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

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Electric Nerd Boogaloo: Jonathan Coulton + Paul & Storm at the Park West

So last night was our return to JoCo and Co. We brought fresh meat, primed to be minionized in the form of D, my song-writing co-dependent, and his friend K. I'd burned a CD with a bunch of Coulton on it for D about a year ago when we were in our first song-writing class together and this whole writing a song per week seemed like a stew of torture and madness. Somehow I'd failed to put any Paul & Storm on there, but karma filled in the gaps: Turns out he'd heard a bunch of Da Vinci's Notebook (yes, I know that's a technical difficulties website, but you can't beat the picture) on the Bob & Tom Show. Not, I would like to make clear, that Da Vinci's Notebook—or anything in the 'verse—can possibly prepare one for Paul & Storm.

So we got to the Park West, and two almost unbelievable things happened: They had a coat check, and someone immediately sidled up to the ZK and me and asked if we wanted a booth for our party of four. We were somewhat perplexed by this person of incomparable character and beauty's leading us to one that had a big old "reserved" sign on it, and she seemed perplexed by our perplexity. Upshot: We had a booth. Granted, it was a booth immediately behind an unfortunate threesome (one member had no inside voice and wouldn't shut up; at one point two of them went to the bathroom and returned so stumbling and stupid that K and I were left beseeching them to consider a downer on their next trip), but a booth nonetheless. Incidentally, I am unsure if I hallucinated Paul manning the merch table while I was waiting for D & K to make it in to alert them to the gift of the Booth Fairy. Could this have been his punishment for inadvertently inviting all of the Twin Cities to dinner with them, Coulton, and Neil Gaiman?

Naturally, Paul & Storm opened with "Opening Band." For those keeping score, 5½ panties were thrown (5 "panties" [for sufficiently broad definitions of "panties"] plus one push-up bra), and the on-the-fly re-lyric-ing to acknowledge this completely vindicated me and humiliated the totally wrong ZK. (We'd been discussing the song at dinner, and the ZK FOOLISHLY tried to challenge my memory about this feature of the song.)

Looking back, I feel certain that Paul regrets his decision to apologize to those in the audience who'd brought small children to see the "nice bearded man from the Internet." Almost immediately, he spied little ones—wearing Paul & Storm merch, by the by—right in front of him. From that point on, you could see the waves of guilt rolling off him. The kid must've been working it, too, because he kept sending a steady stream of Cadbury Eggs by way of apology. After "A Better Version of You" (which appears to have solidified D's undying love for them), they sent around the e-mail list and introducing the FABULOUS PRIZES portion of the evening. The first prize (once again, snack foods that sound like sex acts) went to the man in the front row who could've kept the emerald green tap pants for himself, but generously contributed them to the on-stage count, thus earning himself the title of Helpful Panty Man (best superpower ever, according to Storm) AND a Double Dipper to use with two friends or the same friend twice. "Nugget Man" was up next, this time sans Coulton. I admit, all the way through the song, I expected a spot to suddenly land on his Jesusyness as he injected the third part of the harmony beneath the nuggety coating, but alas it was not meant to be.

The set was decidedly embiggened, literally and metaphorically, by the inclusion of two of Paul & Storm's Masters of Song Fu entries. We had "Cruel, Cruel Moon," during which I hoisted myself on my own snarky Twitter petard: Paul mimed grabbing his left side during the part about the liver, which is of course on the right side. I wish I could say that I was having a house/stage screw up, but I think it was just the Guinness twittering. The other Song Fu entry they did was "Live." This was their final round entry in the first competition when the task set was to write a song in the style of their opponent, their opponent being Coulton, of course. They went with Mad Scientist (every third Coulton song) + Sad (every other Coulton song). "Live" works the Sincerity Chord (the III minor, for those of you who aren't graduates of the Kernel) like nobody's business, and it's hard to see how it didn't win unless you know that Coulton wrote "Big Dick Farts a Polka." (Nailed us, said Storm with a sage nod.)

Paul was off book for Nun Fight this time around, and all was golden (not that it wasn't golden last time, I just have a reflexive stage manager's need to publicly shame those who aren't off book). The ZK tells me that I don't want to know what 3 nuns, 1 cup was about, and I'm taking his word for it. For short songs, we got "Raisin," "Grandma," "Forget it," (can't remember the real title of this one), and then "James Taylor on Fire," "Dylan in the Bottom of a Well," "Aaron Neville," (Storm flipping off the world with a defiant motherfucker just slays me every time), and "They Might Be Giants." Somewhere in the midst of all the sillytude, there was "fan interference" (it is Chicago, what do you expect, they astutely pointed out) getting pink hostess snowballs (there are green ones for St. Patty's Day, but don't tell the ZK) to another lucky winner.

At 8:58, Paul made a point of noting the time, which any fool knows signals the beginning of the "Captain's Wife's Lament." I'm sure there were those in the audience who didn't take him seriously when he said that the whole house would shortly be amazed that the song was still going on. Those people probably felt pretty silly at 9:05 when they were about 7 lines into the song. But come on! We dutifully gave them all kinds of different "Arrrrs!" and earned the right to know the 533kr1t title of their Emo band, the fact that Scooby = Confusion + Juice, and than the favorite crime of pirates is, of course, Arrrrrrson, not rape, which they'd expect from an Iowa crowd. Apropos of nothing, D is from Iowa.

At intermission, all and sundry felt compelled to note that the line for the ladies room was shorter than that for the men. The woman behind me in line attributed this to "more dudes in the audience," but I can't say that I'd noticed an imbalanced gender ratio or that I think of the boys as holding more appeal for outie versus innie genitalia. In fact, when Paul & Storm were coaching us through a clap-along, we had plenty of men, ladies, indeterminate gender, and nonconformists represented, SO THERE!

It's possible that Paul and Storm cast a spell over JoCo when they declared every other song of his to be sad. It's also possible that my commitment to all shuffle, all the time has left me ignorant of the melancholy thread running through everything from Chiron Beta Prime to the Town Crotch, from Rock and Roll Boy to Just as Long as Me. It's possible that he lacked the will to go on after his computer told him there was a problem with the DHCP server. It is probable that I am, quite simply, a dumbass.

Coulton's set was decidedly mellow and tinged throughout with D-minor, the saddest key of all. He started with "Not About You." I think you have to give me a break on not classifying that one as sad, because it is totally catchy! TOTALLY! On my previous date with Coulton in the Second City, he brought a tear to my eye with "The Future Soon," ("And I'm all alone during couples' skate") so I'm chalking that one up in my "has mastered basic skills of observation" column.

Having done two songs in his live wheelhouse, Coulton took a deep breath and leapt into the Twitter breach. What was intended to be a brief introduction to the "requests-via-Twitter" phenomenon turned into some pretty extended vamping as he was forced to explain to the plethora of audience shouters and those reaching furiously for their smart phones that, no, he wasn't CURRENTLY taking requests, as he was rather BUSY. To underscore the point, he began a guitar vamp that I didn't recognize. He spoke of his love, hate, WTF? relationship with the Twitter request line, which has revealed to him that his fans are all crazy and laboring under the delusion that he can actually play all the songs he's written. (To this, I say, "Bitch, please, I have seen you recording Washy Ad Jeffy! What do you freakin' expect?")

He further explained (still vamping, remember) that "When You Go," presented a particular challenge as a live performance, as it was recorded a capella, and he can still only sing one part at a time—presumably because it isn't the future just yet. Not sure if it was nerves from the get go or he missed the timing sweet spot, but I was just starting to think that he'd added an unnecessarily long intro to "When You Go" when he was arranging it for concerts when he stared blankly into the abyss and said, "I forget how it starts. I am serious. I cannot remember the first line." A helpful shout out from the audience, and he was on his way, but I think he probably would have appreciated a fresh pair of panties from Paul & Storm's collection at that point.

"Still Alive"? Totally not a sad song. I am totally calling that bitch. Passive-Aggressive? Yes. Sad? No. It's not a song about having to kill your Weighted Companion Cube or anything. Sheesh. Likewise, ShopVac is about despair moving one to put on one's Big Girl Pants and go down in a hail of gunfire. Also, the kicky clap-along disqualifies it from being classified as sad. And I think we can thank Paul & Storm for recalibrating the Sad Mad Scientist Meter, because "Skullcrusher Mountain" is definitely a powerful anthem of self-actualization (with wolves! Awooooo!) in comparison to "Live." (And Squee! The crowd sang a whole chorus on that one! And I did indeed fail my saving throw versus the "Visit Beautiful Skullcrusher Mountain" t-shirt this time around.)

And Speaking of Paul & Storm, JoCo brought those polite young gentlemen and their filthy snack foods back to the stage for a good chunk of the set. They started with "Tom Cruise Crazy," greatly enhanced by a whistle solo from Paul, committed trombone imitation (complete with gestures), and honest-to-the-eldergods scatting from Paul. And such scatting it was that I don't think Nanci Griffith's stepdad would've asked him what he was thinking.

Every time Coulton announced that they were going to be doing a cover, I crossed my fingers: You see, to thwart my spouse, who got inexplicably excited to hear that he'd covered Billy Joel's "Pressure" in Madison, I requested Bowie's "Pressure" (yes, I know it's "Under Pressure"; I also know about the Vanilla Ice thing: Save it!), and I kept hoping and hoping to hear it. Alas, it was not to be. We got Destiny's Child's, "Bills, Bills, Bills" and They Might Be Giants' "Birdhouse in Your Soul" (which was a great cover, but let's face it: Their arrangement tends to the "Lick My Love Pump" end of the emotional spectrum, despite Coulton!Lady doth protesting too much, methinks). They also teased us with a little Joel (doing the Ah One, Two, Ah ONE TWO THREE FOUR! part of "Matter of Trust," then segueing seamlessly into Fogelberg's "Another Auld Lang Syne" [at least JoCo and Storm were seamless, Paul's facial expression could have signified: (1) completely lost; (2) completely appalled; (3) simply waiting for his harmonic cue to enter]). I have a feeling there was a third cover song that I'm missing. I do know that JoCo let his inner schoolmarm out to play when he threatened to play ALLLLLLL of "Freebird" to teach some scamps in the audience an important lesson about scampery.

In addition to the covers, whether they numbered 2 or 3, Paul & Storm also helped out on "Code Monkey" and, of course, "Creepy Doll," which rocked even more than I remembered. I hadn't heard Coulton's Moon song from Master's of Song Fu, and I'm prepared to admit that "Always the Moon," is a (beautiful) sad song. OR AM I?!? Because I have quite deliberately never, ever, ever, listened to "Space Doggity."" Why have I never listened to 'Space Doggity'?" you may well ask. I have never fucking listened to "Space Doggity," gentle reader, because I have still not recovered from Children of Men, thanks so much for bringing it up. I have not listened to "Space Doggity" for the same reason I never reviewed I Am Legend (and for the same reason that I am tearing up just typing the name of the movie). I have not listened to "Space Doggity," because I am the type of person who cried through the fucking TRAILER for Marley & Me (incidentally, Marley & Me + Twilight is currently the ultimate Brew & View Double Feature, and I am using "ultimate" in the "If I had just one SCUD missile . . . " sense). I have not listened to "Space Doggity," because I have already wept my way through one concert this decade. So I spent all of "Space Doggity" crying against the ZK's "Aperture Science" t-shirt sleeve.

Eventually Paul & Storm were replaced by the sampling man bag of doom. Yes, it Rick Rolled us. Yes it did.

Although he'd made a commitment to get real and stop messing around with the guitar once he picked up the SMBoD, and although he seemed to have some trouble letting go of it, JoCo eventually went crawling back to his guitar for "You Ruined Everything" and "I Crush Everything." I SUPPOSE you could classify those as sad songs if you want to overlook the most obvious and salient connection between them, which is the fact that they both have "Everything" in the title. Also from the Twitter request line came "The Presidents" (Sondheimian lyrics + harmonica in a live setting had this stage manager biting her nails, but other than a tiny stumble between Taft and Wilson, he totally took that to school) and "Betty and Me," which is definitely one that deserves to be included in live shows more regularly.

To no one's surprise, he closed with "Re: Your Brains," and we were rockingly unintelligible on the chorus, I do believe. He'd introduced "RE: Your Brains" by saying it was the last song before he'd pretend to go off stage so we could stomp and clap and call him back, at which point he'd do a few more songs. "A few more," he said, and yet we only got "I Feel Fantastic" (admittedly, a great "I Feel Fantastic" with P&S) before the Park West brought up the freakin' lights when they were hardly off the stage. Right up until that point, I'd been feeling the love for the Park West, as all three of them kept commenting on how helpful everyone was and how the green room was filled with all the "Ch" foods. Right up until that point, I was prepared to salute the Park West for not making them sell and sign in the freakin' alley. But then again, right up until that point, I was counting on hearing "First of May" before I went home. The Park West is now officially On Notice.

DUDE! I can't believe I left "Blue Sunny Day" out of this. Part of Coulton's stripping himself bare to reveal his creamy emo center was debuting this song. He said he knew the line he was writing to was "Blue Sunny Day," and when he thought about its possible downer meaning (one assumes this was nanoseconds after deciding to write to this uncharacteristically cheerful line). Immediately after that, he realized that it was a song about a vampire. Beautiful, catchy, touching, hilarious song. How can you not love this man?

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Blogger Dylan said...

There was a 3rd cover, something about Ella Fitzgerald.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous elliomeg said...

Excellent recap - not as good as being there - but excellent recap. Thanks!

2:37 AM  

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