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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 30

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 30

7/1/05 Bettie Serveert, The Duck Room.  After managing to avoid St. Louis from 1992 through 2003, these guys returned to this venue for the third time in less than a year and a half.  Tonight’s set wasn’t significantly different from what they did here in March (new, harder drummer, new keyboard player, newer material, etc.)…the usual good time, even if the crowd wasn’t quite as big this time around.

The songs generally stuck to their typical pattern: start slow and quiet, build in intensity to the point of near eruption before somehow managing to make a graceful landing.  I found myself lost in the moment a time or two, jumping up and down like a damn fool…particularly during the dark and driving “Log 22”.  Our whole little crew was up front, stage right, doing likewise.  A few other songs I remember: “Ray, Ray Rain”, “Tomboy” and “Hands Off”.  Lead singer Carol Van Dyk is very pleasing to the eyes and ears.  They did a three-song encore:  “White Dogs” (with its “Waitin’ For My Man” drone), “Smack” and “The Kid’s Alright”.    

7/1/05 The Black Diamond Heavies, Frederick’s.  Still time left to slip over to the south side to catch the last two or three songs…the guitar was as sleazy/greasy and the keyboards as tough and soulful as I remember from before, but what caught my attention tonight was the drummer; the dude can flat-out whomp ‘em.  Their encore was a slower song, sung by the keyboard player while Pork Chop played harmonica.  They draw bigger crowds each time they come to town.  

7/6/05  Leadville, Frederick’s.  Bagheera was a late scratch from tonight’s bill, so Leadville played on short notice. Tom (ex-Free Dirt & Fran) on guitar, Michael (ex-Stillwater) on drums and a bass player played hard.  Tom’s guitar was articulate, his vocals, not so much.  Their set was fairly loose; no need for formalities when you’re playing in front of a dozen or so people.  At some point in the evening, someone noticed that tonight was the fifth anniversary of the re-opening of Frederick’s Music Lounge (with Fred & Paul at the helm).  There was no big celebration to mark the occasion, but a few of us stayed late for a more intimate one.     

7/8/05 Bob Dylan, GMC Stadium, Sauget, IL.  Bob and Willie Nelson are on a summer tour of minor league ballparks…tonight’s stop was the home of the Gateway Grizzlies.  A cool carnival atmosphere prevailed: It’s Friday evening and a big crowd is filing into this small-scale ballpark as the sun is lowering on the St. Louis skyline to the west.  Even as we were outside waiting in line to get our “over 21” wristbands, we could hear some lively bluegrass music coming from inside, loud and clear. 

The Greencards were an ideal band for the opening slot of this tour- the crowd didn’t have to be familiar with their material (and I’m guessing very few people were) in order to appreciate their clean, up-tempo acoustic instrumentation and the clear Allison Krauss-like vocals of singer Carol Young.  When it comes to bluegrass-influenced bands, my personal tastes lean more toward ragged, less precise bands like The Bad Livers or The Gourds, but this trio from Australia (via Austin) fit tonight’s bill just fine.

After the Greencards’ set, things cooled off to somewhere in the eighties as we settled into a nice spot up close (the stage was set up in centerfield) for Willie Nelson And Family.  Willie has a ton of songs that people want to hear and he didn’t waste any time getting to them, opening with “Whiskey River”- upbeat and rowdy, this song set the tone for the good time that would ensue.  “Crazy”, “Night Life” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho And Lefty” all came pretty early in the set, touching on some of Willie’s bigger hits.  Well into his seventies, Willie’s voice still rings with the same character it has had for the past few decades. 

The “and family” tag is an important part of what Willie does.  In addition to longtime bandmates Bee Spears (bass), Mickey Raphael (harmonica that sounded big and rich like an accordion at times) and Paul English (drums, saluted tonight in the autobiographical “Me And Paul”), he had his sister Bobbie on Piano (barely audible except on the lively honky tonk instrumental “Down Yonder”) and his son Lucas on guitar (his electric leads blended well with dad’s trademark bluesy nylon-string licks).

It’s not one of his biggest hits, but tonight “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” hit me like I was hearing it for the first time.  In this song, Willie (as narrator) experiences a brief high point in his life coming to the comfort of a woman going through a low point, and then lovingly offers to let her return to the high life, if she must.  Speaking of high points, this song was mine tonight.  “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain” and “Georgia” scratched the ballad itch nicely.  During “On The Road Again” Roy put Dana up on his shoulders like we were at a dang Molly Hatchet concert…she kinda shrugged and went along with it.  I had to share with Nancy, via cell phone, when Willie sang her theme song- “She’s A Good Hearted Woman (In Love With A Good Timin’ Man)”.  Never shy about his fondness for the weed, it was just a matter of time before Willie made a reggae album…fortunately, he only played one song from his current “Countryman” CD; Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” struck me as pretty obvious and not especially memorable.  The “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?/I Saw The Light/I’ll Fly Away” medley came toward the end, driving home the family theme.     

By now the sun had set and there was a nice sliver of a moon smiling down.  Everyone standing in general proximity to our spread of blankets got their chance to guess which song Bob Dylan would open with…winner drinks for free the rest of the night.  There were some informed estimates (damn internet geeks) and some wild guesses (me), but no one came up with “To Be Alone With You”. 

Having only been lukewarm to the Bob show I saw at The Pageant last year, I was pleasantly surprised at how different things were tonight.  One notable difference was that there were more songs from Bob’s back pages tonight (I’m less familiar with the newer stuff and didn’t always follow the changes). Of course, even Bob’s old standards were significantly reworked tonight.
“If You See Her, Say Hello” took on a warm country-rock glow akin to CCR’s “Lodi”.  “It’s Allright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Highway 61 Revisited” found Bob rephrasing familiar material to interesting effect; the former always reminds me of the prelude to the final scene in “Easy Rider”.  In tonight’s set, “Lay Lady Lay” sounded truest to the original version.

Also different from last year’s tour, was the actual sound.  Bob’s voice will never be what it once was, but his expressive, ragged rasp croaked out more confidently tonight than last year’s stylized, seductive whisper.  While he mostly stuck to keyboards tonight, he did pick up a guitar a time or two.  In contrast to the shadowy, laid-back feel of last year’s show, tonight’s band (b, d, g, fiddle & steel) had a tougher badass blues thing going.  “Stuck Inside Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” offered glimpses of Z.Z. Top (how, how, how…).   “Positively Fourth Street” was presented in a new light as well.  I could try to describe it myself, but Cliff Froehlich’s review in the Post said it “changed from a vitriolic put-down to a sincerely wounded lament”…I’ll go along with that.  Attribute it to my familiarity or the actual songs (or the rounds of beer people kept showing up with), but I wasn’t as taken by the songs in the home stretch of this set.  He closed out his two song encore with the closest thing Bob might have to an obligatory hit- “Like A Rolling Stone” sent everyone home with a familiar taste in their metaphoric mouths.   

7/9/05 Tom Petty, UMB Bank Pavillion.  For some reason, this show didn’t jump out at me when I saw it listed (few shows at this venue do, actually), but I tagged along with a friend who had good seats up close.  We caught all of the opening set by The Black Crowes.  Their set suffered the same fate I’ve witnessed with other opening acts out at this 20,000 capacity amphitheatre.  They went on promptly at 7:30, while the sun was still shining and most people still hadn’t found the way to their seats.  This was an obstacle to establishing any kind of intensity or critical mass.  They seemed to be pouring it on, with only minimal payback from the crowd…yeah, there were a few isolated pockets of people dancing around and singing along, but they didn’t have the crowd in the palms of their hands.  I haven’t heard a lot by these guys, but their reputation as pot-smoking riff-rockers was pretty quickly confirmed.  At its best, it’s along the lines of Faces or the jammier moments of the Stones- edgy dialog between the rhythm guitar, lead guitar and boogie-style piano.  Their skinny lead singer feels the vibe and belts it out like it’s 1971.  One song had a wild wah-wah sway to it, ala Jimi’s “Stone Free” and another funky rocker (something like “everywhere is everywhere and nothing is nowhere”) sounded like Sly Stone (he liked the weed, too).  Their cover of “Hard To Handle” would stand out as their punchiest song, even if you didn’t already know it was one of their big hits.   

After a longer than usual break, the sky was dark, that sliver of a smiling moon was out and the place was packed with enthusiastic fans.  Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers jumped right into what they do best- playing catchy, convincing songs.  Lots of other people have probably observed this before (and said it better than I’ll be able to here), but a typical Petty song features a strong, if less than spectacular, melodic groove in the verses and really comes to life with the glorious release of the chorus/hook.  Off the top of my head examples of this would be “Break Down”, “Here Comes My Girl” (he didn’t do this one tonight) and “Refugee”.  Mike Campbell (guitar), Benmont Tench (keys) and that other guy (a little bit of both) laid on the leads, giving the already dramatic songs a real “rock concert” feel.  Being up close (read: where tickets aren’t cheap) to hear a band that has been popular for decades (I first saw them at Keil over 22 years ago) made for some interesting people watching…lots of middle aged folks (myself included) busting out of their cubicles for a Saturday night of classic rock.  Song selection touched on many points in TP’s long career: “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Handle With Care” (fun after seeing fellow Wilbury, Bob Dylan last night), “Listen To Her Heart”, “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Falling” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” (tonight’s set closer).  In the encore, they turned the intensity up one more click with the ringing, anthemic (even by TP standards) “American Girl”.  I had fun.     

7/19/05 Bob Reuter, Frederick’s.  Austin’s Black Angels were a no-show tonight, so a handful of local musicians took turns filling the empty stage.  When I arrived, Bob Reuter was seated in a chair, strumming, stomping and howling his way through Son House’s “Death Letter Blues”.  He also did originals “Birda” and the half-spoken “After the Money From Mama Was Gone”, on the latter, doing up an exaggerated country accent ala “Far Away Eyes”.  He closed his brief set with “Little Red Book”.

Tommy Halloran got up next and sang a few covers, all in a rich, animated, accentuated voice: Tom Waits’ “Cold Water” (w/ Bob R. on backing vocals), Lucinda’s “Lake Charles” and (don’t know)’s “All Of Me”.  Then Joe Eisenbraun got up and did a couple of funny songs, frequently jumping into falsetto register.  One song said (approximately): “If I had killed you the day we got married, I’d be out of jail by now”.  Three of the guys from The Dirty Thirtys did a bass/drums/guitar thing that didn’t really grab me, but I wasn’t giving it my full attention.

7/20/05 Dressy Bessy, The Duck Room.  I got there in time to hear the last couple of songs by The Maxtone Four.  One guy sang a hard catchy song (it might have been called “Gay Bar”) and another singer did one in a David Byrne-like voice.

Next on the bill was Say Hi To Your Mom.  This three piece (d, g+v & k) suffered from a poor sound mix.  The poor keyboard player was almost inaudible in the house mix…hell, I coulda been up there launching into the small keyboard setup she had for as much as it was heard by the crowd.  So what was left was a relatively interesting guitar player who typically opened each song with a slow, spare set of chords and an oddball/earnest/indie croon (think: that guy from Pavement) before building in intensity and going off on some guitar gymnastics along the lines of Built To Spill.  His voice got all gravelly on one song that mined some of that later Tom Waits territory.

Another break, another chance to say “hi” to a bunch of people, and soon enough Dressy Bessy are up on stage doing their happy pop thing in front of a pretty good sized crowd.  I had been looking forward to hearing these guys live for a long time.  Their self-titled 2003 release contains some of the most catchy, sassy, snappy pop songs I’ve heard in a long time.  So this turns out to be one of those frustrating situations where I was hoping to be blown away and was merely entertained. 

The songs they did from their current “Electrified” CD (“Who’d Stop the Rain”, “It Happens All The Time”, “She Likes It” and the title track) are OK but don’t put me in a zone like earlier, more infectious songs like “Just Once More”, “This May Hurt A Little” and “Things That You Say And Do” (they didn’t do this one tonight).  Even when they did my favorite DB song, “Baby Six String”, things seemed to be held in check and never generated the “jump around like an ecstatic idiot” swing that this song delivers on the CD.  The band seemed to favor more of a groove-based delivery tonight- the vocals were a bit low in the mix, as were the guitar leads.  Yeah, I heard ‘em, but they didn’t soar and send me reeling like I was hoping (almost expecting).  I think if I walked in and heard this set being totally unfamiliar with Dressy Bessy, I might think it was some pretty good stuff, but relative to the blissful buzz I hoped to experience, it was less than satisfying.   




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