Best Music (Live Performance)
Jack Bohl of Folk Expresso
1. Josh Ritter at the Aladdin Theater October 22. Possibly the best show of the many I’ve seen at the Aladdin. We stood in front of the stage, and it was comfortably uncrowded. The sound was the best I’ve heard at the Aladdin- fortunately, the lyrics were even understandable. Josh is the most sincerely enthusiastic performer I’ve
ever seen. He was just having the greatest time. His band is fantastic: a great piano/organist, and great bassist, who has an amazing handlebar mustache. Josh joked that they rent the ‘stash out for parties. After about 30 minutes of revelatory performances I was convinced these guys couldn’t keep this up for long. But they did, for 2 hours. During the evening Josh did 3 unplugged songs- he unplugged his acoustic and walked to the front of the stage. One song was a terrific version of Springsteen’s “The River”. He had the lights turned down during one
number for a genuinely intimate experience. The audience in front of the stage was mainly women, many of whom knew most of the lyrics. It was a delightfully engaged and enthusiastic audience. What an amazing evening.
2. Wilco at the Edgefield August 22. Jeff Tweedy’s best band by far sounded fabulous throughout a dazzling set featuring at least one song from every Wilco album and a few gems like “Bob Dylan’s Beard”. The band is
magnificent: Nels cline is fun to watch as he enthusiastically wrings amazing sounds from his various guitars;
there were at any given time up to 2 keyboards and 3 guitars, and the drummer is fantastic. The Edgefield has a lovely outdoor stage, with the best sound system I’ve ever heard, along with good food and beer. Can’t beat it on a gorgeous summer evening.
3. The Decemberists at the Edgefield, July 22. My first Edgefield experience was on a gorgeous summer evening. I stood in front of the stage, where I felt pretty old amongst the youngsters who knew all the lyrics. Portland audiences have a reputation for sitting on their hands, but this crowd was nicely lively. The set was loose, starting with a string of their summer-y songs. The highlight was singer Colin Meloy taking the barrette from the head of an enraptured young woman just in front of me while singing “Culling of the Fold”.
4. The Decemberists at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, WI April 20. I saw that the Decemberists were playing in Madison and checked with my friend Brian in Wisconsin to see if he wanted to go to this show. He was enthusiastic and we went with his son Kevin, who has been in bands and is into music and lives in Madison,
and daughter Carrie, a student at U of Wisconsin in Madison and also a musicphile. The Orpheum is a cool, huge, funky old theater with a large balcony. The stage is raised, almost to the level of the balcony. We stayed in the balcony, although it was tempting to cram in front of the stage. The SRO crowd was far livelier than the Portland audience. The set was great, starting with “The Crane Wife” and “The Island”. It ended with “The Tain”, their 18 minute epic based on an old Irish folk tale. We parked next to the theater and we ran into organist Jennie Conlee
and bassist Nate Query outside the bus while on our way back to the car after some killer pizza. Jennie and Nate are both native Portlanders and very friendly. I mentioned I was from Milwaukee and Jenny said with stars in her eyes that her boyfriend had proposed to her in Milwaukee a few days earlier. A great evening,
5. Josh Rouse at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI April 15. After Brian and I got tix to the Decmeberists show in Madison we found out Brian and Kevin’s favorite Josh Rouse was playing at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee and got tickets to that. The Pabst is a gorgeous theater built in 1895 by the local beer maker, lovingly restored in 1976, and now centerpiece of Milwaukee’s downtown Performing Arts Center. The Pabst started having great music shows a few years back. I remember as a kid being up in the upper balcony, which was high up, steep and scary. The Josh Rouse show was main floor seating only, but I wanted to see if the balcony was as scary as I emembered. I asked a concessionaire if I could go up in the balcony, and she directed me to an older fellow who happened to manage the place for 40 years. He gave me a personal tour, and the balcony really is way up there, steep, and somewhat scary. Josh Rouse is a singer songwriter from Nebraska who now lives in Spain after
a stint in Nashville. He has a crack band, with anespecially terrific bassist, and quite a few albums to draw from. Brian and Kevin had seen Josh before and they agreed that the set list left off too many of Josh’s best songs. Perhaps his set suffered because Josh had a bad case of chicken pox! It was a fun evening
6. Peter Mulvey and Willy Porter, March 24. I’ve seen Milwaukee native Willy Porter 4 or 5 times, but this was the first time he had a great opening act. Peter Mulvey is also from Milwaukee, and his set was
terrific. I got a chance to have a nice chat with Peter during the intermission about Milwaukee, Portland, and music. Peter traveled between gigs on his fall Wisconsin tour on his bicycle. He used to busk in the Boston subways, and recorded an album there. Peter was one of the best opening acts I’ve ever seen.