High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Junior, Revisited

I have a massive brain dump to do. Tragically, I also have a massive amount of grading to do. The compromise is that I shall chip away at the New Orleans in chunks that make sense in the depths of Matilda!Brain. Just so you have a sense of how things will go, I'm going to start two days before I left, because M and I journeyed to Fitzgerald's as part of our "Stalking Junior Brown" program. And really, how hard can it be to catch THAT man in THAT hat with THAT Guit-Steel?

It's possible that there's something magical about Junior Brown and opening bands. As you may recall, I had mad love for The Silvermen, who were the first band at the Knuckleheads show in Kansas City. In the case of the Fitzgerald's show, it takes some work to figure out where to direct my inappropriate fervor.

The calendar listed The Riptones in small print under "Junior Brown with." From context clues, I now gather that the bassist for the Riptones has been pretty seriously ill. That seems to explain to explain why the band we did see was definitely not The Riptones. The players we saw (upright bass, guitar, and drums) were hesitant to introduce themselves as a band, and after a week in New Orleans, my mid-term memory ain't what it used to be. However, I have managed to excavate certain pieces of information.

Our bassist for the evening was Jimmy Sutton and the guitarist was Joel Paterson, both of whom seem to derive from the Four Charms. Paterson also belongs to Devil in a Woodpile and has played with Steve Dawson, who teaches at the Kevin Bacon The Old Town School of Folk Music. It's not just a small bourgeois clique, it's also a small, talented-yet-starving musician clique. I regret to say that what I know about the drummer is minimal: His name is Alex something or other; he looks like a younger, hipper Dean Haglund; he'd never played with these guys before (at least not the material they did that night); and he got yelled at a few times, probably because of the never having played with them before.

They may have been an ensemble without name or country, but they were great. Better still, they were great on their own merits and great as an opening band for Junior Brown. The Four Charms are primarily a swing band, and there was plenty of swing in the performance (longing for an upright bass in my household reached all-time highs during an extended slapping riff), but also blues, jazz, and a fair amount of country. Paterson also got so into one of HIS extended riffs (mmmm . . . Les Paul-y goodness) that he kicked out his own amp cord and insisted on a do over. If there's one thing I love more than eclectic in my opening band, it's healthy dose of cute spazz. Anyway, they, whatever they call themselves, were terrific.

Junior, once again, came on around 11 with the same bassist and drummer from KC in tow (or, rather, they had him in tow, as the bassist once again did the Old School "Ladies and Gentlemen, Junior Brown!" intro as they played the Benny Hill theme [ok, so that's Old School in a different way]). The first four or five numbers he played were identical to those in Kansas City. Lest that come off sounding bored or ungrateful, let me assure you that I did not miss the Guit-Steel lobotomy, courtesy of the craptacular audio set up at Knuckleheads even one little bit. It was great to be able to enjoy myself thoroughly without worrying when, exactly, my liquified brain was going to dribble out my ear.

After the standard opening, he mixed the set up a bit more, omitting some songs and adding others in. As is my malcontented way, I cannot think of a single song they added, but I recall missing "I Have to Get up Every Morning Just to Say Goodnight to You" and "Still Life with Rose." The nonstop pace was just the same as in Kansas City. His patter, likewise, remained minimal, but he also seemed much more relaxed and engaged with the crowd. I don't mean to project my neurological issues on to him, but he just seemed to be enjoying himself a lot more at Fitzgerald's. Giving Knuckleheads the benefit of the doubt for the moment, I should note that he's been playing in Berwyn for a couple of decades, whereas it was his maiden voyage at the KC venue. Still, I think the person at the soundboard for the entire show probably had something to do with the palpable difference in performance.

My lone complaint about the show, in fact, is that Fitzgerald's has removed the platform along the back wall of the venue. This used to have a row of chairs/stools and a row of tables on the floor in front of it. We would often head for the back corner of the venue and take some of those chairs on the platform. From there, I had enough added elevation that I could see the performers without having to bob and weave. But alas, no more—there was a great deal of bobbing and weaving and Junior spent a lot of the time out of my sightline.

Still the show was sufficient to motivate M to pick up several CDs for his long train ride to NO. Things being what they were before I left, I didn't have time to load them on to the Obah Cypt, but I intend to remedy that today. All in all, a satisfying chapter in the stalking saga.

ETA: Dayum, I screwed the pooch on this. One of the most important bits of information I discovered at Fitzgerald's is that Lucy Kaplansky will be there on Friday, October 20. I just missed her in St. Louis and I'll be missing her this week as well, given that I'm committed to volunteering at the Teen Open Mic Showcase that night. But learn from my tragic example and go see her if at all possible.

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