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

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

NEEERRRRDDDDD BAAAALLLLLL! Jonathan Coulton with Paul & Storm at the Lakeshore Theater

Back when I saw opening night of Die Frau Ohne Schatten, I mentioned that I'd had to reschedule the opera for a highly necessary nephewgial nerd date. Not wishing to toot my own horn, of course, I did not mention that keeping the nerd date meant missing Jonathan Coulton in Chicago. I did, however, tell A and K that they must go to the Minneapolis show if at all possible. And they did, and so two new converts were reborn. What can I say? I'm a giver.

Of course, I'm a receiver, too. First of all, our peeps in the Twin Cities gave us a bunch of Paul & Storm CDs for Christmas. And our ultimate reward came tonight when we got to see JoCo and Paul & Storm at the Lakeshore Theater. When I first investigated tickets, I was somewhat perplexed by the venue. I couldn't remember hearing of it, and the location seemed wrong. In fact, I kept thinking "That's right where I saw Baz Lurman's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. I don't remember any live music venue around there . . ." And since you're all clever ducks, you've realized that the Lakeshore is the very former movie theater where I saw BL's WS's R+J.

It's not a big venue (330 seats according to the website), and it's possible that the audience members were outnumbered by bartenders, but every last seat (except the one next to me, as it turned out) had been sold. Being a former movie theater, though, 330 seats means 330 actual places for 330 individuals to park 330 asses (well, minus the 3 or 4 seats that were already broken or broke during the course of the show). The tickets were reasonable in the first place at $20/each, and at the door we were able to pay $5 each to upgrade to seats in the first 6 rows. (I don't know what the upgrade charge for the additional r might have been, although everyone present will testify that Paul & Storm unearthed and embarrassment of rs in the theater.)

The line into the theater was very slow-moving, and given the number of bars, the show began shockingly close to on time. There were some give-aways by the venue's owner (I think it was the owner/artistic directory, anyway) during an introduction that went on a bit too long, but Paul & Storm were on stage by about 7:45.

They opened with the impressive demonstration of lung capacity that is "Opening Band". Before they launched into a little math with "Count to Ten", they explained that their shows are always studded with fabulous prizes. I don't recall what the unifying theme, if any, has been in the past, but tonight it was snack products that sound like sex acts.

The first big winner got some Brach's Maple Nut Goodies for his reply that he'd "almost" seen their show before. The second prize, Swedish Fish, came during the course of "Count to Ten," when they called out a guy in the front row for being too cool to sing along. He was not, of course, rewarded for his delusions of cool, but for obeying instructions to get up and sing the chorus on his own. I honestly can't recall what won the "Big Hunk," but the "Pink Snowballs," were the random draw off the e-mail list.

After 1-10, they asked Jonathan to help them with "Nugget Man", because a paean to Robert C. Baker cannot be carried by two voices alone. JoCo parted the back drape dramatically, but M was dissatisfied with the degree to which he worked the Jesus vibe. For my part, I was struck by the fact that he is pre-Simpsonized for your convenience.

JoCo retreated to his cave, apparently to recommence Twittering (please note the update on May 3 at 8 PM: I can confirm that his dorito regret was not manifest in his performance) to the "Mother's Day Song", a number of messages from their sponsors (Pillsbury power ballad being the clear winner), celebrities in unusual and unfortunate situations (James Taylor on fire is hard to beat), and the incredible, unbeatable, amazingly, hilarious, more WRONG WITH EVERY PASSING SECOND Nun Fight (for which Paul needed a cheat sheet and Storm did not. STOOOOORRRMM WIIIIINNNNNS!). They're tons of fun and great harmony singers, I was glad to see them live for their own show, and very glad to see them return for several songs with JoCo.

(In case you're wondering why I'm overusing Mr. Coulton's superfly, buggin' street tag, JoCo, it's because we have loved ones trapped in the much less pleasant, not tuneful at all, JoCo, KS, and I'm reclaiming it. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Jonathan (there, I used his whole name, are you HAPPY now?) opened with "Future Soon," and I did not appreciate until that moment just how very sad he sounds when he sings "And I’m alone during couple skate." The man is just wrong in his ability to emotionally manipulate me with a song that culminates in the Robot Holocaust. But that's ok, he was gratified by the audience's enthusiasm for the Robot Holocaust. We are totally like BFFs.

Next up was "Shop Vac," my only love sprung from my only hate. That song is his top 3 diabolically-catchy-absolutely-positively-WILL-NOT-leave-your-head-for-at-least-4-days-songs. It is an evil song constructed from evil parts, designed to do evil. (I'm totally kidding, Shop Vac, I love you! Call me!) Although the increasingly grim police radio and 24-hour news cycle voiceovers were missed, we, as an audience, were totally on the job with the kicky clapping pattern. No one would have suspected that we were nearly 100% white. Really!

I suspect that I'm missing a song before "Flick'r," (Oooh! Was it "Skullcrusher Mountain?" Because not only did we have "Skullcrusher Mountain," we had a wolves vs. pirates war in the audience, and he's TOTALLY going to write a song about a a movie featuring a guy narrating a war between wolves and pirates and the audience can see NOTHING ELSE. It's gonna RULE!) because at this point I'd abandoned attempts to write a set list in the dark with a broken pencil. You might think that this demonstrates some kind of sloth on my part, but it was less about me blaming the equipment than about me realizing that there was no reason—no reason at all—that I could not enjoy the concert and KNIT at the same time.

Yes, as is my wont, I brought knitting to a concert. However, M outdid me on this score by bringing, not just a book, but a book on Cisco networking devices. Oh the revelations we could have made had JoCo solicited audience participation in the pre-Code Monkey patter!, but no, he simply asked for a shout out from the Executive Recruiters in the audience. Anyway, back to me and my knitting, which is surely fascinating to everyone. See, I usually put away the knitting when the music begins because (a) the lights are too low, (b) my project is too large and/or complicated, and/or (c) we don't have seats that are all ours and we have to stand up.

But none of these was a problem tonight: (a) I can totally knit by the light of groovy, multi-colored gobos (I am so putting that on the old CV); (b) I am knitting a small and simple, short-sleeved sweater (please ignore M's UNINFORMED comments claiming that this is the simple, short-sleeved sweater that I knit in its entirety and had to rip out because of an error in the pattern); (c) sweet, sweet seat belonging to me and only me.

Anyway . . . Flickr! Complete with visuals. Awesome. And then, or shortly thereafter, he brought out Paul & Storm again for several songs, including "Tom Cruise Crazy" (don't think we don't envy Seattle for the ukulele, though), "Big Bad World One," "I Feel Fantastic" (which I'd never heard before), a very mellow version of "Code Monkey," and a completely awesome version of "Creepy Doll."

This has become a recent favorite of mine, so I was so excited when they started in on it that I didn't stop to wonder how they'd handle the electric guitar riffs with a single acoustic guitar. Why, with rockstar 3-part harmony, a shaker, a tambourine, and choreography, of course! That gave me such an epic happy. Especially when one of those douches with a chronic nervous laugh, you know the ones that always always always wind up on live concert CDs, got scolded by zen master JoCo right in the middle of the song, "Dude, it's not funny." My inner stage manager demands that I note that she wanted to know how long they had to practice their three-way headbanging until they achieved an outcome lacking concussions and in compliance with OSHA standards. (I mean, really, JoCo nearly lost his glasses!)

Paul & Storm re-departed some time after "Creepy Doll," and JoCo did "You Ruined Everything." I had no idea the song was about his daughter (well, really, about him becoming a father), and I really enjoyed hearing the story, but apparently M is tired of stories about the transformative power of urchins. Go figure.

"Mandelbrot Set" was also in the post–Paul & Storm part of the set, and he RICKROLLED US during Mr. Fancy Pants. I was completely unprepared for the Rick rolling, too, because I was fascinated by his Incredibly Fantastic, Totally Futuristic, Sampling Man Purse. (I can't understand what he's calling it in that video. M and I were clutching each other and crying in fear, "Dear GOD, what IS that THING?") A few more songs, or a least their order, are lost to the K1-P1 rib (but I'm totally on the waistband! SOON CUTE SWEATER WILL BE MINE!), but we ended the evening with audience participation, 100% awesome "RE: Your Brains." It was a beautiful moment.

The beauty of the end of the set was in some small part marred by the fact that we were IN A RUSH. Apparently, there was a comedy show coming in after us and—I am not making this us—the guys were selling merch and signing autographs in the alley. Dude. But let us speak of more pleasant things, like our encore, featuring "Curl," "First of May," and "Sweet Caroline," (once again, our BA BA BAs and SO GOOD SO GOOD SO GOOD work was excellent, if I do say so myself).

So, obviously, we had a freakin' awesome time. I've so fallen in love with everything off Smoking Monkey and the Thing a Week Box Set, but it was such a treat to hear and see him live. His voice is really terrific (in case you were worried about any computorial magic that might be going on), and so much of what makes his songs good for more than novelty laughs comes from how expressive it is. (I'm dead serious about my comment on "Future Soon," by the way.)

It was also fascinating (to me, at least, although I know he thinks of himself as an uninteresting player) to watch him play and think about how he arranged the songs for a single acoustic guitar. There are a hell of a lot more cool jazz chords in his music than I'd registered just listening.

When I was in Peru the first time, with 6 years of German, and < 1 year of Spanish under my belt, I used to watch a soap opera called Malicia. It's theme song was "Devil Inside," by INXS but that, believe it or not, was not the draw. It was a Brazilian import, and so it had been translated from Portuguese into Spanish, so the dialogue was much slower and more deliberate, perfect for me. Watching a single performer, playing only songs I know well, and playing only guitar, is a similarly helpful "WATER HELEN!" experience for me, given my complete lack of musical ability. I'm sure that JoCo has planned that from the beginning. Nice of him, really.

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Anonymous Kelly said...

What? No sign of the brain eating song?

(Okay, so that's the only one I really know and I've been meaning to do better - I have - but life's hard on the farm and there's islands that need piratin' and cities that need savin'.....)

3:48 AM  
Anonymous Rafael said...

Did you watch "Malicia"?
Here in Peru, me and my friends like to call it "Malísima" (it means: "Very very bad").
I like J.Coulton music. I found a funny reference to "Skullcrusher Mountain" in this web-comic, ShortPacked! I searched for lyrics in order to get today gag.

3:11 PM  

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