Monthly Archives: February 2009

On Stage: Pumpgirl

Madeleine Carr is the titular, tomboyish gas-station attendant in "Pumpgirl."  Photo by Linday Murray -- Solas Nua

Madeleine Carr is the titular, tomboyish gas-station attendant in Pumpgirl. Photo by Linday Murray — Solas Nua.

I previewed the new Solas Nua show, Abbie Spallen’s Pumpgirl, for Post Weekend. Solas Nua is one of the most reliably interesting companies in town. I’ve loved several of their productions, and even the ones I’ve disliked have struck me as honorable, ambitious, interesting failures.

A Failure Pile in a Sadness Bowl: My Interview with Patton Oswalt

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Hey, I interviewed Patton Oswalt, the greatest comic champion of our end-times!

Not my finest hour as an interloctuor, but a valuable lesson for me. I was glad to talk to him for DCist. Can’t wait to see him play Lisner this weekend.

THE VERY NEXT DAY: It seems I’m not the only person ever to have a less-than-satsifactory Oswalterview Experience. A consoling friend referred me today to audio of Patton’s appearance on the Seattle radio show Too Beautiful to Live last fall, as well as of host Luke Burbank’s after-action report the next day about why the segment was (in his perhaps too-harsh view) a bust.

Burbank is the radio reporter and essayist who contributed the great piece about the guy who mourned his wife by wearing a Superman costume in public to the “How to Win Friends and Influence People” episode of This American Life back in 2001. I had no idea he hosted his own show, but I’ll be listening now.

That a cat as smart as Burbank wasn’t able to get much out of Oswalt makes me feel better about my own performance, which I’ve been kind of bummed out about this week. But if you check out the audio from his Sept. 6 show, you’ll hear Burbank second-guessing his own interviewing chops over the air the same way I’ve been fretting about mine for half a week now.

Stevie, Live at the LoC: Sketches of a Life

Stevie Wonder-ful, as Tony Bennett likes to call him.

Stevie Wonder-ful, as Tony Bennett likes to call him.

So, what do you call watching the great Stevie Wonder perform a never-before-heard-in-public composition, 15 feet in front of you, for an audience of 400 people, with Herbie Hancock sitting in the row in front of yours? ‘Cos I call it Monday night.

Well, one of the better and more memorable Monday nights of my life, of course, yes. Read all about it!

I Spent My Weekend with the Drive-By Truckers at the 9:30 Club

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As the Paper of Record could not publish the title of “Buttholeville,” I didn’t even attempt to quote the following exchange in my review of the first of Drive-By Truckers’ two 9:30 Club shows this weekend. Group leader (or at least primary songwriter and spokesman) Patterson Hood, whom I had the sublime pleasure of interviewing last year, was sick with walking pneumonia, and had to skip both concerts.

Mike Cooley, halfway through his first (?) show as lead singer: “I do not need Patterson Hood anymore. I hope he sees this on YouTube and shits himself.”

Shonna Tucker: “He’s been shitting his pants all day, unfortunately.”

Get well soon, Patterson!

Here’s my unexpurgated review of the Friday show, with some additional commentary on Saturday night and setlists for both. Three . . . two . . . one . . .

“Just ‘cause I don’t run my mouth don’t mean I got nothin’ to say,” goes the line in Drive-By Truckers’ “Marry Me.” It’s one of the grizzled Alabama-by-way-of-Athens, GA outfit’s many superb numbers written and sung by second-banana frontman Mike Cooley, usually the laconic sideman to garrulous group leader Patterson Hood.

Cooley probably runneth more at the Truckers’ 9:30 Club gig Friday night than in his prior 20 years onstage. Hood was stricken with walking pneumonia, unable to perform, forcing Cooley into the mix as starting quarterback. The club had posted notice offering refunds to those unwilling to see DBT-minus-one. But most were game, and the reduced Truckers rewarded their faith with a sloppy but triumphant 21-song set, rich in the sort of Cooley slow-burners (“Cottonseed,” “Pin Hits the Shell”) that often get passed over in the whiskey-and-amphetamines crunch of full-strength DBT shows, and also in seminal rarities (“One of These Days,” “Panties in Your Purse.”)

The Truckers have long been blessed with excess when it comes to ace songcraft. After third-banana frontman Jason Isbell left two years ago, his ex-wife, DBT bassist Shonna Tucker, revealed herself as a singer/songwriter of no mean gift, contributing three topnotch tunes to 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. She sang them all Friday, recalling Loretta Lynn in her prime. But the night clearly belonged to Cooley. Though less prolific than Hood, he’s pound-for-pound the better songwriter, and not just because all the most deliciously quotable lines in the group’s deep catalogue are his. Exhibit 794: “She woke up sunny side-down, and I was still thinking I was too proud to flip her over,” from “Gravity’s Gone.” (And there’re plenty more where that came from.)

Taking frequent pulls from the fifth of Jack Daniels making the rounds onstage, Cooley appeared to relishing his rare turn in the spotlight, soliciting requests — and lyrical aid, when he got lost in the middle of “Bob,” one of his wry character studies. “Oh yeah, it’s a country song!” he laughed, after an audience member gave him the cue, “Mama.”

Hood’s guitar and harmony vocals were missed on power cuts like “Women without Whiskey.” But guitarist William Tonks, an Athens musician who also performed with openers Bloodkin, joined in a third of the way through the set. He compensated for Hood’s absence modestly at first, but by night’s end he had made himself at home, even taking a solo on “A Ghost to Most.” And there were tributes to Hood: His mic remained set up center-stage all night, and Cooley actually walked out Hood-stiz at the top of the show, wearing a blazer and holding his arms out Christ-like, in a gentle parody of his friend’s typical entrance.

That neither Cooley nor Tucker attempted one of Hood’s songs was a little disappointing, but the fact that Cooley invited a surprisingly able punter on stage to perform “Buttholeville” made up for it. When the guy started singing “Life in the Factory” instead, Cooley & Co. fell in behind him, turning what should have been a karaoke novelty into the gig’s unlikely highlight. That this band can still deliver absent their key performer shouldn’t surprise anyone: Even city slickers know that a wounded animal is the most dangerous kind.

SATURDAY: Patterson was still on the injured list. But even taking his songs (which is to say, most of the band’s catalogue) out of the equation, DBT served up an acceptable level of variation. Another 21-song set included six not performed the night before, with two surprise covers during the encore: Spooner Oldham’s “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers” and Neil’s “Rocking in the Free World.” Friday was funnier but Saturday was tighter musically, on account of Cooley’s sobriety, probably.

The Setlists

Drive-By Truckers at the 9:30 Club, Friday, February 20, 2009

01 Daddy’s Cup
02 Three Dimes Down
03 Panties in Your Purse
04 Women without Whiskey
05 I’m Sorry, Houston (Shonna Tucker)
06 Checkout Time in Vegas
07 Gravity’s Gone
08 Space City
09 Carl Perkins’ Cadillac
10 Bob
11 Home Field Advantage (Shonna Tucker)
12 One of These Days
13 Lisa’s Birthday
14 Marry Me
15 Cottonseed
16 The Purgatory Line (Shonna Tucker)
17 A Ghost to Most
18 Life in the Factory (lead vocal by random audience member)

ENCORE

19 Pin Hits the Shell
20 Zip City
21 Shut Up and Get on the Plane

Drive-By Truckers at the 9:30 Club, Saturday, February 21, 2009

01 Zip City
02 Home Field Advantage (Shonna Tucker)
03 Uncle Frank
04 Where the Devil Don’t Stay
05 Cottonseed
06 Marry Me
07 I’m Sorry, Houston (Shonna Tucker)
08 Lisa’s Birthday
09 72 (This Highway’s Mean)
10 One of These Days
11 Bob
12 Space City
13 Guitar Man Upstairs
14 Three Dimes Down
15 Self-Destructive Zones

ENCORE

16 Lonely Women Make Good Lovers
17 Carl Perkins’ Cadillac
18 Women Without Whiskey
19 The Purgatory Line (Shonna Tucker)
20 Rocking in the Free World
21 Shut Up and Get on the Plane

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Abe’s in Arms: The Heavens Are Hung in Black, review’d

As Lincoln, David Selby has the weight of the union on his bony shoulders in </i>The Heavens Are Hung in Black.<i>  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Best. President. Ever. But other than that, Mr. Klimek, how did you like the play? A: Plenty!

I Covered the Wammies

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Jon Carroll was once again the Wammie king, winning Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and three others.

Little Big Town with Zac Brown Band (or vice-versa) at the 9:30

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There’s something paradoxical about screaming the lyrics of a Buffet-esque ode to taking it easy at mellow-harshing volume. But don’t tell that the 1,200 or so militant back-kickers who packed at the 9:30 Club Wednesday night to declaim the chorus of “Toes” (as in, “toes in the water, ass in the sand / Not a care in the world, cold beer in my hand”) back at Georgia’s Zac Brown band. Y’alls have never been here before, have you?

Riding the wave of their No. 1 country single “Chicken Fried” — a slice of (literally) blue jeans and cold beer-venerating Americana that reads as reassuring and/or unbearably hokey in these waning days of empire — the group’s homespun sound is built around Brown’s warm, James Taylor-ific vocal timbre and Jimmy De Martini’s white-lightning fiddle. Fittingly, their 55-minute set opening for the country vocal quartet Little Big Town included a cover of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” though Brown later embroidered his wanderlust ballad, “Free,” with a few verses of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” as if to demonstrate he has influences other than just the ones you can hear.

The result seems to land in the sweet spot between the Dave Matthews Band and Kenny Chesney. Perhaps “sweet” isn’t the word everyone would use to describe that thar spot, but it’s a big tent with room for dudes in knitted caps (like the one sported by Brown himself), dudes in ball caps, and dudes in cowboy hats. Also, women! Brown’s tendency to bathe even songs about a divorced father’s estrangement from his kids (“Highway 20 Ride”) in soothing acoustic sunshine may guarantee him a lucrative recording career (well, unless his fans from the country sphere turn out to be as enthusiastic about file-sharing as his jam-band constituency) but stunts like the De Martini-Brown fiddle-guitar duel were what elevated the band’s live show above the level of their often-generic (if well-crafted) material.

The Foundation, the group’s major-label debut, has been lodged in the Top Ten on Billboard’s country albums chart since its mid-November release, and is currently No. 39 on the Billboard 200. The band’s current lineup has been in place since 2004, honing its skills in some 200 gigs per year.

After Brown’s opening set, the 9:30 crowd seemed to thin slightly, but Little Big Town still managed to defend their headliner status despite strong competition from the undercard. Their energetic 90-minute set included slick, faithful covers of songs by their most obvious influences — those would be Fleetwood Mac (“The Chain”) and The Eagles, whose “Heartache Tonight” brought the evening to a rousing, high-fiving close. The group uses the former’s two-man, two-woman composition and the latter’s close vocal harmonies to impart their derivative material with more than enough flash and verve to keep the train rolling.

Which isn’t to suggest you could guess their every move. The group might have been dismayed by the 9:30 crowd’s refusual to quiet down for their a capella performance of “Lost,” but “Boondocks” — which pairs a hometown pride (or home-“town” pride) lyric to a made-for-the stage Appalaichain stomp — just about brought the house down. And opening their encore set with a cover of “Life in a Northern Town,” the mid-80s hit by the Dream Academy? You didn’t see that one coming.

A shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.