98% of all parody songs every written fall in the mediocre-to-terrible range. But this 2005 Robbie Fulks offering is hilariously stunning. It's fun in all aspects of music theory, cracking the code of the keys to Adam Schlesinger's glory. Who knew there were so many Geralds available to assist with cracking the final chorus?
From 6pm Tuesday to 6pm Wednesday, I was at the Second City theater witnessing Steve Albini's annual fundraiser for Chicago kids in need. There were about 200 people packed into the small theater when it began, and I decided I was going to stick the whole thing out. It took several hours for me to regret this decision.
After an hour or so of improv to kick things off, Jeff Tweedy took the stage shortly after 7pm. Guess what? He's pretty good. He played a quick three song set comprised of "Someone Else's Song," a song I didn't recognize (probably a cover), and "Passenger Side." He left the stage for about 10 minutes before returning and offering his version of the "Tweedy lap dance." For auction-style donations to the charity, he would venture into the audience and offer a "private" performance of whatever song the winning bidder wanted to hear. This was pretty awesome. Separate auctions resulted in the amazing "Remember the Mountain Bed," "Reservations," and "Impossible Germany," which he prefaced by stating he would not be attempting the solo.
After a couple more songs, Second City went for the big bucks, starting a live auction for the Jeff Tweedy 30 for 30 package. The winning bidder would personally choose a 30-song setlist, and Jeff Tweedy would come to their house and perform said setlist for the bidder and 29 of the bidder's friends. This is an amazing concept, and during the auction I came to the conclusion that I can't imagine any other songwriter of Tweedy's notoriety who would literally go to someone's home to play. Especially when he's not getting a dime out of it!
An amazing escalating sequence of events took place at the conclusion of the auction.
1st: The bidding war ended at $24,000 for the performance.
2nd: The winning bidder approached Tweedy to shake his hand, and announced on the spot, "I'll throw in an extra five grand if you sing "Sin City" right now." (Honestly, this guy instantly became my favorite rich guy ever. If I were loaded, I would totally spend my money by offering up charity donations to rock stars if they would instant sing Flying Burrito Brothers songs.)
3rd: Tweedy knew how to play it on the spot! And got the bidder to sing the harmonies with him!
4th: Tweedy announced to the two other bidders involved heavily that did not win, that he would put on similar performaces for them if they would match the winners $24,000 offer. And they did!
5th: This came the next day, but another bidder asked to match that mark. So in summation, Jeff Tweedy will be playing at 4 people's Chicago homes in the days to come, and in the process he single-handedly raised over $100,000 for charity in about a 10 minute span. Insane.
It took a while for everyone to come down from the mania of the events, myself included. The improv picked right back up until 10pm, when Robbie Fulks showed up. I'd only heard about a handful of his songs in the past, so I knew very little about him, aside from his reputation as the anti-Nashville country singer. The guy can shred the guitar, and he announced that he's recording an album of Michael Jackson covers, which I'm oddly intrgued by. The also closed with the "Rap of the Dead," which apparently he re-writes in December of each year as a tribute to those who have died in the previous 12 months. It's in ridiculously poor taste, so needless to say it was awesome. The amount of memorization was stunning, I enjoy any song that has a crowd laughing at Robert Novack on second, and audibly "Aww"-ing for Jay Bennett the next. A few decent photos of Tweedy and Fulks are here.
From about 11pm to 6am, the improv continued basically interrupted. I realized that waking up 7am on Tuesday was a terrible decision on my part, and I really should have planned things out better. Horatio Sanz showed up with Matt Walsh at one point, so Ian Roberts is now the only one of the 4 main UCB alums that I've yet to see live. Show yourself Roberts! Right around 1am my head started pounding and I thought about trying to run home for 4 hour nap, but instead I went across the street to get some coffee and aspirin and power through. Also, while there was a large crowd of rotating improvisers, there were about 10 Second City memebers who stayed for all 24 hours, and I felt a certain level of amazement watching them keep going. When I heard the word "improv," I instinctively think "terrible," because most improv is brutal to witness. But these guys and girls are literally the best at it, and the line between good and bad is made unquestionably clear when you realize that you're seeing much more than a series of terrible impressions in stupid situations. Honestly, at one point in the proceedings, an audience member wanted a scene where William Shatner talks to HAL 9000. I groaned inside at his terrible judgment, but the performers seemed downright offended by the choice. The disgusted reaction won me over. After my coffee break, I decided I could at least tough it out for now and reasess how I felt at the 12-hour mark.
And right at the 12-hour mark Bonnie Prince Billy took the stage, fully decked out with a Christmas tie, and bringing a couple extra musicians with him. It's basically a universal truth that if you see a band with an upright bass, they will be worth watching. It was the perfect musical accompaniment for a those of us who had achieved that level of fatigue where you have to remind yourself that you are in fact, awake, and not dreaming.
A decent amount of people showed up for Bonnie Prince Billy, and most of them proceeded to file out after he finished. At one point around 9am, I looked back and realized there weren't more than 50 people around, which was to be expected. A Second City member asked if everyone who been there since 6pm would take the stage, so I did so, joining in on a few scenes. I don't remember what I said or if it was funny, but I did get some laughs, so I'm counting it as a win. I think if I only had to perform on people suffering from insomnia, I'd clearly become a comic legend.
As slow as time seemed to move for the first six or twelve hours, it seemed to speed off once we reached 10am Wednesday. The entire theater decided to go outside and re-awaken with sub-zero wind chills to the face. Around Noon, Nina Nastasia played while Steve Albini attempted to create some ambience with dry ice in a styrofoam cooler. The results were less than he expected. Quickly, it was 2pm and it was time for The Mountain Goats.
John Darnielle attacks an acoustic guitar like few people I've witnessed. He strums like he's trying to chop the damn thing in half. His in-between songs banter was as funny as the professionals, and he remarked he was so inspired by what he had seen the night before, that he wanted to improvise a song on the spot. He was give a location of "bathroom," an object of "organic toothpaste," and a narrator age of "75 years old." He proceeded to literally make up a song about an old man looking in his bathroom mirror and reflecting on long lost love letter that was better that 85% of all pop songs ever written. The room lost its collective mind. He mentioned his envy of witnessing Tweedy's charity song auctions the night before, and immediately the crowd responded, and Darnielle added another 500 bucks or so to the charity.
While the improv was outstanding for the entire event, I really don't remember the first hour or so of what they did after Mountain Goats wrapped, but that's to be expected. We were entering the final few hours and the laughs were still active, but at that point I could barely recall what had been said five minutes earlier. Darnielle started getting into the improv act, and proved that he can deftly handle the concept of serving as an imaginary busboy. Around 4pm, The Blisters started carrying their gear in. The drummer of the Blisters is Spencer Tweedy, and his dad is their roadie, schlepping a drum kit from outside, one piece at a time. The band sounded remarkably tight for their age, and proved to be just the kind of fun needed to make it through the final hour. Wednesday mid-day to end photos can be seen here.
At about 5:40pm, I took the stage again and it was now filled with the couple dozen performers and patrons who had stuck through the entire affair. We rotated in through scenes, until we were interrupted by the room PA playing Phoenix's "1901." A dance party commenced at 5:58pm, complete with a 10-second countdown to 6pm and appropriate celebrating. I high-fived several people, one of who whom fucking wrote The Sunset Tree! It was a pretty amazing event. I have no idea how those core performers made it through the grind, but I'm already marking my calendar to do it again in December 2010.