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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 10

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 10

1/14/04 Julia Sets, Frederick’s. This is a band that I’d heard about for years, but only just now got around to seeing. They’re hosting these weekly free shows at Fred’s. I missed whoever played first, but heard the entire set by this local three-piece. They started out with a few slow-to-mid tempo songs all delivered via the relatively monochromatic vocals of James, the guitarist. Pleasant enough indie-rock…the songs were catchy- the rhythm section was fine, if not stellar, and while James’ guitar hinted at a ragged abandon (I guess I did meet him at a Neil Young show), I somehow wanted more. Fortunately, after a brief break, we did get more. Even with just adequate sound quality, the home stretch of their set got more intense and the Neil Young analogy was furthered…one song struck a tone and tempo along the lines of "Cortez The Killer". And, subconsciously, or otherwise, James’ hunkered hopping was right out of the NY playbook. The analogy reached its logical conclusion when they ended with "Albuquerque"…James jumped, sat and finally laid on the stage as he squeezed all manner of evocatively discordant sounds out of his guitar.

1/17/04 Rockhouse Ramblers, The Lemmons. Some out of town friends were looking for a place to grab a beer and hear some music... We got there about halfway through the opening set by Cumberland Gap. Since last I’d seen them, they have added one of the guys from Caution Horse on electric guitar, sliding them more in the country direction along the country/bluegrass gradient. Tonight, the music was admittedly background to catching up with my buddies, but from where we sat in the side room, they sounded just fine as they did a bunch of older classic country covers. Buck Owens’ "Hello Trouble" stood out, in particular.

I did wander out into the main room for a while during the Rockhouse Ramblers’ set. One thing that keeps these guys interesting is variety- their lineup can vary from gig to gig, depending who’s in town and who’s sitting in. Tonight featured their most consistent lineup; John Horton traded leads with guitarist Gary Hunt while Hunt, Kip Loui and Dade Farrar all took turns on lead vocals. Farrar’s stand-up bass playing is heavy on that tick-tick-tick sound, which was finally explained to me, is the sound of the string actually hitting the fretboard. For whatever reason, Kip’s lead vocals struck me as more assured and natural than I remember them being during his set with The Town Criers here last month…was he not trying too hard? A few of the songs I remember: "Bloody Williamson", "A-11", "Hillbilly Bound", "Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line" (John’s leads were especially deep and rumbling), "Truck Drivin’ Buddy", and "Streets Of Bakersfield".

1/23/04 Diesel Island, Frederick’s. I got there toward the end of their first set, finding rhythm guitarist Kip Loui standing off to the side and lead guitarist Gary Hunt (of the Rockhouse Ramblers) sitting in with the band. My most recent impressions of Diesel Island shows have been that they were fun, but familiar, as the lineup and setlist hasn’t varied much from month to month. Well, tonight things were different…After finishing up Waylon Jennings’ "Only Daddy", they did Merle Haggard’s "Old Man Of The Mountain" (I think) as something of a guitar-ized version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", with Hunt and DI frontman Brian Henneman trading slick licks back and forth. A guest player (I think he was a Bottlerockets’ fan from out of town) came up to play bass as "Polk Salad Annie" ended the first set, Brian’s leads offering little teases of "Secret Agent Man", "Gloria" and "Satisfaction" along the way. All instruments were especially punched up tonight and the house sound was pretty clear, as well.

After a brief break, Kip (celebrating his fortieth birthday tonight) was back up with the band, adding lead vocals on "Southern Nights", "Amarillo By Morning" (with a nod to George Strait playing across town tonight), "Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain" and a recent addition to their repertoire, "Looking Out My Back Door". Brian provided vocals on a mini-set of Merle Haggard songs including "Sing Me Back Home" and "It’s Been A Great Afternoon". He also made good use of his twelve-string on The Byrds’ "Mr. Spaceman". A guest singer (Steve?) sang lead on Steve Goodman’s "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" and Johnny Cash’s "Folsom Prison Blues". Other familiar songs from the Diesel Island catalog included "I Can Help", "Queen Of Hearts", "Take This Job And Shove It", "Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone?" and "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights". This was as fun and fresh as they’ve sounded in a while. For whatever reason, three different video cameras were recording tonight’s show.

1/28/04 Racket Box, The Shanti. The music was a backdrop to grabbing a couple of beers with a buddy down in Soulard, but they were playing and I was there, so here goes: The rhythm guitarist/lead singer and bass player have long hair and the lead guitar player can get all fluttery along the lines of Mr. Garcia. Combine that with the fact that they’re playing at The Shanti, and I guess you’d call ‘em a hippie band. As such things go, they weren’t bad. Without paying real close attention, I heard pleasant enough covers of Hank Williams, Steve Earle, Commander Cody, Velvet Underground (!) and a whole bunch of Bob Dylan. I’m not sure I’d go to a club specifically to hear them again, but I wouldn’t leave if they were playing.

1/30/04 Palookaville, Frederick’s. Rough Shop opened tonight’s show- they’ve changed their name from The Turnstiles to avoid confusion with another local band. They were without keyboardist Nate Dahm, but other than that, tonight’s set was fairly similar to what I heard them (as The Turnstiles) do at Lemmon’s last month. A lot of the same (mostly positive) observations I had from that show applied tonight as well…a few things differed- Anne played mandolin on one song, and John did an original about a breakup that had a somewhat Costello-like angry guitar hook in it. Each time I hear Andy play electric guitar, I’m more impressed with his tone and phrasing. I’m starting to sense a richness of character in Anne’s voice that I’m gonna have to think about (and hear a bit more) before I can come up with the words to fully articulate…more later on that one. A few songs I remember: "Heaven", "Waiting In The Wings", "Flesh And Blood" and Robbie Robertson’s "The Rumour".

Next came another set by Palookaville, this time with a lineup change- frontman Bob Reuter has fired lead guitarist Robin Allen from his band (for the second time, eliciting a Steinbrenner/Billy Martin comparison), so tonight was the debut of Joe, the new lead (electric) guitar player. For about the first two thirds of the set his contribution was mostly visual, as his guitar was virtually inaudible in the house mix. Even so, the set was nice enough as Kevin Buckley’s evocative fiddle, Jenna Bauer’s bowed upright bass and Mike Enderle’s snappy drumming provided a warm, intimate feel to Bob’s songs; kinda like on Dylan’s "Desire" album. Songs like "Birda", "Anna Lee", "October Wind" and "I Can’t Look Away" (a personal favorite of mine) all work as well (if completely different in character) in this setting as they did in the punchier context of Bob’s previous band, Kamikaze Cowboy…which brings us to the new lead guitar player. Eventually, the sound mix changed and Joe’s guitar could be heard loud and (relatively) clear. He was blistering as he scorched through Chuck Berry’s "Bye Bye Johnny"…perfectly competent, but I’m not sure how his playing fits in with the intimate, "living room" vibe that the rest of the band has begun to build on. I’m sure I’ll see ‘em again, so time will tell. Bob ended tonight’s show with a one-song solo-acoustic encore- a new original called "Thomas Mertin" (I think?). It’s a quiet, quirky folk/pop ballad that sounds like it might be some long-lost Skip Spence song from the sixties.

1/31/04 Julia Sets, Off Broadway. I arrived as the Wormwood Scrubs were just finishing up their set. The entire length of the bar seemed to be one long line of familiar faces…I did the nod/wave thing to everyone as I walked to a spot near the back as the Scrubs ended with a loose, mid-tempo rocker that kinda reminded me of The Beatles’ "Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?", Larissa Dalle’s electric piano enhancing that feel.

Next came The Love Experts, a band I first saw in 1988, or so...they’ve only played sporadically since then, but that might be changing... Steve Carosello comes up with some catchy songs; a bit different than the kind of music I usually listen to, which make them that much more fresh-sounding. You wouldn’t guess these guys were a rock band to look at ‘em, but I like just about every aspect of what they do- the melodies, Steve’s vocal delivery and the way the band builds these elements into a fully developed, joyous sound. I was especially taken (as always) by the song "Your Shining Hour". The distinctive bass line stood out, in particular. Joe Thebeau joined the band on third (acoustic) guitar for one song. It’s probably been said before, but the song structures & vocals owe a debt to Roxy Music (and Guy Keyser of Thin White Rope, to get a bit more obscure), while I get a Soft Boys pop/shimmer/jangle thing from the interplay of the two guitars. Also, its interesting how Steve C., who is clearly the visionary force of this band, yet doesn’t play an instrument on stage, has to figure out what to do with himself as the music plays. Not being one for over the top theatrics, he comes up with a more modest set of gestures that is endearing, nonetheless. They closed with "Bright Red Carnation", a song that allows for more exhilarating instrumentation and ended things on a high note.

Shortly after Julia Sets took the stage, I was struck with the same impression I had the first time I saw them- I liked what James was doing with his guitar, but I wished it were turned up a few more clicks. Somewhere early in the set The Love Experts’ Steve Scariano took over the bass playing for one song. The only cover I recognized was CCR’s "Hey, Tonight", done up in a tone and tempo akin to the Clash’s "Lost In The Supermarket". Of the handful of songs I heard, each had its own unique character and feel; that’s not always the case with a three-piece band. Did I mention that Neil Young seems to be an influence on these guys? About twenty minutes into their set, my ride was leaving, and so was I. There’s always next Wednesday at Frederick’s...




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