Wednesday, February 27, 2008

There Will Be Baseball

Forget the ground hog. If you want an indication that spring is on its way, listen for the iconic voice of Ernie Harwell as he recites The Voice of the Turtle. It's a tradition in Detroit that signals the melting of snow and the promise of spring.

The Voice of the Turtle
For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

p.s. Today I listened to the Tigers vs. Mets live from Lakeland and it was FABULOUS.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wilco's Winter Residency at the Riviera

Super-cool photo taken by Richie Wireman, who I am appreciative of, since I really wanted this image but did not want to go back up to Uptown just to take one photograph in the freezing cold. Photo from Wilco's official website,

The battle for No. 2 has begun--on the XRT 2008 Listener Poll for Best Live Show. You probably could have predicted that on December 10, 2007, when Lin Brehmer announced this five-night stand where Jeff Tweedy vowed to play every track off all six studio albums. But now it's official: the Winter Residency was a phenomenal success. We were there for Night 3 (Monday, I'm all high), and had the chance to hear Nights 4 and 5 courtesy of XRT and Wilcoworld, respectively.

Wilco has changed so much over the years, that for the 2008 lineup to play all six albums really requires them to be a Tributosaurus of themselves: the rootsy first record, the warm pop of the Jay Bennett years, and the sonic noisefest of the newer releases. And while the old Wilco can never be recaptured or re-created, this was as close as I've felt (and probably ever will feel) to the shows when Wilco was at its absolute peak. For example, on "Should've Been in Love," I felt I was hearing the Wilco of Summerfest in 1996, the Wilco from the Blue Note in 1997. To ask the current band to always be like that is impossible, which is what made this residency so special. (In fact, as I'm writing now I'm listening to the 2007 Hammerstein show, and it feels like a totally different Wilco than Chicago 2008.) This really was a thank you and a gift to the hometown fans.

In a setting such as this, you had no idea what they would open with. It turned out to be "Blue Eyed Soul," going all the way back to A.M. There was no banter, no pomp, the band just eased into an unlikely opener. Dobro and pedal steel from Nels Cline and Mikael Jorgensen gave the song a warm, alt-country feel that, if not captured the "original Wilco" feel, at least acknowledged it.

In fact, the first seven tracks covered six different albums (considering the two Mermaid Avenues as separate albums), a feat unimaginable from a Wilco recently unwilling to reach deep into its past. On "Remember the Mountain Bed," bassist John Stirratt joined in on backup vocals for the fifth verse. For a song that I'm used to hearing in a Tweedy solo set, the embellishments beyond just the acoustic guitar were a welcome addition.

Through the next few songs (including Glenn Kotche plinking a xylophone on another "solo" song, "Bob Dylan's Beard"), Wilco remained in slow to mid-tempo mode, as if they too were warming up on a cold night. (On the cab ride up, we passed a bank sign that said it was 11 degrees. On the way home four hours later, it was 10 degrees.) The nostalgia couldn't last all night, and I knew something was up when before the sixth song, I saw Kotche drape towels over his two main drumheads. Although "Wishful Thinking" is not one of the angrier songs, it was particularly violent, especially coming after the mellowness of the first few songs. And it wasn't until the next song, "You Are My Face," that Tweedy first played an electric guitar.

After that June 2007 show at the Hammerstein, I read a review (I thought it was the New York Times but couldn't find it) where the reviewer mentioned the line "I'll side with you if you side with me" as Tweedy's sales pitch for the new, noisy Wilco: a deal he's offering fans. I thought of that during "Side With the Seeds," because in his body language and the way points back and forth at the words "I" "you" and "me," he really does seem to be saying, "look, here's the deal, this is the band today. Take it or leave it."

The first song that the crowd really got into (remember, it was a mellow-starting show) was "Shot in the Arm," an explosive burst where the band channeled the audience's disaffection. The singalong/shout of "maybe all I need is a shot in the arm" and "what you once were isn't what you want to be anymore" were some of the loudest of the night.

The classic Tweedy banter was evident all night. At one point he said, "Now we're going to play a couple songs off the first record," and was cheered. A roadie or somebody whispered in his ear. "Really?....(checks his set list)... Whoops! You're right. (turns back to audience) Now we're going to play a couple songs off the first record--you bought." To which he got some good-natured boos, because it was a YHF song.

As nice as the career retrospective of the first set was, the highlight for me was the second set: of the 14 songs, 11 were pre-YHF. Nine of the first 11 songs off Summerteeth were played. Being There wasn't represented until the 23rd song of the night...but then got four total, including the too-rare "Red Eyed and Blue/I Got You" combo. "Say You Miss Me" reminded me of the great Being There tour, with Tweedy, Bennett and Stirratt all lined up and singing with passion and joy. This time it was Tweedy, Stirratt and Pat Sansone...better than not hearing it all, I guess.

There were other highlights too: when "I'm the Man Who Loves You" exploded into the controlled shitstorm of noise that is the hallmark of post-YHF Wilco. The way the Chicago crowd reacts to "Via Chicago" (even if the band has, in my opinion, messed up that song with the sonic wall of "fireworks" in the verses). The face-melting solo of Nels Cline on "Impossible Germany." The horns, the guest appearance of Andrew Bird, even the best PA music I think I've ever heard. (Bowie's "Starman" at halftime, CSNY's "Our House" as we filtered out into the biting February wind.)

If you were there, let me know what you think in the comments. It was an incredible night, like seeing an old friend from the 6th grade who grew up and got super rich and lives a different life now. But for one night (or five), he was back in his old neighborhood, and for that one night, he was kinda sorta that same kid you knew back then.

Not the same band I knew and loved a decade-plus ago. But I got glimpses of them Monday night.

Click here for the set list, broken out by album and color-coded for your reading ease. The two Mermaid Aves are listed as one, for convenience and at any rate, those records were not a factor after the beginning. The one thing that really stood out for me was the heavy emphasis on Being There and Summerteeth in the second half of the set. Those were the albums with the biggest Jay Bennett influence, and his absence was most felt on those songs.

A comment on "Handshake Drugs": I consider this a YHF outtake, because that's how and when the song first surfaced. Since it also appeared on Ghost, I've noted it with an asterisk on the set list. But for tallying, it's counted as a YHF outtake. I listened to that YHF version on my MP3 player the day after the show, and was taken by how slow it was. By the time it made it to Ghost and then to the live stage, it pepped up quite a bit.

You can read the Chicago Tribune's non-Greg Kot write-up here.

Sarah Borges at Fitzgerald's

Just like Catholic Mass, skip the part in brackets for short form, or read the whole thing for longer form.

[In late 1999, I fell in love with Kelly Willis when a co-worker (whom I admired) loaned me a copy of her latest disc, "What I Deserve." The co-worker knew I was a big music fan and thought I'd appreciate the blend of folky music and the sweet, honky-tonk vocals. I was instantly hooked. Bought my own copy.

An incredible album.

A few months later, Kelly Willis came to Chicago. (I later discovered this was a rare in Texas and soon to have a couple kids over the next few years, she made rare trips north to perform.*) So on a cold, January night, I drove out to Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, a fantastic music room with a great blend of rock, country, bluegrass and like-minded Americana music.

I was transfixed. She was amazing. I got a set list and a T-shirt, got both autographed, talked to her a little, and was a fan for life.
Because of this intense fandom, I'm always up for a Kelly Willis show. And last summer, she played the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan. I recall it being a Saturday night and a late start. TM and I never acclimated to the late-arriving crowd in New York City, so we got to the show at or around the start time, and found a mostly empty hall. So we had a pretty good view of the opening act, whom we'd never heard of**.]

The opener turned out to be Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles from Boston. Maybe it was the fact that we'd seen some pretty bad opening acts recently, but we were impressed. She had a sassy, punk attitude, with tattooes and cowboy boots. The songs were rocking, but also twangy. The band was tight, and Borges chatted up a storm with the sparse audience. And the icing on the cake was a pretty cool cover of "Outlaw Blues" by Bob Dylan....kinda fast, but down and dirty too. At the very least, I thought, she has good taste in influences (and cover material).

We talked to her after the show and bought her disc and thought, yeah, she's one to watch. But after we moved back home, I figured it might be awhile til she made it to the Midwest, being a smaller artist and all.

Well, lo and behold, who does Bill Fitzgerald book for Valentine's Day at his club but a band called the Broken Singles? Like most newlywed couples, TM and I wanted to hear songs about heartbreak, infidelity and loneliness on Feb. 14. So off to Berwyn we went, completing a circle that began eight years ago.

Now that we're "fans," or at least familar with her work, it was a treat to hear her songs again. Fitzgerald's, as you know if you've been there, is a great room for twangy, Americana music, with all the dark wood and homey touches. The crowd was pretty thin on a cold, snowy Valentine's Day...the tables were down and nowhere near filled. But the smaller, initimate setting allowed us to relax and enjoy the show.

Having seen her only once before, within a year and in support of the same record, the set felt pretty similar. If anything, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves more. Could be a factor of being the beginning of a tour, or the thrill of being a headliner, or both. And I'd forgotten how talkative she was...just like her doppelganger Lauren Graham.

See the resemblence?

I was particularly impressed with "Around 9," a tale of unrequited love written by bassist Binky. The song's plot creeps up on you as you listen, and then like a good book gets deeper and better each time to hear it. In addition, the bassist's name really is Binky. The band talked up their first video, for the single "Stop and Think It Over." You can watch it here:

After the show, TM and I talked to Sarah Borges again, and mentioned that we found her via the Kelly Willis show in New York last year. "Oh yeah, at the Bowery Ballroom," she said matter-of-factly. I will bet you that if I were a touring musician, I would be not able to recite city and venue for all the places I'd been. But she continued to impress when TM mentioned that Borges would be coming to her hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. "Umm, yeah, the Blackwater Swamp Festival." (or whatever it's called, TM will correct me in the comments if I got the name wrong.) Then I mentioned she's playing *my* hometown and she mentioned a venue name. (It's wasn't the one I saw listed, but still, that's pretty good, and maybe the venue changed for all I know.)

The set list.

* -- I wrote that line BEFORE I discovered this piece of news.

** -- It's my blog. I get to properly use "who" and "whom" if I feel like it, and I get to end sentences with prepositions if I feel like it. Copyediting may be a 24/7 obsession, but that doesn't mean I don't get to do whatever I want here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Alma Mater Saturday

Although college basketball games can be played any day of the week, they tend to fall on Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Unless your conference is subjected to television-related contrivances such as Big Monday Sponsored By Major Beer Manufacturer.)

A couple Saturdays ago, TM and I noticed that all three alma maters and my one true "home" team were all playing on the same day, and all with television and/or Internet coverage. We dubbed this "Alma Mater Saturday."

And now, a brief review of our recent Alma Mater Saturdays:
  • IOWA:
    • Jan. 12 vs. Michigan St. This game was on TV, and amazingly, the Hawks won, 43-36.
    • Jan. 19 @Michigan. A bad Iowa team beat a bad Michigan team, 68-60, and prompted this post.
    • Jan. 26 vs. Penn State. On Big Ten Network, and another Iowa win, 64-49.
    • Feb. 2 vs. Ohio St. On Big Ten Network. Iowa gets revenge for a tremendous ass-whupping received earlier in the season, and beats the Bucks 53-48.
    • Feb. 9 @Minnesota. Lost, 63-50. Oh well. Every game this team wins is a blessing from above, like little kisses from angels. (Yes, they are pretty bad, but I will give them credit: they have shown improvement over the course of the year, something that NEVER happened under Steve-O.)
  • ND:
    • Jan. 12 @Marquette. A total beatdown; I could barely watch. After the 92-66 loss, Mike Brey asked, essentially, are you sure this only counts as one in the loss column? 'Cause it felt like two.
    • Jan. 19 @Georgetown. The tour of pain continues with an 84-65 loss.
    • Jan. 26 @Villanova. This was an early, 11am TV game. Luckily, the Irish decide to win one on the road, 90-80.
    • Feb. 2 vs. DePaul. A noonish start, televised in the Chicago area of course, and another home win. The score is awfully similar to last week: 89-80.
    • Feb. 9 vs. Marquette. ND eked out an exciting win, 86-83, despite refusing to play defense in the final minute or so. ("Hey, let's allow them to make an uncontested layup. That'll take time off the clock!")
  • DRAKE: (we listen to as many of these games as we can on the radio. The announcers are decidely minor league, but Dolph Pulliam is at least entertaining. I've called him the Ron Santo of Drake: "1960s legend who has stuck around the program, fan favorite, but has no business in a radio booth." Feinstein called that analogy "perfect." I'm impressed he knew it was an analogy, not a simile or metaphor or allegory or whatnot.)
    • Jan. 12 vs. Missouri State. Winner, 65-54
    • Jan. 19 vs. Illinois State. Winner, 79-73
    • Jan. 26 vs. Northern Iowa. Winner, 58-54
    • Feb. 2 @Indiana State. Winner, 83-77
    • Feb. 9 vs. Evansville. Winner, 73-65
  • OHIO:
    • Jan. 12 vs. Miami Ohio. Winner, 72-63
    • Jan. 19 vs. Kent State. Winner, 71-59
    • Jan. 26 vs. Ball State. Winner, 61-59
    • Feb. 2 @Northern Illinois. Winner, 73-55
    • Feb. 9 vs. Western Michigan. Winner, 57-54
Alas, all good things come to an end. Wednesday night ("Alma Mater Wednesday" doesn't sound as good, and neither were the results) the three degree-granting institutions laid an egg. Ohio lost to Toledo, No. 20 ranked Notre Dame lost at No. 17 ranked Connecticut, and the Drake Bulldogs lost their 21-game winning streak when they fell at Southern Illinois. Drake will now slink back to the far corners of the sports consciousness, left only with the warm memories of once being the 15th-best team in the whole United States. Iowa happened to play last night instead of Wednesday, and true to form, lost as well. Bah. When does baseball start?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sleeping With the Laundry

Today Quigley helped me do chores. Or so he likes to think.

In the end, all he really wanted to do was sleep with the laundry.

TM gets the "leave me alone so I can sleep" eye from QC.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Iowa at Indiana: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.

Back in November, I received an intriguing proposition from an Iowa grad friend I met in Chicago (no longer in the area): let's meet in Indiana, he said, to see Iowa vs. Indiana basketball at historic Assembly Hall.

If there was any year NOT to see Iowa play at Indiana, it is 2008. The Hoosiers feature super-freshman Eric Gordon (seriously, he can fly and see through buildings) and power forward D.J. White. Iowa features a two-game losing streak to Drake (Drake!!! Gaaa! It pains me so) and the loss of its three best players from last year's team (I'm referring to Horner, Brunner, and that Tyler Smith kid who loved Alford so much he went to Tennessee when Alford went to New Mexico. Either he really didn't love Alford that much, or he's bad at geography.)

Dark, imposing, and unfriendly, just like the state of Indiana: Assembly Hall at night.

Basketball aside, I had no good reason not to go, particularly since Indianapolis is only a three-hour drive from Chicago. Even being a weekday game, the time off from work wasn't a big deal. So I hopped in Abe and cruised on down to Indy, where I met my buddy, and we headed to Bloomington.

I'd been to Bloomington once before, in 2002, on my drive around the Midwest. That time, I had Cline as a tour guide/host, which really helped. This time around, the schedule and weather didn't allow for much (any) campus touring.

(I should say before the snark gets too deep that I enjoy this college town quite a bit. There are indie record stores, funky clothing stores, students, freaks, musicians, and everything else that makes college towns so lively. Having said that...)
My favorite part of being in Bloomington was when I stopped into a local coffee shop while my friend had some business appointments. I was wearing an open coat and an open button-down shirt, so my T-shirt was quite visible. I ordered my coffee and the girl behind the counter asked for my customer number. I realized she was referring to some kind of frequency card. I pointed to my T-shirt and gave her a look to say, "do you think I come to this coffee shop all the time?" However, she was very nice and made a tasty au lait.

MPF in the balcony: a T-shirt that bright leaves no doubt about loyalty.

Oh yeah, the game: we got killed. We knew that would happen, given Iowa's "point-a-minute" offense (note to non-basketball fans: 40 points is not good) so we tried to enjoy the atmosphere. The most striking thing for me was the similarity to Nebraska football. Every observation my friend or I made, I'd then think: "just like Nebraska."

Think about it: monochromatic red. Rural state. Statewide obsession with the sport, and the flagship university's team. History of national championships and All-Americans. Fallen on hard times and coaching changes lately. But still a sleeping giant, a force to be reckoned with. And frankly, like Notre Dame football, the college sport scene is that much better when they're good.

At any rate, it was a fun trip, and one more Big Ten arena to cross off my list. Certainly more memorable than Welsh-Ryan in Evanston.

Look hard enough, you'll see tipoff in this picture. Keep looking...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Best of MPF 2007: Bonus Tracks

I am a Luddite. I remember and appreciate the good ol' analog days when a movie or a record came out, and that was that. But now, every DVD that is released has to come with special features. Many reissues of those old records come with bonus tracks, as if the original release wasn't good enough for today's demanding consumers.

I'd like to think they got it right the first time, and you don't need to see the scenes that were cut from the movie. There's usually a good reason they were cut in the first place: Can you think of any deleted scene where you thought, 'oh yeah, that should have been in the final cut' ? Probably not. It's a deleted scene for a reason.

Well, sometimes you can make a case for bonus tracks: it's additional music from an artist you like, and it may have merit even though it didn't make the album. Maybe there was a reason, like it just didn't fit the mood, or it would've made the record too long.

At any rate, here are the "bonus tracks" for the Best of MPF 2007:

Best Picture: Usually when this category exists, it's a picture of me and one other person. And although I didn't want to make every single category wedding related, it certainly was an oversight to not include this: (click to see it bigger)

Now like I said, Best Picture has traditionally featured me. However, serendipity struck on an afternoon in June, on the streets of Cambridge, Mass., near snobby Harvard. I couldn't believe such a book existed and that we found it while we were out with GregClam...

Clam, he is.

Best Sacrament: This, like Best Day, is a slam dunk: Matrimony. Like 2006's award winner, this sacrament took place at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. It gets my recommendation if you're looking for somewhere to participate in a sacrament.

Best Mode of Transportation: (use your "Price is Right" announcer voice) A NEW CAR!!!!!!!!!

Best Road Trip: This is a category that makes a lot more sense if you have a car. And we didn't have a car for 75% of the year. And so, ah, let's move on to the next category that I have neatly re-named as:

Best Trip (Regardless of How You Did It): Boston, to see the Morts and the Sox.

The view from the right field bleachers at Fenway Pahk.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

News You Can Use

I've added a new link in the "Boys and Girls in America" section.

Please check it out!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Gratuitous Cat Photo(s) of the Week

Because I am home all day working (really, honestly) I have the opportunity to capture some of Quigley's cutest moments.

Like this one, sleeping in MPF's flannel shirt:

And this one, sleeping in MPF's wool coat:

Does anyone else see a pattern here?