Words by: Cal Roach

Erin McKeown :: 02.27.07 :: Mad Planet :: Milwaukee, WI

Erin McKeown
Mad Planet played host to a pair of performers whose fortunes depended on emerging from long shadows. Opener Ethan Keller played a solo set of acoustic and electric funky folk, looping homemade beats underneath his playing, beatboxing and grooving to his carefree tunes. If this sounds like a description of another Keller you're not far off the mark. Someone needs to tell Ethan he's about a wig shy of looking like a tribute act. If he truly didn't borrow his schtick from Williams, he's going to be really bummed (and a little embarrassed) when he sees Williams live for the first time. Keller also had a few technical mishaps amidst his lighthearted but bland set He does get brownie points for throwing in a McKeown cover at the end.

Erin McKeown began her career as your basic Ani DiFranco-style urban folkie. She soon began to branch out into jazz-inflected pop, just as DiFranco had but with more swing. McKeown's subtlety has always set her apart from her outspoken predecessor. Her last album of original material, 2005's We Will Become Like Birds, found her shedding the last vestiges of her folk roots and forging into actual rock territory. However, the current tour is in support of 2007's Sing You Sinners, a collection of pre-World War II standards. McKeown likes to keep people guessing, and this show displayed her eclecticism to full effect. It wasn't always a smooth ride but it was energetic as hell.

Erin McKeown
The set was plagued with equipment problems from the start, most notably what sounded like a persistent short somewhere in the guitar connection. McKeown didn't let it bother her, though, and started with a rock 'n' swing rip through "Thanks For The Boogie Ride." The band, keyboardist Sam Kassirer and drummer Allison Miller, was loose, lively, and irony-free. Next came "Paper Moon," a sort of Buddy Holly vs. Hank Williams thing but not quite as Caucasian as that sounds. A disjointed but curiously endearing "To The Stars" showcased some jangly alt-honky-tonk organ set to a mod-rock beat. McKeown then pulled out an as-yet unreleased tune that suggests that her forthcoming album will continue the trend toward more indie rock. Its newness may have contributed to its shakiness, but it also really needed a solid bass line to take it where it was trying to go.

McKeown’s vocal projection was inconsistent, like she was using a borrowed mic or something, and her generally clear-as-a-bell voice seemed a bit smokier than usual tonight. It may have been mid-tour fatigue or Midwest chill but whatever the cause a trio of songs from 2003's Grand all sounded scratchy compared to the originals. "James!" started strong but quickly faded until a grungy guitar solo capped it off. "The Taste Of You" featured a seductive cocktail-gospel organ that brought out the song's essence. The band followed these with three more uptempo swingers, "Get Happy," "Mine," and "Sing You Sinners." This was clearly the most well-rehearsed stuff. It brought to mind a Carl Perkins Trio as conducted by Duke Ellington - vivacious, steeped in historic Americana yet quirky enough to sound fresh.

Erin McKeown
The band took a break and McKeown fielded requests. First was fan-fave "Queen Of Quiet," and it felt like McKeown's voice had finally shaken the cobwebs loose. Combined with some groovin' electric guitar, this was one of the most rousing tunes of the night. "Slung-Lo" and "Born To Hum" were big sing-alongs. The band returned for another new indie rock flavored tune that was moody but not hollow. "White City" amped up that tension with a post folk-rock dynamic. McKeown's guitar prowess really shone through, and the band sounded like a genuine unit for maybe the first time all night. The set closed with a blaze through "We Are More" and "I Was A Little Too Lonely." The encore of the nursery rhyme adaptation "Blackbirds" was a perfect example of McKeown's penchant for updating the archaic. This performance was riveting, with McKeown's crushing guitar work and a backbeat that got the whole room bouncing giddily.

Erin McKeown may be a true pop historian. She brings together disparate eras and styles of music into a strictly controlled amalgam. Even if it's not always cohesive, she's carved out her niche, rising above any comparisons she had to live down early on in her career. She's got great, dynamic timing that's occasionally underserved by her somewhat ragtag ensemble (her usual bassist Todd Sickafoose would have been a great help) but she’s got the confidence of the little-league underdog coach and the charisma to will the group into knocking one out of the park from time to time.

JamBase | Milwaukee
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[Published on: 3/15/07]

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matt3 Thu 3/15/2007 08:00PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

wow .....well i like ethan .and he has a message.listen to his of the only guys out there saying what he truly believes in.....thats rare...and what hasnt already been done anyway.....Jaco was looping before Williams.and i was looping before Williams...but williams sure as fuck didnt copy me.lets all smile

Ethan Keller starstar Sat 3/17/2007 04:13AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Ethan Keller

Thanks Matt3!
Dear author: I have seen Keller Williams - he's great - very cool person too. I don't "borrow" my looping style from him. I have a different gear & technique (separable layers), but looping is not my main focus anyway. Thank you for pointing out my technical mishap (wherever it was). Now i will point out your misspelling of "shtick." Thank you for your brownie points though - i love desserts. I just hope its not as "bland" as my set was; or worse off, your writing. I had a fabulous time playing, selling CD's & shirts, making new friends, watching a great set of someone who I look up to; as well as swapping autographed new albums, and getting photographs of us two and our two green Gretschs. Miss McKeown was a delightful person to meet and support!



DogBreath Sun 3/18/2007 07:50AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


e:: it's good to read rebuddles from artists. Set it straight. People read these articles, let the truth be known..
Erin is cool, she's from my hometown. I always support my hometown artists. I like her style.

bettyjondell starstar Sun 3/18/2007 01:29PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

actually, "shtick," "schtick," "shtik" and "schtik" are all correct.

nuke_ticketbastard starstarstar Mon 3/19/2007 09:12AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

yeah i was doing looping on my fisher price keyboard back in the 70's and i didnt even realize i was doing it!!!