Monday, August 07, 2006

The Raconteurs
in Ann Arbor
and Cleveland

on the road again'
chasin' music with my friends.
oh right, Willie's not until next weekend but Cece and I had the pleasure of catching a couple Raconteurs shows in the company of Ryan and Teri...and some other friends along the way.

The Kids are in about noon on a scorching hot Friday, there's cold Guinness in the fridge and a refreshing pool waiting in the backyard. That's where I find them three hour later when I return from work. We have steaks and chops on the barbie but Ryan is always treated to some succulent WingMachine wings when he visits Toronto. By late evening everyone's pretty well satiated and excited about the upcoming weekend.

Morning comes early for the youngun's. One advantage to the baggage that comes with don't need no stinkin' alarm to wake up. It's help sleeping you need.

No traffic and an uneventful trip to the state of 10,000(or more) lakes, Michigan. Shortly before crossing the border Cece spots a small highway sign promising food, The 50's Diner. Right up our alley, diner food, fuel for the soul. We are planning on stopping in Madison OH at the Nifty 50's Diner on our way home this weekend. This was quite a coincidence happening upon this little building a couple kilometers off the main highway. Same great motif...antique road signs, lots of terrific James Dean photo's, a wide assortment of Elvis memorabilia and some rather funky time pieces. A pleasant stop on a wonderful sunny day. Been making great time to here and we're set to go the distance.

That distance wasn't too far before we find ourselves in an hour and twenty minute lineup at the border. Not the worst but it sure adds a lot to a 4 hour trip. Don't be afraid of the American border, no matter what you hear on the news. If you have the proper papers, are white, middle-class and middle-aged, then chances are pretty decent you'll get through with little trouble.

One quick stop at Mount Hazel Cemetery just on the outskirts of Livonia to gaze at the tombstone of Son House, a blues great who settled in the area and inspired many an artist in his time and after...including Jack White. I'd planned on reading a biographical piece from a great travel book I have, The Tombstone Tourist, but the place was infested with nuclear hornets so we filmed from a distance after our initial approach. The cemetery on Lahser Rd is no longer in use but there are two broken down fences that lead to a circular road. He's buried in the 'lower half'. You'll know why the quotes are there if you ever visit. A very impressive stone bears his name and epitaph:

From here we're but a few minutes from our friend Jacki's place in Livonia. Her brother Craig and his girlfried Shelly are ducking a wedding to visit with us before the reception. Jacki's pups greet us at the door and make their prescence felt for a few minutes before being ushered to the spacious backyard. Margarita's are soon being poured and with Tom Waits keeping us company from the dvd player stories are traded and plans are exchanged as everyone basks in our combined good fortune. Craig does us the pleasure of playing a rendition of John Prine's Christmas in Prison, a favorite of Cece's. Ryan picks up the guitar but we shut the movie camera off 'cause it goes to his head when we pay him too much attention. Actually, he's shy and we've not as much time as we'd like.

A quick check of directions and we're off to the hotel and then to Ashley's Bar, a brewhouse and whiskey house all in one. How can you go wrong? Jacki's slated to meet us here and our friend from Bay City, Todd, has come south with a buddy, Mark. Gotta take advantage to touch base with friends when you're crossing their porch. We missed Dean this trip but we'll get him next time. Everyone finds the place in time to get a very nice meal. I settled on the pork loin in a cherry sauce, 'cause I'm in Michigan and cherry sauces are a big thing here. Ryan and I are on the streets for treats before he heads back for more drinks. Teri finds an Urban Outfitters that is just screaming out her name. I find a spot in the line at the will call window for my tickets.

No will call until doors! I step in line, hoping that I'm not too late. If they are waiting until that time to dish out the tickets I don't want to be around the block. As fortune would have it Brendan Benson and Patrick Keeler are walking the streets outside the venue. I have a momentary brain freeze and can't nail Patrick's first name so I pass on the chance to say a word to him. Brendan, however, has been cornered against a shop window by a crazed crowd of fans...ok, maybe he wasn't cornered exactly and the crowd may not have been crazed. Actually the two girls may not have even been a crowd. Bad news is I didn't have my camera, either still or video, nor a pen. So I just shake his hand, tell him the band played a kick-ass set at Lollapalooza, thanked him for the music and moved back to the line.

A wasted opportunity.
Things I should have said: "Dude, I thought Jack would be carrying this band but your performances are impressive." or
"Here's 5 buck's, there's a McDonald's around the block. Do yourself a favour and snake a burger down your throat."
Maybe next time.

Strike up a conversation in line with a Michigan State couple and their very young son. They only cross the amber/green line for really special occasions. This ranks as one, as father and son are fans of Jack White in all his incarnations.
Conversation inevitably turns to the Stripes and Dad mentions he saw Jack collaborate onstage with...wait for it...Bob Dylan of all people!
"I was there," I reply, expanding on that by letting him know I've seen Dylan a handful of times Detroit that is.
His wife chips in with; "Don't get him started on Dylan, he'll never stop." I hear that a lot. Usually it's Cece saying it.
Dad carries on with some highlights. "He did a great show at the Auditorium in Chicago a while ago."
"I was there," I reply, "with the people we have here with us today."
"Ya," he carries on, "the Comstock show was good too."
"I missed that but the other people with us today were there."
The wife, sensing they needed something unique offers up the piece de resistance; "We saw him with Willie Nelson at Cooperstown!"
"I was there," I reply, "it was the first of 7 ballpark shows that took us to New Haven, Brockton, Richmond, got a show cancelled by a hurricane in Maryland, Lexington, South Bend and quick pop out for a tour ending show in Kansas City."

Now that I had them reeling, I dropped the Rolling Thunder bomb and dusted off my broom. You see I'm sitting at 95 lifetime dates and there are four dates scheduled in my immediate area for the fall 'new album' tour. Think I'll see those and retire at 99. I mean three digits would be excessive, eh?

Will call's open...woo hoo, shouldn't be long now.

Or so I thought.

Should be easy. Tickets in alphabetical order. Slightly complicated by the fact they had two window open. Further complicated by the fact there were two piles of tickets: one for ticketmaster will call, one for fan club will call. Add to this that people are showing up without the proper papers and we aren't two patrons in before there's four piles of tickets and mass confusion. At least we're close.

Inside the venue in plenty of time. Sweet place this Michigan Theater. We got great seats about 11 rows back, dead center. Show opens on time with a 45 minute set from Kelley Stoltz. What can I say about Kelley? Why don't I start where I always do...with completely unfounded subjective opinions that don't speak to his talent at all. (You should read my Ron Sexsmith review.) First off, your music career should take off before your hair does. Or wear a hat. (See Dwight Yoakum)
Secondly, lose the keyboards at the front of the stage and the attached 'fuzz wheel thingie'. You've got someone to play those, it clutters the stage up and it's ruining Bob Dylan's current show (not that you're to blame for that). The distortion thing has been done by Hendrix, you can't do it better.
Third, name the starting line-up of the 1951-1952 Red Wings.

He played a 45 minute set with a few promising spots. Best among them was one about your mother knowing more about you than you can sleep with, I think, a song called Memory Collector. Early musical highlights of the set were the 'pennywhistle song' and some nice sounding slide work on Birdies Singing.

Spoken-word highlight of the set was an attempt to name the roster of the World Champion Detroit Tigers of 1984. Over two songs. Apparently he's recorded this. Hopefully the second take 'cause tonight he leaves out the starting catcher, Lance Parrish. It was fun, the moment represented his greatest success in engaging the somewhat disinterested and docile crowd. Perhaps sensing this Kelley takes a page from the Wilco "How to Treat the People Who Pay Your Salary When They Don't KowTow" handbook and tries to goad them into standing. "You just relax now, in 30 minutes you'll be going crazy." I'm left thinking that's more a reflection of the difference between his set and the next one rather than any cosmic change the crowd is going to undergo in the intervening half hour. Not sure if that was his point. The real point is he was up against that dreaded nemesis of all opening acts: anticipation!

The set does close strong with some gutsy, almost garage-rock songs. This is why he doesn't need that extra keyboard. More guitars. And more cowbell, can't get enough of that. Kelley is a local boy and besides the homage to the baseball greats he tosses out a couple other area references: a tip of the hat to upholstery legends, The Muldoons and a comment about spending all his extra cash in the record stores of Ann Arbor.

Now the niceties are out of the way, time for the main course. I comment to Cece that it's not a good sign the two seats directly in front of us have remained empty through the opening set right up to this moment...minutes before the Raconteurs are set to take the stage. That likely means one thing and one thing only. The owners of those seats are still in the bar and have been there a while. Sure enough, as the preshow music is playing, in stumbles a drunk and his younger brother. And he's talkative, just my luck. I do my best to be polite but firm...I'm here to watch the band, not chat with the spawn of WCFields. His brother keeps interjecting helpful, if perhaps too subtle, hints like: "Shut the fuck up, will ya?" and "They don't want to hear you." The drunk brother offers up the information that the younger one is simply paranoid 'cause he likes to smoke the chronic weed. He further spews onto me the information that he's been drinking Jagermeister all night. I reply, "Really? I never would have guessed." When the band takes the stage he turns around and... doesn't make another sound all through the evening, just thoroughly enjoys himself without making a nuisance. That's what drinkin' is all about when it's done right.

So have you heard about the Raconteurs?

Before you continue reading go to their site using the link above. Find where they are on tour near you, or far from you. Get tickets. Then come back and find out why, but don't waste a second getting the tickets. Tempus fugit.

Jack White is a seminal talent.
An artist for his generation.
The Fourth Face on the Mount Rushmore of Rock:
Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Jack White.
Unconscious talent.
Normally i try to stay away from the hyperbolic and this is one of those times.

And now he's in a band. OK, so we got that over with.

The band has been trying hard to develop a distinct personality. Jack refuses to field questions about the White Stripes when they are doing press. Don't ask about Meg and whether she's back in Switzerland spittin' out twins either. He won't tell. He might answer a question or two about the model chick and how she dresses him much better these days but I wouldn't ask it if I'm in arms length. He has a temper, doncha know? I digress...which is my middle name.

Anyway, the sound of the band, during their first 20 shows or so, has been a little muted. The album is wonderful, a very good collaboration on such short time. The rhythm section is made up of two young guys from The Greenhornes: Patrick Keeler on drums and Jack Lawrence, (the creepy/cute lookin' Deliverence/Revenge of the Nerds guy, depending on your bias. I think he's one cool dude wrapped up in a geek outfit)on bass. They've brought along another local player to fill out the sound on keyboards and extra-guitar. And Brendan's there, taking most of the vocal duties (about 60/40), some guitar work (about 30/70) and splitting the 'cuteness quotient' evenly at 25% with the other three. His voice is terrific. Better than Jack's. Not as interesting, but better.

The biggest factor in developing a style distinct from the Stripes, other than the extra band members, has been the song selection. The original songs come from Jack and Brendan I assume but it's the covers that are different. No more Dylan. No more delta blues via Son House, Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell. Instead we get a 'glam rock' cover in It Ain't Easy, a 'diva' cover in Bang,Bang, (whether you remember it as a Cher tune or a Nancy Sinatra tune) and assorted garage band covers.

In the early live shows it seems Jack has been putting a lid on some of his more extravagant guitar moves. Over the past few weeks that has been removed. It's been evident on the latter recordings but the final proof was posited this weekend. The Lollapalooza set from August 4th was webcast and it was a one-hour smashfest. It's coming out time for the Raconteurs.

The sound in the venue is a bit 'muddy' and VERY LOUD. As in, I've seen a large number of shows since I was first exposed to Alice Cooper back in 1972 and this was the SECOND LOUDEST show ever. Ear-drum rattling, teeth chattering, bone splinterin', seat vibratin', LOUD. So when I say 'muddy' i don't mean that in a bad way but in a Phil Spector wall-to-wall kind of way.

An instrumental jam that contains the riff from Hands opens the show and morphs into Intimate Secretary. The crowd responds wildly to Jack's couplet in the opening verse and the band drowns it out with noise. Jack shouts out to Iggy Pop (who's in the audience) and the Stooges as the song closes.

Without delay we're into Level with that great little vocal 'call and response' duet on the repetitive intro before it explodes into a balls out narrative on the difference between a 22 year old girl and a 22 year old boy. One's worthy. Still on the Stooges theme, sort of, more 3 Stooges really, Jack and Brendan are engaged in a little wrestling match-cum- head butting contest as they trade guitar links. Jack, pesky little gnome that he is, waits until Brendan is leaning hard against him (think about it, Jack is one buffed specimen of manhood and Brendan looks like he's just been released from rehab)

Jack's at the mic imploring the fans to clap along to the next song, telling us he won't be offended if we do...the number 3 slot for your hit single, Steady As She Goes. I guess they were trying to find something along the lines of Father and Son by Cat Stevens or My Way by Paul Anka...just missed it by 'this much'. Good advice in any case... find yourself a girl, settle down. If you find the right one it's all you need.

Acoustic guitars, another short head-to-head confab between Brendan and Jack, then we're into the wonderful story of a lifetime...ummm, Together, with a caveat. A mind-blowing couplet in this song. Don't know who wrote it but it works on so many levels, both as a biographical note and a promise of future excitement in this relationship: "I'm adding something new to the mixture/ so there's a different hue to the picture..." That's a very cool rhyme. I thought Jack sang this line so I was a little surprised to see Brendan slide over to the other vocal mic and raise the tone of his voice a little to sound very much like Jack, when he gets into that helium-phase.

Brendan stays forward for It Ain't Easy, the aformentioned 'glamrock' cover. True to it's original flavour it's both a crowd-pleaser and a worthy version. Maybe next tour we'll get Rebel, Rebel from Jack in this slot.

The record's been out about a nanosecond, the band is only twice that age, so i guess it's time for the remixes to start coming out. There's something that has been put on the B-side of a single called the "Bane Rendition". It's being used as the rather extended intro to Store Bought Bones, an alternate version, then the album version. Now I don't know who the fuck Bane is but he owes Norman Greenbaum some royalties 'cause that's "Spirit in the Sky" dudes. Of course, it's not Spirit in the Sky as it changes into a rollicking SBB.

Next up, highlight of the evening, a cover of Sonny Bono's Bang Bang, first released in 1966 with Cher's terrific vocals. Showing the awesome and fearsome power of contemporary popular culture, most people reference the Nancy Sinatra version that made it to the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's homage to the cuisinart, Kill Bill (again and again). Jack has made it his own. Excruciatingly pleasureful and increasingly lengthy delays before the delivery of 'bang bang', followed by the crashing thunder of the 5 man, mostly electrical, band. Then, as the song develops, the 'bang bang' becomes a primal scream and the band's response a barrage of note bombs. All this wrapped around a soulful, crying, guitar line.

At this point I'm starting to hope my recording doesn't come out.
This stuff is too good to give away.
You should have to be here as a witness.

There's no rest for the wicked and we're fast into Broken Boy Soldiers, another sonic boom song. Jack makes more use of the 'mega-mic', a microphone that acts like a fuzz-box, distorting his voice, making it...wait for it...shrill, if you can believe one can make the distinction. Sounds like he's doing that Winchester Cathedral song with the megaphone. (You will now be able to do the math, ascertain my age and know why I can't hear the high notes.)

Yellow Sun follows, more acoustic but no less quick. Blistering fast pace to most of the songs and though this could be deemed one of only two 'mellow' songs on the album, and though there's a colour in the title, there's nothing mello yello about this one. Another cautionary tale wrapped up in a pretty melody. Fear conquers love.

Another extended, experimental jam to open the last song of the main set, Blue Veins. If Steady As She Goes may be poking fun at 'settling down' there's no doubt this song is about the virtues of unconditional true (blue) love. It's an epic song. A career-maker for anybody but Jack. I kinda like it.

Encore break.

One minute later the show closes with a second nod to Iggy Pop as BrenJa play a riff from TV Eye before launching into a cover of the Flamin' Groovies Heading For the Texas Border. QUICK, somebody call The Standells, their Dirty Water has been totally ripped off. At the very least let Status Quo know things have changed.

And we close with Hands.

That was one kick-ass show.

Off to a bar attached to the parking garage as pre-arranged by jacki. There are still tables when we get there, a distinct advantage of going to a show with a predominantly underage crowd. I waive to Cece to grab one of those tables as I head towards the lineup at the bar. Unbeknownst to me everybody at the table was ordering drinks and being served while I patiently waited my turn. Fearing it would be hard to get back I add a couple Long Island Ice Teas to the order of 1 pitcher of Stella Artois. There was barely enough room on the table to fit it all on. Cece, ever the trooper, downs her Jack&Coke and takes one of the Iced Teas off my hands. Ryan and Todd help out with the pitcher of beer. In the end I was probably not TOO impaired as I left the bar.
Great conversation, as always when we get together with different groups of friends on the road. I mean if you can't have fun when you're out catching live music...then when can you have fun?
Todd and Mark are working on a theater production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show that is going to knock the socks off of the natives of Saginaw, MI. They'll just be standin' there in their bvd's with their leg suspenders and no socks. Here's some information on it if you're in the area and up for a good time:

The 303 Collective presents

by Richard O'Brien

directed by Stasi Schaeffer
musical direction by Noel Howland
scenic design by Marc Beaudin


Caitlin Berry
Paul Kostrezwa
Natalie Myers
Brian Bateson
Deena Nicol
Kristyn Hemmingway
Todd Berner
Honesty Elliott
Samantha Whetstone
Scott Warnke

August 17, 18, 20, 25, 27 at 8:00 pm
August 19 and 26 at Midnight!

Tickets: $10 ($8 for students)
Call 989-980-7746 for reservations

The 303

303 Adams at Niagara, Old Town Saginaw

Here's a MAP and a key to their door.

Jacki's lookin' forward to a few upcoming Tom Waits dates.
Ryan and Teri are petitioning the Government of Canada to see if they can be adopted but not leave their real parents.
We're thanking whoever is in charge for the stuff that comes our way.

Everyone concurs, it was LOUD. Not sure if I mentioned that earlier.

Sleep and off to Cleveland in the morning.

For some reason I can't understand I am having trouble making up time on the highway. It's not that I'm driving slow, it's just taking longer than expected.
I mean, we left at 9:00, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame is only 2 and a half hours away and we're pulling into the parking lot sometime after 12. I know it ain't a lot but i get a little compulsive about these things. I think it was the construction. NO, that's not it... it was Denny's. Took about a half hour to get our food after ordering. Ordering wasn't quick either. It was getting so bad I almost asked the waitress if there was something wrong. Like were we black or something. (Wife's Note: Please don't flame Marcel. This is not meant to be a reflection on the African-American community. It's a reference to this fiascoamong others.)
Food was good though, if too plentiful. I can only imagine there are mothers in China telling their children: "You just be grateful you don't have to eat all the food those kids in America do!"

Is there a line here? Have I stepped over it yet?

So, we're at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame to see the fabled Bob Dylan's American Journey 1956-1966 Two words: Over Rated.
Lot's of cool artifacts but how long can you stare at a handwritten page containing the lyrics to Blowin' in the Wind? Or a musical instrument? Or listening to an album version of a floor was taken up with this type of 'interactive' pablum. You could spend a day here if you want to sit through every official movie release they play in the theater. The highlight of the exhibit was finding the monitor that showed the outtake from Eat the Document where a whacked-out Bob was doing some stream-of-consciousness, or verbal vomit exercise, with a business sign that contained the words; bird, bath, dog and commission, among others. It's an extended version where Bob moves away, then back to continue for another gut-splitting 30 seconds. I played it over three times. Would have done it more but it was time to go.

Cece spent a little time walking through the Roy Orbison exhibit. More modest but because of that, less disappointing. We did a 'power sweep' of the other stuff on display. Not much depth to anything. I've seen more interesting shit in collections owned by friends. Maybe I'm just jaded.

The hotel's not ready with our room. Everything is closed in Cleveland on Sunday. Works calling on the phone every 15 minutes. How can things get worse? Well, they can't, which is why they started getting infinitely better.

We stop by the House of Blues to pick up our will call tickets. Box office is open and though it takes them a second to find Teri's order (those TWO separate piles again and that requirement to memorize the order of 26 consecutive letters) the girl in the cage was otherwise very helpful. She clued us in to a little known anomaly about the venue. If you ate at the restaurant attached to it you were given early entry! Before they opened the external doors. As we were looking for a place to eat in this closed-down city and a comfortable spot for the show, we couldn't turn down the offer. Now being novices, we didn't make the best of it but we still ended up with prime seats of our choice.

Dinner was great, our waiter was a boisterous fella who was also a big Bob Dylan fan. Go figure. We find ourselves about 20 people back in the line for early entry once we've finished our meal and quaffed a few drinks. We are also stuck in an unairconditioned hallway that is the service entrance to the restaurant. The line-up starts precicely at 4 pm, when the restaurant opens. The doors to the venue open at 7:15 pm. It's getting warm and it's only 5:30 pm. If you want to do this early entry thing right send one of your party to the waiting area at 4 pm. Hand them a drink. Rotate every 20 minutes.

While waiting in line we met another well travelled couple. I chose not to play "i'll show you mine, if you show me yours" with them.

Early on it's very comfortable. Not until about an hour before promised doors does the line start to double-back, making it precarious for those at the end hoping to keep their place. The venue security starts to move people into tighter lines and they bring people from the back to form a second, then a third, and by the time we were ready to enter, a fourth line. Now it looked like we were about 150 people back and not too happy about it. I voiced a mild displeasure about what seemed to be a gross injustice, until the security properly separated the lines upon opening the door and we were in like Flynn. The balcony called. Not only was it wide open but it was theater seating! Front row, very tight to the stage. Excellent.

I'm not taping Kelley Stoltz because the security people threatened to confiscate any media they caught in use during the show. Plus, I need some time to drink. A shame too because it turns out to be a much more engaging set than last evening, due primarily to a very excited GA crowd that was happy to be warmed up by some talented artists; an advantage to having less likely means you've been paying your dues and developing. Not sure they can take my rig but I'm taking the least amount of chances possible. As it is it was a little difficult getting by the metal detectors. Good thing Cece noticed them on the security in enough time to allow me to change my subterfuge.

The sound tonight is much better than last night. They are using the house amps, not their own bank. It's crystal clear and still LOUD. REALLY LOUD. It made Cece's hair move. It made Ryan's shirt move. It made my seat vibrate but I wasn't telling anybody in case it was just the dinner I had.

Much the same show. The high level of excitement and excellence is still there. Jack is using up all of the small stage he has available with his fluid moves back and forth, to and fro. It's obvious he coulda been a dancer in another lifetime. Brendan stomps about the stage a bit too.

Some songs are much longer this evening. All the players taking liberty with their solo's on this tour ending show. Bang, Bang is even more explosive than last evening, if that's possible. We lose It Ain't Easy and Heading For the Texas Border but get 5 songs in their place: 5 on the 5; a cover honoring the recently departed Arthur Lee, A House Is Not A Hotel; an unknown bluesy song; Crazy, a cover of the Gnarls Barkley hit of the summer and a super-sped up version of Call It A Day, from the first Raconteurs album, almost unrecognizable.

Excellent outing, very impressive band.

Next morning finds us skipping our stop at the Nifty 50's Diner in Madison OH because our guests have another 5+ hours on the bus to get them to their home after we've driven the 5 hours from Cleveland.

Just one more enjoyable and successful outing in pursuit of a couple hours of entertainment each night.

Next weekend: Jonny Lang in New Hampshire and Willie Nelson/John Fogerty in Darien Lake.


Anonymous said...

re: the "black/Denny's" comment. I visited Annapolis MD some years ago, and visited the Denny's made infamous during a visit by President Clinton in the area. White off-duty secret service agents got prompt service - black agents at another table were ignored.

In defence of the servers - I have received appallingly bad service at Denny's too, and I am more on the white side. Maybe they are not racist, just grossly incompetent.

dylanomaniac said...

in fairness to Denny's they have since won awards for the progress they've made addressing these issues as a corporation.
as for the servers...ours were busy as hell and doing their best. we're just takin' liberties.

Anonymous said...

Hey guess I should have signed my comment - I forgot the stamp said "anonymous". I'll bet you knew it was me.