(note - I cribbed a few of these paragraphs from something I wrote over at Superstarcastic. Why do the work again when it's already good?)
In early 1989, PBS’ seminal program Austin City Limits was still largely the province of middle-of-the-road/fairly obscure country acts, and thus not usually within my sphere of interest. However, flipping by channel 12 one afternoon, I saw a commercial for that evening’s broadcast, featuring Timbuk3 and Eric Johnson. Now, Eric Johnson was on the charts with his tune “Cliffs of Dover,” which still holds up pretty well for being a G3-virtuoso-guitar-led instrumental. I dug that. So I set a tape to record it later that night.
I think I watched the Johnson segment maybe once. I got a lot more out of the other half of the episode. I was familiar enough with Timbuk3’s one and only hit single, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” (also known as “Mainstream America Will Never Understand Irony (At Least Not In Song Form)”) but I hadn’t heard anything further. But there they were, Pat MacDonald and Barbara K, opening the show with “Dance Fever.” Their rhythm tracks were on a big reel-to-reel that sat behind them, revolving impassively. Their songs were witty, incisive (in ways I couldn’t even understand yet) and catchy as hell. Naturally, I tracked down every damn record they ever did, and started listing Pat amongst my fave songwriters, if anyone asked (they rarely did).
Most of this half-hour show is drawn from their first two albums, Greetings From Timbuk3 and Eden Alley (my personal favorite). It also includes the delicate, dazzling "Wheel of Fortune," which would show up on their third album, an otherwise unknown (presumably early, given the introducing remarks) song called "Will You Still Love Me When I'm Dead?" and an old tune called "Looking for Work." That one was originally recorded by Pat's old band, the Essentials. I'll put up their stuff here if I really want to embarrass the hell outta him. In its first incarnation, it was a bouncy little new wave thing, and not that exciting. Here, it's been slowed down to a bluesy dirge, and it's a standout among standouts.Skip forward a number of years, to 2003 (or so, my memory for time is always kinda hazy). Our new utility infielder Sean was from the Madison area, and he told me that he knew Pat through friends of friends. Well, okay. Sean had no reason to lie to me (nor was he), but it didn’t really mean much beyond that. And it wouldn’t have if Pat hadn’t played in Neenah, where we all lived. But sure enough, he played, Sean introduced us, and suddenly I knew one of the best songwriters I’d ever heard. It was kind of weird. But Pat’s a nice guy, and as I came to see him more often (particularly after moving to Milwaukee), we got to know each other pretty well.
For the last few years, we've played at the Steel Bridge Songfest, at Pat's invitation. It's a great cause and a great time, and a good way to meet some real cool musicians while drinking like fishes in the Sturgeon Bay. We don't get to hang out with Pat much up there, he's so busy keeping things together. But it's a nice feeling to know that he wants us rabble-rousers up there. And we always try to get out and see him whenever he plays Milwaukee. Maybe this time I'd have talked to him about seeing this show, when I was just a pre-teen with ears wide open. Well, there's always next time...go see Pat when he's in your town. Buy him a shot of whiskey or two.
So here it is, from hifi stereo VHS to cassette to CD to MP3. Somewhere in the journey, the last two songs got stuck together.
2) Dance Fever
3) Life is Hard
4) The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
5) a question
6) Looking For Work
7) Sample the Dog
8) Wheel of Fortune
9) Will You Still Love Me When I'm Dead?/I Need You
Timbuk3's discography is entirely out of print. There are some copies of their live album available on the official website, but the older albums were released on IRS Records, so that stuff is long gone. Their last album was released on a division of, no shit, Windham Hill. That stuff will all show up here at some point.