Wilco at the Riviera

Although I missed Wilco’s concert Monday at the Civic Opera House, the band’s website helpfully provides not just a set list, but also a pie chart showing how many songs Wilco played that night from each of its albums. From all reports, it was a pretty epic concert, and I sure wish I’d seen that encore with Nick Lowe and Mavis Staples teaming up with Wilco. The pie chart reveals that Wilco played songs from each of its albums except for the two Mermaid Avenue records, Wilco (The Album) and one of my favorites, A Ghost Is Born. One of my favorites, you may say with shock and amazement? Yes, although some folks slag that 2004 record, I insist it’s one of Wilco’s pinnacle achievements. The three studio albums since then have all been fine, with several great songs scattered across them, but they pale in comparison to Ghost and the few albums preceding it.

I did see Wilco’s second show in its five-concert Chicago run, Tuesday night’s (Dec. 13) gig at the Riveria, a venue that almost feels like home for Jeff Tweedy and his band. And this time, the band was in more of a Ghost Is Born mood. Shockingly, Wilco opened the show with “Less Than You Think” — the much-criticized Ghost track that meanders off into seemingly endless and tuneless electronic hum. (All that hum has never bothered me, but like everyone else I often skip past it; I think that was part of the idea.) In concert, the song began quietly, and the crowd hushed to hear Tweedy whispering the words into his microphone. The song dissolved into a drone that simulated the buzzing on the album, but with an actual beat pulsing through it. This was not a crowd-pleasing choice for an opening song, but Tweedy and his bandmates know just how fervent and devoted their fans are — and that some fans would appreciate or at least tolerate seeing the show begin with an unusual song.

The concert turned out to be an interesting and frequently surprising mix of songs from throughout Wilco’s huge and excellent catalogue. Wilco repeated only seven of the songs from the previous night’s show. Some regular concert favorites were omitted, such as “Jesus etc.” Some of the mellower recent songs weren’t all that exciting, but the band did a beautiful job of rendering them. This is one exceptional group of musicians, seemingly capable of playing anything. Is Wilco almost too good? At times, the band’s proficiency starts to sound like self-indulgent wankery, but just when I’m about to scoff at a guitar solo that goes slightly over the top, the band pulls off some subtle musical turn of phrase and I find myself surrendering to the experience.

Wilco continues to tinker with its old songs. Jarring outbursts of dissonance and drumming were layered on top of “Via Chicago,” somewhat awkwardly. “Reservations,” which started off the second encore, was more beautiful than ever, a lovely blend of Tweedy’s original acoustic version with the moody, atmospheric arrangement on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Just when it seemed like the concert was about to end, Wilco launched into its epic-length Ghost track, “Spiders (kidsmoke),” giving it a jazzier, funkier groove than past renditions, and giving Tweedy a chance to scrape out skronky solos on the electric guitar. (Nels Cline is Wilco’s resident guitar whiz, but I’d like to hear more of Tweedy’s rough-hewn solos.) Improbably, the song featured an audience clap-along before finally returning to its signature power chord riff. And then Wilco extended its marathon with one more track, not shown on the set list, “I’m a Wheel.” It felt like the band could play until morning, but Tweedy and the guys finally called it a night.

The evening started off with a strong opening set by Eleventh Dream Day, who have added Jim Elkington of the Zincs as a second guitarist. The five-piece lineup gave Rick Rizzo more space to play, and it bodes well for the future of this band with a long and illustrious past.

WILCO SET LIST: Less Than You Think / Art of Almost / I Might / Black Moon / Bull Black Nova / Side With the Seeds / Red-Eyed and Blue / I Got You (At the End of the Century) / Born Alone / You Are My Face / Open Mind / Kamera / I Must Be High / Always in Love / Capitol City / Handshake Drugs / Can’t Stand It / Dawned on Me / Hummingbird / ENCORE 1: Via Chicago / Whole Love / Late Greats / Walken / Just a Kid / Monday / Outta Mind (Outta Sight) / ENCORE 2: Reservations / Spiders (kidsmoke) / I’m a Wheel

Grinderman at the Riviera

The concert by Grinderman Monday (Nov. 22) at the Riviera was one of the best I’ve seen this year. Not that this was surprising. Nick Cave hasn’t disappointed me yet in the five times I’ve seen him in concert. Is it possible Cave’s actually become more of a live wire as he’s gotten older? He certainly seems completely uninhibited as he commands the stage.

Monday’s concert was an improvement over the exciting but too short 2007 set by Grinderman at Metro. Now that Cave and his Grinderman mates have two strong albums’ worth of material to draw from, they were able to put on a true full-length concert. Warren Ellis, he of the long and shaggy beard, often went wild on his guitars and violin, making searing hot noises, the sort of solos that are more about one big, scratchy sound than the individual notes. Cave often played guitar, too (something he doesn’t usually do when he’s touring with the full Bad Seeds lineup), as well as grinding out some grimy-sounding notes on the keyboard. But more than anything else, Cave was pushing himself up against the crowd, letting the fans in front touch with him their hands as he spouted his funny, vulgar, erudite and/or raunchy lyrics.

Grinderman’s albums are almost but not quite non-stop rock, and the show was similar, whipping up even more intensity. Cave let out a few more blood-curdling screams than he does in the studio, and his bandmates sang the call-and-response backup vocals like people yelling for help in an emergency. Like a lot of Cave’s music, the Grinderman songs are rooted in the blues, but Cave and his cohort make a twisted, punk sort of blues.

See my photos of Grinderman on the Chicago Reader’s Photo Pit page.

www.grinderman.com
www.myspace.com/grinderman

Guided By Voices at the Riv


Some people say it isn’t cool to wear a T-shirt for a band when you’re at a concert by that band. Showing too much team spirit, perhaps? Well, it might have been a bit nerdy, but I wore a Guided By Voices T-shirt Wednesday night (Oct. 13) when the reunited band played at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre. It was a T-shirt I bought on the night of the final Guided By Voices concert — well, it was supposed to be the final concert, anyway. That was on New Year’s Eve 2004, a long, sprawling affair that saw Robert Pollard bidding a boozy farewell to his longtime bandmates. A very memorable night (which I blogged about here — please pardon a few of the broken links on that page).

The mega-prolific Pollard has continued cranking out solo albums and recordings with an almost bewilderingly long list of bands since then, and I have to admit that I’ve lost track of Pollard’s prodigious output. But when Pollard announced he was getting the boys back together for a short reunion tour, I was eager to relive the GBV experience. And this was the “classic” lineup from the early 1990s period when I first discovered and fell in love with the band, playing just songs from those years.

As the group played Wednesday at the Riv, it reminded me of the first time I saw GBV, in 1995 at Lounge Ax. There was Pollard in the center of stage, jumping around, kicking up his legs and twirling his mike like, well, Roger Daltry. Meanwhile, guitarist Mitch Mitchell and bassist Greg Demos were jumping around a fair amount themselves. In the small confines of the Lounge Ax, I remember feeling the sensation that the band was rushing toward the audience the entire time it was playing. The guys were playing on a bigger stage this time, without that feeling of small-club claustrophobia, and they were clearly older — but the energy and spirit hadn’t changed all that much.

Like many of the GBV concerts in the days of old, this one wasn’t perfect. At some moments, the band sounded sloppy. And there were a few lulls. But when things clicked, it sounded great, quickly pouncing on one great song after another. Pollard named almost every song before the band launched into it — a habit he said he was once berated for, by another musician he didn’t name. The crowd, clearly packed with some fervid GBV followers, responded with enthusiastic hand-waving and singing when the group played its most beloved songs, such as “Echos Myron” and “Game of Pricks.”

It was really nice to see a GBV concert with Tobin Sprout in the lineup, since Sprout used to be the band’s second voice, always singing a few songs on each album. More laid back than his fellow band members, Sprout nevertheless seemed to be enjoying himself, smiling as he played rhythm guitar and occasionally stepping up to the mike for songs such as “14 Cheerleader Cold Front” and “Awful Bliss.”

Filling out the reunited lineup was drummer Kevin Fennell. Pollard joked about how much trouble he had finding some of these guys to reunite the band. Where did he find Sprout? “He was swimming in the Great Lakes,” Pollard claimed. “We got them all back,” he said. “We’re the Blues Brothers.”

While Wednesday’s show wasn’t nearly as much as a marathon as that 2004 farewell show, the band did deliver 39 songs, including three encores. The songs came from some of GBV’s best albums: Propeller, Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes Under the Stars — plus a sampling from various EPs and lesser-known records. I was especially excited to hear a couple of my favorite songs, both from an EP called The Grand Hour: “Break Even” and “Shocker in Gloomtown.” Both of those tunes have riffs built around distinctive, odd rhythmic gestures, unfolding like epic classic-rock suites even though they’re only a few minutes long. They’re prime examples of what made GBV so great.

SET LIST: Weed King / Exit Flagger / Cut-Out Witch / Gold Star for Robot Boy / Striped White Jets / Shocker in Gloomtown / Tractor Rape Chain / My Son Cool / Bright Paper Werewolves / My Impression Now / A Good Flying Bird / Watch me Jumpstart / Closer You Are / Awful Bliss / 14 Cheerleader Cold Front / Pimple Zoo / Buzzards and Dreadful Crows / My Valuable Hunting Knife / Echos Myron / Break Even / Gleemer (The Deeds of Fertile Jim) / Lethargy / Hot Freaks / Game of Pricks / The Queen of Cans and Jars / Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory / Motor Away / Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy / I Am a Scientist / ENCORE 1: Postal Blowfish / Jar of Cardinals / Matter Eater Lad / Don’t Stop Now / ENCORE 2: Dodging Invisible Rays / Quality of Armor / Smothered in Hugs / ENCORE 3: Johnny Appleseed / Some Drilling Implied / A Salty Salute

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The opening act was another Ohio band, Times New Viking — a good fit with Guided By Voices. The group’s songs aren’t as catchy as Pollard and Sprout’s, but they share some of the same to-the-point scrappiness. Times New Viking crammed a lot of songs into its opening set.

PHOTOS OF TIMES NEW VIKING



The National at the Riviera

The National’s latest record, High Violet, is shaping up as one of my 2010 favorites. Like the band’s previous album, Boxer, it’s an almost perfect distillation of what makes the National so great: moody music with tension boiling just below the surface. The melodies may seem minimalist at first, as Matt Berninger’s conversational baritone spells out the lyrics in small gestures, the tune moving up and down by only a few notes. That first impression is deceiving, and the National’s melodies start burrowing their way into your memory.

The National played a sold-out concert Sunday (Sept. 26) at the Riviera Theatre, which was a fine opportunity for me to catch a full-length show, in contrast to my truncated experience watching the National at Lollapalooza. (Thanks to music blogger www.babystew.com for letting me use his ticket to the Riviera show, which I’d failed to plan for.) The concert drew heavily from High Violet and Boxer, with just a few older songs, including “Abel” and “Daughter of the SoHo Riots” from 2005’s Alligator.

In concert, the National raised the tension level of its most subdued songs. The harmony vocals were especially strong, as several members of the band joined their voices together with Berninger on those unforgettable choruses. The crowd sang along at key moments, too. But Berninger was the focus of attention for most of the night. Berninger began the concert closely hugging his microphone, but as the show went on, he became more animated, bouncing his microphone stand like a toy. During instrumental passages, he paced the stage, raising his clenched fists, like someone fighting off voices in his head. Berninger’s dance is awkward, lacking the typical rock-star moves, but it feels authentic. He seems to be expressing the emotion and energy he’s feeling from these songs in the only way he can. A singular rock-band frontman, he’s fascinating to watch.

It was thrilling how the National’s songs built to dramatic climaxes, and the show ended with an encore featuring three of the best: Another track from Alligator, “Mr. November,” in between two of my favorites from High Violet: “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and “Terrible Love.” During that final song, Berninger walked out into the audience, singing out in the midst of the crowd’s voices for several minutes.
www.myspace.com/thenational / www.americanmary.com (The National website)

The Riviera concert began with a nice opening set by Owen Pallett (the artist formerly known as Final Fantasy). After the National, I ran down to Metro, arriving in time to catch 45 minutes of the concert by Caribou. The psychedelic electronic rock was a cool way to cap off an evening of great music.

I did not take photos Sunday night, but here are my previous pictures of these artists:
The National at Lollapalooza 2010
The National at Lollapalooza 2008
Caribou July 12, 2010, at the Pritzker Pavilion
Caribou at Pitchfork 2008
Caribou April 11, 2008, at the Empty Bottle
Owen Pallett April 10, 2010, at Lincoln Hall

Iggy & the Stooges

The Photo Pit page in this week’s Chicago Reader features my pictures from the concert last Sunday (Aug. 29) by Iggy & the Stooges at the Riviera. Click on the image below to see the online version.


After guitarist Ron Asheton died last year, I figured that would be the end of the Stooges reunion. But the band found a suitable way of carrying on, recruiting James Williamson, the guitarist who played with the Stooges on their final album, 1973’s Raw Power — and who co-wrote all of the great songs on that record with Iggy Pop. Williamson dropped out of music after that and spent 30 years in the computer business. If you Google him, one of the top photos that comes up is this one showing him in his business attire:

For the current tour with Iggy & the Stooges, Williamson strapped on his electric guitar once again, and that businessman returned to his roots as a protopunk rocker. Sounded great, too. Williamson was fairly staid as he cranked out that cool guitar riffs. The one “new” guy in the band — venerable ex-Minutmen bassist Mike Watts — was more animated, puffing out his cheeks and occasionally jabbing his bass into his amp.

Iggy Pop showed no signs of slowing down. It’s hard to believe the guy is 63. What energy! He’s still one of the greatest live performers in rock music, and on Sunday night he barely let up for an hour and a half. The Riviera Theatre (where the concert was moved after apparently slow tickets sales for the larger Aragon Ballroom) was crowded, hot and sweaty — slightly uncomfortable, but really, isn’t that the perfect environment for a jolt of raw power?

… Looking back on what I wrote about seeing a SXSW interview with Iggy Pop and Ron and Scott Asheton in 2007, here’s a nugget: Iggy said his stage antics were inspired by the dancing he saw in Chicago clubs when he was gigging as a blues drummer. “I had never seen such raw sexuality than I saw in the blues dancing,” he said, adding that he was also inspired by Big Bird.

And click here to see my photos of Iggy & the Stooges (with Ron Asheton) at Lollapalooza 2007.

PJ Harvey and John Parish

PJ Harvey has never disappointed me any of the five times I’ve seen her in concert. Each of those shows has been riveting. I’m not sure anything will ever compare with the deeply moving and cathartic experience of seeing her perform just a few days after the traumatic events of 9/11, but every other Harvey show that I’ve seen has been memorable in its own way.

She was back in Chicago on Friday night (June 12) after an absence of too long. It was too bad she did not come here to play the songs from White Chalk when that album came out in 2007, but it sure was cool to see her again now, playing in tandem with musical collaborator John Parish. Their second album as a duo, the recent A Woman A Man Walked By, is a great record — better than their first collaboration, the 1996 CD Dance Hall at Louse Point. That one was a fine record, but it had the feeling of a side project, of two artists experimenting toward a combined sound. They’ve arrived at that synthesis this time around, with Parish writing strong and distinctive music and Harvey delivering striking words and vocal melodies.

As a live act, it’s strange to even think of them as a duo. Harvey is clearly the focus of everyone’s attention. Parish gets equal billing, but he stands there somewhat shyly just playing his parts. What else could you do if you’re on the stage next to Polly Jean Harvey? She’s one of those stars who’s beautiful in an unusual way, musically talented in so many ways, with a strong personality, who can make her presence felt with the smallest of gestures. At many moments Friday night, Harvey was doing little more than standing there at the microphone, calmly and coolly … what, waiting? Pausing? Meditating on the next note she would sing? And even in such minimal moments, she seemed like a lively presence on the stage.

And then at moments, the contemplative music gave way to outbursts of ferocity — as on the new record’s lacerating title track. Harvey dropped her voice to dramatic depths or let it soar to lovely highs, as the characters from her lyrics seemed to possess her. She sashayed and gestured across the front of the stage as she poured out her passion — and then danced all around her backing musicians as the song segued into its instrumental coda, the intriguingly titled “The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go.” For a moment, the spotlight fell on Parish as he played an extended guitar solo, a timely reminder of the fact that this is the guy who wrote all the music we were hearing tonight. On another intense new song, “Pig WIll Not,” Harvey barked like a dog into the microphone — as if normal singing was simply inadequate to contain what she needed to express.

This was a more satisfying concert than the similar show Parish and Harvey performed in March at SXSW — partly because the songs were more familiar to me now, and partly because they played a little longer, adding a few songs and stretching out some of them. It was still a bit short as concerts go, and I would have loved to hear some of Harvey’s solo music, but it seemed appropriate that this was a night for showcasing the invigorating music she’s doing with Parish.

I did not take photos Friday night, but you can see a couple of beautiful pictures by Kirstie Shanley on flickr here and here. And the photos I took of Harvey and Parish at SXSW are on my blog here, with several extra photos on flickr here.

Sufjan Stevens and My Brightest Diamond at the Riv

As much as I liked the 2005 Sufjan Stevens album Illinois — and as much as I enjoyed the concert I saw by him last year at Metro — I had trouble working up much enthusiasm for seeing him this week. Maybe it was because his new album of Illinois outtakes, The Avalanche, is tepid. But he’s undeniably a talented guy, probably a genius at arranging strings and incorporating them into pop music, so this was certainly a worthwhile concert. The cheerleaders from last year were gone, but there was still a sense of spectacle. The 15 musicians backing up Sufjan wore butterfly wings, while Stevens had big bird wings (and wore a feathery bird mask over the top of his head for the opening two instrumental songs). It was postively Peter Gabriel-esque (in a 1972 Genesis sort of way, that is). And then there was that little rooster figure that was sitting on a stool near Stevens throughout the show, which he claimed they’d stolen from a Perkins restaurant earlier on the tour.

This concert focused less on the Illinois songs, but those were the ones that won the biggest applause here in the Prairie State. As I did at last year’s Sufjan concert, I sensed something amazing happening with the music scene. It’s so encouraging to see thousands of young people getting excited and enthusiastic about sophisticated orchestral folk music. I don’t think the worshipful Sufjan cult will necessarily result in a lot of other artists making similar music, but I hope it signals a new willingness to embrace music with unconventional arrangements and musical sophistication that goes beyond the Blink-182’s of the world.

SEE PHOTOS OF SUFJAN STEVENS.

I’m probably one of the few people at this concert who was there mostly to see the opening act, My Brightest Diamond, but I’m hoping this wonderful artist (aka Shara Worden) will soon be attracting a lot more fans of her own. The debut album by My Brightest Diamond (both the name of her band and her stage name), Bring Me the Workhorse, is one of 2006’s most outstanding albums, full of haunting, intimate and intelligent songs blending a deep knowledge of classical music and opera with punk attitude. I had the great privilege to meet with Shara Worden before the concert tonight and interview her for a forthcoming article, and her performance did not disappoint — except for the fact that it was so short, just six songs. She’ll be back at Schubas on Nov. 11, though she apparently won’t have the string section that she was able to borrow from Sufjan Stevens at this show. In any case, don’t miss her the next time she’s in town.

SEE PHOTOS OF MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND.

Belle & Sebastian and New Pornographers

MARCH 10, 2006
at the Riviera, Chicago

Belle and Sebastian was just about perfection on Friday night. Great selection of songs both old and new – including several early tracks that I didn’t expect to hear, like “Dog on Wheels,” “The State I Am In” and “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” which featured guest vocals from a woman in the crowd. Her husband had e-mailed the band, suggesting that she sing the duet. What a sweet moment, and luckily, the woman (identified only as Amanda) did know how to sing well.

Good opening set, too, from the New Pornographers. What a perfect pairing. These bands come from similar musical places, but their approaches are different. The New Pornographers have a tendency to hammer home every musical hook with a lot of force and doubled (tripled or quadrupled) parts. Yes, it’s a little cheesy, but in the best sense of the term. Even without Neko Case, they sounded great.

 

March and April 2005 concerts

The Underground Bee has been out of commission for a month or so… I was too exhaused by the big SXSW 2005 extravaganzato pay much attention to updating this site. It’s time to catch up. But first, here is an actual letter to the editor I received recently. (The authenticity of the signature is open to question, however.)

DEAR SIR,

I have perused the “Underground Bee” Web site, and I have to admit I am quite disappointed. There is much blathering on about Rock Bands and nary a mention of honey, beeswax, hives, drones, queens and such. I found a reference to something called “Bee Thousand,” but did not understand its meaning. In the future, please try to add items that might be of interest to the striped population.

Sincerely,
Buzz Aldrin

Well! I must admit I keep promising to expand this site’s purview beyond the aforementioned “blathering on about Rock Bands,” without fulfilling said promise. One of these days… I promise. I am far behind on my bee research.

Now, back to the blathering… Some recent concerts:

MARCH 25 — Orchestra Baobob at the HotHouse. This was the third time I’ve seen this fantastic band from Senegal. The grooves sounded as great as ever. Everyone was moving on the dance floor. PHOTOS.

APRIL 1 — The Kills at the Double Door. I have to plead ignorance about the music of the Kills  — I just listened to a little bit of their new album online as I decided whether to see this concert. I was intrigued when some critics compared the Kills to P.J. Harvey. I’m not sure that I see that much of a connection, but the Kills certainly put on a pretty darn entertaining concert. Guy on guitar, plus girl on vocals (and occasional guitar), plus drum machine. The spare lineup left them room to cavort across the Double Door stage, working up a good sweat. I will definitely be checking out the Kills’ music after seeing this show. Opening act Scout Niblett was simply tiresome. PHOTOS.

APRIL 3 — Dolorean at Schubas. The club was pretty empty as Dolorean took the stage at 11 p.m. on a Sunday, just 25 to 30 people sitting around to hear Dolorean’s lovely, quiet folk-pop. Bad timing, I suppose. Can’t these Sunday-night shows begin a little earlier? Anyway, Dolorean (which is mostly singer-songwriter Al James) sounded good live, and the lack of fans didn’t detract from my enjoyment. In fact, it made it seem more like James and band were playing a personal gig for the few fans in the place. One of the opening acts, Jeff Hanson, had an amazingly feminine voice, though this guy didn’t look the least bit androgynous. His songs sounded pretty good on first listen, falling somewhere in Jeff Buckley/Nick Drake territory.

APRIL 9  — Magnolia Electric Co. at Schubas. I‘m still not convinced that the 2003 album titled Magnolia Electric Co. was actually by the band called Songs:Ohia. That name doesn’t appear anywhere on my copy of the disc (though I’ve seen copies with a Songs:Ohia sticker). In any case, Jason Molina is now officially calling his band Magnolia Electric Co., and it is a first-rate group. Neil Young and Crazy Horse comparisons are inevitable, but Molina has his own distinctive voice. I like its natural quality. While he doesn’t do a Mark Knopler talk-singing thing, I get the sense that his singing comes straight out of his speaking voice. There’s something very conversational about it. And I love those deep-pitched solos that he plays on the lower strings of his guitar. Three members of Magnolia Electric Co. served as the opening act, playing in the incarnation known as the Coke Dares. Their shtick is playing very short songs in rapid succession, always being sure to say the name of each song. It was quite humorous. I’ll have to hear the songs on CD to say how worthwhile they are, but the Coke Dares seemed to pack a lot into each little burst of music. PHOTOS.

APRIL 15 — Paul Westerberg at the Riveria. He smashed a TV, a telephone and a guitar. He played a lot of his recent solo songs and a few odd covers (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Different Drummer”). He took swigs of whiskey. The concert degenerated into a series of aborted songs: one verse of “Like a Rolling Stone,” half of “Substitute,” a few chords from “Sweet Jane,” the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever.” His band anxiously awaited his next move. Someone got up to leave from a balcony seat and Westerberg said, “Hey, don’t you dare walk away!” Westerberg was falling down on the stage as he played his guitar. Was it all an act? He threw the microphone out into the crowd during “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and then jumped off the stage himself. End of show. Would he bother coming back for an encore? Yes! Glorious versions of “Alex Chilton” and “Left of the Dial” ensued. Was this concert a train wreck? Yes, at times, but it also had moments of triumph.

APRIL 16 — Andrew Bird at Metro. I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Bird recently, and it’s always an honor to see him play live. He’s still doing his amazing one-man band act, using a sampler pedal to loop various string and guitar sounds, building a song from the ground up right in front of the audience. That’s fascinating to see and hear, and it helps that the songs are so good. Kevin O’Donnell was with him on drums tonight, adding jazzy percussion. Bird actually slipped up a couple of times as he tried to juggle all of the musical balls  — but in an odd way, that made his act all the more impressive. It makes you realize how difficult it is to pull off perfection. Near the end of the show, one round of applause swelled beyond the typical cheering, and I sensed a genuine outpouring of affection and appreciation from the crowd. Opening act Archer Prewitt put on a fine set, with his soft, jazzy art-pop songs building into catchy grooves. It was nice seeing Dave Max Crawford, who works as a Metro bartender, on the stage as part of Prewitt’s band, drawing a big hand for a trumpet solo.

APRIL 17 — Damien Jurado at Schubas. Somehow, I’ve missed seeing Jurado in concert until now. I was tempted to see Elvis Costello over at the Auditorium tonight (I’ve somehow missed seeing him in concert, other than one show back in 1989), but I just couldn’t blow off Jurado again. Jurado is one of those singers who doesn’t look the least bit like a rock star, which makes him seem all the more real. He sat down for the whole show, getting up once to go back and play drums for one song. A nice mix of Jurado’s quiet acoustic songs and some rockers, like “Paper Wings.” Responding to an audience request, he played “Ohio” from Rehearsals for Depature, noting that he was heavily medicated (from hospital drugs, not illicit ones) at the time he wrote most of the songs for that album, so he doesn’t really remember the experience. I picked up a copy of that CD on the way out  — I owned it once before, but then it was stolen from my car. I wonder if the thieves ever listened to it? PHOTOS.

APRIL 20 — M. Ward at the Abbey Pub. Another musician I enjoyed interviewing recently. And as I mentioned before, I am waging a campaign for the recognition of M. Ward’s current supremacy in the musical firmament. So of course I enjoyed this show, which featured Ward playing with a full band, his pals in the group Norfolk & Western. The concert had its share of quiet acoustic moments, but it also rocked, especially with songs such as “Big Boat,” “Vincent O’Brien,” “Four Hours in Washington” and “Sad Sad Song.” It’s nice how much Ward varies his live performances. “Fuel For Fire,” which he played on piano at Schubas in February, was back to being an acoustic guitar song this time around, but with a really well-played harmonica solo added to the intro. His Carter Family cover, “Oh Take Me Back,” which is just a short ditty on Transistor Radio, began with an extended bluesy instrumental section. Despite his renown as a guitarist, Ward felt comfortable enough with his role as frontman to take his hands off the guitar and just sing at times. And at other times, it was possible to hear a tiny bit of the surprising influences he mentioned in my interview with him: Sonic Youth and Firehose. None of his music would be confused with those bands, but at a few of the concert’s loudest moments, he did make some dissonant noise with his electric guitar. Norfolk & Western had its own slot as the first opening act, playing melodic folk rock, followed by Devotchka, which played artsy cabaret music — a little like Calexico, with whistling, violin and accordion Interesting, I thought, though obviously not for all tastes. The crowd seemed to dig it. …Speaking of which, the M. Ward crowd was quite young, and I spotted a Bright Eyes T-shirt. Maybe he’s picking up some fans from his tours with Conor Oberst. PHOTOS.

APRIL 21 — Yo La Tengo at the Vic. You might take it as a bad sign that I kept nodding off during this concert, but I’d put the blame more on lack of sleep than lack of interesting music. Yo La Tengo started off the concert with a long instrumental drone, three keyboards going at once, bearing some similarity to Wilco’s much-hated electronic experimentation on “Less Than You Think.” Personally, I like this kind of thing, in small quantities, at least, and I thought this was a daring way for Yo La Tengo to start off its show. (Plus, it gave me time to catch a few winks.) The trio kept things eclectic at this concert, with punky garage rock, super-hushed mellowness and tropicalia. They even did a little dance routine. Somehow, it all sounds distinctly like Yo La Tengo and no one else. Responding to very enthusiastic applause, the band played three encores. A reminder of what a great band this is. NOW why was this concert on the same night as Chris Stamey at the Abbey Pub? I would have liked to have seen both, and given the fact that Yo La Tengo plays on Stamey’s new CD, you wouldn’t think they’d book shows at the same time. Oh, well…