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Monday, September 22, 2014

In Which We Experience Chicago In The Warmer Climes Thanks To A Rhett Winery Show

Okay, so there were a number of other events that occurred between The Stone Pony and now, but Cindy and I just got back from an overnighter in Chicago to see Rhett Miller's solo show at the Chicago City Winery---I mean, c'mon! You know me. Who else would it be, right?---and I figured, what the heck, it's kind of a theme. Might as well write about it while it's somewhat fresh in my deteriorating memory banks.


I've been wanting to see Mr. Miller play in Chicago ever since the Winery opened several years ago. The original New York venue is one of my all-time favorite places to see His Magnificence perform, so I've been curious how the Chicago house would stack up.

In the heart of a reclaimed industrial area, this space is downright cavernous compared to New York. It encompasses the equivalent of three large storefronts. The first is a dining/bar area populated with enormous metal vats filled with house-blended wines. The second is the wide open lobby with oversized individual yellow-frosted wine bottle light fixtures hanging from 20ft+ ceilings. The entrance to the concert venue is just beyond the lobby. The third space is a roomy, gated outdoor patio where guests can dine, drink or just hang out.

the beautifully appointed patio space

The venue is laid out similarly to the SoHo space, but with a lot more breathing room between table rows. There isn't as intimate a feel to this room, but the extra leg room is welcomed. And honestly, no matter the size of the room, Rhett fills it with his commanding stage presence. He's just one man with a guitar, but his unbridled energy draws everyone in like a moth to a flame.

He seemed as at ease on this stage as the one in New York. The energy in the room isn't quite as electric as the Big Apple, but has a more calm, polite, Midwest vibe. Like every city, their were the "regulars" in front and scattered throughout, feeding back the love. It was a great crowd who sang along and cheered especially loudly for his Chicago-centric songs. He played a nice combination of solo and 97's songs, newest and more obscure, and a couple of unexpected covers. One fan who drove five hours to get to the Winery, posted a list of requests on Rhett's Facebook page. He was kind enough to play them all, with the disclaimer if he messed up the lyrics, she had to help him, particularly on Sleepwalking. He did, and she did, willingly.

(the blue-eyed lovely, bathed in violet light, singing one of my favorites from MMU)

Two of the many things I love about his solo shows are a) the way he changes up his interpretations of his songs and b) his playful banter with the audience.

Each song sounded so fresh. The slight changes in emphasis providing a different meaning, a new feel... an extra naughtiness. Perfect example is 4-Eyed Girl. The chorus is "La La La I'm in love with a 4-eyed girl. She knows how to move me now. She knows how. BaBaBaBaaaaaa..." On Thursday night, when he got to the "She knows how", he stopped strumming and spoke the phrase slowly, with a verbal wink, "SHE knows how..." before playing on. A double, double entendre.


Cigarette, please!

Besides talking with the crowd, he told a number of amusing stories, including this one about cursing on stage in Nashville the night before.

One particularly funny yarn came about because his stage tuner quote, "shit the bed" the night before in Nashville. He searched to procure a new one that afternoon from a mensch of a man in one of those sketchy, locked storefronts where you must be buzzed in. Never a good sign, right? According to Rhett, despite owning a music store, this old dude had no knowledge of music. Struggling to explain what a guitar tuner was, for what seemed an eternity, the old geezer finally pulled out a dust-caked box containing a tuner from the 70s. He insisted it was the best because it was "chromatic."  Rhett bought it and, of course, it sucked. He couldn't get it to tune his middle strings after the second song. I believe "Fuck a DUCK!!" was the phrase used. Ha Ha! Fortunately, the opener, Dylan Pratt, came to the rescue, lending his turner. The crops were saved.

Okay, maybe you had to be there, but to hear Rhett go on and on in a crusty, old guy voice was pretty damn funny.

There was so much extra goodness going on between his entrance with whiskey glass held high and the last thrust of his sweat-soaked, extra long, luscious locks. Ridiculously entertaining. His showmanship is without peer. He is ALWAYS worth the journey.

And as if giving his all on stage for 90+ minutes wasn't enough, he came out afterwards to kibitz with fans. He graciously signed merch, posed for selfies and took the time to speak with every person in line. Turning each one (male and female) into super fans in a matter of minutes. Welcome to the fold! Here, have some Kool Aid. Ha Ha!

I know I sound like a broken record, but I just cannot express enough how much I love this man and his music and his big ole beautiful brain.

Extra bonus: I finally got to meet a long-time Twitter friend in the flesh. Yasmin, is a lovely young mother about to hatch another lovely being. There's a saying, great bands have great fans. Time and again, with each new person I meet, I find this to be true.

The City Winery Chicago is a place I can see visiting again. And because I am a total geek, here's the setlist from this most excellent evening.

Chicago Winery Setlist 9/18/14
Drowning in the Days
The El
Longer Than You've Been Alive
Buick City Complex (a rare treat!)
I'm a Train Wreck (another rarity)
Need To Know Where I Stand (by request)
Curtain Call (another fave oldie)
Disconnect (this one makes me want to hug him)
Champagne, IL (crowd favorite)
Murder or Heart Attack
Melt Show
4 Eyed Girl
Sometimes (by request, so sweet!)
Busted Afternoon
No Baby I (by request)
Bird in a Cage (chosen by a girl in audience)
Roller Skate Skinny
Wheels Off
Sleepwalking (by request)
Singular Girl (w/Hydra verse!)
This Will Be Our Year (Zombies cover)
(*2014 really DOES seem like his year)
Let's Get Drunk
Our Love
4 Leaf Clover
Hank Williams Cover
Most Messed Up
Time Bomb
Cindy and I could NOT have ordered better weather to explore the Windy City! Sunny and temperate, with neither exhausting humidity nor bitter winds, the Metropolis shined. Jebus, this town is amazingly clean and free of Big-City stench.
a calder in the mist
We stayed in the city Loop which made it perfect to walk to Millennium Park, Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue. The park was super fun. There was a new sculpture exhibit, Women of Chicago featuring ginormous heads of local women.
The glass block obelisks bore faces of men and women smiling right before they would purse their lips for a stream of water to spew forth onto the children playing beneath.
urban water park
And then, of course, there was the bean...

If you aren't charmed by this whimsical structure, we can't be friends.

cindy communing with the bean

every angle is an irresistible treat

amish album cover


last one

After indulging our inner child at the park, we headed uptown to Intimacy to get my ta-tas properly fitted. It wasn't as weird as I anticipated. There was no wrangling of the girls. Instead there was a skilled assessment of my current undergarment. It failed, miserably. Now I gots me a stand-up foundation garment that holds 'em high, boy howdy! There's even some long-absent cleavage involved.

Watch the eff out, y'all! My tats ROCK, BABY!!!

My only complaint about this wonderful urban setting was the bathroom in the kickass diner near our hotel. That stall was SMALL! And by small, I mean miniscule. So much so that my knees rested AGAINST the door as I perched precariously.

(tmi moment of the day)

Seriously. Thank baby Jesus I didn't have a dress on, because that bad boy would have ended up in the turlet for sure. Can you say, super awkward? Then, I had the grand pleasure of plunging the bowl to get the GD thing to flush. Let's just say I was thankful there were no kids dropped off at the lake.


Please enjoy more photos from this wonderful city.

Chicago river

"rump" tower
well, he is an ass

this busker was playing Guster
he earned a tip

bridge abutment on Michigan Ave

sooooo bummed we were a week too early for this

these four buildings look like they are all connected
perspective is a wild thing

Navy Pier
what a difference ten months makes
last November there was no one here

lunch al fresco

ACTUAL sailors at Navy Pier
go figure

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What I Did On The Last Bit Of Summer Vacation #Bragaboutit (Part One)

Okay, so as Summer's glorious reign begins to wane, I thought I'd reflect back on some highlights from the second half of my favorite season on this spinning orb we all call home.

Sun + Surf + Friends + Old 97's = PERFECTION

What could be the cherry on top of the beach-time-with-girlfriends sundae? Why, having the greatest live band alive perform at the shore, of course. I was stoked when the summer leg was announced and my favorite foursome, Old 97's was set to play in both Dewey Beach AND the legendary Stone Pony on back-to-back evenings!! And to add to the pot 'o music gold, Tommy Stinson of The Replacements fame was slated as their opener.

Steph, Melissa and Sheila joined Cindy and me for the beach bash. These ladies are so awesome to be with. There is no drama, no walking on egg shells, no jealousy...just a loving, supportive sisterhood that rocks out together.

Melissa making an impression

It was all about Melissa that night. She's a guitar freak who knows her shit regarding axes (Man, that lingo sounds uber lame coming from me. It will cease and desist. Promise.), and she lovesLovesLOVES Ken from the 97's. I'm not sure which she loves more, him or his guitars, but either way he/they rev her engine.

oooo…pretty red to match my blood shot eyes

Anywho, it was her day, fo sho. She hit the trifecta. Outside the venue, she got to talk shop with Murry, the bass player about his bass and other equipment queries. Then she met Tommy Stinson coming out of the men's room before the show and impressed him so much, he dedicated a song to her, calling her out by name. THEN, Ken was grinding his guitar all up in her euphoric face during the show.


"how do you like my ax, Melissa?
my guitar's not bad either."

"THE tommy stinson, muthafuckers!!"
or something like that
you get the idea
there was glorious cursing

Rhett introduced Tommy, twice in fact because the crowd wasn't getting the gravitas of the situation, punctuating the second go-round with "the Great Tommy FUCKING Stinson!" I had no idea what to expect from the former child prodigy and founding member of the Replacements. He was unexpectedly jovial, charming and engaging with the audience. He laughed all the way through his set, poking fun at himself for forgetting lyrics occasionally. I liked him a lot. I understand why Mr. Miller enjoys his company so much.

Besides, who wouldn't love a legendary punker who isn't ashamed to dangle store rewards cards from his badass, punk rock, large-link chain, huh?

no shit, man
he likes him a savings
and no, i was NOT looking at his package

At the Pony, whenever he duffed a lyric, he burst into a rousing chorus of "Hey, Good Lookin'". As Chris Hardwick from the brilliant @midnight would say... POINTS!!!

 Now if only the audience would shut the hell up!

The setlists for this tour are predictably Most Messed Up heavy. I've been lucky enough to catch enough shows to hear ever song from the album performed live. (as the kids say on The Twitter: #Blessed) The shows have been uncharacteristically similar except for a number of slots wherein Rhett mixes it up from show to show. I've noticed there're about five or six master lists recycled throughout these legs. However, the blue-eyed lovely one is conscious of fans seeing back-to-back gigs, and he takes great pains not to do the same list two nights in a row.

oh, hey there handsome

No matter. These four play their brains out, and Rhett changes-up his interpretations from one venue to the next in accordance to the energy of the house, or his mood, or the amount of Jameson in his red solo cup. :)  Or so it seems to me, but what do I know, except they are NEVER boring or phone it in. Besides, they have such an enormous ouvre of amazing material, I honestly can't fathom how he chooses what they play from night to night.

guest geetar hero

rockstar move
perspective is a funny thing

rockin' the white pants
this pose… *sigh

see that look
yeah, he's thinking about how hawt I looked in my tankini four years ago
what? shut up!

ridiculously cute

ken, after his red guitar finally worked

I dig Rhett's new trend of slinging his
guitar to the side while singing

In Dewey they came crashing on stage with a fierce WUZZA and didn't let up until Rhett raised his guitar triumphantly over his head after 90+ glorious, sweat-soaked minutes. In between they had fun playing around with each other and the fans. There was no female opener to join Rhett on 4 Leaf Clover this evening, but Tommy came out to play alongside Ken on Intervention. They never disappoint. EVER.

another triumph of rock in the books
red solo cup celebration

Weird Note: halfway through the show, a fight broke out. Yes, a fight. What the Hell, Eric?* I didn't see the brawl myself, but the end result was a man being carried out upside down by security. Or so I'm told. WTF, man. It's the beach. Calm the fuck down!!

*a That 70s Show reference

And what is with dudes busting in front of their women folk to be against the stage?? Where the fuck are their manners?!

Also, this happened…

dude's got a freaking jet pack!!

Moving on to Jersey...

we got a little extra sun on this trip

Both shows were fantastic, but The Pony was especially off  the charts! Crazy high energy that made me tired just watching them.

guitar fight

whistling boy

one kick-ass bass playa

Their performance of Longer Than You've Been Alive was downright inspired, sung and played with incredible passion. They maintained that level of verve all the way through the last bittersweet chord of Time Bomb.

ken, shredding

and the fans were all singing' and screaming' and squealin'

The packed house was all in, too. One of the best crowds of which I've been a part. Singing, screaming, shaking their asses. No pushing, shoving or fighting in contrast to Dewey. A cohesive unit whose only goal was to be collectively immersed in the moment with a religious fervor.

from the interwebs
thank you stranger for your photo skillz

NJ's favorite daughter, Nicole Atkins stepped up to sing a spirited 4 Leaf Clover with Rhett. And then they unveiled a new, pumped up version of the more somber Dressing Room Walls.

(There are a whole slew of videos from the Pony on Charlie Cirillo's YouTube Channel including Every Night, Most Messed Up and Time Bomb. I don't know him, but clearly I agree with his taste in music.)

pre-rock jump
the waiting is the hardest part...
(courtesy of denise zimmerman)

the satisfied smile says it all
no, thank YOU all for an amazing evening

The entire concert was so fabulous! Truly a "triumph of rock." The beach setting definitely agrees with these fellas.

life is better at the beach

Cindy and I got a rare chance to visit with everybody briefly after the show, including Mike, their tour manager and Jeff, merch guy extraordinaire. Even though they had a long drive to Massachusetts ahead of them, they graciously took time to speak with everyone who was waiting around. I really love these gentlemen.

i threw in the finger for no extra charge

This was the first time I've ever been to the Pony or Asbury Park. It was too cool to be in this storied venue. The walls are covered with hundreds of guitars, photos of performers (primarily Bruce) and the soundtrack is distinctly Jersey. The house has such a great vibe. You can sense the spirit of legends oozing from its walls. It's a perfect space for my Texas Monsters of Rock.

the pony is strangely isolated


1001 guitars

Asbury Park is not at all the dangerous dump of yore. It has become gentrified over the past several years, and transformed into a beautiful destination. The boardwalk is cleaned up and filled with swanky restaurants, shops, an adorable spray park and an arcade museum filled with vintage pinball machines. The beach is clean and well attended. The surrounding eight block radius, which once was sketchy, is now a bit of a hipster haven with boutiques, trendy coffee shops and organic fare restaurants. It is lovely!!

spray park on the boardwalk
you know, for kids

this freaky-ass visage was everywhere

swan rides on the adjoining river

hipster breakfast joint, Toast

We stayed at a gay hotel at the end of the boardwalk called The Empress. I had high hopes it would be similar to the ultra fab OUTNYC in New York, but alas, the amenities were less than fabulous. The pool area, replete with dangling disco ball, Tiki Hut bars and handsome males was gorgeous, but the rooms were in serious need of updating. I mean, standard issue bottled shampoos, gels and lotions??!

Hooka, Pa-LEASE!!!

They need to spring for the spa-quality product dispensers if they want to be a drag-queen destination. So disappointing. I have faith they will step up the renovations in time for our next jaunt east to have our faces melted by the 97's.

As indicated by the title, more end-of-summer fun to come in later posts. Until then, here are the setlists to peruse at your leisure if you are so inclined, as I am because I'm a big setlist nerd.

Dewey Bottle and Cork                                                                The Stone Pony

WUZZA                                                                                        WUZZA
Streets of Where I'm From                                                            Streets of Where I'm From
Dance With Me                                                                             Dance With Me
Longer Than You've Been Alive                                                  Longer Than You've Been Alive
She Loves The Sunset                                                                   Indefinitely
Ex of All You See                                                                         Ex of All You See
Niteclub                                                                                         Niteclub
Lonely Holiday                                                                             Bird In A Cage
Give It Time                                                                                 This is the Ballad
Iron Road                                                                                      Iron Road 
Nashville                                                                                       Nashville
Every Night Is Friday Night (without you)                                  4 Leaf Clover (w/Nicole Atkins)
Question                                                                                        Question
Let the Whiskey Take the Reins                                                   Wish the Worst
W TX Teardrops                                                                           W TX Teardrops
Barrier Reef                                                                                  Wasted
Let's Get Drunk and Get It On                                                      Barrier Reef
Mama Tried                                                                                  Dressing Room Walls
Big Brown Eyes                                                                            Let's Get Drunk and Get It On
Intervention                                                                                   Can't Get a Line
Career Opportunities                                                                     Big Brown Eyes
4 Leaf Clover                                                                                Doreen
-----                                                                                                ---       
Most Messed Up                                                                            Every Night Is Friday Night
Time Bomb                                                                                    Most Messed Up
                                                                                                       Time Bomb