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Pat MacDonald live review Print E-mail
Written by NED O'REILLY   
Friday, 25 March 2005
After spending much of the last decade in Europe, Pat MacDonald has re-emerged stateside, based in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and playing the size clubs he played back in his pre-Timbuk3 days.

Pat MacDonald
Entertainment
Art

With Arthur Dodge and the Horsefeathers
The Hideout
Chicago, Ill.
February 18, 2005
Those who’ve managed to follow his erratic recent career know that MacDonald plays mostly solo. He uses a stomp box – basically a foot pad connected to a sound box – to simulate a drumbeat, while masterfully working his amped-up electric guitar, his harmonica (harnessed Dylan-style), and his dark, cynical vocal stylings to produce an incomparable one-man rock band sound.

Arthur Dodge opened the February 18 show with his band The Horsefeathers, playing a terrific brand of heartland rock. Promoting the Remedy Records release "Room #4" – the band’s fourth disc, the Lawrence, Kansas-based rockers run a delicious gamut of singer/songwriter, roots-rock, and sparse folksy ballads on disc, but the live sound leans more heavily on the rock elements. Dodge himself spends a little too much of his stage energy trying to out-disaffect lead guitarist Matt Mozier, but drummer Ken Pingleton and bassist Jeremy Sidener inject more fun into the proceedings. David Swenson, mostly overwhelmed in the live club mix, beautifully flavors the record with a variety of keyboards.

MacDonald is a small man, clad in tight jeans, t-shirt, and cowboy boots as he sits on a tall stool and wails his story-songs out from behind a pair of thick-rimmed black glasses and a curtain of shoulder-length stringy hair. The tunes themselves are driven – nary a ballad among them – by blues, rockabilly, and classic rock riffs, sprinkled liberally with syncopation, which is all the more remarkable considering he’s keeping a steady beat with his left foot the whole time. The lyrics are reflective, introspective, and connective. For each situation he sings about, you feel like you’ve either been there or watched someone else go through it. These are songs of the common people and yet, there’s often a "there but for fortune" irony involved.

The current tour is to promote a new record called "pat mAcdonald in the Red Room" recorded for $200 in a bar in Sturgeon Bay. MacDonald, who has taken to spelling his name the way it appears in the album title since so many people misspell it, performed most of the selections from "Red Room" at the Hideout. His minimal between-songs patter is lighter-hearted than most of his songs, but his performing energy is relentless, intriguing, and frequently amusing. Joined vocally on a few numbers by his wiry wife Katherine Johnson, MacDonald rocks along singing about everyday apocalypses ("Armageddon"), overly sensitive ex-girlfriends ("Drive In", "2x4"), and controlled substance use and abuse ("Whiskey Bottle", "The Wise Guy and Lucky"). Early in the gig, he surprised me by playing Timbuk3’s biggest hit, "The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades," and "Dis***land" from the band’s 4th album.

Pat MacDonald is currently touring other Midwest venues, especially in Wisconsin. Check him out and pick up some of his edgy, offbeat recordings, which include one called "PM Does DM" – a collection of solo covers of Depeche Mode songs. Word is that "In the Red Room" has been picked up by a label for national distribution, so hopefully it will find its way onto some airwaves.

Photos courtesy of Pat MacDonald

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