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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 11

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 11

2/4/04 Drive By Truckers, The Duck Room. Having seen these guys just last September, this wasn’t a must-see, but the whole family was asleep by 9:30 and the DBTs won out over "Seinfeld". No real surprises tonight; a few new songs and a new (female) bass player (this is a bigger deal to hard-core fans), but more or less the same show as five months ago. They got all "Cowgirl" at one point, and "Cortez" at another…sometimes engaging, sometimes plodding. Patterson’s spoken intros, delivered in his Alabama drawl, were pretty funny and endearing. Songs that stood out: "Sinkhole", "Hell No, I Aint Happy", "Outfit", "Lookout Mountain" and "Shut Your Mouth And Get Your Ass On The Plane"(a reference to their most obvious influence- Lynyrd Skynyrd). The encore featured an acoustic ballad- "Pay No Attention To Alice", which is apparently a Tom T. Hall song… I gotta check out the original.

2/5/04 Split Lip Rayfield, The Duck Room. My memory of these guys from a few years ago is that they were one of those ragged, raucous, yuck-yuck hillbilly bands…maybe it was the heavily tattooed guitar player or the guy playing the one-string bass made from a truck’s gas tank. These visuals notwithstanding, this four piece (acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin & one-string bass) from Wichita are plenty raucous, but not at all ragged. Their sound is tight- each member plays exceptionally cleanly and precisely. All four guys sing, keeping things varied. The mandolin player (Wayne?) has a voice similar to Robert Earl Keene’s. Song tempos varied as well, but what they do best is play super cleanly at breakneck speed. As much as I go out to hear off-beat country-influenced bands, I usually recognize a handful people in the crowd, but not tonight; SLR brought in about a hundred people I’d never seen before…a seemingly incongruous mix of hippie jam-grass types and tattooed punks, many of whom were singing along to most of the songs. The only song I recognized was "Outlaw". I liked what they did just fine, but after an hour I felt like they had said all they had to say. One of those 45 minute showcase gigs would probably suit them well. Maybe Twangfest…

2/13/04 Pete Shukoff Band, Frederick’s. Kingdom Flying Club opened. This Columbia, MO 4-piece does a pop/punk thing. Two guys sing. The guitar/keyboard player’s voice reminded me of the guy from Bad Religion- a somewhat disaffected drone quite compatible with the tone of material. Maybe it was me or maybe it was them, but I found the early part of their set more interesting than the end. The only cover I recognized was that one that’s a phone number- "867-5309?".

Then came the Pete Shukoff Band, a three-piece from Chicago. Pete is one of those wise guys who does this blend of music and comedy like a minor-league Adam Sandler. (Shukoff’s last visit to St. Louis included a gig at that comedy club at Union Station). With a sizeable smirk on his face, he plowed through his silly, often scatological songs. One song described how his father broke his male hymen (or something like that)…that might be about as much as you need to know (maybe more). Pete also exhibited an ability to improvise lyrics on the spot…stuff like "hey Mr. Ponytail dude leaning on the jukebox…" and so on. One song featured a brief tease of "Freebird". His girlfriend was the drummer.

2/14/04 Fred Eaglesmith, Off Broadway. After a full evening of Valentine’s Day, family style, I showed up for the last 45 minutes of this set. The first thing I heard was Fred tell a long story about tour buses and bluegrass festivals…leading into "Alcohol And Pills", a song that namechecks musicians whose excesses did them in. Since the last time I saw this Canadian band, they’ve shed the washboard/wacky percussive contraptions guy in favor of an actual drummer. The rest of this 6-piece band fills in the sound with a combination of stand-up bass, dobro, electric guitars, mandolin, pedal steel, and Mr. E on acoustic guitar. Each member’s playing supports the feel of the songs first and foremost, without any gratuitous showing off.

Roy Kasten’s article in the RFT pretty thoroughly lays out Eaglesmith’s penchant for painting vivid pictures of the plight of folks in the rural heartland as they fight a losing battle against shifting economic realities, so I won’t bother here. Tonight we heard a shining example of this in "John Deere B", a song that tells the story of a tractor that outlives its usefulness and ends up having more value as a piece of memorabilia.

Toward the end of this set, the band laid into the familiar chord progression of "Water In My Fuel" (my favorite Eaglesmith song). This musical underpinning became the audio backdrop for another lengthy spoken intro by Fred, creating a mood and texture akin to Neil Young’s "Helpless". From the instant he launched into the first verse, I was blown away. This song is an achingly beautiful ballad chronicling the travels and trials of a long-haul truck driver, every bit as heartfelt and moving as Lowell George’s "Willin’". Strong stuff.

They ended with "49 Tons", once again featuring another monologue over a mid-tempo instrumental build-up. I have to admit that I eventually found the extended spoken intros to be somewhat tiresome- OK, we love you and you love us, now can we hear some more songs? The encore consisted of Fred doing two slower songs on acoustic guitar by himself.

2/22/04 Rufus Wainwright, The Pageant. I caught the last handful of songs by Shannon McNally- a solo singer/songwriter, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. Among what I’m guessing were original compositions was a cover of Bob Dylan’s "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue". The annoying habit that Heather and I have of trying to identify who the singer’s voice reminds us of yielded the woman from 4 Non-Blondes and whichever woman from Fleetwood Mac sings "Landslide"…at least on one song.

So now it’s time for Rufus Wainwright, an artist who has somehow escaped my notice up until now- if you want to read a review of this show by someone who knows what they’re talking about, go find Dan Durchholz’s review in the 2/24/04 Post Dispatch. Wainwright’s most recent CD made it on to the "Best Of" lists of several people whose opinions I respect, so I thought I ought to check it out. Words like "gorgeous", "intelligent" and "compelling" are often used in describing his music.

But one man’s "gorgeous, intelligent and compelling" is another man’s "pretentious". I was given tickets to this show by someone who said he would rather go to the dentist for root canal surgery than sit through a set by this guy. He seemed as much annoyed by the reverence of Wainwright’s adoring fans as by the music itself. So I’m standing there with all of this preexisting baggage, positive and negative, before I’ve actually heard the music…

Rufus opened with "La Fleur Que Tu M’avais Jetee", accompanied by his grand piano, applying his beautiful voice (in French, of course) to this classic piece, and immediately giving plenty of evidence to both sides of the gorgeous/pretentious debate. I’m guessing there is a lot of overlap between Rufus fans and Jeff Buckley fans. The six-piece band provided a lush, layered background to whatever Rufus was doing- violin, mandolin, acoustic guitars, electric guitar, keyboards, vibraphone, banjo, bass and drums all found their way into the mix, and kept things interesting. Songs that caught my interest included "11:11", "Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk" and "Harvester Of Hearts".

I was aware that Rufus was gay before tonight’s show…but unlike a musician that happens to be gay (Bob Mould comes to mind), Wainwright’s orientation comes front and center and is on full display- from the almost-stereotypical lisp in his speech to the campy antics he comes up with. One song near the end featured the entire band dressed as witches; and yes, they all melted at the end of the song.

All in all, I found the music enjoyable enough, but when it comes to quirky piano-based singer songwriters who pile on the layers of mood and texture, I’ll take Tom Waits any day.

2/24/04 Mountain Goats, The Rocket Bar. Manishevitz opened, but I was yakking with Jeff near the back of the bar and only kinda caught what they were doing. At some point I thought I caught an early Talking Heads vibe.

I’m a lurker on the Yahoo Groups list called Nonoise- it’s comprised of St. Louis music fans, but covers all topics. Anyway, I posted an inquiry about Mountain Goats on this list, and a total stranger was kind enough to send me an mp3 of one of their songs- it impressed me enough to get me out on a Tuesday night...

Mountain Goats is basically this one guy, John Darnielle, who sits and strums an acoustic guitar, accompanied only by one other guy (Pete), on electric bass. The spirit of what they do seems to fit my limited knowledge of that sub-genre of indie rock called "bedroom rock"- music written, performed and recorded by sensitive folks in the intimate confines of their bedrooms. The results can range from embarrassingly amateurish and self-important to refreshingly honest and entertaining. I’d put the Mountain Goats in the latter category.

This live setting wasn’t the best way to become familiar with John’s lyrics, but from what I could make out, they seem to be of that quirky, homemade, DIY variety. One song likened his relationship with a girl to the border of Albania and some neighboring country- presumably amicable, yet somehow strained. A couple of other songs mentioned Tampa, Florida (for whatever reason). I was forewarned that John’s voice was something of an acquired taste; it’s a bit high and harsh…combine that with being named John and part of a lyrically clever duo, and you might describe Mountain Goats as a less obvious They Might Be Giants. The combination of acoustic guitar and bass churned and rumbled in a nice way, at times recalling The Velvet Underground.




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