Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rufus Wainwright: May 13, 2001

I've seen Rufus Wainwright several times, but this was the last show of his I really enjoyed. It took place at an intimate (and very crowded) venue before he started opting for the more lucrative but less enjoyable rounds of outdoor summer concerts and casino gigs. It also coincided with the release of my favorite of his albums, Poses. Rufus was in top form, giving a powerful but genial performance of songs from his first two releases. What I remember best, though, is the weird family dynamics on display that night.

The twin-sister duo of Tegan and Sara opened the show with a set more notable for their incessant sibling bickering than their songs. Later in the evening, Wainwright told the story of how he got thrown out of the gay bar Sidetrack the last time he was in Chicago. All feigned innocence, he insisted all he'd done was accidentally bump someone, causing him to spill a drink. The next thing you know, he was being roughed up by bouncers and tossed out on the sidewalk. (Knowing that Sidetrack is a decidedly non-tough bar and that Rufus was a hot mess during this period, I'm guessing this was not the most accurate version of events.) Rufus' sister Martha, who was singing backup for him, gently chided him that maybe that wasn't all that happened. They bantered back and forth for a minute before he gave up, declaring, "God, we're starting to sound like Tegan and Sara."

Such glimpses of personality were largely missing the next couple of times I saw him, in part because he played at outdoor summer festivals. To me, there's something about a person at a piano that calls for a smaller venue.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Kelley Deal 6000: May 10, 1996

Kelley Deal is best known as a member of the Breeders, along with her twin sister and Pixies bassist, Kim. In 1994-5, she was busted for heroin possession and went through rehab for her addiction. Emerging from the negative publicity, she assembled and fronted her own band for a time. The Kelley Deal 6000, as they were called, showed Kelley's songwriting, playing, and singing to be every bit as quirky and cool as Kim's. I just wish they'd hung around longer. Kelley's continued to record and perform with the Breeders and took part in a one-off release from the Last Hard Men with Sebastian Bach and Jimmy Chamberlin, but sadly hasn't released any additional solo albums. (By the way, she has also found success as a crafter, selling hand-knit bags and writing a how-to book.) 

I saw TKD6K in Ann Arbor twice: when their first album came out in 1996, and a year later when they released another. This show was in support of the debut, Go to the Sugar Altar, an eccentric but very catchy collection of tunes. Before the band went on, I was at the bar when Kelley came up and asked for a Coke. When the bartender feebly joked, "With rum?" she nicely but firmly replied, "Oh no, I don't do that anymore." A good sign, for sure!

Kelley, along with a band that included Jimmy Flemion of the Frogs, played her quirky songs, gave appreciative thanks, and at one point introduced her parents, who had traveled out from Dayton for the show. And that sort of typifies what all the Kelley Deal shows I've seen have been like: There's something very homey about her performances, she comes off as nice, and she seems to genuinely take pleasure in making music and sharing it with people. I was glad to see that vibe was retained when she most recently played with her new act, R. Ring, who hopefully will record some new material soon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

John Tesh: June 15, 1996

A friend's mother and stepfather had season tickets to the historic Fox Theatre in Detroit but were not free the night of the John Tesh concert, which is how two relatively hip then-twentysomethings ended up going. Tesh, of course, is best known as a co-host of Entertainment Tonight who launched a career as a sort of new age/easy listening musician. It wasn't my type of music, but I figured it would be an experience if nothing else.

By the time we parked and got to the theater, the show had just started. An usher told us that he would wait until the first song had ended before seating us. This being Tesh, the song kept going for a good ten minutes before the exasperated usher gave up, said, "Oh, come on," and led us to our seats.  We were set adrift in a sea of khakis and polo shirts. Really, I don't think I've ever seen so many people in the same attire in one place.

Tesh played a series of very long songs and made a few cracks about the National Anti-Tesh Action Society and its assertion that Tesh is a space alien. He seemed like a good-natured guy and a decent musician, even if his music didn't exactly win me over.