Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advance Base: A Christmastime experience at two midwestern shows

The Mike Adams Show stage set (photo by Jared Cheek)

Advance Base played two shows in my area before Christmas this year, and I went to both of them: a show with Mike Adams at His Honest Weight at Mike 'n' Molly's in Champaign, Illinois, in November, and one as part of the Mike Adams Show Christmas episode that was filmed at the Bishop in Bloomington, Indiana, in December. The Advance Base album A Shut-In's Prayer was one of my two favorite albums of 2012, but I had never seen the "band" play live.

I put the word "band" in scare quotes because Advance Base is one guy—Owen Ashworth—who previously recorded under the name Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. 

On Dec. 1, Ashworth tweeted that he'd be playing two special Christmas shows at which he'd perform all of the Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Advance Base Christmas songs. The Bloomington show was one of these two December shows. (The other one is at Chicago's Beat Kitchen on December 14.)

This news excited me, because I saw the show in Champaign (2.5 hours away) before the show in Bloomington (where I live) had been announced, so the Christmas orientation of the second show meant that Advance Base would be playing almost completely different songs from the ones in Champaign, and I wouldn't have to travel. 

The show in Champaign took place on November 22 in a room about the size of a walk-in closet. I missed the opening band, Easter, because I was falling asleep downstairs. I'd been up since 4:00 am that day, and the one-hour time difference was killing me. I perked up when Mike Adams at His Honest Weight went on.

Mike Adams at His Honest Weight was represented by only Adams, who told stories and played songs with nothing but his reverberating electric guitar for accompaniment. Adams is a Bloomington, Indiana, musician and a funny guy. To promote his album Best of Boiler Room Classics, he made this video that parodies those old television commercials for mail-order albums. After Adams's performance, Advance Base took the stage and played a short set of new and old songs, some of which will appear on the forthcoming Advance Base album. My favorite Advance Base song is "Riot Grrrls," so I was happy to hear that one.

The Mike Adams Show at the Bishop was an entirely different experience. The show is patterned after television's old music-and-talk variety shows and appears sporadically on YouTube. This was the first one I've attended, and it was an evening of silly fun. The show was free, which was nice, and featured—in addition to Adams and Advance Base—Lewis and Addison Rogers from Busman's Holiday, the proprietors of a local coffee shop, the proprietor of the local comedy club, and Evan Smail ("our Man on the Seat"), who introduced a video of himself meeting Santa. This segment was literally about sitting on chairs. And about the spirit of Christmas. 

I was surprised that Adams didn't sing; he confined himself to the host's chair, like a number of singers who hosted talk shows in the 1970s but didn't always sing on their own shows, like Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore. At the end of the program, Adams introduced the musical guest, Advance Base, who played one song, "Christmas in Milwaukee," that had also been in the set at the Champaign show.

That was the end of the Mike Adams Show, but Advance Base hung around to play a full set of songs that included a number of tunes from A Shut-In's Prayer and some older songs from the Casiotone for the Painfully Alone era. Advance Base performed with only a keyboard, an omnichord, and a cheesy drum machine that sounded like the one that Young Marble Giants used. The audience was obnoxiously chattering throughout the first couple of songs, but the excellence of Advance Base's melodic, melancholy music finally infiltrated the audience's consciousness and the room fell silent for the remainder of the set. I loved it.

Ashworth announced that he'd just decided on the title for his next album, and I can report it here as breaking news: Nephew in the Wild. You heard it here first, folks. 

Here's a video of show. The video doesn't include the Advance Base set that followed the show.

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