The Baseball Project Last Night at Martini Ranch

The Baseball Project
Martini Ranch
Friday, March 25

There's really no better tune to sum up The Baseball Project's set than their opening one, "All Future and No Past." In its 3-odd minutes, the tune encapsulates everything that makes the band so great, the opening day optimism that makes eager fans believe that anything is possible, that your team could take home the pendant, that all those years of suffering the fair-weather fans and waiting patiently may finally be rewarded.

The band, comprised of indie-rock royalty Scott McCaughey (Minus 5), Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate), Linda Pitmon (Miracle 3) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.), blasted through an hour and a half set last night, occasionally sidestepping the baseball themed songs from their two albums, Frozen Ropes and Dead Quails and High and Inside for detours into Minus 5, Miracle 3 and Dream Syndicate songs.   

The band was enjoying an extended stay in Arizona, playing at a few spring training games, where they had to "force" the music on bewildered baseball fans. Not necessary last night; the modest crowd (you'd have thought more people would show for an R.E.M. side project) was totally into the scene, air-guitaring and shouting along.

Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, who sings on Project's new record, once bragged that he felt like people who went to Hold Steady shows were the kind of people who didn't go out to many shows, that it was an event. That was the vibe last night, the crowd skewed a bit older, the kind of folks who probably caught the sets Wynn and McCaughy joke about playing in Arizona back in the 80s.

The band focused on the more upbeat aspect of their tunes - pop punk like "Ichiro Goes to the Moon," "Panda & The Freak," and "Ted 'Fucking' Williams" - as opposed to the downers of the new album, like "Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)" and "Here Lies Carl Mays."

The band shouted out local openers The Breakup Society, who apparently lent their drum kit, before Buck switched from bass to 12-string guitar, giving "1976," my favorite song on the new album, a dose of his signature jangle.

He stayed on guitar for the highlight of the night, a rendition of Wynn's own The Dream Syndicate song "Tell Me When It's Over." The lead-off track from 1982's The Days of Wine and Roses, it's one of the best songs of the 80s, and the band utterly nailed it last night. "This one is not a baseball song," he said. "Though the title is applicable to many of the spring training games we're watching."

The bad dispensed with the "encore bullshit," stating that they were just going to play through, and proceeded to rip through a couple of Minus 5 scorchers, like "Aw, Shit Man!" It was the night's punkest moment, with McCaughey tearing out a killer solo.

The band closed on an extended noise jam of Wynn's "Amphetamine," a song he says "was born in Arizona" on his YouTube channel. It was a long, ferocious jam, with Pitmon steadily keeping the chaos contained and Wynn and McCaughey coaxing feedback ghosts from their amps.

In my feature on the band this week, I noted that the band was first and foremost a killer bar band. I stand by that assertion, because I can't recall the last time I saw a band having so much fun playing their tunes. It was all exuberance and sweat last night. Save the blues for the end of the season.

Critics Notebook

Last Night:
The Baseball Project at Martini Ranch

Personal Bias: My first R.E.M. album was The Man on the Moon soundtrack.

The Crowd: Lifers- the kind of folks who really give a damn about this kind of music.

Random Notebook Dump: Martini Ranch's sound RULES.

See More:

Here's a video of the band playing "Ichiro Goes to the Moon" at Peoria Sports Complex at yesterday's game.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.