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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 23
11/19/04 Rosanne Cash, The Sheldon. This one kinda crept up on me- I was a huge fan back in the late eighties, but haven’t really kept up with her sporadic recordings since then. And since she hasn’t played St. Louis in sixteen years, her music had drifted to some dormant corner of my consciousness. Tonight all that I love about Rosanne Cash came back in refreshing fashion.
She opened with "I Still Miss Someone"- her pure, distinctive voice nailed the simple and lonely feel of this classic (written by her father)…the intimate confines and acoustics of the Sheldon didn’t hurt, either. Throughout the evening, John Leventhal’s guitar provided just the right amount of accompaniment- he would often do a simultaneous melody line/bass line thing (a variation of that Merle Travis technique). At other times he would play more sparingly, allowing his subtle touch to accentuate Rosanne’s sad and haunting songs.
"Sad and haunting" was pretty much the theme of this evening’s set. Whether it’s the fear of losing a lover ("Runaway Train"), the assessment of a failed relationship ("If I Were A Man"), or an emotional wound that won’t heal ("Seven Year Ache"), when she breaks your heart…brother, it stays broke. You wouldn’t have to look much past the titles to know that "I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me" and "Sea Of Heartbreak" (a Don Gibson cover) continued in this vein. The saddest of the sad, though was "Blue Moon With Heartache"- a song about falling out of love in which she dejectedly asks "what would I do to be a diamond in your eyes again?". Something in the way she conveys this melancholy makes it hurt even more than these sad words, alone, can. I got all glassy-eyed.
The memory of her father resurfaced a few more times tonight. A nice introduction preceded "September When It Comes" (a song she recorded with Johnny) and a lighter moment was provided by her sprightly cover of "Tennessee Flat Top Box"- on this one, Leventhal’s guitar treatment more closely resembled Luther Perkins’ deep electric leads on Johnny’s original than Steuart Smith’s bluegrass-influenced breaks on Rosanne’s 1987 remake.
As things happen, this was the third well-known country/roots female vocalist accompanied by a lone guitarist to play in St. Louis in the past couple of months (Gillian Welch/David Rawlings & Emmylou Harris/Buddy Miller being the others). Does this constitute some kind of trend? If so, I’m all for it. The Cash/Leventhal collaboration was nicely displayed in their co-written "Rules Of Travel". They inventively interwove the words "one, two, three and four" into the verses and meter of this one.
I guess it’s a good thing when the only criticism of a show is that it was too brief- just over an hour, I think. The first song of the encore was yet another Johnny Cash cover- the not-too-heavy prison song, "I Got Stripes". She ended with a feat that only she could pull off- she covered that Broadway show tune "Wouldn’t It Be Lovely?" in a way that transformed it from a comically nuanced, um… show tune into a slow and aching lament to an unattainable ideal. Is late November when people start to list their favorite shows of the year?
11/20/04 Human Aftertaste, Frederick’s. Going from the sublime (Rosanne Cash last night) to the ridiculous, I went over to Fred’s mostly just to say "hi" and drink a beer or three. So who’s tonight’s band? Just another one of those "lead singer licking Cheese-Whiz off of a strap-on dildo" bands. This crew from the quad cities does a raunchier, minor-league version of what Nashville Pussy does- it’s more about the overt, sleazy sexual schtick than the music. Our cheese-lipped frontman sported a textbook mullet and his sliced-to-fringe t-shirt revealed a bodacious beer belly. Backed by bass, guitar, drummer (wearing a Mexican wrestling mask), guitarist/keyboardist (wearing a pink leotard, and seriously packing a bulge down to his knee), they sludged through some stoner metal riffs (I may be a bit off on that- it wasn’t very memorable), providing the soundtrack to a procession of sophomoric shenanigans.
Accompanying the band was an entourage of five or six "performers" who took the show onto the floor (there were only about 20 people in attendance, so this crew pretty much had the floor to themselves). These folks were wearing masks, g-strings and/or strap-ons and performed all kinds of simulations with an assortment of dildos and inflatable sex dolls. One heavily tattooed lad laid out on a bed of nails while our flabby frontman stood on his chest. I left before this whole thing played itself out.
Frederick’s Music Lounge is the reason my wife insisted we put a shower in our remodeled downstairs bathroom- it never felt so good as it did around 1AM last night.
11/23/04 Bagheera, Frederick’s. The Bibowatts modified their opening set when their drummer couldn’t make it (I think he was sick). One of the members sang a few songs, accompanied by his solo acoustic guitar. It didn’t strike me as anything unique and I ended up not paying much attention. Then another guy (presumably also from Bibowatts) got up and did a few songs on electric guitar- he laid down some slower, atmospheric textures that reminded me of Richard Buckner.
I had heard a little bit of buzz about Bagheera lately- a good crowd (for a Tuesday- maybe 40 or 50) was on hand. As things happened, I ended up in a long (but interesting) conversation with Bob upstairs and we didn’t make it down to hear the band until the last song of their brief set. What I heard made me wish I had caught more- two guitars playing off each other in a peppy way and a female singer whose voice reminded me, at times, of Exene Cervenka. They came back up and did a handful of songs just as a duo (the husband/wife singing/writing collaborators). My foggy, week-old memory is that these songs were somewhat playful and not so serious. One song had some metaphoric "you planted an evil seed in me" theme. I honestly didn’t hear enough to form a strong opinion, but I especially liked the little bit of the full band that I heard.
11/30/04 The Dirty Thirtys, Frederick’s. Welcome to the minor leagues- a Midwestern band is playing on a Tuesday night in front of maybe thirty people. Not a bad thing- baseball fans in Omaha, Wichita or Peoria have a great time watching players who may be on their way up to the next level, or (more likely) players who are enjoying a time in their lives when this is what they do before ending up with real jobs, families, etc.
So, about the music- I liked ‘em a lot more this time than last. This four piece (b, d, g & g/v) presented a diverse set ranging from twangy ballads to more up-tempo grunge-rock, all loosely under that "alt. country" banner (three of the four members took the stage wearing flannel shirts). The lead guitar player laid on some fuzzy sounding leads. The lead singer has a weathered look to compliment his raspy, deeper register voice. They’re driving back to their day jobs in Cape Girardeau tonight.
12/3/04 The Black Diamond Heavies, Frederick’s. Bob Reuter was real jazzed by this Nashville trio when they played here a while ago for only a handful people- he’s been playing them a bunch on his radio show and introduced the band to a much bigger crowd tonight.
The Black Keys might be a starting point in describing these guys- they apply fat and funky electric guitar (a big guy with a baby face who plays sitting down) and simple but emphatic drums to songs inspired by old-school rural blues. To this, add a skinny, long-haired dude on soulful, surging Rhodes keyboards. I think southern evangelical churches and heroin addiction figure into the unauthorized bio of this band.
They kept things varied along the way- sometimes the guitar player played sleazy/greasy slide, at other times his fingers squeezed out some firey lead runs. In addition to the manic, balls-out blues thing (one original was about Robert Johnson), they covered the Velvet Underground’s "Waitin’ For My Man", putting their own hypnotic spin on it. Both the guitar player and the keyboard player sang, the latter in a gravelly voice that worked well on Tom Waits’ "Down, Down, Down". This is the shit.
12/4/04 The Melroys, The Duck Room. I totally missed band #1, but heard most of the set by The Rockhouse Ramblers- more of that vintage-sounding classic country from, approximately, the forties through the sixties. As always, three lead vocalists keep things interesting. In addition to the older "Devil’s Elbow", they did a few new ones: Dade sang an old-timey tears-in-your-beer song called "Counting The Bubbles", Kip sang a Haggard-inspired one bemoaning how things are less clear-cut these days (it might be called "Shades Of Blue And Gray") as well as a slow and lonely one that made me think of the Everly Brothers. Another new one started off sounding like it was going to be Waylon’s "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"
Ramblers sets always feature a few instrumentals- sometimes jazzy, sometimes swingy, always enjoyable. As impressive as John Horton’s abilities on the guitar are, I’m more impressed by his ability to play off of a second lead player. Just as he seamlessly trades licks with Brian Henneman in The Bottlerockets, he does likewise (yet in an entirely different style) with Gary Hunt in this band. Watching them play together is like watching John Stockton feed Karl Malone in the low post.
The headliners of this 95 North Records showcase was The Melroys. They’ve got that perky pop with a hint of rockabilly sound that makes me think of Rockpile. Their set was front-loaded with catchy originals- one sounded like a Marshall Crenshaw song, another lifted the guitar tag from "And Then He Kissed Me". The lead guitar player started off in a lower register that had that deep, ballsy "Ghost Riders In The Sky" feel to it; later he played some slide leads. Early on, they covered The Traveling Wilburys’ "Handle With Care". As the set wore on, their originals became less memorable…one sure-fire way to snap out of this is to cover one of my favorite pop songs- The Beatles’ "Rain", faithfully recreating the more inventive moments of Paul and Ringo, in particular. The home stretch featured "Get Rhythm" and "Lover Please" giving both a true "bar band" feel. They ended with their original, "Laverne".
12/8/04 Slick 57, Frederick’s. The Von Ehrics opened. This three-piece from Dallas played tough and gritty rock- not exactly rockabilly, but not too far from it. Dave said "these guys are like Dallas’ version of The Tripdaddys", right as I was thinking the same thing. If that’s whom we’re comparing them to, The Tripdaddys get me a bit more worked up. The bass player wore a goatee-version of the Z. Z. Top beard and kept the low end fierce and full. They ended with a medley of traditional songs: "I’ll Fly Away/Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/Deep In The Heart Of Texas", joined by the next band’s bass player on vocals.
The little blurb in Playback magazine compared Slick 57 to early Old 97s and Green Day. The first song of tonight’s set gave us a good dose of the lead singer’s dopey, disaffected and somewhat droney voice…pretty dead-on with the Old 97s comparison. They then proceeded to do up this hooky pop/punk hybrid that recalled some of the better moments from those late 80s/early 90s California bands like Descendants, Bad Religion and well, Green Day. The drummer was notably tight and intense and the bass player made an upright bass work surprisingly well in this setting…early on, he gashed his cheek on a microphone stand, but played on undaunted, wearing the bloody spot like a badge of honor. The only cover I recognized was The Pixies’ "Where Is My Mind?". Me not being very smart, I once again stayed out very late on a school night.
12/11/04 Benefit show, Mississippi Nights. Five (mostly local) acts played this benefit show to raise money for a range of causes- medical bills for fellow musicians Alejandro Escovedo and Karl Mueller as well as Habitat For Humanity…an almost sold-out house at $30 a pop. By the time we arrived at eight, The Rockhouse Trio had already played and Anders Parker was on stage. Accompanied by bass and drums, his moody singer/songwriter stuff didn’t always hold my interest, but there were occasional bursts of instrumental intensity that stood out over the steady din of conversation. Toward the end of the set, Jay Farrar came out and played harmonica- it was that wild sixties, rock-style harp, not the Dylan-inspired folk/rock harmonica he usually adds to his own songs.
Next came a solo set by Richard Buckner. The first time I saw him play, he was nearly drowned out by the sound of people loudly socializing. Ever since then, it seems like he’s gone out of his way to make himself hard to ignore. Tonight, his guitar was patched in to some odd electronic effects. I’m not much of a gearhead, so I’m not gonna be much help in accurately describing what was going on. As I heard it, he would establish a given guitar line that would then reverberate on its own while he continued to accompany this shimmering/pulsating sound with new, live leads…like a more ragged version of what Robert Fripp was doing 25 years ago. It gave Nancy a headache that she still had the next morning. When he was finished interacting with these sustained effects, he would step on a foot pedal and things would abruptly shift to a more quiet, cozy feel, more suitable to the gentle character of his voice. I didn’t recognize any of the songs in this brief set (not brief enough for my wife).
Act number four was the trio version (no bass player) of The Bottle Rockets. Brian Henneman came out all lean (literally- he’s lost a bunch of weight) and mean (well, at least figuratively) on acoustic guitar with John Horton on lap steel. In their relatively brief set, they mostly touched on older material- no songs at all from their current "Blue Sky" CD. Songs I remember were "I Wanna Come Home" as well as their two snapshots of rural poverty, "Kerosene" and "Welfare Music". Their most loud and raucous moment came on the (very) old original "I Drink Stag". I think there are some spoken verses to this one, but mostly the lyrics are "I drink Stag"…simplistic and fun like Neil Young’s "T-Bone". Speaking of Mr. Young, they ended with a (presumably) new song that was slow, but intense in a "Cortez The Killer" kind of way- John played bass on this one and Mark’s rapid-fire drumming reminded me of Buddy Miles on Hendrix’s "Machine Gun". If my memory of all of this is a bit foggy, blame it on the handful of people who bought me beers tonight.
And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for…the first live set by the new-look Son Volt. Well, not just yet- first, frontman Jay Farrar came out and did a couple of solo songs with guitar and harmonica. His warm and familiar voice singing "I know we’re gonna make it alright" is reassuring, even as his lyrics paint pictures that are not always so rosy. In this regard, he (along with guys like Steve Earle) carries the torch taken up by folks like Bob Dylan and Neil Young a generation ago. After a couple of songs in solo mode, Jay mumbled something about needing help and the rest of (the new) Son Volt came onstage.
A few people have wondered about keeping the name "Son Volt" when three of the four members have been replaced- kinda like the museum that has the original axe that George Washington cut down the cherry tree with (except that the handle has been replaced). Well, in the case of this implement, the head is still intact and that counts for a lot. With Brad Rice (ex-Ryan Adams sideman) on guitar, Andrew Duplantis (ex-Meat Puppets, Bob Mould, etc.) and a new drummer, these guys rocked harder than the previous SV incarnation. Gone are the subtle acoustic touches (fiddle, pedal steel, banjo, acoustic guitar) that once fleshed out Jay’s songs- it’s much more straight-ahead rock. Rice added heroic leads that were more "Exile" than "Anodyne".
Song selection was a mix: about half older, familiar Son Volt songs ("Loose String", "Driving The View", "Straight Face" and "Drown") and the other half newer unfamiliar ones. Notably absent was the song Son Volt contributed to the Alejandro Escovedo tribute CD- after all; this is a benefit show for Al…maybe they declined to play "Sometimes" because it was recorded by the briefly reunited original Son Volt lineup. This relatively long set ended with a tougher take on Son Volt’s "greatest hit"- "Windfall".
With such a large cast of notable musicians on tonight’s bill, the encore featured the inevitable all-star super-jam, the highlight of which was an extended version of Neil Young’s "Cortez The Killer". This song is like a freshly groomed ski slope, inviting any great guitarist to engage in some exhilarating freefall… and damned if we don’t just happen to have six of ‘em on stage (Farrar, Henneman, Horton, Rice, Buckner and Parker). You had to look carefully to see which guy was taking each given lead- all were impressive; I especially liked what Brian was doing as well as some intense interaction between Jay and John Horton. Eventually, I gave up trying to keep up with who was playing when and just took it all in. Things turned from blazing to reflective as they closed with Dylan’s "I Shall Be Released", each of the singers delivering a verse.
12/15/04 Highway Matrons, Frederick’s. A loose feel always prevails when these guys play at this bar- even more so tonight…it was almost like we (all twenty of us) were hanging out during band practice. A couple of songs got off to false starts, and were aborted and restarted. Wise cracks were freely taken and given from the stage. This being December, they opened with "Blues For Christmas", another of Fred’s loser’s laments. This one’s about a guy who kills himself on Christmas Eve: "Twenty flights up, twenty flights below, he landed on the sidewalk, and made an angel in the snow".
Fred sang "Jailhouse Tattoo" and Mark S. sang "Easy Lovin". Mark’s guitar playing got a little trippy/spacey a time or two. Somewhere in there, they repeated "Blues For Christmas" for someone who showed up late. Continuing with this loose thing, Fred drafted Tom Buscher (sp?) off of a barstool to take over on drums. He kinda shot from the hip (entirely appropriate with this crew) and did just fine on "Little Baby Dreams". The whole thing ended relatively early.