PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Erin McKeown: 7 February 2013 - Madison, WI

Despite jet lag, Erin McKeown rocked an intimate show at Madison, Wisconsin's High Noon Saloon with her new, explicitly political songs.

Erin McKeown
CIty: Madison, WI
Venue: High Noon Saloon
Date: 2013-02-07

Despite yet another Wisconsin snowstorm, a small crowed braved the weather to see Erin McKeown (that's mc-kew'n) at Madison's High Noon Saloon. Clad in a bright orange suit and energetic as always, McKeown surprised the crowd by opening not with a song from her new release, Manifestra, but with 2005's "Aspera Per Aspera". She followed it up with another song before greeting the crowd politely and introducing her band, comprised of a drummer and a brass-and-keyboard player - an intriguing setup for an artist known mostly as a folk singer.

After that, McKeown delved into new material, playing "The Politician". Once the song was finished, she chastised herself for forgetting to dedicate it to despotic Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. She noted that she had been dedicating it to a different politician in every town and had been waiting to play Madison so she could dedicate it to Walker. This led perfectly into the next track (and album single), "The Jailer".

McKeown announced that she had just returned from England the previous day and was feeling the effects of jet-lag. She said the show would be "loose" because of that, and that she was afraid to talk because she didn't want to say something stupid. She needn't have worried, for her banter was just as lively and fun as ever. After another song, she announced the theme of the album as being, "internal change becoming external.”

This is indeed a departure for McKeown, who has been known for light-hearted romps like "Queen of Quiet", "La Petite Morte", and "Rhode Island is Famous for You" - songs that didn't make an appearance. Though her catalog has been varied and even included Sing You Sinners!, an album full of old standards. But McKeown has never been as straightforwardly political as she is on Manifestra, on which she even co-wrote and sang a song with Rachel Maddow.

While many political singer-songwriters seem to be pegged as overly serious and dour, McKeown knows how to keep a crow interested, even in her jet-lagged state. And that paid off, as the small crowd was enthusiastic and enjoyed the new material as much as her older songs. During one song, McKeown knelt at the side of the stage as her drummer and sax player took the lead for a bit before she joined in with her guitar. Her voice was somewhat overpowered by the other instruments, but this was the only sound glitch.

"Histories" was next up on the setlist as McKeown took over the keyboard, announcing again the theme of Manifestra, which she defined this time as "electric political gospel." Once "Histories" finished, she announced that after so many songs from the new record, she would delve into older material. "This one is from 1908," she quipped breezily, before starting "James!". After the song, her band mates left McKeown alone at the keyboard. Before the title track from Hundreds of Lions, McKeown commented that this song hadn't gone over so well in Glasgow, where no one laughed despite it being full of "cross-cultural zingers."

McKeown improv-ed on a funny mess of a song, calling out "hello, jet lag!" at intervals. Though she warbled through forgotten lyrics, the tone was light and funny, and no one seemed to mind the botched song. She then rolled seamlessly into "Cou-Cou", a song she delivered en français with plenty of whistling. She then asked the crowd if they were familiar with Mrs. Miller, and encouraged everyone to Google Mrs. Miller on their phones, saying that would be representative of her next album.

Her band mates returned for a few more songs, including another 2005 song, "We Are More". After a 13-song set, McKeown returned for a paltry one-song encore - an extended version of Manifestra's title track. Whether a venue curfew or her fatigue was responsible for the lack of a longer encore, the audience seemed satisfied.

While McKeown's songwriting took a different direction on her latest record, it was refreshing to see that she was as lively and entertaining as ever. One can only hope that it will pay off in sales of her new, crowd-funded album, along with attendance at her surprising and simply fun shows.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.