You Had to Be There: “An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss and Paul & Storm” in St. Paul, Minneapolis


An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss and Paul & Storm

November 14, 2013
Amsterdam Bar and Hall
Saint Paul, MN
Performed by Patrick Rothfuss, Paul and Storm

When we moved to Minnesota this year, my husband and I made a deal with each other: If there was a live event that sounded interesting and the ticket price was reasonable, we’d try to go. After all, what better way is there to learn how to navigate your new metro area than attending great shows in great venues?

Both individually and together, we’ve seen musical comedy duo Paul and Storm perform many times, and they always put on a good show. Money’s been a little problematic for us recently, though, so I made a decree that if we were going to see them perform again, there would have to be a real good and compelling reason. So when we learned that the next leg of their shows would not only swing through the Midwest but also bring fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss along for the ride, we snapped up the tickets quicker than you could say, “When’s Book Three coming out?”

This is not because we’re particularly strong Rothfuss fans. In fact, until that night, we’d never bought any of his books before. However, judging from the set that he did at w00tstock 5.0 this year, I knew that I’d love to hear what Rothfuss could do with a smaller audience and whether or not he’d be reading snippets from the new book. (A person can always dream!)

Suffice to say, neither my husband nor I were disappointed.

The show was at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul and if you’re driving, I have to strongly urge you to take the B stairs or elevator down from the ramp to street level. When you exit the elevator vestibule, the “red doors” of the Bar and Hall will be directly in front of you and you can go right inside. Getting our Will Call tickets at the box office was painless, and once we had our wristbands showing that we were old enough to drink, we sauntered inside.

For this show, seating was ample and came in two varieties: many rows of chairs for those who had already eaten and wanted to sit closer to the stage, tables and chairs for those people who hadn’t and were okay sitting further back. Because we liked the look of the bar menu, we chose to sit near the back and eat before the show started at 7:00 pm. The food was Dutch-themed “pub grub” and went down easily with our drinks, all of which were reasonably priced. In fact, my husband liked the look of the cocktail menu so much that he had a second drink after his first stout, something he normally doesn’t do. The service was quick, our waitress was friendly, and the food was pretty delicious. We were able to finish everything, including dessert, before the show started.

Paul and Storm performed first, starting with “Opening Band,” a song which they will probably be performing first at every show they do for the rest of their lives. The rest of the set list consisted of a mix of old songs and new songs, the latter of which will be appearing on their next album Ball Pit, for which their Kickstarter campaign was recently approved and already funded more than twice over after only about a week. Of these, I believe I liked and laughed at “Right Here With You” the most due to the chorus. Between songs, they did a quick poll of the audience to see who among them had seen their act before, and very many people in the audience had not. This meant that their older songs got a lot of wonderful and healthy reactions; this further intensified my enjoyment of hearing them played live again because I could enjoy hearing other people react to things I’ve already heard several times before. And since Paul and Storm had already identified that the crowd was mostly here to see Rothfuss and were more book nerds than musical comedy nerds, “Write Like the Wind” (link is to the official music video) was a great big hit and was perhaps funnier than the last time I’d heard it live.

Since another show was going to be taking place right after theirs and the concert staff needed to re-purpose the space, there was no intermission between Paul and Storm’s set and Patrick Rothfuss’; the performers acknowledged it by stating that if anyone needed to get up to use the bathroom, they wouldn’t point and laugh. I chose to make my break during “Nun Fight,” and I’m totally okay with my choice because Paul and Storm’s introduction to the song wasn’t as luxurious as it has been in other shows I’ve seen of theirs. This was probably the biggest drawback to the show, but probably something they couldn’t have avoided unless they could have started the show earlier. The closing number was “Irish Drinking Song,” not to be confused with “Another Irish Drinking Song,” the Da Vinci’s Notebook track which was featured on in the movie Despicable Me 2. With this number, I suspect that they may be trying to create another “Captain’s Wife’s Lament”-style experience with which they can end their shows. Where I was sitting in the audience, I couldn’t tell if many people were singing along with the chorus; perhaps this song would have played better with a different crowd or maybe I was just sitting too far back.

Paul and Storm then introduced Patrick Rothfuss, who kicked off his set by explaining first the story behind a very non-children’s book-style book he wrote called “The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed” and then reading it aloud while the illustrations were projected onto a screen. Since I’d seen him perform this during his w00tstock 5.0 set, I relished in the fact that I knew what was coming and my husband and some of the audience members didn’t; this made the progress through all three endings and the coda all that much more delicious. Rothfuss followed this reading by reading out loud some old advice columns he had written for his college paper, both of which went over well and had me doubled over in laughter.

He also took some questions from the audience towards the end of his set. It was perhaps this last bit that went over the least successfully with the crowd as the questions from the audience couldn’t be heard by anyone in the back and Rothfuss didn’t repeat the question for the rest of the audience before answering it. This could have been avoided by having a volunteer merch minion take one of the stage microphones and stand in the audience near the front of the stage so that people could line up and ask questions convention-panel time; then again perhaps there weren’t enough monitors on the stage available for Rothfuss to be able to hear questions being asked through a microphone.

Perhaps the most personal Rothfuss became during the Q & A was also my favorite moment. An audience member asked a question, to which his answer was something like, “Yes, thank you, my therapy sessions are going very well.” Rothfuss went on to explain that after achieving success with his first novel The Name of the Wind, the amount of stress and pressure in his life to continue to succeed and support the charity he founded and the people who work for him almost ruined his relationship with his long-time partner and other friends. He explained that being a Midwesterner, the idea of even going to therapy was antithetical to him as he came from generations of farmers who are used to fixing all of their own problems by themselves; the idea of getting professional help for your feelings was something he resisted for a very long time. However, once he understood the need for it, Rothfuss was able to see why learning about how his brain processed his feelings was important and that the year or so he’s had of therapy has really helped him. This was something I could relate to a lot, having gone through several years of therapy myself; I hope more people (ahem, Mike Krahulik) can take his words to heart.

Listening to Rothfus speak, I could tell that he was a great storyteller, but he’s got a long way and many more public appearances to go before his “patter” becomes as polished as someone like John Scalzi’s or John Green’s. There were times where he meandered and dithered while deciding which of the old advice columns he was going to read or how he was going to transition from one section of his set to the other. At the same time, his introduction of the Princess story was flawless and he answered all of the audience questions with ease and humor. The more public appearances like this he does, the more comfortable he’ll become with being a performer as well as an author and thus will be able to win over audiences members like me who may have heard of him but have not yet read his work.

Finally at 9:00 pm, it was time for the show closer, “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament,” which Paul and Storm have elevated from being just a simple innuendo-filled sea shanty to being the kind of long-form improv bit that Frank Sinatra only wishes he’d been able to command during the “Rat Pack in Las Vegas” days. Earlier in the show, Rothfuss joked about how proud he was to have been able to play the “X is my Y cover band” game twice during his own set; during “Lament” and with the aid of a beer he drank rapidly, Rothfuss was able to hold his own against Paul and Storm’s constant barrage of puns and jokes. Again, due to the time limit on the set, the short song only lasted 15 minutes, after which there was a healthy bit of applause and everyone ran to the merch booth to buy stuff.

After taking the last bit of cash out of the ATM—thus depriving other show attendees from being able to purchase any of Rothfuss’ merchandise, the proceeds of which were going to Heifer International via his charity Worldbuilders—my husband and I lined up with our two Princess books to be signed. The line formed very quickly and was very orderly, and judging from how long it took each item to be signed, Rothfuss took his time with each fan and even took a picture or two with some fans. As we waited in line, I noticed Paul and Storm at a nearby table chatting with each other or looking around the room or on their phones with no fans around; that’s when it really hit home how much of a Patrick Rothfuss show this was rather than a Paul and Storm show.

After talking to Rothfuss and asking my question, my husband and I went over to talk to Storm to thank him for coming to Minnesota at this cold time of year and to gush about JoCo Cruise Crazy 4, which will be our honeymoon trip next year. Storm’s face lit up when he learned this and we had a great little conversation about what goes into planning a cruise, how they decide what the entertainment will be this year compared to the previous years, how understanding the cruise line has been about the group’s request for a ball pit. This is probably what I like the most about going to see a geek-adjacent live performance: the performers are generally never standoffish and almost always remember that they used to be “regular” geeks as well and treat their fans accordingly.

According to a recent interview, they stated that their next scheduled appearance will at JCCC4 in 2014; the rest of their energies will be put towards finishing up Ball Pit, managing the Kickstarter rewards and JCCC4, and gearing up to tour the nation and promote the album with an ice cream and guacamole food truck in accordance with their biggest stretch goal. I don’t know with whom they’ll be performing or when they’ll be coming back to Minnesota, but you can betcha that I’ll be there.

With or without chips for the guacamole.