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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 1
Rick Wood is a staple at St. Louis music events, and has been since he moved to this city way back in the early 1980s. Since 1997, he’s been scribbling down a few words about every show he’s seen, and he’s ready to share them with the world. Rick is an astute listener and observer. We’ll be dipping into his archives soon, but we’re starting with his concert diary for the month of August, 2003.
8/6/03 Billy Coma, Fred’s. Some guy named Scott opened with a solo set with electric guitar. He covered Nirvana’s “On A Plane” amongst a bunch of (presumably) originals. Neither me, Bob nor Heather cared for it, so we mostly hung out back at a picnic table. When Billy Coma came on, I went in and heard maybe 3 or 4 songs by this local 3 piece. Writing this almost a week after the show, I’m left with only a memory of how oddball and ragtag they look; nothing distinctive about their sound is coming to me. I did have fun talking out back…
8/10/03 Neil Young, UMB Bank Pavilion. Lucinda Williams opened the show, promptly at 7 PM, as most folks were still lining up to be frisked before entering this mega-facility. She had a competent trio (B, D, & Guitar/Steel) of LA sidemen behind her. She opened with “Drunken Angel”…I love that song. Overall, though, the tone of her set suffered from the scattered early attendance, and the fact that the sun had yet to set. “Those Three Days” was a personal highlight from her latest record- it’s a tuneful brand of melancholy. I’m less a fan of her quasi-rap songs like “Righteously”. She did “Blue” and “Essence” from her Essence CD, the latter introduced as being influenced by Paul Westerberg…I guess I heard it. Guitar troubles caused her to shuffle her song sequence at the end of her set, so things ended on a low note when her last song was the slower, half spoken “American Dream”- not to mention the lyrical content; there are plenty of things wrong in this world, but it seems like Lucinda just checked all of the obvious boxes (I’m an exploited American Indian who has black lung from working in the coal mines...and my friend got addicted to heroin in Viet Nam) in writing this one. This trite treatment does an injustice to injustice. Ironically, the repeated line, “everything is wrong” seemed to apply as much to the songwriting, as to the litany of social ills described therein. I still love her, but this was not her finest hour. This being her final show as the opening act on this tour, she was feeling the love from Neil and his crew.
After saying “Hi” to a bunch of people and restocking on the $7 beers, Neil Young and Crazy Horse launched into the entire forthcoming “Greendale” CD in its uninterrupted entirety. Dan Durchholz saved me the task of spelling out the details of the concept and stage presentation…you can read his review over there
From the first time I saw Neil & Crazy Horse in 1978 (“Rust Never Sleeps” tour), he has always been trying something new…back then, I was shrugging my shoulders at the oversized stage props and road-eyes, but I sure was liking the music. Songs from that period have held up better than those from when we watched him venture into quasi-techno (“Trans”), country (“Old Ways”) or blues (“This Note’s For You”). But you gotta hand it to him for always trying new stuff. So beyond the obvious lyrical narrative of the new album, the melodies of these songs were not immediately recognizable as classic Neil songs for the ages; but each song had enough room for the band to apply its spirited playing in a way that made me smile- this is Neil Young and Crazy Horse, after all.
The visuals of the intentionally amateurish stage production were amusing and gave a homegrown (an ongoing theme with Neil) feel to the whole thing. My favorite visual effect was a cartoony room interior projected onto a backdrop at the back of the stage, allowing the actors to prance around in front of this backdrop, appearing to be in this cartoon world. Themes of individual rights and watching out for the little guy echoed throughout the “first act”. The “Greendale” portion of the show ended with “Be The Rain”, the song that features vocal responses that sound like they are being delivered via a bullhorn.
And then, almost as a reward for patiently taking in all of these unfamiliar songs, the audience was treated to a seven-song set of older classic Neil, starting with “Hey Hey, My My”. I’ve never especially liked that song, but between the jingoistic verses, there is plenty of room for some classic Neil/Poncho interplay. Then, the quiet, yet unmistakable intro to “Cowgirl In The Sand” began. I likened the verse/instrumental/verse/instrumental pattern of this song to that of a roller coaster, reaching it’s peak right as Neil sings “It’s the woman in you that makes you want to play this game”…followed by the most exhilarating freefall of urgent guitar interplay you’d ever want to hear. I was physically shaken. Catch your breath as the next verse chugs you back up the track and prepare to careen headlong into blissful tumult once again. Sorry that description didn’t offer much in the way of musical articulation, but hopefully it ‘splains. As I was still reeling from this extended ass-whuppin’, the momentary calm between songs was disturbed as a set of keyboards with cheesy fringe was lowered down to the waiting Frank Sampedro, who promptly laid on the murky early tease to “Like A Hurricane”…It took a good couple of minutes to fully materialize into the actual song, but when it did, I was right back on another thrill ride. Both “Cowgirl” and “Hurricane” took a couple of minutes to wind down- the intense guitar blaze giving way to the slow burn. In this live setting, it’s a bit awkward to go from enthusiastically jumping out of your seat to slowly swaying to sitting back down all in the course of one seven minute song. (Maybe it’s better to burn out than to fade away…) “Crime In The City” was enjoyable, although less familiar to this boy. I caught a similarity to the Stooges’ “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” in their closing number- “Cinnamon Girl”. It was all dark and broody, and I could almost hear those sinister sleighbells jingling.
Another joyous surprise when the first song of the encore was “Don’t Cry No Tears”, a long-time favorite of mine. Does John Mellencamp’s “Hurt So Good” sound a little bit like this? Bookending tonight’s set of older material was another self-referential rock anthem- “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World”. This song is similar to Bruce’s “Born In The USA”, in that the simple structure and the fist-pounding lyrical tag tend to obscure a more tempered vision of getting by in this country in these times…The guitars were less ambiguous in their testimony. I went home a happy boy.
8/12/03 Ten High, Fred’s. I showed up at around 11:30, thinking Ben Hanna was tonight’s headliner, but he was just finishing up his opening set. So I only caught his last two songs, both acoustic, one featuring harmonica. The tone of his voice and guitar were like some of the slower acoustic moments by Calexico. So now I’m here for the whole set by Ten High (I like the name…a little self-deprecating poker reference). They’re a local, entry-level alt. country band (B, D, GTR & female keyboard player). I don’t especially like that label, but when you cover the bands they cover, the term fits. One (presumably) original early in the set owed a lot to Uncle Tupelo’s “Flatness”. When they did “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog”, they were covering Tupelo’s version, not Iggy’s. Next came a couple of Bottlerockets covers- “Slow Tom’s” and “Indianapolis”. The individual playing was competent, if not stellar. They covered The Gourds’ “El Paso”, substituting “Del Taco” for the title- a little local late-night junk food reference. Slide guitar in this one conveyed the melody line and overall feel of the original just fine. The woman on keyboards sang lead on one song- maybe “Together Again”, but I don’t remember for sure. Near the end of their set, they covered the song they ripped off earlier- “Flatness”.
8/116/03 Silvermen, Fred’s. The Leghounds were a no-show, so by the time I arrived, Kansas City’s Silvermen were in the home stretch of their set. I only heard a song and a half; not really enough time to size up what they were all about. What I heard was a 3-piece rock band with rockabilly leanings. Worthless description, I know, but I did see ‘em.
8/17/03 KDHX Bar-B-Que, The City Museum. Hey, I have an idea- let’s have an all-day outdoor concert event on an asphalt parking lot in St. Louis in the middle of August. It was 102 degrees when I arrived at 1 PM. I stayed out on the lot long enough to eat a ho-hum bratwurst before heading upstairs to do a little work. When I came back downstairs at around 3 PM, it was even hotter outside and the poor Civiltones were playing to a handful of souls brave enough to wander out of what little shade that the parking lot’s periphery provided. I joined these hard-core fans for one song; a loose groove instrumental that showcased surging keyboard leads more so than Robin’s guitar. I’ll have to catch more later because things were just too damn hot and I headed for the pool.
8/22/03 The Bottlerockets , Fred’s. Originally billed as a Diesel Island show, word quickly spread a couple of days ago that tonight’s show would, instead, be a tune-up show for The Bottlerockets, who are about to go out on tour to support their new CD, which comes out Tuesday. The place was packed, but there was no line out the door. This was their first show with- (pick the obligatory preface- “the ubiquitous” or “local roots-rock guitar legend” are acceptable) John Horton on electric guitar. Having just seen Neil Young and Crazy Horse, I’m thinking “cool, interweaving lead guitars…”. Well, not just yet, anyway- they opened with a string of new songs with Brian Henneman on (acoustic) rhythm guitar and JH on lead electric. Robert, the bass player, added harmonica at times. Nice enough songs with fairly conventional song structures. One song, in particular, had three of us saying “Jerry Reed”, almost simultaneously- there was more than a hint of Lynyrd Skynrd in that one, as well (surprise, surprise).
Here’s my tangential explanation as to why the newer songs, by and large, didn’t jump out as distinctively as the dozen, or so, old favorites- In selecting the older songs to do, the band gets to mine out a generous handful of exceptional songs from their previous five albums (50 or 60 songs to choose from), while doing the same number of songs from the current album means they’re playing every single song on it. A couple of the newer songs did stand out, and may go on to be included in the bunch of “older songs” as their repertoire grows bigger still. This loaded situation exists for every artist, from Neil Young to Graham Parker to whoever…it’s pretty obvious, actually, so I’m not claiming to have made any great observation. Combine that with the familiarity factor, and it’s understandable that people often remark that the newer songs don’t grab them as much as the older stuff.
So about that older stuff- classics like “I’ll Be Coming Around”, “Kit Kat Clock”, “Slow Tom’s”, “$1000 Car”, “Love Like A Truck”, “Smoking 100s” and “When I Was Dumb” rolled off smoothly and rang righteous. “Indianapolis” stood out, in particular, John’s guitar joining in like he helped write that song. John added lap steel on “Get Down, River”- has it really been ten years since that big flood?
Somewhere about six songs into their set, Brian switched from acoustic to electric guitar and we finally got that double lead guitar action. A reworked “Rural Route”, from their first album, motored along like a countrified version of “Radar Love”. The setlist became a blur as the band ripped through the home stretch, making good use of that twin lead guitar interplay, to stunning effect. Both guitarists get a range of sounds out of their axes, but a thumbnail description would characterize Brian’s leads as crunchy and funky while John’s are more fluid and searing. I remember liking this band back in the Tom/Brian rhythm/lead days, but this double lead lineup strikes me as the way The Bottlerockets should have sounded all along.
8/23/03 The Lot Concert, The Tap Room Parking Lot. I heard almost the whole set by The Gentlemen Callers . I’ve seen them 3 or 4 times, and every time, they remind me of The Lyres- the whole retro sixties garage sound with raunchy guitars and psychotic keyboards. What they do isn’t especially new or groundbreaking, but as “period piece” bands go, it is an enjoyable period they’ve chosen, and they play with passion. They introduced at least one song as a cover, but there may have been more.
At around 11:30, Nadine went on, with another showcase-length (maybe 45 minutes) set putting their best foot forward with their catchiest material, both old and new. In this street festival setting, they were playing in front of a higher percentage of unexposed people than their usual sets, where people come specifically to see them. They got it goin’ on, these days- gloriously catchy pop songs fully animated by a group of musicians, who just keep getting tighter. Jimmy’s guitar leads take things to the next level, as he delivers them in a casual, flip manner- like he’s capable of soaring into the stratosphere at any moment, yet somehow exercises some degree of restraint to keep the emphasis on the song. Songs I remember- “I Wanna Go”, “Inside Out”, “I Don’t Want To Lose You”, “Angela”, “Poor Man’s Vacation”, “Different Kind Of Heartache” & “Beautiful”.
8/27/03 The Highway Matrons , Magee’s. A nice change of scenery hearing these guys at an unfamiliar venue (Taylor & Clayton, near our apartment of 17 years ago) with 75-cent Stag longnecks (“Danger, Will Robinson…”). I only stuck around for the Matrons’ first set- Mark bringing the glowing rock guitar and Fred slinging the sticks in the usual loose manner…sorry, I don’t have a catch phrase for Sherm’s bass playing. This was the first Matrons’ set I’ve ever seen/heard where Mark sang 100% of the songs. I miss the variety that the occasional song sung by Fred provides- an entire set of Mark’s voice can get a bit monochromatic at points. Mark sang The Bottlerockets’ “Lost What I Had” and even a couple written by Fred- “Cold Ice Water” (with a totally reworked melody & tempo) and “Little Baby Dreams”, a song that typifies the wide eyed wonder that guides this band, both on and off the field.
8/29/03 Honky Tonk Chateau, Fred’s. We got there in time to hear the last 2 or 3 songs by Pitchfork , yet another local country band. There’s six of ‘em up on stage (B, D, G, G, fiddle, & vocals) playing old school classic country. Closed with “Purple Rain”, done up similarly to the way The Okra All-stars did it in 1993, or so. The song is such a pop music staple, that a C & W reading of it is bound to elicit some ironic yucks, but when (if?) you get past that, it actually works as a heartfelt country song.
After a nice retreat to the outdoor back courtyard, the muffled sounds of the opening song by Honky Tonk Chateau sent us back inside. The vocals were especially dull and muddy through the PA tonight, but I’m thinking this set wouldn’t have done much for me, even with crystal clear sound. The songs weren’t especially catchy and while the lead guitar player could make his way around the fretboard adequately enough, I wasn’t as moved as I have been by a handful of better players, in this month, alone. The (male) bass player did a couple of Dylan covers- “Mama, You Been On My Mind” and one I’m not remembering. The standout exception to my ho-hum assessment of their songs was “26 Miles”, which I thought was a cover, just because it stood out as so peppy and appealing. None of the crew I was hanging with was especially taken by this set, and we all went our separate ways before the band finished.