Concert Review: Loudon Wainwright III; Evanston SPACE; July 8, 2009

First off, to give you an idea of the place: there is a fancyish pizza/Italian restaurant in the front, and then a long hallway leading to the back, which has a stage and seating area. It’s a really beautiful space – it’s very open, industrial almost, but a swanky sort of industrial. The place had wonderful acoustics, and the only complaint I had was the seating – I don’t know if people moved chairs around or what, but the “aisle” at stage left was so narrow and impossible to get through. Also, there’s no backstage, so the performers need to enter through the crowd, AKA through the tiny, wonky little aisle where I was seated. Remember this; it’ll be important later.

Anyhow, the opening band, Sons of the Never Wrong, are a local-ish group who have been performing together for 17 years. They honestly reminded me in a way of an older, less queer Girlyman, though I can’t quite pinpoint why other than that they’re both folky, quirky, and comprised of two women and one man. Anyhow, their music is very earthy, a little off the wall, and I have to say there was kind of a feminist bent to some of their songs. It was refreshing to see older musicians, still living it up and having fun on stage. Definitely an appropriate opener for Loudon. I’d be interested to see them again in a longer set – they only played for about 25-30 minutes.

Loudon Wainwright III

Loudon Wainwright III

So after a bit of break (wherein the opening band moved out all of their own equipment; ah, tiny indie-esque shows), Loudon came out… only to promptly realize that the mic stand was several inches too short. He commented that he must have grown a few inches since sound check. He played a lot of new/current/topical material, which he called “Songs of the New Depression.” He showed right off the bat that he might be older and more mellow, but he can still just as cynical and biting as ever. His opening song, “Times is Hard”, has a line in it about how the only thing we’ve got going for us is the price of gas – afterwards, he remarked that he wrote the song in January and it’s outdated already, given that the price of gas has gone up. Another song, about a couple who can’t sell their house, and who know that selling the house also means they’ll finally split up. And, seriously, he did a song about economist/Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman. Seriously. He also did a few songs from a double album he’s putting out in August, with songs made known by, and about Charlie Poole, a banjo player who essentially drank himself to death in the 30s. (More after the jump…)

In a very old school performer style, he would generally mention the name/album of a song after he sang it, or would mention that it was new. People don’t do that anymore, so you’re left going “….” when you’re unsure of what the songs are. In the “family section” of the show, there was another new song about going through his father’s stuff after he died – his father’s girlfriend (I assumed) finally sold his apartment in New York and Loudon got a call to see if there was anything he’d want … 20 years after he died). He said that it was a new song and he had never performed it before in concert. There was also a song about “the first Loudon”, and another one about his grandmother (who said, according to the song, that “Rufus is a dog’s name” whenever she learned the name of her new great-grandchild.)

There were other older, or at least previously released songs: Unhappy Anniversary, Daughter, White Winos, Swimming Song, Grey in LA, Be Careful There’s a Baby in the House. Some other song moments: one called On To Victory, Mr. Roosevelt, highlighted, of course, President Roosevelt and the Great Depression, with the last verse changing to “Hello Mr. Obama,” rather than “Mr. Roosevelt”. There was an absolutely perfect song about his guitar getting damaged by airline attendant. (“Of course, Susie’s not her real name, I don’t want to get my ass sued, but I wonder how Angela’s doing…”) It was hilarious, got a huge response from the audience, and was timely as well, given the Youtube video that’s been getting a lot of coverage of a guy who wrote a song about United breaking his guitar at O’Hare.

There was relentless, lolarious shilling for his latest cd, Recovery — complete with reminding us, via the Sharpie he carried in his shirt pocket, that he’d be sticking around after the show to sign CDs. At one point, someone asked how much the CD was. $20 was the response, to a slightly less enthusiastic response. “But,” he said, pulling out the Sharpie again, “you can sell it on eBay and clean up.” Oh, Loudon.

At the close of the show, he left the stage — now, remember that whole no-exit-but-through thing? Yeah, here’s where it’s a problem. He gets a couple of steps into the crowd before realizing he pretty much can’t go anywhere, then pretty much promptly returns to the stage. “If this place was set up differently, I would have milked that a lot longer,” he remarked.

The encore consisted of three songs – “Happy Birthday Martha”, written for her fifth birthday. He even got us to sing along during the refrain of “five years old”. He mentioned that he had talked on the phone to Martha earlier that evening. He tried to do the math to figure out how long ago it was that he’d written the song, then stopped, and said he couldn’t do the math and Martha wouldn’t want him to, anyway. This was followed by “Your Mother and I”, a song about his marriage splitting up, and ending with what I think may be a new song, “Middle of the Night” (“It’s not the end of the world, rather the middle of the night.”)

Cue exit… through the audience again, where he makes his exit even more difficult by deciding to move chairs out of the way rather than find the aisle. Oops.

So, of course, I dutifully waited in the CD line and forked over my $20 for a CD. Wainwright Bingo gets bonus points when you actually get to meet the family member, I’d say. Anyhow, I prove once again to be a complete moron when faced with someone who I respect as a musician and who sort of intimidates me, because I couldn’t think of a single intelligent thing to say other than the usual hi/great show/pleasure to meet you. Fail. Loudon was very nice, though, cheerful and genuinely taking time to talk to everyone who waited there for him. It’s not his fault that I apparently lose all brain cells when faced with public interaction.

For non-performance related points…
There’s always the handful of annoying concertgoers – people who shout things, try to carry on conversations with the artist who clearly doesn’t exactly want to chit-chat mid set. It was really disappointing – I’d thought that perhaps since the place was sort of swanky, and in Evanston, that your typical city crowd of talkers and shouters and generally disrespectful people wouldn’t be there. I really don’t understand. Why do people pay money to sit and talk through something?

Also, I complained on Twitter about having to go all the way up to Evanston for the concert. Evanston is far away, for little city dwelling me, and I just like complaining, and my Twitter is like 80% bitching about things. I got home and had an @ reply from the venue’s Twitter account, asking if I had a good time despite the trek. D’oh. I also complained on Twitter about how the waitresses going around asking if people wanted drinks pretty much kept walking right past me, checking in with everyone else around me. Venue tweeted back saying they owe me a drink next time I trek up to the suburbs. Sweetest venue ever! But that was this week’s lesson in Everything You Say on the Internet Can Be Found By Someone Else.

Support the Artists
Sons of the Never Wrong: Official Page, Myspace, Buy the Music! 
Loudon Wainwright III: Official Page, Myspace, Buy Recovery or the rest of Loudon’s catalog
(Remember, always try to buy straight from the artists or your local independent music stores before heading to your big box retailers of choice.)
Evanston SPACE: Official Page