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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 73.0° F  A Few Clouds
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The Autumn Defense are continually engaging at Madison show
The Autumn Defense are extraordinary yet intimate in their Thursday night show at the Momo.
Credit:Emily Denaro

Café Montmartre could not have been a better venue for The Autumn Defense show on Thursday evening. For a lineup who have headlined sold-out shows at huge arenas [with Wilco], the cozy crimson enclave with amazing sound quality intensified this extraordinary, intimate concert.

The backbone duo of John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone resembled a contemporary Simon and Garfunkle. Stirratt is the shorter, down-to-buisness guitarist with pipes like Michael Penn and the veiny hands of a blue-collar laborer. Sansone is the lanky, sensitive chap with a David Crosby croon who strums as well as tickles the electric ivories.

The combination of the two was excellent -- Stirratt's fuller, straighter sound meshed with Sansone's sand0y vocals, creating the perfect unity. Although some of their alt-country roots emerged, much of their set at the Momo was akin to the classic, harmony-lush pop-rock popularized by America and CSNY. Tunes such as "Bluebirds Fall," "Canyon Arrow," "Written in the Snow," and others proved that these are not just "those guys from that band with Jeff Tweedy."

Aside from Sansone seeming slightly nervous at moments, the set was flawless, professional, and continually engaging. Transitions between songs were seamless, the vocals perfectly pitched, the instrumentals tight. Sansone-s fabulously jammy electric guitar solos were the whipped cream.

With Steve Tyska taking on various percussion instruments and muted trumpet, Greg Wieczorek offering interlaced Spanish rhythms on drum kit and Mike Cruz switching between piano and organ, every song had its own special intricacy but always sounded true to their style. The Autumn Defense's melodies were purely joyous -- never cheesy, never overly sentimental. It was like seeing the ocean for the first time; they were so beautiful they brought a tear to the eye.

Watching The Autumn Defense interact with one another drew me into how the music was being shaped, which was much more entertaining than a mechanical, face-forward set. Each player communicated well with his bandmates and the visible give-and-take on-stage allowed the audience to feel more involved with the music -- and also able to see all the performers on that cramped stage!

For an hour before the show, I waded ankle deep in ice-cold water while pushing my car out of my sinkhole-pocked driveway. By the time I got to Café Montemartre, I was so soggy I could have been mistaken for a swamp creature. I thought to myself, if this show stinks, I am going to cry. But every moment was worth it. I can honestly say, I would be dragged through the mud again to see them.

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