upcoming shows. When I mentioned “God Gave Me A Gun” again, he did an “Oh Yeah!” and made a note for himself. Like I said before: it’s not a promise, although it looks promising.

I finally got back to the hotel at around 2:30am and I was completely beat. I did a bit of writing, and I think that’s when I actually posted the Fine Line review. By 3:15 I was out and only woke up once during the rest of the night.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

I already wrote about this show, so I’ll keep it short and mostly talk about the pre-party.

Through the RCPM Waterin’ Hole (message board), my friend Todd learned of a pre-party not far from the Fine-Line that started a few hours before the show. Knowing that I don’t read the message board (yet) and that I’d be interested, he was kind enough to put me on the guest list as his “plus-one” for the party.

A couple guys named Chris and Matt were hosting it at (I think) Chris’s house. It was a pretty cool deal. The guys did up a ton of chicken to make fajitas, there was a margarita ball, plenty of beer, and a couple people eve brought some tequila to share.

I met a bunch of great folks, some from the board and some not. We talked, we ate, we drank, and we even (sort of) watched the Kentucky Derby. Destiny and Jeff were there, Todd eventually showed up (some errands kept him delayed). There’s no chance I can remember the names of everyone I met aside from one or two that I saw a couple days later in Brookings.

About 45 minutes before doors open a few of us walked down to the club so we could take our preferred places up front.

This is when I’ll refer you to the actual review that I posted nearly a week ago.

Monday, 14 May 2007

I first discovered The English Beat way back when. The first CD of theirs I bought was I Just Can’t Stop It which I bought the day it came out. It was one of those times when I was looking for something new to listen to and a friend recommended some stuff called ska. Little did I know at the time how much I’d come back to it later in life. The current incarnation of the English Beat is Dave Wakeling with a band behind him. In the earlier days it included Rankin’ Roger who did some of the dancehall calls and other vocal duties. It was always fun music, sometimes with a message, and very dancable.

The Cabooze has actually been remodeled since the last time I was there. They used to have the one main bar, plus a second that wrapped around their walk-in cooler. The stage was pretty small, set at an angle and only about 20 feet from the corner of the main bar. If you were one of those that liked to be up front, it would often be a tight fit as everyone tried to jam into that small gap.

These days the stage has been expanded and the angle changed slightly to improve the space between it and the bar. They also removed the walk-in and relocated the wrap-around bar to the back wall instead. It has really increased the sightlines and there’s hardly a place in the club where you can’t see the stage.

I got there early and took up residence next to a support pillar about 20-25 feet from the stage. It proved to be plenty of room for the skankers and other dancers that come out for ska shows.

One other thing that surprised me was the age of the crowd. There were very few younger kids at the show and I’m thinking the average age of the audience was well into the late 20’s or early 30’s. It was kind of comforting, in a way, knowing that I wouldn’t have to deal with tons of kids out for “my first club night.”

The opening act was a Twin Cities local group called Chicken Poodle Soup. Yes, that’s right, Poodle. I read it three times myself just to make sure. They were a bunch of younger kids, not a single one old enough to drink, that did mostly original ska tunes, plus a couple covers. They were pretty good, but not so good that I felt and urge to buy their CD.

Finally Dave and the rest of the group came out and did about a 75 minute set plus a two-song encore. It was positively great, everything I hoped it would be. They did all my favorites, plus a couple General Public songs and some I had completely forgotten about. The set list went something like this: I Confess, Whine-n-Grine, Hands Off… She’s Mine, Best Friend, Ackee 1-2-3, Doors of Your Heart, Tears of a Clown, Twist-n-Crawl, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Rough Rider, Two Swords, Never You Done That†, Tenderness†, Full Stop, Mirror In the Bathroom, Click Click, Never Die, and Save It For Later for the main set with End of the Party and Jackpot for the encore.

I forget which song it was, but Dave made an announcement that they were collecting money for a charity called Smile Train. The group works to help kids with cleft palates so they can live normal lives. People were encouraged to toss money onto the stage which gets gathered up and sent on to the charity. It only costs $250 per kid to save their smiles and often their lives. After the show I learned that someone from Target corporate had donated $900 (probably $1000, but by the time they gathered up the money it’s possible one bill got separated from the others). All-in-all Dave said they had collected more money at this one show than at any other he could remember.

How do I know this? Well, it’s because I hung around the bar after the show was over. It’s something I normally do in an effort to get autographs and maybe pictures with the band. This time it really paid off. For sticking around I was rewarded with access to the green room and the chance to sit and talk with Dave for a good 30-45 minutes after the show. I was there with a couple other fans, but it was totally cool. Dave is the nicest guy in the world and was more than willing to sign all three CD liners I had brought with me as well as sit for a picture. We sat and talked music, art, movies, life as a touring musician, and who knows what else. He was so cool and engaging that I didn’t choke up like I do with most musicians.

I even got to ask if he kept in touch with Roger and if there was a chance he’d come out on the road for a more thorough and true English Beat. Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely, but Dave did mention that the right people were talking to possibly get Pato Benton back with the group. I hope it happens, that would be a show I’d really like to see.

Once I finally left the club at about 2:30am I was on top of the world. I don’t usually get the opportunity to sit and talk with people from bands of which I’ve been such a long time fan. I’m going to remember this one for a long time to come.

† General Public song.

This time around the Masked Musicians were touring to promote their newest release Rock en Espanol with Big Sandy on vocals. Instead of First Avenue, they were at the Turf Club near University and Snelling in St. Paul.

The Turf Club is really a bar that happens to have a stage at one end. They’re actually quite known for doing live music, but you’d never expect it by looking at the outside. Inside it’s just the right amount of dive-bar for a good rock-n-roll show.

About 18 months ago Jason Smay from the Hi-Risers took over as drummer for Los Straitjackets. It just so happens that Greg Townson, also from the Hi-Risers, was working merch at the show. Originally it was going to be the Hi-Risers opening for Los Straitjackets, but Todd, their bass player, couldn’t make it for personal reasons. I talked to Greg for a little bit and they have a new album in Spain which should be released in the US fairly soon.

Opening was a group called the Mezcal Boys and what an opener it was! They completely tore it up, putting on a blistering set. The band consists of the lead singer, upright bass, drums, and a guy on guitar that bore than a passing resemblance to Buddy Holly.

Once Los Straitjackets came out, it was really time to party. As always they put on a fantastic show. They all came out in black suits and ties in honor of Big Sandy. And that guy really works it too! Sandy danced up a storm and was literally dripping sweat. There were times when he’d have one arm hanging down and you could see a small stream of perspiration run from the end of his sleeve.

Even if I’ve seen them quite a few times, and for certain songs they have pretty standard routines, it was still great to see Los Straitjackets play live. I don’t know that I’ll ever get tired of going to see them.

The set list went something like this: Tempest, Calhoun Surf, Univ (?), Kawanga, Chica Alborotada, Sign (?), Have Love, Lonely Apache, Outta Gear, Pacifica, Munster’s Theme, Casbah, All Day, Hey Lupe (Hang On Sloopy), Suegra, Poison Ivy, Tailspin, Plaga (?)

There are several songs on the list that I just can’t find on any of the Straitjackets CDs or the couple Big Sandy discs I have. I’m not sure where they come from or even if I’ve read them correctly.

The last thing to note is that this is the first time I’ve seen Los Straitjackets without Kaiser George and the Pontani Sisters as part of the show. It makes total sense because there wouldn’t have been room on stage for the girls and they weren’t touring an album with George on it. Still, it was a bit strange, but not necessarily in a bad way.

Overall it was a good show and I’m looking forward to the next time I can see the boys play. The only way the night could have been better was if the Hi-Risers had actually played.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

First up was Air at First Avenue. My friend Eric suggested this one. It fell on a Wednesday, which is date night for he and his wife Christy, plus it was their anniversary. Neither one had been to First Ave. since they moved here a little over a year ago. I acquired the tickets and worked with Christy to pick a spot for dinner.

We decided on Figlio in Uptown to grab dinner before the show. It wasn’t quite a last-minute decision, but pretty close. We both got busy the few days leading up to the show and didn’t start arranging things until the day before. I sent her a decent sized list of suggestions including general price range, cuisine, mini-reviews on the places I had been, and URLs where available.

Figlio is one of my favorite local restaurants. The food is always first-rate, the prices are reasonable, and the service is always superb. I did my usual Tortellini while Eric and Christy shared a huge porterhouse. We’re talking 28oz here, which is more than enough for two. It was Red Velvet cake for desert, which is just wonderful. I was a bit afraid to order it because the last time I had it came on some contraption that put it about a foot off the table. No Rube Goldberg device this time, so it’s apparently safe to order again.

After dinner it was off to the club. We got there about 5 minutes after the doors opened, which was plenty of time for them to take in the atmosphere and still find a spot near the stage. I gave Eric and Christy a bit of First Avenue history (Greyhound bus depot, Uncle Sam’s, the temporary bankruptcy closure) and we settled in for a great evening.

The opening act was a woman named Kate Havnevik. Imagine Imogen Heap, Dido, and Bjork (but without the yelping) all rolled into one Norwegian woman backed by a three piece band consisting of drums, bass, and keyboard (accordion most of the time.) She was simply delightful and I had to pick up her CD immediately after she was finished.

While grabbing Kate’s CD, I checked out merch for Air. They had T-shirts and nothing else; no CDs, not even the new one, let alone any of their back-catalog. The record label didn’t want them to sell discs out on tour — very strange if you ask me. I actually bought two of Kate’s CDs. One for myself, and another for Eric and Christy — which I got Kate to sign “Happy Anniversary to Eric and Christy” along with the autograph. They were thrilled and I told them to show that off to the two older daughters just to show how hip their parents actually are.

As far as Air themselves, I was a bit disappointed in the show. I knew what to expect musically. Really the band is just two guys from France with a bunch of keyboard gear, samplers, and sequencers. They had a regular band with them, but their stage presence wasn’t much. The spoke very little and didn’t move around much. I know it’s kind of hard to do much behind a bunch of keyboards, but I don’t know — couldn’t there have been something?

Still, it was a great show, the music was good and it was a fun night out. I don’t regret going in the least, but I’m not sure I’ll bother the next time around.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Please bear with me for taking things a bit out of order, and late, but it’s just the way things go sometimes. I actually started planning this trip just after I got back from Roger Clyne’s CD Release Party at the end of March.

Wait, I don’t know that I ever wrote anything about that one…

Todd and I decided to fly to Phoenix to take in the release party for Roger’s new album No More Beautiful World. I grabbed the album a couple days before the trip and managed to give it a few listens before we flew. I’m still working on a larger review, but overall I really like it. Having heard a few of the songs last fall during the first road-trip, I sort of knew what to expect.

I wasn’t a big fan of the rotating stage, so that was a no-go for me. The crowd in Phoenix was kind of weird by my standards; I think Todd’s too. People were far more willing to just shove their way up front rather than getting there early enough to earn a spot at the stage. And, much to our surprise, a couple fights even broke out. I did get to see a few familiar faces, although it was 99% strangers. Would I do it again? Maybe, but not likely. I just don’t know for sure. One thing I do know is that I could go several years without seeing another cactus. They’re everywhere down there and, save for scattered palm trees, are practically the only vegetation to be found.

When we got back from Phoenix, some of the future dates leading up to Mexico solidified, so we started making plans. Distinct possibilities were Des Moines, IA; Brookings, SD; St. Louis, MO; Kansas City, MO; and two dates in the greater Denver, CO area. And Cinco de Mayo in Minneapolis! On a Saturday! This was going fully kick ass.

The two Denver shows were actually in Ft. Collins and Colorado springs on a Friday and Saturday night respectively. Air fare to Denver is cheap, and I have family in the area, so it was an easy decision to put them on my list. One of Todd’s daughters has an impending wedding, so he decided to skip the Denver shows. Des Moines and Brookings were also on the list, mostly because they were so close.

With the itinerary set, it was just a matter of logistics. Transportation, show tickets, hotels. Those are all easy once you decide where it is you’re going.

I’m counting the start of this road trip a bit earlier, even though I didn’t actually leave town until the 6th. Mostly that’s because I had a big concert week leading up to my travel days and it’s more fun to consider it one huge thing.

More on that tomorrow.

Sunday, 06 May 2007

I was indisposed the last few days, so it took me a couple extra to actually get this posted.

The last couple times Roger Clyne has come to town, we’ve been blessed with Saturday night shows. This time we were most fortunate in that May 5th was on a Saturday this year and Roger was coming to town. His Cinco de Mayo shows are reported to be something else.

Rogers merch guy was the first opener and he did a great job. He’s got an album of his own and while it’s a bit lighter than Roger’s stuff, it’s still very good. Jason did a bunchk of stuff from the CD and a couple new ones rounded out his 30 minute set.

The second band was a group called Shurman, a 4 piece from California. They’ve toured with Roger before and seem to have a pretty respectable following in their own right. They did about a 60 minute set that tended more toward rock than the Sowthwest twinge of the Peacemakers. I didn’t pick up a CD although I should have.

I don’t know what time Roger and the boys took the stage, but it turned out to be everything I love about an RCPM show.

There were 29 songs on the set list, which I’d guess ran about 2 hours. On paper it reads as follows: Hello New Day, Mexico, Counterclockwise, Noisy Head, Maybe We Should Fall In Love, Tell Yer Momma, Mexican Moonshine, Contraband, Wanted, Bury My Heart at the Trailer Park, World Ain’t Gone Crazy, Banditos, Plenty, Feel Alright, Down Together, Winter In Your Heart, I Don’t Need Another Thrill, Bottom of the Bay, Jack vs. Jose, Wake-Up Call, Andale, Green and Dumb, Junebug In July, Who Let the Goon Squad In, Girly, Mekong, Leaky Little Boat, Lemons, Nada

After the show I got a chance to hang with each of the guys for a few minutes. When I talked to Roger, he asked if there was something I’d like to hear on the set list. Unable to collate the list in my head fast enough, I said “God Gave Me A Gun” which I’d love to hear live. He said they’d see about doing it one of the next couple nights.

I don’t see it as a promise, but it would be cool. We’ll just have to see in Des Moines tomorrow night.

It’s been a while since I’ve submitted anything to JPG Magazine, but when they announced that the “Are You Ready to Rock” theme was slated for an upcoming issue, I knew exactly which image to submit.

It’s a picture of a guy named Taylor Hollingsworth. I saw him open for Roger Clyne (one of my favorite bands) about a year ago and he just kicked ass. He has an amazing amount of energy and a monster blues-rock sound. Ask me to play some of his stuff for you some time and you’ll see what I mean.

Please go vote and maybe I’ll make the magazine.