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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 18

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 18

7/20/04 Cary Hudson, Frederick’s. About thirty people showed up on a Tuesday night to hear solo sets by guys most noted as frontmen for roots-rock bands. Mark Bilyeu (of Springfield, MO’s Big Smith) opened with some cleanly picked acoustic guitar, applying his smooth, southern voice to his pleasant, often mellow, originals. If you know the song by Pure Prairie League called “Amy”, you’d have a general sense of the overall feel of Bilyeu’s set. Toward the end, he did an amusing song he wrote while waiting around to be a hillbilly extra in a Billy Bob Thornton movie

Cary Hudson came on a little before midnight and did up a set of acoustic blues-based originals- the setlist wasn’t all that different from his electric set at last month’s Twangfest, but a single acoustic guitar gave it all a way different feel. Most of tonight’s songs came from his recent solo CDs: “The Phoenix”, “Sweet Mary Jane” and “Indianola” stood out; the latter is a breakup song (he just went through one) that employs some clever wordplay. The songs that seemed to get the best crowd response were the few he did from his former band, Blue Mountain. He played “Wink” early on and eventually got around to “Soul Sister” (a repeated request throughout his set). That song is a particularly good example of the funky country rock that Blue Mountain was known for. Its lyrics tell of a teenager coming of age (love, drinking, regret), over a funky Neil Young/Lynryd Skynyrd groove (which was quite often the soundtrack to such stuff way back when). The upbeat, bluegrass-influenced “Jimmy Carter” provided a nice election-year “let’s get those creeps out of office” message. Mark Bilyeu joined in on acoustic guitar for the last couple of songs. After the show, a few of us ended up participating in another edition of “Late-Night Roundtable” in Fred’s living room until way too late, for a school night.

7/28/04 The Dirty Thirtys, Frederick’s. I heard the last handful of songs by The Moonglades; They’re a lead female singer with a pretty voice backed by B, D & G, all veterans of lotsa local country and/or punk bands. This might be a case of reverse synergy…somehow, the sum of the talents of each musician adds up to less than each individual component. I’m remembering covers like “Harper Valley PTA”, “Marie’s The Name” and “Johnny Are You Queer?”- more than once, the lead singer couldn’t come up with the words to songs and the whole band stopped in order to start all over again a time or two. Frederick’s isn’t exactly a recital hall, so no one (myself included) was especially offended by their lack of professional polish.

After a brief break in the surprisingly cool outdoor courtyard, it was time to come back in to hear The Dirty Thirtys, a four-piece from Cape Girardeau. They had the look of a gritty roots-rock band- baseball capped lead singer, bass player with a cowboy hat and goatee and a tattooed guy with a buzz-cut playing a black Les Paul. There was nothing offensive about their sound, but I can’t say I was overly impressed, either. Some were slow, some were more upbeat, but the songs didn’t blow me away (musically or lyrically)- one was about family farms losing out to big corporations. I left before they were done.

This was a slow couple of weeks for me and live music- lots of time at the pool with the kids. Since the loss of our friend Mike Blake is still on the minds of a lot of people, I dug up a few entries from the first year I kept my live music journal. I selected these few from dozens of shows at Cicero’s, back when Mike was the bar manager. By the way, Jen and Marla have put together a nice website dedicated to the memory of Mike: www.mikeblake.org ,,,check it out. So with apologies for the amateurish prose, here’s what I wrote a long time ago:

6/23 & 24/95 Son Volt, Cicero’s. Jay Farrar’s new band features two distinct strains of what Uncle Tupelo did: the hard-hitting start/stop songs that characterized the early records (“No Depression” and “Still Feel Gone”) and the later folk/acoustic based songs that Jay did circa “Anodyne”. Jay has written new songs in each vein, three of which are on a tape that’s been floating around Cicero’s for a while. The songs from that demo (“Route”, “Windfall” & “Tear Stained Eye”) stood out as the strongest new material, but maybe some of the other songs will grow on me. The band is a four-piece: Jay and Mike from the original Uncle Tupelo lineup, plus a bass player and a guy who plays lead guitar, banjo and fiddle. This sideman’s diversity allows them to take on many different sounds. The lead guitar chores were distinctly divided: Jay played lead on all of the Uncle Tupelo material while the new guy (Dave Boquist) took the leads on the newer songs. Song highlights from the two nights (in no particular order): the aforementioned three, “Looking For A Way Out”, “Ten Second News”, “Drown”, “Still Be Around”, True To Life”, “Postcard”, “Anodyne”, “Slate’, Chickamauga” and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”. The shows were significantly different each night that going both nights was worthwhile. As for me, Friday was a “drink lots of beer” night and Saturday was an ice water night, so that also made each show different and enjoyable in their own way.

The Carpetbaggers opened both shows. They’re a three-piece from Minneapolis who play rockabilly/country songs- both sets were spirited and inspired, although the crowd seemed to be more with them on Saturday night. I was annoyed with some frat-boy type that was going “shhhh” as their set ended on Friday…I guess he was anxious for Son Volt to take the stage, but damn…

11/7/95 Blue Mountain, Cicero’s. I could flip backwards in this little journal to be reminded, maybe, of an act that blew me away as much as this show did, but this one is right up there. I really like their debut CD, but it only offers a hint at what they do live. Frontman Cary Hudson is a man possessed. They must have to give him some kind of depressant to slow him down enough to lay down the tracks on the record, because, unaltered, he just rips, rants, raves, reverbs, riffs, rings, stings, staccatos, arpeggios, harmonics, howls and generally expresses himself in a way that leaves me (and everyone else) grinning real big. They did most of the “Dog Days” CD, plus “Shady Grove” and Ramjam’s “Black Betty”! Original highlights included “Jimmy Carter” (of course), “Blue Canoe”, “ZZQ” (I never woulda guessed that an homage to 70s AOR would move me so, but there it is) and “Soul Sister”. A talent like this is not trained, nor should it be tamed. I could flip backwards.

6/13/96 The Weaklings, Cicero’s. I got there at 10:30 for what was supposed to be this great triple bill, but…the headliner and the #2 act had to cancel and the #3 act (The Weaklings) were a no-show, so- no show! So we headed to Blueberry Hill for an hour or so, until word got out that an actual band had shown up next door. The only reason they took the stage was because they were told that was the only way they could claim their complimentary pizza, and these Portland boys were hungry. When we got there, The Weaklings were rocking hard. They would fit into that punk-rock category. Only about twenty people were there, but it was a Cicero’s moment. Susan, Lisa and I found ourselves slammin’ and shakin’ it up front- the band was manic and driven from start to finish. As we were heading to the door, the band was heartily partaking of their pizza…I hope they found a place to crash.

9/3/96 Tenderloin, Cicero’s. I am not now, nor will I ever be, a young black man slipping into some seedy roadhouse to taste of the most wicked, drenched in sin, sounds made by men who sold their souls to the devil (or something like that?), so this might be as close as this been-to-college white boy will ever get. Flat Duo Jets opened and poured out this frantic, furious guitar-stranglin’ mess of sound, occasionally mixing in a ballad or mid-tempo song (“Michelle”, “I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”), but what really does it for me is the relentless, blaring (yet endearingly ragged) guitar. Link Wray’s “Ace Of Spades” exemplified this mode. Seeing and hearing these two self-styled hillbilly hellions from North Carolina, concerned with nothing more than pounding out this joyful noise seemed a more fitting representation of the Tarheel state than what Jesse Helms might have you believe. They’re both good friends of the folks at Cicero’s- I think they crashed at Mike’s apartment.

Continuing in this wild and wicked mode, Tenderloin took the stage. Its gonna be hard, with my limited vocabulary, to describe them without using a lot of the same adjectives used for Flat Duo Jets. Like F2J, Tenderloin plays with obvious talent, but more importantly, loads of conviction- they mean it. Instead of F2J’s crazed hillbilly duo take on things, these guys are a full band- bass, drums, guitar and vocals/harmonica, the latter weighing in at over three hundred pounds, and damn proud of it. He (Ernie) sweats and shakes it while howling and honking this blues-based rock…you couldn’t call it traditional blues, as it has this boy (and assorted others) hopping up and down to songs with a punky punch. Maybe Supersuckers meets J. Geils. About halfway through the set, Ernie decided to shed his t-shirt and shake it some more- a blinding blur of tattoos, blubber and sweat. This unapologetic, ugly, but passionate presentation was a defining snapshot of the evening. A new favorite show of 1996…?

1/10/97 Prisonshake, Cicero’s. The current (and final) flagship band of Cicero’s basement bar. On the next to last night of live music there, they came dressed for the occasion. The entire stage (including walls, floor and ceiling ) was covered in white sheets, while the band was clad in black: shoes, pants, shirts, ties, and coats. Once again, they rocked hard for a relatively brief time. Started out hard enough, but just kept getting more so. Doug mostly holds that mike stand and vocalizes with much passion while Robert and company rock out. Some kind of hybrid of say, Stones, Plimsouls, Faces, and a bunch of undefinables. No encore, but the set’s last song (“Jimmy, Jimmy”?) featured a priceless moment when Steve Scariano shed his bass and shook maracas (along with his bad self) and even sang! Something about “I wanna fuck you….?”. Think: “I am evil Homer”.




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