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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 25
2/5/05 Dutch Henry, Frederick’s. I mostly came to hear Plaid Cattle open this show…It’s nice that they’re playing out again. You can’t describe their sound with any convenient little catch-phrase; the songs vary quite a bit, one to the next. When Ann sings, she sometimes lets the low rumble of her bass carry the melody line, kinda like on some of those Firehose songs; her half-spoken vocals remind me of that one girl from Scrawl. Curt’s guitar treatment (and even Ron’s drumming) changes radically from song to song. Hey, what’s that familiar riff that he’s launching into…it’s Skynyrd’s "Saturday Night Special".
I decided to stick around and hear a song or two by tonight’s headliner, Dutch Henry, before heading over to a party, but this snappy four-piece (b, d, g & a lefty guitar) from Michigan grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. NRBQ or Rockpile might be reference points- catchy originals with joyful, ringing guitars. They transformed Gillian Welch’s "Everything Is Free" into a punchy pub-rock send-up…one original reminded me of The Bottlerockets, and another Camper Van Beethoven. Their energetic cover of Neil Young’s "Ohio" might have been a little too bright, given the subject at hand. Their encore featured another "hit" from the hippie era- they gave "If You’re Going To San Francisco" more grit and bounce than I remember it having.
2/10/05 Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men, The Duck Room. Dave Alvin tours fairly often, so I end up seeing him about every other time he comes to town. The Dave-less Guilty Men came out first and did a couple of songs, with Chris Gaffney on lead vocals. I’ve always liked his writing and singing, so I was glad to see him get a little moment in the spotlight before settling into his role as DA’s sideman (guitar, accordion). He sang a country weeper accentuated by Chris Miller’s steel guitar and an up-tempo piano-driven (St. Louisan Joe Terry) boogie number.
Then Dave Alvin joined the band and they settled into bluesy bar-band mode. I’m not especially a fan of such stuff; long, slow-to-mid tempo blues-based songs with extended "jamming", when performed by lesser bands, will challenge my attention pretty quick. So it’s to this band’s credit that they kept things interesting and engaging, pretty much throughout the evening. One song struck me as a punched-up version of "Truckin" (maybe it was "Abilene"?), as crisp, focused leads were traded by Alvin, Miller and Terry.
One of the songs that got "the long treatment" was ‘Little Honey". Over the years, Alvin has presented this song fast, slow, loud, quiet and a few points in between- this variation keeps things interesting for long-time fans as well as the band. Tonight’s mid-tempo version used that funny little guitar tag from Glen Campbell’s "Southern Nights" as a base that the band would deviate from and revisit. Drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks brought things down real quiet in the middle while Dave gave us a jazzy minute or two of "My Favorite Things" ala Coltrane. Terry’s piano playing morphed from delicate to raucous as the song was reassembled into "Who Do You Love?" before returning to "Little Honey". The set ended with my favorite song of 1987- "Fourth Of July", a song whose soaring melody and bittersweet lyrical content serve as something of a reassuring anthem for those of us on the less patriotic side of the fence.
The encore opened with "Blackjack David"…I know, lots of people love it when he does those sensitive reinterpretations of traditional songs, but I found it a bit slow and boring. Fortunately, they snapped out of it, and moved on to a couple of songs from Dave’s days in The Blasters- "Marie, Marie" flowed seamlessly into "So Long Baby, Goodbye", to end the show with more of that high-octane instrumental interplay.
2/11/04 Tift Merritt, The Duck Room. We got there early for this show that ended up selling out… even with only dos of the Tres Chicas on hand (Tonya Lamm couldn’t make it tonight), they filled up their opening set with a pretty wide variety of sounds and tempos. Caitlin Cary (ex-Whiskeytown) has a slightly mannered voice that reminds me of one of those British folk-rock singers (maybe Maddy Prior). In addition to songs she wrote for the Chicas’ album, she also sang a couple from her solo CDs. Her fiddle got fast in a place or two, but she seems most comfortable doing a slow and mournful thing. I’m less familiar with Lynn Blakey, but I liked her voice, as well as the songs that she (presumably) has written. Toward the end of their relatively brief set, they covered George Jones’ "Take The Devil Out Of Me" in a sweet, sassy, Meat Purveyors kind of way.
Shortly after Tift Merritt and band took the stage, I was conflicted by a bunch of stuff, most of which was summed up in the various comments made by people around me. A couple of people I talked to loved her set, start to finish. Tift has a pleasing voice that reminds me of that of Jessie Colter (both in its character and in the ache/break in her phrasing) and her keyboard playing added nice soulful fills in places. Her new band of ringers features Brad Rice on lead guitar- I’ve heard him play with Ryan Adams and, most recently, Son Volt…he’s got the chops and faithfully recreated (and then some) the leads that Mike Campbell laid down on Tift’s current "Tambourine" CD. But his presence somehow felt like there was a push on someone’s part to make Tift’s current tour a bigger deal- she’s been nominated for a Grammy, and is flying out to L.A. tomorrow to the awards ceremony. On top of this odd undercurrent, the band seemed to overplay the songs- it’s not uncommon (even expected) for a band to give songs more punch live than on album, but in this case, the transformation shifted the overall tone away from the pop/Motown feel of "Tambourine". (The CD also benefits from a cool horn section that wasn’t on hand tonight)
And then there’s how she looks and how she moves. She’s real pretty, head to toe, and shakes it on stage in a way that lets you know she knows it. I generally try not to let a musician’s personal appearance affect what I think about the music, but all around me, her visual presentation was having both positive and negative effects on people. The positive impressions are to be expected, but some people presumed her onstage manner was part of a calculated campaign to make her the next ______ (whoever is currently hot and popular). Women get judged differently than men.
Back to the music- she did almost all of the songs from "Tambourine". "Stray Paper", "Write My Ticket" and "Late Night Pilgrim" were a few of my favorites. "Your Love Made A U-Turn" (an older cover) bears an uncanny similarity to "Your Love Is Like A See Saw", both in melody and lyrical message (the change of direction metaphor). During "Tambourine", she shook the biggest tambourine I’ve ever seen. She ended her set with "Shadow In The Way"- the bouncy piano in this one reminded me of "Werewolves Of London".
The encore opened with "Supposed To Make You Happy", an aching ballad from back in her more country-leaning days, before closing things out with more revved up heroic guitar and keyboard.
2/12/05 The Rockhouse Ramblers, Riddle’s. Tonight was the last show by this local country/western, honky-tonk combo. The place was packed before the dozen or so of us arrived from the Duck Room, so we were squeezed in tight by the front door, right in front of the band. In the seven years they were together, this band played all over the place, headlining as well as opening for touring bands. But these all-evening, several-set gigs might have suited them best. Unlike a more formal show where they stuck to a tighter playlist of songs that played themselves out in a tidy three minutes, they could try out new material and allow the two impressive lead players, John Horton (guitar) and Gary Hunt (guitar & steel) to wind things out a bit. Things felt more of the moment and less like a "show". I go back and forth on this idea of spontaneous vs. crafted into a concise presentation; at their best, these guys gave us the best of both.
They took things out in fittingly loose fashion- like a fun little victory lap. In this long final set, Hank’s "My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It" and Waylon’s "Only Daddy" stood out. The whole thing wound down around last call with a spirited take on "Folsom Prison Blues". I assume we’ll continue to see these guys play around town in other bands.
2/16/05 Achalachia, Frederick’s. A while ago someone asked me to name my favorite movie. I ended up going with "Raising Arizona". I really identify with Nicholas Cage’s character- like H.I. McDunnough, I too, am having a bad hair life and feel torn between being the family man and running around with my good-time derelict buddies. Tonight the family was asleep by around ten, and I was at Frederick’s by 10:30.
What Achalachia does falls outside of my experience…metal? stoner metal? The drummer and bass player get locked into hard and repetitive patterns while the lead guitar player (wearing one of those knit caps) does a slurry/blurry thing and howls unintelligible lyrics in a deep voice vaguely reminiscent of Eddie Vedder. Fred and I ended up hearing the second half of their set while talking in Fred’s kitchen; the dishes on the shelves were rattling. I could have stayed out later with my good-time buddies, but being a family man, I headed home shortly after the band finished up.
2/17/05 Open mic night, Frederick’s. When I showed up a little after midnight, there were only a handful of people there- atypical for open mic night. Hunter Brumfield was onstage playing guitar and singing "Knocking On Heaven’s Door" which he managed to transform into The Replacements’ "Here Comes A Regular". There was a guy standing next to him adding improvised flute fills. I’m not sure whose idea that was.
Bob Reuter was tonight’s host- he closed things out with a string of covers that I had never heard him do, just him & and his guitar: "Rain", "Sweet Black Angel" and "Country Honk" along with one Bob original that I can’t remember.
2/18/05 The Finn Brothers, Vintage Vinyl. A big crowd of adoring fans filled the entire "rock" section of the store. Tim & Neil came out with acoustic guitars (6 & 12 string). They apologized that this set was gonna be brief because one of them had the flu, and they were "saving themselves" for tonight’s big show at The Pageant. I had a Split Enz record twenty years ago, but somehow didn’t keep up with what these brothers did subsequently. The interplay of their guitars and voices was rich and warm- things sounded intimate and familiar, even though I didn’t recognize the songs. After they played, they sat at a table and signed autographs for a half hour or so.
2/18/05 Improv comedy, The Studio Café. A local comedy group called The Arch Rivals put together this quazi-competition as a way of setting up some improvisational sketch comedy- three people on the "white team" vs. three on the "black team". It was a bit unclear how points were scored (and not really the point, anyway). Topics thrown out from the audience were acted out in search of coming up with something funny. They also did that "freeze tag" situational substitution game. They made up verses to "Da Doo Ron Ron" on the spot, rhyming each line with whatever one-syllable girl’s name was thrown out by the audience. I know that improv comedy is widely practiced and can lead to some funny stuff, but from what I saw/heard tonight (the first of two acts), it wasn’t doing much for me. It reminded me of seeing those ad-hoc bands play at Frederick’s a while back…as a general rule, I’d rather hear something that has been thought through in a way that is consistent with some coherent idea/vision…even if that idea initially came about via something as spontaneous as the exercises I witnessed tonight.
2/18/05 Big Star Kadillac, Magee’s. I was hoping to catch The Highway Matrons, but their opening set had just ended. So instead of hearing HM for the twentieth time, I got to hear a local band I had never even heard of before. A drummer, two guitars trading leads, and a better than average bass player playing hard, slightly funky rock of varying tempos…but what really stood out was their energetic frontman- since he’s a black guy adding soulful vocals on top of what is, essentially white-boy rock (and making it a bit funkier in the process), it’s tempting to call them a harder version of Hootie and the Blowfish, but my familiarity is limited on this subject.
2/19/05 Keane, The Pageant. The only band on the bill tonight that I was at all familiar with was The Redwalls. They opened the show with another dose of high-energy pop. To understate the obvious, these somewhat geeky kids from suburban Chicago use early Beatles (circa "Boys" or "You Can’t Do That") as the blueprint for their sound. They vaguely dress in 60s British invasion clothes and one guitar player’s voice is a dead ringer for that of early John Lennon. I think they played all originals tonight…they ended with one that owed a debt to "Helter Skelter"- it had a nervous energy to it that threatened to derail things into chaos, but the song somehow managed to stay on track. They got an enthusiastic response from the crowd (who, presumably came to see tonight’s headlining band). Tonight’s show was sold out and the crowd was very dense - the ushers stopped letting additional people enter the dance floor very early on.
I end up writing something about every band I see, even if I know nothing about them ahead of time. Tonight, just about everybody in the room knew more about the next two bands than I did, so here go my uninformed observations:
Tonight’s second band was The Zutons. This 5-piece (b, d, g/v, g & sax) would probably come off much differently to a blind person than to everyone else- the drummer pretty much set the table for this set- the rhythms were more fresh and memorable than the melodies, but given that this set was relatively brief (due to three bands on the bill), I stayed interested. For those of us with eyes, the most memorable thing about this band was their saxophone player- she’s this shapely brunette who danced around in a way that demanded a disproportionate amount of attention. Most of the time she was using her sax as a prop with which she played "air guitar" while the rest of the band played. I found myself waiting with great anticipation for when she would actually play the damn thing…was it gonna sound like Clarence Clemens? Romeo Void? Morphine? Well, she actually did play it some (maybe 20% of the time, I’d guess) and she added some interesting, if subtle textures (I don’t know that I would call anything she did a "lead"), but it’s hard to imagine that a male sax player would be worth his spot on the tour bus for doing the same thing. Women get judged differently than men.
From the moment that Keane (drums, keyboards and one strong, emotive vocalist) came onstage, the dense crowd was in their hands- most of the women were singing along to lyrics that I could barely make out over the P.A. The sound was lush and more full than you would expect from two instruments- there were probably some pedal effects at work here, as well. This isn’t exactly my thing, but the instrumentation was unique and the lead singer (Tom Champlin) has an impressive voice. Overall, this show really benefited from having three relatively brief and sonically distinctive acts.
2/23/05 Eero, Frederick’s. The Lab opened with a makeshift lineup- two guitars and drums, no bass. Melodic pop sung in a voice that reminded me of Squeeze…pleasant enough, but not much bite. Eero is a three piece (b, d, g) that sounded like a harder version of The Lab; the lead singer sounded quite a bit like the guy who preceded him on stage. The drummer’s style reminded me of George Hurley- you know, that stationary torso, snap from the elbows thing. One song borrowed that bombastic "da da-da, da da-da" riff from Billy Squier’s "Everybody Wants You".