Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey are not just two musicians who I appreciate for their talents on the stage but for their wealth of knowledge in America ’s Pastime; that being baseball. If you listen to the album, the ‘Baseball Project’ it is not filled with the familiar faces of baseball but offers a Ken Burn’s soundtrack into some of the stories and moments that make baseball such as rich part of our culture.
They are richly observant of the faces and names of baseballs past. I can imagine that someone probably threw away their baseball card collections at some point, and can tell the stories about how they owned a Mantle or Mays. One of the big concerns whenever you write an entire album about a sport is that it could turn out to be hokey. In some cases, the stories aren’t exactly happy, i.e. the story of Curt Flood or Mark McGwire were not stories that would seemingly be put on my lists of songs that bring joy and happiness to my life, but they also represent characters who are underappreciated, (see Flood and his role in Free Agency) and tarnished (see McGwire) and steroids.
Thus, Baseball is not the happy-go-lucky sport, but one filled with romance, with loss with pain and exhuberance. It is a sport that is not set by a clock but by outs, so you cannot be a pussy and run out the clock. Currently, teams bring in, a "Closer" for those pressure moments at the end of the game with the game on the line. Maybe this speaks to why I have always loved it, and yet at the same time get the butterflies going through my heart knowing that game is never over until the fat lady is singing.
Luckily there were no fat ladies singing on Friday evening.
Currently, Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey and friends (in this case Peter Buck and Linda Pitmon) aid these dueling songwriters on a journey of America touring behind this album as well as offering songs from both of their closets full of music for the fans to enjoy. I had the pleasure of catching them at Martyr's here in Chicago on Friday, September 11th for what seemed like an endless amount of music.
Not knowing what I would be getting into I was extremely surprised in the format of this show; two nice long sets with an encore provided a night onslaught of music all night long. With Steve and Scott switching off on lead singer the songs were intermixed with each other offering something for everybody, even the non-baseball fan.
For me, the bands early choice of playing ‘Ted F*****g Williams’ so early on the setlist is a great way to get the crowd started. There is also nothing wrong with a chorus that goes “Ted Fucking Williams!!”
The band did announce that they had written a song that would make its debut on this night in Chicago. ‘Tony’, a song about Boston Red Sox Tony Conigliaro was described as a “Four Piece Opera” but already immediately catchy and will be perfect for what sounds like a planned Volume 2 of the Baseball Project.
You could tell the band got a kick out of playing ‘Past Time’ especially the moments when they would mention White Sox players, such as Shoeless Joe, Minnie Minoso and of course, ‘Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox made the Sox Go-Go’, a direct reference to the Go-Go White Sox of the 50s. Smiles filled both Scott and Steve’s face as they saw those South Side diehards obviously outnumbered the silly Northside Pony Leaguers.
However, as the local baseball boob in the audience there was part of me that was curious how they would handle the song ‘Harvey Haddix’. Steve and Scott’s ploy about Harvey Haddix is that he deserves to be listed among the few that have pitched a Perfect Game and as the bands chorus is spent listing off all the members of baseball’s pitchers that have in fact pitched a Perfect Game. Well if you were not a baseball fan, Mark Buehrle, pitcher for the Chicago White Sox pitched a Perfect Game on July 23rd, 2009, only the 18th perfect game in baseball, and in the process changed the lyrics for this song.
And in a moment of comic relief, who introduces the song Harvey Haddix but none other than Chicago Cubs announcer, Len Kasper who humorously makes a note of all the “South Side” mentions on the album with nary a mention of a northside Cubbie. Kasper offers a change in the lyrics for ‘Past Time’, including Ron Santo in the lyrics before the band launches into Harvey Haddix 2.0. The ending was sweet as the locals screamed at the mention of his name.
The Minus 5 tried to mix it up as well, playing a slew of their old favorites as well as some more recent tracks. ‘Vintage Violet’ (a slight dedication to Peter Buck’s mother as Scott announces, that Peter’s mom is also named Violet, although the song has nothing to do with her) loses its country feel and is more direct with more energy and purpose. Other songs like ‘Aw Shit Man’ reminded fans that Scott is not just a little bit country but a lot rock and roll.
Steve Wynn was quite impressive from this fans perspective. There is no doubt that over the years I have had a fleeting interest in his projects as well as the Dream Syndicate, who opened up for R.E.M. on occasion. Once they band launched into ‘The Medicine Show’, he had me sold. The late show sexplosion of ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ left me gasping for air, watching Peter Buck, Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey do what they do best.
I’ve seen the Minus 5 in different lineups, or should I say I have seen Scott McCaughey play with different musicians over his career, a very difficult task to get musicians on the same page, but as with baseball, he picks out the folks that have a “Love of the Game” clause in their contract. This was a show that completely blew apart my expectations and would go to see again in a heartbeat.