Rainy Day Saints
Kicking off the show around 10:30 p.m. (contrary to the 8 p.m. start time listed on the Grog Shop website. Though I’m getting to the point where I actually like the Grog Shop, their concept of time continues to mystify me) was local opener Rainy Day Saints. Playing straight-ahead, classic Cleveland-style rock with a modern influence, the band suffered from a muddy sound mix in which Marianne Friend’s saxophone and harmony vocals all but disappeared, and it was difficult to tell if any of the songs were good or not. Still, the band seemed to enjoy themselves, so there’s that.
While the Wye Oak recordings I have heard have been a little mellow for me, the word around the internet was that skeptics should catch the Baltimore duo live before locking in an opinion, and this advice proved on the mark. While you might expect something tiny and twee upon seeing Jenn Wasner in her ballet flats and polka dot blouse, she unleashes an intense sound. With Wasner on vocals and guitar and Andy Stack on drums and keyboards, Wye Oak is equal parts dreamy Americana pop and noise assault. They won over the audience quickly, party through their music and party through Wasner’s charming and friendly personality, and drew vocal praise for “Holy Holy”, a song from their forthcoming album (which Stack works on in the backseat of their tour van “while I talk to myself for 7 hours,” says Wasner).
Sidenote: Red keyboards are so hot right now. Seriously, this is about the fifth one I’ve seen at a show this year.
Lou Barlow + the missingmen
“Lou Barlow!” one of the more, uh, enthusiastic audience members helpfully shouted through the night, just in case we – or Barlow himself – forgot who he was. (The same person would also like you to know that “The Freed Pig” is the best break-up song ever. At least, I assume this is why she stated this no less than four times until Barlow honored her request.) I wasn’t about to forget because, confession time, I was a little geeked out to be seeing someone I’ve been listening to for about a decade, in his various bands and projects, at this little club.
Barlow began the show solo with his acoustic guitar (the case for which sports a handsome Music Saves sticker), chatting with the crowd, telling stories and taking requests (or pretending to). He played sweet-voiced renderings of songs like “Magnet’s Coil”, “Puzzled” and “Rebound” before bringing on missingmen Tom Watson and Raul Morales (on loan from Mr. Mike Watt) for an electric set.
Watson and Morales bring great talent and energy to the stage, and it’s easy to see why Watt has been keeping this friendly, easy-going pair close and why Barlow borrows them. They helped pump up songs like “Home”, “Too Much Freedom” and “Gravitate”. Things really broke out when Barlow put down his Danelectro and strapped on the bass, closing out the electric set by tearing up “Losercore”.
Back for an acoustic encore, Barlow broke out his ukulele (a baritone uke as opposed to the popular soprano uke) for “Beauty of the Ride” and “Soul and Fire” before returning to his acoustic for a few more songs, including the aforementioned “The Freed Pig”, closing out the show with “Brand New Love”.
Barlow is a skilled entertainer, aware how to keep a good balance with his audience. During solo acoustic sets, he chats more – telling stories about everything from annoying his sisters with an 8-track player to finding a bag of weed in a hotel room left by the previous occupants, the Black Crowes – and comes across as amiable, funny and candid. “Did I ever tell you my Cleveland story?” he asks the audience at one point, creating the feeling of being friends who have hung out together before. But when Watson and Morales join him onstage, the between-song conversation was turned down as the music amped up.