It ain’t easy singing the praises of baseball in this town right now, but the Baseball Project pulled it off with a Memorial Day show at the Cubby Bear Monday night.
This is the spring of our discontent for Chicago baseball fans, with the Cubs and the White Sox suffering through weather both have described as “brutal,” and with the fortunes of neither team looking much better with the long-awaited arrival of hot weather (although I continue to maintain the Sox will warm with the temperatures and be the more competitive of the two). A miserable Cubs loss, in which they led 6-3 only to fall 12-7 to the Houston Astros in a windblown slugfest, no doubt drove many fans home immediately after the Memorial Day game at Wrigley Field and held attendance at the Baseball Project show kitty-corner from the park to a chosen few dozen devotees.
Nothing wrong with that. The Baseball Project, the garage-punk outfit headed by Steve Wynn, formerly of the Dream Syndicate, and Scott McCaughey, of the Young Fresh Fellows, adapts the riff-ready music of their more anguished youth to ditties about baseball and its colorful players and events. It’s music for aficionados, fitting in that it’s been a season not for fans, but for aficionados—at least around here.
The Baseball Project takes the classic mumbled, muffled, muddied mix of vocals buried beneath distorted guitars that has served garage bands going back to the Kingsmen and uses it to create a setting where names recalled from the backs of baseball cards—Zoilo Versalles, Mudcat Grant, Tony Conigliaro—emerge as if from the fog of memory. And every once in a while the band throws in a name from the sport’s deep, dark past—e.g., Ed Delahanty, who disappeared on a 1903 train ride near Niagara Falls—or its present, as in “Panda and the Freak,” celebrating Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum of the world-champion San Francisco Giants, from the band’s recently released Vol. 2: High and Inside, and makes the sport seem as timeless as “1976,” its ode to Mark “the Bird” Fidrych and the idea that “the camera lies and the mirror plays tricks.”
Unfortunately, the mirror—and their records—plays no tricks for the Cubs and Sox. It has been a brutal baseball season thus far. Fully a third of the way through, both teams are struggling just to get back to .500.
Yet the Baseball Project salvaged the unofficial start of the summer. In its show at the Cubby Bear, it was the best baseball team I, for one, have seen this year.