Words by: Ken Fosnot | Images by: Kymber Diekhoff
Backyard Tire Fire :: 01.18.08, 01.25.08 & 02.01.08 :: NV Ultra Lounge :: Normal, IL
Central Illinois roots-rock heroes Backyard Tire Fire blessed their Bloomington/Normal hometown flock with a three-night Friday residency at Normal's intimate NV Ultra Lounge. The trio – Ed Anderson (vocals, guitar, keys), Ed's younger brother Matt (bass) and Tim Kramp (drums) – used these shows as a testing ground for material from their forthcoming release, The Places We Lived (due mid-to-late summer), as well as a chance to dig into their catalog, bust out some well-chosen cover tunes and even debut some brand new songs that had just been written in the last few weeks. The band crafted three distinct, eclectic setlists for each night, and Kramp even designed a very limited edition line of posters to commemorate these special shows.
Before BTF took the stage on Night Three (02.01.08), I had a chance to catch up with Ed Anderson, who explained that this residency was part survival instinct, part hometown pride. "Last winter was kind of a rough one for us. Some pretty bad stuff [happened on tour] like being broken down on the side of the road in sub-zero weather," explains Anderson. "Four hours later, we didn't think our toes were gonna make it! We just got to the point where we said, 'Let's kinda try to stick around home December, January, February. I'll write songs and we'll just not have to deal with the crapshoot of the weather.'"
Anderson was also quick to explain that it was important to the band that these gigs happen in Bloomington/Normal. "We don't really get to play here that much," laments Anderson. "Seems like we're so busy taking the music to everybody else, we almost neglect our own hometown. So it's fun to do a few shows in a row and give a big dose of tunes."
Anderson points out that the band's Central Illinois roots are essential to the group and its songs. "In the beginning of our incarnation in the Midwest, people said we were from Chicago. We said, 'We're not from Chicago!' We like telling people we're from this small little community in the middle of Illinois. We're proud of it. This is where these songs are being written, where this band rehearses. It's a good place to be from," says Anderson. "You wonder when you come back home if people who come to see us here realize how serious we are about bringing Bloomington/Normal to every other major metropolitan area in the nation. We're proud to say, 'We're Backyard Tire Fire from Bloomington, Illinois.'"
|Ed Anderson :: Normal, IL Residency|
Much of the new material debuted at these shows hints at another evolution in the band's sturdy country-rock-soul template. Anderson reports that the songs from The Places We Lived "have more of a pop element than anything we've done before." Live, these new numbers blazed like catchy garage-punk blasts tinged with Midwest country soul. Imagine Paul Westerberg flooring a hell cab with Jeff Tweedy riding shotgun, and you start to get the picture. Additionally, the trio featured a few songs from an upcoming mostly-acoustic six-song EP, Sick of Debt, which Anderson described as "a kinda country twangy thing."
Anderson and crew seemed just plain excited to be in front of their steadily-growing fan base to play some rock 'n' roll. "First and foremost, I want everyone to be entertained," says Anderson. And entertained we were. Here's a night-by-night breakdown:
Night One – January 18
With ridiculously low temperatures bearing down outside, Backyard Tire Fire, who had just stepped off a Caribbean ocean liner as part of the Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man Cruise," brought the heat with two sets of blistering roots-rock and bluesy jams.
|Ed Anderson :: Normal, IL Residency|
The band unveiled a clutch of new songs, and highlights included a fist pumping "Food for Thought," and the Velvet Underground-meets-Soul Asylum groove of "Time with You," during which a clumsy drunkard sloppily pirouetted into Ed's mic stand, sending it flying into his keyboard. "I saw that coming a mile away," Anderson cracked. As far as familiar material, highpoints included a sassy take on "Diggin' What You Do" from their eponymous 2003 debut and a smokin' dash through "Easy to Please." Also, you didn't have to inspect the band's sleeves too closely to see that they were wearing their influences proudly, as evidenced by the cranked-to-eleven versions of The Beatles' "Revolution #9," Steve Earle's "F the CC" and a double shot of their grunge idol Neil Young ("Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" and "Tonight's The Night"). Then, in the show's final sprint, something eerily prescient happened. Just as the venue's big screen TV showed an old Tom Petty video, BTF launched into the dirty riffage of Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream."
Night Two – January 25
The second part of their Friday residency featured both laidback acoustic segments and extended electric jams. Set One kicked off with acoustic renditions of some BTF favorites, including relaxed versions of two tunes from their much loved Bar Room Semantics album, "A Better Day" and "The Daze," the latter featuring a zippy kazoo solo. Jaunty takes on "Ice Cream Truck" and "Tom Petty" went down well, as did the gun-nut skewering rocker, "Me & My Gun" ("Gonna pull the trigger / 'Cause it makes me feel bigger"). Soon, a haunting rendition of "Apparitions" bled into a rambunctious cover of Uncle Tupelo's "I Got Drunk." From there, the 60-minute set ended with the monstrous, crunchy stomp of "Downtime" from last year's excellent Vagabonds and Hooligans.
|Ed Anderson :: Normal, IL Residency|
Second set highlights included the numerous jams during "Going Through the Motions" and a duo of bittersweet tunes featuring Anderson on keyboards, "Rainy Day Don't Go Away" and "Everybody's Down." Next, Ed's former Brother Jed bandmate Joe Kennedy stepped in on bass for a handful of covers including a jump-jivin' spin on Elvis Presley's first single, "That's Alright Mama," and a psychedelic tumble through the Allman Brothers' "Dreams."
The three members displayed their zero-ego mentality as they mingled with the audience before, after and even during the show. When Kennedy took over on bass for a few songs, Matt Anderson simply hopped offstage and joined the crowd down front to enjoy the music.
Night Three – February 1
Mother Nature had just dumped truckloads of the fluffy white stuff across the Central Illinois prairie but that didn't stop Backyard Tire Fire from knocking out two more sets on the final night of their residency.
|Matt Anderson :: Normal, IL Residency|
The mysterious strains of "Vagabonds and Hooligans" paved the way for an acoustic first set that included delightful takes on "Spinnin' Around" and "Believe." Other highpoints included a duo of tunes from Sick of Debt, namely "Cigarettes and Coffee" and the title track. The fully plugged-in second set kicked off with the bump-and-grind of "Shackles," which spilled into the see-saw riff of "Green Eyed Soul," during which Ed Anderson summed up the evening's celebratory mood perfectly when he howled, "Every day's a Friday these days!"
"Undecided" and new song "Welcome to the Factory" raged on with much blue-collar ferocity, the latter featuring some well-placed handclaps from the Brothers Anderson and a vicious solo that resulted in a busted guitar string. The band then proceeded to punch through deep-in-the-pocket groove-fests like "Tired of Being Tired" (from the Skin and Bones EP) and "Legal Crime."
When it was all said and done, the three-night residency saw Backyard Tire Fire rock 80-plus different tunes (including nearly two dozen brand new songs), touching on their entire catalogue over seven-and-a-half hours. Not too shabby for eight bucks a night.
So, between jamming on the sun-soaked Caribbean Sea and rocking the snow-caked Illinois flatlands, 2008 has gotten off to a helluva start for Backyard Tire Fire. The rest of the year will find the band releasing much of the new music debuted here, more non-stop touring and even some recording time at Memphis' legendary Sun Studios in March. Additionally this spring, BTF is on the books for an appearance at Florida's Langerado Festival, and will be tour support for Reverend Horton Heat and New Orleans rock veterans, The Radiators. Ed Anderson admits that performing with rock veterans like The Radiators drives him to continue making music.
"It's inspirational. You realize you can keep doing this. It doesn't have to be this lark when you're young, then you grow out of it, grow up and go put on a tie," says Anderson. "If you keep working hard, keep making interesting records, creating, writing and put on a good fucking show every time, you can keep doing this. We're in it for the long haul. We're lifers."
Set I: I Only Cry When My Mama's Sick, Keepin' It in the Lines, Tryin' to Get Paid, Thick Skin, No Sense At All, Time With You, Settling In, White on My Walls, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Diggin' What You Do, Seasons Turn, Food for Thought, So Tired, Revolution #9
Set II: One Wrong Turn, Honey To A Bee, Easy to Please, This Morning's Blues, F the CC, Ready or Not, Blood on the Strings, Skin and Bones, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Crack Alley, Tonight's the Night, How in the Hell Did You Get Back Here, A Long Time, Time to Go, Runnin' Down a Dream
Set I: More Than A Lot, A Better Day, The Daze, Lost in Durango, Jackie Jones, Tom Petty, Ice Cream Truck, Food for Thought, Me & My Gun, Apparitions, I Got Drunk, Seasons Turn, Everybody's Tryin' to Be My Baby, No Sense at All, Corinne, Downtime
Set II: Ready or Not, Goin' Through the Motions, Rainy Day Don't Go Away, Everybody's Down, I Want You (She's So Heavy), That's Alright Mama, Dreams, Ready To Go, The Wrong Hand, Still In Love, Lightning, Black Rose
Encore: It's a Good Night, I'm Goin' Home
Set I: Vagabonds & Hooligans, Food for Thought, Spinnin' Around, Believe, Settling In, Cigarettes & Coffee, The Places We Lived, Home Today, Seasons Turn, Sick of Debt, Up & Down, Ready or Not, To You
Set II: Shackles, Green Eyed Soul, The Ones Who Surround You, Shoulda Shut It, Welcome to the Factory, Stop Breaking Down / Sweet Home Chicago, Look Back & Laugh, Raggedy and Dirty, Get Wise, Legal Crime, Undecided, Tired of Being Tired, Battlin' Back, Listen to the Cars Go By, Forever and a Day, No Sense at All, When The Truth Was Still True, If It Make You Feel Good, Gray Sky Blues
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