Kathleen Edwards and Tig Notaro at Wits, 4/19/13
Photo by Youa Vang
Wits with Tig Notaro and Kathleen Edwards Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul Friday, April 19, 2013
With a name like Wits, come expecting to laugh, but also come expecting to be moved by the musical guests. Friday's session of Wits had its guests trading roles with musical guest Kathleen Edwards showing off her comedic timing while comedian Tig Notaro, wanting to show off her musical talents, donned an acoustic guitar during a skit.
April 19 was a special day in St. Paul. After four years, Wits has earned its stripes and gone national. To honor the radio show, Mayor Chris Coleman declared Friday Wits Day and was in attendance to congratulate host John Moe and the cast for their contributions to the artistic community. Coleman joked that St. Paul was a pretty funny city, especially with Minneapolis as its big brother, humor is what gets you through.
John Moe brought up his thoughts on how peculiar a name like Tig is, and followed up with a skit that took place in Ashdown Forest -- home to Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. The comedian came casually dressed in jeans and a sweater, perfect for the wintry spring evening, and spoke about her career and many struggles that led to her finding a way in comedy. Beginning with her contracting pneumonia, a rough breakup, the loss of her mother, she found out she had cancer, and that was the moment she snapped and decided to do a comedy special. She aptly puts it, "It wasn't like cancer is hilarious; I was on my knees. I feel it's a gift, and I'm very lucky, so I'm okay with it."
Photo by Youa Vang
Kathleen Edwards has been making music for over a decade, but her latest album, Voyageur, built on heartache over divorce and moving on, has caught the ear of many new listeners. Approaching her mic, she jokingly flipped off the audience and her host. Opening with "Change the Sheets," the Canadian singer was backed on guitar by Chris Koza, and brought out all of the emotions that lived within that time, translating it into a song that let you glimpse into her hurt. "Asking for Flowers" is from an older album, but also talks of the damage of how failed relationship can change a person.
Invited to share her story, Kathleen took a seat and talked about moving from suburban Canada to Seoul, Korea as a young girl. Moving away from the country she knew really put things into perspective for her and allowed her to view the world in a different light. As often with folk women singers, comparisons to Joni Mitchell are a given, but Kathleen admits that she never really listened to Mitchell in her formative years, although she said, "There's no one in the musical world I would love to have lunch with more than her -- just to bitch about what a bunch of jerks the guys in the business are. I'd make her pay for lunch, too."
Edwards has voiced in the past her distress on spending as much time making her last album as she spent doing press for it. She continued, "You put so much of your hopes and past for people to listen while they drink their coffee on a Sunday morning, but when you see people -- even if they're mouthing the wrong words to your songs -- and they come up to you after a show and they how they have a relationship to your song, it's hugely meaningful because your relationship with a song is 'I just hope my life means something.' That's pretty powerful."
Photo by Youa Vang
Chris Koza (full disclosure: I have worked with him) was not only Kathleen's guitarist for the evening, but also a musical guest. His career has a lot of parallels to Edwards' in that he's been playing music for over a decade, and is now on the edge of something new. Debuting a new song off his upcoming album, Chris introduced "Drown" as being a song about the Mississippi. The piece is a metaphor for life, telling of giving up control to make room for redemption and allowing things to progress naturally. "Drown" has all of the classic narrative of a Chris Koza song, but shows a new vulnerability that perhaps maturity has allowed him to reveal. Showing off more of her tongue-in-cheek humor, Kathleen took to her electric guitar and performed a stripped down version of "Empty Threat," a song that had the audience laughing with her lyrics of threatening to move to America. During the bridge, she shared that she almost moved to St. Paul once, but things didn't work out, but this was long before she wrote "Empty Threat."
Photo by Youa Vang
Every Wits has a "Game Show" section where comedy and music are forced to compete against each other. Asking Kathleen if she had once opened for Bob Dylan, she hesitatingly answered, "Yeah?" John Moe told her that made her the perfect candidate for that evening's "Game Show" round. This week was dedicated to the depths of lesser Dylan -- deep cuts that never made the albums. Tig's answer to the inspiration for his song "I Think I Just Ate a Bug" was hilariously and painstakingly stretched out, but Kathleen's was even more so. After strumming off a few notes, she said, "From my experience, this is just like seeing Dylan live actually." When Edwards was unable to come up a song for one of the questions, Tig offered to play acoustic guitar, but warned everyone that she was only able to play chords -- and would not be singing. The deciding question confused both Kathleen and Tig, and led to Kathleen winning when Tig mocked Edwards, then stalled for too long, giving the win to Kathleen. Notaro promptly said, "But I had cancer. Don't you think I've been through enough?"
Toby Keith is not an artist who is often on NPR, but Kathleen was invited to share in a karaoke version of Keith's "I Wanna Talk About Me." Band leader John Munson asked Tig to help out, but Kathleen quipped, "We're actually okay, Tig. Thanks. I got this covered," then went on to ask the audience to join in on the chorus, saying, "That's the only reason we're doing this stupid song. You're gonna love it!"
Photo by Youa Vang
For her encore, Edwards once again spoke about how she spent a lot of time a few years ago in the Twin Cities and how she almost moved here. She never did make this her home, but said she feels this is her American home. Backed by Joe Savage on steel pedal, Kathleen launched into a poignant, haunting version of "Away," another song about love and loss -- something Edwards excels at putting into song.
Critic's bias: Kathleen Edwards is one of this generation's best songwriters, but I am always impressed with how intelligent and well-versed she is. Many artists hide their head in the sand about the world around them, but she never closes herself off to these things. The crowd: An older crowd wanting to enjoy themselves after a long week of snowstorms.
Overheard in the crowd: "I wonder if Bon Iver is here."
Random notebook dump: Being so close to the Boston Marathon bombing, John Moe put into perspective the thought of going to a show to laugh and enjoy music when there are so many horrible things going on in the world. "There's only one way to manage cognitive dissonance of it all, and that's to remember the continental rule of improv acting. That is to say, 'Yes, and...' Yes, we accept what is put before us, but we allow ourselves to add to it. Terrible things happen in the world. Any jokes we make and songs we sing are not antidotes to the cruelty of the world or to the discouraging notion, but that cruelty seems inevitable. But we say 'yes,' and we continue with our show. We get together and share stories and jokes, and we listen to music. It didn't cure anything, but we said 'yes' to accepting that horrible stuff and added music and jokes and friendship and conversation and humanity."
Change the Sheets Asking for Flowers Drown - Chris Koza Empty Threat I Wanna Talk About Me
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