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

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Singing Drummers, Cats Lying Down With Dogs, etc.: Terry Anderson and the Bottle Rockets

I'm really not sure how it got to be the third Sunday of May so quickly, but now that it's nearly the fourth, it's time for the May update on Robbie Fulks. May brought us child labor and unabashed provocation of fights between the guests. Mercifully, no tie of any kind, though.

In honor of the show's third anniversary, Robbie reflected on how he'd gone from calling up friends and bribing them to play to a figurehead who refused to do so much as open the shows with comedy bits. This was the cue for Tennessee and Preston "Fukes?" to come out. The older of the two boys (maybe 9 or 10) told a handful of jokes (and went off script enough, it seemed, to crack Robbie up a few times) and the other sat at Terry Anderson's drum kit (brave kid, I wouldn't touch another man's drumkit, let alone one that bore the logo of the Olympic Ass-Kicking Team) and provided a rimshot or two.

The main event this month was much more akin to our first Robbie Show back in November: Low on the bluegrass, devoid of classic "big names" in country, and emphasis on the "secret." As the months pass and my conception of Robbie takes shape, it becomes clear that a lot of his bitterness vis-à-vis rests on the collective heads of the Eagles. When John Doe was a guest a few months ago (we didn't attend the show, but we caught the broadcast of it on X-Country), he asked John if he ever had occasion to revisit the kind of music that X, as the Knitters, was taking a swipe at, only to realize that it wasn't so bad. John answered with a flat, unelaborated, "No."

This month, Robbie was hell bent on provocation from the get go, so I'm guessing that The Dude's nemeseseseseseeees had come up in conversation already, leading him to open the interviews with, "The Eagles: Anti-Christ or legitimate guilty pleasure." Brave, brave Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets answered, "Legitimate delight," at which point Terry Anderson (ugh, that site is hard to find and a bitch to navigate) ripped his head off and processed his skin for a new floor tom head.

Things continued to devolve for poor Brian as he revealed that he was listening to a lot of Rush and Heart along the way. Terry, obviously reveling in a smug sense of superiority (and who can blame him, when moments like these are once in a lifetime for drummers?), cited influences from metal to Brit Pop. Peace, love, and happiness reigned, however, when all agreed that the Ramones are a singularly inspiring band for an aspiring musician under the "Shit, I can do that principle." The reconciliation between the guests was sealed, probably to Robbie's chagrin, when both agreed that when it comes to song writing, they don't play well with others.

Terry and the Olympic Ass-Kicking Team were up first. Of those pictured in that link, we were missing Scotty Miller. Greg Rice was on keyboards (sometimes literally: one suspects there was a bit of dextromethorphan in his immediate past, as his keyboard fluidly moved between musical instrument and prop for his slumped over corpse), Terry (obviously on drums and vocals), Dave Bartholomew (on guitar and vocals), and Jack Cornell (who looks a lot less like Dough Henning and a lot more like Lt. Col. ManHo [particularly in profile] than this than that photo implies, on bass and vocals).

I've only just now realized that Terry is also in the Yayhoos, which doesn't surprise me even one little bit. If you don't know who the Yayhoos are, that must mean that you do not have the soundtrack to Slither, and that is a bleeding tragedy, because that fucking rocks, and the Yayhoos' "Baby I Love You, Now Leave Me the Fuck Alone," just edges out greats like "2 Days Smug and Sober" (by Carolyn Mark, Corn Sister to Neko) and Corb Lund's "Roughest Neck Around" for best song on it. The great tragedy of the soundtrack is that the Yayhoos get fucking censored on it, so you'll also need Fear Not the Obvious.

The Olympic Ass-Kicking Team is almost exactly as advertised by Terry when he delineated his influences: It's roots/southern rock metal with Brit Pop over the top. (I have to note that on the song Cornell did solo, he sounds uncannily like a much younger Rod Stewart.) In the interview, he also said he was loath to move away from his town of 700 people (80% of them over 70) in North Carolina (which Brian dubbed the "Double-Wide" state in response to Terry's South Carolina bashing), because he doesn't know what he'd write songs about if he did. I support this inertia if his hometown is, indeed, the inspiration behind "Getyoassupda Road," "I Feel a Drunk Comin' On," and "Thunderbird."

The downside to this part of the show was that Terry's drum kit and mic were downstage left, we were sitting at far house left, and as the announcer had warned us, that shit's loud. As usual, I had less of a problem making out the lyrics than did M, but it was a rare occasion in which the acoustics of Old Town's auditorium were subideal for appreciating the music. We did, however, pick up a few CDs and I predict that the lyrics will just get funnier and funnier.

My familiarity with the Bottle Rockets before Sunday was limited to find "Indianapolis" off 24 Hours a Day hilarious and profoundly moving. It's also emblematic of many of their songs, which are about blue collar folks and trying to get by in a world run by malevolent karma. But as grounded in the lives of regular folk as the songs are, Henneman (I'm assuming he's the primary songwriter, based on the interview) is great at the extended metaphor, you know the kind that stretches out over a whole verse, leads in the chorus you've already heard, but in such a way that you get it in a whole different light, and then bounces into a completely logical, yet wholly unexpected bridge. It's smart and literate song writing to appeal to the snooty in you, and it results in songs that are 100% hook.

But this stuff isn't just oh-so-witty golf-claps smart!pop!country. It covers at least much territory musically as it does lyrically, ranging from great driving music to thumping blues and grunge-adjacent wailing. Henneman's voice reminds me of someone else, and I can't think who, probably because the Bottle Rockets so obstinately sound like themselves and no one else. Not even, mercifully, the Eagles.

Fool that I am, I don't even think I have "Indianapolis" on my iPod, and I don't know how much more than that song that M has. Off the top of my head, I have to have "$1000 Car," and "Zoysia" (and if you were going to listen, those two, together with Indianapolis, give a great idea of the huge amount of ground these guys cover). I've gotta gotta gotta get my hands on "Welfare Music," and I'm not sure if I can live one more day without "You Can't Hide a Redneck (Under That Hippy Hair)," though I've never heard it.

I've been asking this a lot lately, and the question certainly should be directed to Robbie: Why does he want all my money?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The End of Hope: Jon Stewart Live

With all the nattering I did about Chicago Opera Theater, you might have thought that I locked myself in the house all weekend to contemplate the modernity of the Austro-Hungarian navel and what kind of drugs Ken Cazan has been doing. Not so. I was stalking my TV boyfriend and exploring the fringes of country music. Independent of one another, more's the pity.

On Friday, we journeyed to . . . scenic . . . Rosemont, IL, to see Jon Stewart. The only bad there is that we were not seeing him in Minneapolis with our peeps up there, but after our cross-country journey with the hound, that was just 10,000 lakes too far. This is the second time we've seen him, so we were prepared for his weeness.

This show was more . . . subdued (not quite what I'm looking for) than the last, which I think was in April, 2005. (I seem to recall that it was the same weekend that JPII died.) I'm not sure whether it's fatherhood, 2 more years of the Bush "presidency," or just being in Rosemont that might have sapped his will to live, but the show had a distinct "Fuck Hope," vibe to it.

As seems to be typical (if "typical" can be inferred from 2 shows), he started out political by mentioning the Cubs/Sox cross-town series. (The Sox had just whizzed game 2 down their legs.) Too soon, Jon, too soon. He also introduced the running Barack Obama gag early on and wound up on an Al Gore tangent, courtesy of an audience shout out to which he responded, "Al Gore isn't eating like he's running anywhere. . . . If you see him at the dessert table, remind him that conservation is a virtue." (Without wishing to read to much into commentary on Al's decided doughiness, which I think he wears well [but I would, wouldn't I?], it strikes me that Dear Jon is one of the few male public figures I can think of who might be working through a few body image issues.)

He then moved on to criticize the conservation movement as incredibly optimistic. Because the the world will end not with the Rapture (although that'd be cool, because the rest of us would be left with all the stuff the righteous will leave behind), but in some kind of super sciencey accident and the words "Hey! It worked!"

After some well-spent time on Dick Cheney (how does one edit that down to 6 minutes, I wonder. So. Much. Material.), he worked his way into religion, globally and personally. The midwest collectively embarrassed itself with the resounding silence in response to the awesome Pope/KKK joke. The fact that my honking, horrible laugh was the equivalent of chirping crickets over the silence has nothing to do my assessment of the joke, I assure you. And, dude, seriously, on the heels of the remarkable sanguinity with which the audience received the piñata-fucking story, we just look like the creepiest comedy-goers evar. We can do better, people.

Finally, he did a brief bit on the personal, reflecting on the corrosion of children and the simultaneous evolution of sarcasm. Seriously great story. It had child alcoholism, child larceny, and a Doodle Pro Jihad. And for his encore, after beating down our faith in anything at all, he restored it with a simple anecdote about a homeless guy beating off on his stoop. I smell a Pulitzer.

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