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Washtenaw Flaneurade
28 August 2005
Crack Me A Smile, Pour Me A Drink
Now Playing: XTC--"Helicopter"
My brother came to visit me in town this weekend, braving the weather and harsh tolls on several of Pennsylvania and Ohio's interstates to hang out, walk around, and listen to music. It was great to see him again and reminisce, and a pleasure to show him around and introduce him to the local music, some of which I've been enjoying for a couple of years now.

Friday night we had dinner and beers at Dominick's, and then walked to Crazy Wisdom to hear Jim Roll. I've described hearing Jim earlier, but this was something entirely different. Accompanied by Sam Vail, "the Jimmer" just blew us away. On the surface, it's more of the folk/alt-country stuff I've been listening to a great deal in the past few months, but there's a bittersweet core in the music that haunts me for a while afterward. Despite the exhortations from some of our more fellow eccentric audience members to play "Muskrat Love" or even Jim Stafford, not to mention the occasional sound of breaking glass*, Jim kept things on an even keel throughout--the mournful "Peg and Awl," "Old Love," "Bonnie and Clyde" (some of which lies locked away in someone's memory, we just couldn't figure out whose), and of course, "Double-Time," which I'd already heard covered by Sari Brown at Espresso Royale. It sounds just as good on his first CD, "Ready To Hang," which I listened to the next morning.

Saturday, after getting doused with a rainstorm on our way to the Fleetwood, Slater and I went to see March of the Penguins (2005) at the State Theater. The last nature documentary I saw was on the octopus, the only animal that probably fascinates me more than the penguin. Penguins have it hard, man. Going for a hundred miles at a time to find food, watching the occasional cherished egg crack open and freeze, dodging seals and auks, huddling for warmth against unimaginably ferocious winds... they're cute as hell, but they're nobody's fools.

That night was Alex Robins' last show at the Madison House, as he would next day suffer the appalling fate of moving to San Francisco, which I'm sure you'll all agree is just awful. Alex had played before with Chris Bathgate and Emily Hilliard, in the night that resembled a country dream. Tonight he had some of the more diverse openers I'd seen at the Madison, including Ross Huff's full jazz set, Everyone A Pope. Alec Jensen opened, with Emily Powers (who was herself moving to Chicago). We got there half an hour late as the movie time had been wrongly posted at the State Theatre (not that I minded--the movie was great, and I got to discuss it a little with the lovely Andrea, who I met that night). Alec Jensen is amazing--everything he did with his guitar, accompanying or being accompanied by Emily Powers on guitar or violin (no mean artist herself), seemed to turn to gold, and I'd never even heard of the guy before. Everyone A Pope was just superb. Slater and I hadn't heard a good jazz band in a long time, and Ross Huff, who had played along with Chris Bathgate at the aforementioned country dream show, is a magnificent trumpeter. Chuck, who I've seen all over town (he used to work at Ashley's and occasionally filled in on drums for Into the Freylakh's Mike Gabelman), did a fantastic drum set, and the guys on bass and keyboard were great, too--I wish I remembered their names. I'm waiting for someone who sucks to show up at the Madison House so I can really let them have it. With both barrels, mind. Emily Powers came next, switching the order from the first set, the kind of wistful, confessional folk songs she'd played at the first Madison House show. All this set the stage for Alex Robins.

I'd met Alex at the show with Wanda and the Amoeba Kids, and he was instantly and tremendously friendly. Tonight, he seemed to have already prepared for his set by drinking heavily from a number of sources, and just loved the crowd to death throughout, frequently offering to take us all to San Francisco with him. He distributed lapel pins displaying himself looking all badass, and played an alternately somber and cheery set of fantastic country-folk numbers with a decided edge. "Crack A Smile" and "Michigan Year" were particular standouts. The spirit was helped along by Dustin on tambourine, some guy who was banging on a chair, and Ian of Seven Chakraz, who did his occasional set-crashing spoken-word number. This didn't harm the set for me so much as it provided an entertaining counterpoint, and Alex didn't seem to mind too much. I took my leave of him with a boozy hug and a free CD, which I listened to this morning--formidable. Slater left after the set as he had to leave for D.C. around seven the next morning.

I left shortly afterward due to a sharp and sudden depression. All the talk and songs about leaving, Alex's departure for San Francisco and the poignancy it slathered all over the Madison backyard, Slater coming and then leaving, our talking about the past through the weekend and what had happened to everybody, the natural disaster that was and is threatening my home state (and much of my family) and probably the effect of drinking at about four-hour intervals since two in the afternoon contributed to "The Mood" (where I want to leave the party because I don't want anyone to see me like that).

I walked home without a great deal of enthusiasm. I popped in at Espresso Royale, where one of the local bands that play there Saturday nights (Love Without Dreaming, maybe?) regaled people. I sent a few emails and checked on the Katrina situation (we've all known it was coming eventually, but it's still a bit of a shock), and then left. My mood improved considerably along Liberty Street. First, I received a completely unsolicited (and I feel a little bad about that now) smile from a cute girl, and then I ran into Andrew Brown and his friend Martyna outside of Borders. They were having such a good time and in such obvious good spirits that they helped to lift mine. Andrew remarked on how cool it was that I lived next to the Arboretum, and then I realized that I hadn't taken enough advantage of that in recent months. This morning I subsequently took off and wound up in Bandemer Park, traipsing up and down both sides of the Huron, as there's a pedestrian/biker walkway much like the one at Gallup that crosses the river. Kathy and Maggie at the Fleetwood commented on how nice I could be (of course, they'd just had to deal with one of the worst-mannered customers I'd ever seen there), and completed the picture. I'm in such a great mood now I could spit.

Hope for New Orleans, that's all I can say. More on that later, as that's where we went back in the Baton Rouge days when we wanted to have real fun.

*Nothing new to the Jimmer, of course. He'd had an impromptu accompaniment the night he played at the Madison from a Ryder truck that was pulling up in the carpet store parking lot next door. There is one man who knows how to work that shit.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 1:06 PM EDT
Updated: 28 August 2005 1:10 PM EDT
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28 August 2005 - 3:20 PM EDT

Name: Annie
Home Page:

I'm waiting for someone who sucks to show up at the Madison House so I can really let them have it. With both barrels, mind.

I can probably help you out with that.

28 August 2005 - 3:23 PM EDT

Name: Mom

Please keep you fond memories of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast alive; you may never see those areas again as you remember them. This could REALLY be THE one: all references are to Camille, which occured in '69 and was just devastating. We're shut down (EBR) Monday and Tuesday. Praying not to lose power.

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