Lonesome County is still lonesome, but not in the same way it was back in 1994.
Sunday night at the High Noon Saloon, Marques Bovre, fronting his new band, SoDangYang, played his 1994 song "Lonesome County." The adrenaline-fueled vibe provided by Bovre's old band, the Evil Twins, was long gone.
The tempo was slower. The band let the song breathe. Former Evil Twins guitarist Linus wasn't there to throw his pick into the crowd. Bovre's new bandmates had arranged a version that felt as bright and soothing as the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."
Marques Bovre was back after not being in a band for a few years. And he's made changes that eerily mesh with the way popular music has changed in the past 15 years.
Sunday's show felt like a high school reunion for the '90s faithful who once gathered regularly at the Crystal Corner to see Bovre and his Twins. And just like a high school reunion, it featured lots of reminiscing about the carefree drunken debauchery of days gone by.
Back then, we fans thought the Evil Twins were on the brink of becoming the next Soul Asylum. After all, Butch Vig and Doug Erikson were producing their stuff. They were Madison's hope for platinum stardom back when those commercial milestones seemed to matter.
It was easy to be overwhelmed by nostalgia Sunday night. When Bovre invited the audience to check out the band's MySpace page, the present felt out of place.
It brought to mind a time when we'd pick up landline phones and dial the Marques Bovre hotline. We'd listen to a recorded message that announced all the upcoming shows.
To be honest, it was a little painful to see Bovre's physical condition Sunday night. For years now, he's battled an aggressive form of arthritis that is ravaging his joints. He's no longer able to stand when he plays. He says it hurts his hands to do a gig, and it takes his body several days to recover.
But Bovre's sense of humor is stronger than ever.
Looking around at the crowd of 100 people who came out Sunday night, I wondered: Had age mellowed us this much, or were the times changing the way we experienced music?
The show dynamics couldn't have been more different than they used to be. We used to pack in tightly around the stage, body to body. We used to put our arms around each other's waists and sway to the chorus of "Drunk and Disgusting," lost in a happy cloud of cigarette smoke.
Sunday, when Bovre reprised that old song, the audience sat in rows of stylish chairs in a ventilated, air-conditioned room. The old O'Cayz Corral Indian statue looked down from on high, esthetically positioned now, under soft lighting and relaxing hues of maroon paint.
It's not like the crowd couldn't have danced if they wanted to. We hadn't grown that old. We may have been barely legal back then, but for most of us in the room, gray hair was still a few years off. It's just that nobody seems to feel like dancing in 2007.
Instinctively, Bovre has adjusted his style to get in synch with a not-so-cocky musical era. He's got his finger on the pulse of the social changes that are driving this subdued scene.
Introducing a song he wrote when he was 20, called "Mall Cop," Bovre said, "It was cute and funny back then, but now I realize we've got mall cops guarding our borders."
Live, SoDangYang's music is bright, but their presence is practically meditative. Bovre sits stage center, with a beard that evokes a scruffy old sage. To his left, Maggie Weiser is the kind of bright-eyed female vocalist who defines indie-rock cool. At the drums, Ethan Nordik is a package of New Age, sensitive good looks.
This much was obvious: SoDangYang isn't about Madison music's past. It's about its future. Bovre made that assertion with a recent composition, called "New Guitar." The lyrics speak to the promise of slowly moving forward in life: "Now I got two pretty good guitars."
Veterans Jim Schwall and Bovre are the band's maestros, but Weiser, Ken Stevenson and Nordik give SoDangYang its energy. They're a group whose style is still emerging, and they're actively moving toward a richer sound.
In his second set, Bovre told the audience a story about a songwriting challenge he gave himself: To write a tune called "We're All Gonna Die Someday," and to make it as happy-sounding as possible.
That seemed to fit the mood of the night, if not the mood of the year and the decade. The song wasn't enough to make these longstanding Bovre fans dance, but in the contemplative new way they digest pop music, it made them look up and smile.