Setlist: Lucy & the Butcher Knife / Sally I’ve Been Shot / Glass City / Should’ve California / Gerri / Folksinger’s Heart / Soundtrack To My Summer / Humble Narrator / [new song – “rich girl”] / Come Back To Shelby / No Shame / Mediocre / Swingset Assassin / [new song – growing up or just growing old] / Bastards & Bridesmaids / / [this was a cover? maybe?] / My Great Gatsby / Skinny Legged Girl
Micah Schnabel — I’m Dead, Serious. Out now.
In case you’re unfamiliar with my feelings about Micah Schnabel and his songwriting, you might want to go spend some time with the thousand words I spent on his first solo record, When The Stage Lights Go Dim, or the second thousand I spent on Two Cow Garage’s 2010 release Sweet Saint Me.
I thought about just turning on the camera on patti lee, my iMac, and filming a ten minute video of me waving my hands like an idiot, in lieu of this review, but while that might have conveyed how desperately I adore it, it wouldn’t have necessarily conveyed how fucking brilliant Micah is on this one, every single lyric and every single musical choice. I’ve always compared Micah to Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, because they’re both terribly clever songwriters, sometimes too smart for their own goods, and definitively prone to dropping as many references as possible in their songwriting. It’s one of the few complaints I’ve repeatedly heard about Gaslight’s 2008 masterpiece The ’59 Sound, that it’s too clever, too much wearing of influences on a sleeve, but I love it for that, because Brian Fallon does it flawlessly. Brian Fallon can get away with that.
So can Micah, maybe even moreso than Brian can.
Y’all know that one of the indie labels I write the most about is Suburban Home Records, another outlaw country-ish label out of Denver, Colorado. They’re home to my beloved Two Cow Garage, which is how I discovered them, and Virgil routinely puts out phenomenal albums that skirt, closely, the line between country and punk that I love so much. Virgil is also a firm adherent to the tenet that everything sounds better on vinyl, and that bands you love should always tour with other bands you love, which gives him two solid thumbs up on all fronts in my book.
Right now, new Suburban Home signees and long-time favorites of mine, Have Gun Will Travel, are touring with Micah Schnabel supporting them in advance of his upcoming solo record, I’m Dead, Serious. HGWT have their SH debut, Mergers & Acquisitions, out 11/1. (You can preorder one of SH’s gorgeous release sets here.) So, in honor, three SH-related releases: HGWT, along with the solo debut from 2CG’s Shane Sweeney (Last Chance Records) and former SH staffer Andy Thomas’s Tin Horn Prayer. Good music; get it.
Shane Sweeney — The Finding Time: Shane’s stuff with 2CG tends towards the upbeat tempo miserable lyrics — “Mediocre” being one of my favorite Two Cow songs — but his solo album really strips all that down, just to his voice and his songwriting, with minimal folky acoustic guitar to guide it along. This is a plus, because sometimes, not intentionally, I forget what a fantastic songwriter Shane Sweeney is. It’s easy to do, though that doesn’t excuse it, since he shares a stage in Two Cow with Micah, who y’all know is probably my favorite songwriter ever; he’s Micah’s foil in Two Cow and that’s a sincerely dismissive way to think of Shane. Tracks like “When I Am Empty” and “Hallelujah”, and his cover of “Motel Blues”, just highlight all the ways that Shane is ungodly talented, scratchy voice and heartbreaking songs that don’t hide behind punk rock drumming.
Have Gun Will Travel — Mergers & Acquisitions: I think that the Florida Americana scene gets a bit of short shrift from the rest of the country, because the bands that play down there don’t tend to tour as heavily as bands from other parts of the country, but HGWT have been a favorite of mine since last year’s Postcards from the Friendly City. They play acoustic indie rock with a straight-up bluegrass flavor and great harmonies, and M&A is no change from that. All their music has a sunny, swampy taste, like they’re channeling Florida straight through the rhythmic guitars and churning drums, even in songs like album opener “Dream No More” (quiet and, well, dreamy) and the stunning quiet heartbreak shuffle of “Disappearing King”. Lead single “To The Victor Go The Spoils” barrels like a freight train — complete with train song harmonica and frantic electric guitar — and it’s an album that will fly under the radar, but HGWT’s songwriting skills and ability to bend genre effortless should be putting them all over the radar.
Tin Horn Prayer — Get Busy Dying: heavy on the twang, heavy on the whiskey-scratch cowpunk vocals, Denver’s Tin Horn Prayer barrels through 10 tracks in 34 minutes on this 2010 release, and it really is barreling. Songs about fucked up relationships and broken hearts and drinking too much, this should appeal to people who love later, more refined (kinder but not gentler!) I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch, I’m not sure how they’re not being talked about in my blogging circles like Two Cow and SOB are. (Ninebullets loves ’em, though, so that’s something.) The crashing singalong fuck you choruses over the drumming (ugh the drumming is so good) makes this one a real keeper, and gives me real hope that they’ll tour and soon.
Have Gun Will Travel and Shane’s erstwhile guitarist Micah Schnabel will be in Raleigh at Slim’s on Wednesday, September 28. 9:30, I think, and probably $5? I don’t know and I hate Slim’s still using MySpace. Just show up, I promise it’ll be amazing.
There aren’t a lot of people for whom I’d drive to Raleigh, to see them play a 45 minute set, on a weeknight; maybe four or five bands of the 2500 in my iTunes, and two or three solo acts to boot. But Micah Schnabel (and his band Two Cow Garage) is one of them, because Micah is one of the best songwriters working today, and also one of my favorite people. He didn’t disappoint last night — he’s doing a handful of fly-by-night solo dates in early promotion of his second solo record, the upcoming I’m Dead, Serious, and last night’s set was primarily songs from that disc. (Record out sometime this fall on Suburban Home Records. Whenever Micah finds art that is bloody enough for his taste, I would assume.) Y’all know that I flat-out adored Micah’s 2009 solo debut When The Stage Lights Go Dim, and I think this new one, if the songs he played last night are any indication, is going to be amazing.
He’s also the only person in my life who would write a love song and called it “Sid & Nancy”, and that’s only one reason why this album is going to be fantastic. The rest of it has to do with the way Micah writes upbeat songs about functionally terrible relationships and broken hearts and the way that being a musician fucks you up immeasurably but kind of in a good way. Seriously, he’s fantastic, and if you don’t believe me, go pick up last year’s Two Cow album Sweet Saint Me, which was my 2010 album of the year by a large margin.
If Micah’s solo disc isn’t in my top three this year, you guys might want to check and see if I’m dead. (Full set here.)
First up, an open letter: dear the Lusitania, I am really, really sorry that y’all had such a shitass time with the sound at your show last night, because playing at Motorco is usually way way way more fun than you guys had. If it helps, and it probably doesn’t, you sounded fantastic from where I was sitting. You should come back to North Carolina, though, because that mess wouldn’t happen the next time you came back, and I’d love to see you guys again soon. Love, Aggie
So, yeah: last night’s headlining set at Motorco by El Paso’s the Lusitania was marred by some pretty incompetent sound mixing, and the band understandably was rather furious about it. It’s a shame, because I’d estimate that the sound guys working regularly in the Triangle are, for the most part, really good at what they do, and I hate to see out-of-towners get a crappy experience from one rotten board guy.
My beloved Two Cow Garage is touring as a three piece these days; subtract the keys, and their punk rock roots — and I wrapped myself up in Black Flag and I flew it as my own — start showing in a completely obvious way. They played for a scorching hour last night, Micah and Shane throwing themselves all over that big stage and Cody behind the drums, grinning like a jack-o-lantern and keeping them both on pace and under control.
I kept a setlist but then I dropped my phone and popped the battery out before I hit save in Evernote, so I lost it. But I can tell you that they did “Swingset Assassin”, a gorgeous almost a capella version, and “Should’ve California”, which made me cry, two of my favorite of Micah’s songs that they don’t drag out much these days. The crowd was still too small, but too small does mean “Two Cow takes requests”, which I never complain about. They sounded fantastic, as always. They’re great humans, as always. It was a lovely, lovely night.
Full photo set here.
Today kicks off a couple of year end lists; tomorrow you’ll get EPs and tracks, and next week, a massive list of albums the making of which may make me more insane than usual, but which will be thorough if nothing else. Today, though: today you get my Top 10 Live Shows of 2010.
I saw 72 shows in 2010; less than 2009, but more than 2008. And, to my great delight, I didn’t see a single show I would say was a bad show, either. So making this list was hard; after the top five, all of which were standouts, there was a whole pack that could have populated 6-10. Some of these shows are here because of both the sets played and the nights themselves. And Brian & Dave have sat at the top of the list since January, when they were the first show I saw in 2010. Here’s hoping that I get to kick 2011 off with some shows as amazing.
(Not included: the 10th Annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Because Bristol is so far and away more amazing than anything else I do at any point in the year. And no single show can ever compete with a Bristol lineup. Even if I did get punched during the Truckers’ set this year.)
- Brian Fallon & Dave Hause solo acoustic at the Black Cat, Washington, DC. This was my comfort go-to live set all year; Brian’s opening monologue about marriage and not cheating us out of our ticket price would have sold me, but the cover of “Ball & Chain” at the end, ugh.
- Two Cow Garage w/ Dave Hause at Kings Barcade, Raleigh, NC. The band that put out my favorite album of 2010, plus Dave Hause, who we are all learning is essential to good things happening. Needs more Dave Hause everywhere.
- Justin Townes Earle w/ Caitlin Rose at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. Startling and stunning and gorgeous.
- Drive-By Truckers two-night stand at the Lincoln, Raleigh, NC. After these two sets, I smelled like beer for three days and felt like Mike Cooley had been punching me in the face all weekend. In the best way.
- The National w/ Owen Pallett at Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC. For the a cappella set-closing version of “Vanderlyle Cry-baby Geeks” alone, but also for everything else.
- Ha Ha Tonka opening for Rocky Votolato at Local 506, Chapel Hill, NC. An opening set on this list? Yes. I’d been waiting more than a year to see them, and they were so far and away better than I had even hoped for, it made my heart soar.
- Superchunk at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. The album release show was more polished, but lurching, deep-cut-playing, shaking-off-the-rust Superchunk was more fun.
- Stroke It, Noel: a Fully Orchestrated Performance of Big Star’s Third at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. Break my heart, why don’t you.
- Malarkeygras w/ American Aquarium, Red Collar & Paleface at the Pour House, Raleigh, NC. The cover of “Thunder Road” that night was why I live where I live.
- Frightened Rabbit w/ Maps & Atlases & Bad Veins at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC. Hearing “My Backwards Walk” live was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.
Behind the jump, one photo from each show, except the Brian/Dave show, because I didn’t shoot it; the only show I didn’t shoot all year. Instead, you get a photo of Dave Hause from the Two Cow set. Substitution!