[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 event...living 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.