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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 31
7/24/05 Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, My House. If there was a band set up in your house, how many people could fit in to see/hear them? I never had to ask myself that question until last Thursday when my friend Marie called and asked about the possibility of putting together this show on four days notice. Nancy was surprisingly supportive of the idea (she got a brief flurry of housecleaning out of me), and the show was on.
We used the email thing to talk it up and got over 60 people to say they were coming. Having never done this before, I was a bit nervous about whether we would get too many people, and how things would go. John brought over the PA system his band uses, a few friends brought folding chairs and almost everyone else brought some form of food and drink, as well as a cash donation for the band.
Timing was loose in this party setting. At some point, the band all assembled over in the corner where the TV usually sits, and started up. From the first note on, any worries about the details of how things would go immediately disappeared. Everything was in place and now it’s up to the band to deliver…and they were up to the task. The rhythm section (Logan on brushed drum kit and Aaron solid and soulful on bass) and steel guitar (Rich Gilbert ranging from weepy C & W to fuzzy rock leads ala Sneaky Pete) laid it on…the volume and sound quality were surprisingly good, too.
So now everything was really in place and it’s up to the singers to deliver. This is what really made the night. Caitlin and Thad have a breathtaking vocal chemistry. In the spirit of those classic C & W male/female duos of the sixties, they establish a locked-in eye contact and subtly play off each other, allowing their own volume and distance from the microphone to set the tone. The quiet, attentive crowd allowed all of the nuances in their phrasing to shine. The actual song sequence is a blur to me now, but suffice to say they did every song from their current CD, "Begonias", as well as a few well-chosen covers. Early on, they did the sad but sweet "Two Different Things"...their trademark rhythmic "oohs and aahs" at the end of this song were almost hypnotic. "Don’t Make It Better (Make It Over)" provided a cheerier take on a romantic breakup, both musically and lyrically…"the world looks better when you’re gone". For those inclined to compare Thad’s voice and songwriting to that of Ryan Adams (Caitlin’s former bandmate in Whiskeytown), the up-tempo "Second Option" has a similar feel to Adams’ "Firecracker". Not a bad thing at all, since I’m a big fan of both songs.
Being the host of this show, it was quite a trip hearing this awe-inspiring music and seeing all of these smiling, immersed faces (most familiar, some not) in a room where I’m typically reading the paper and wrestling with my kids. I’m not sure if it’s something to be proud of, but I never changed out of my swim trunks or put on shoes (I did put a shirt on). Just as I was thinking that this was so fun that I didn’t want it to end, the band asked if it would work to take a break and come back for another set. Perfect.
After a half-hour talk/restock break, everyone settled back in for the second set. They started back up with a cover of Lucinda Williams’ "Jackson". Caitlin’s fiddle works best in "mournful" mode and they got ‘em some songs that fit that mood. "Something Less Than Something More" and "She Aint No You" (from Thad’s "Warmth And Beauty" CD) laid on the sweet sorrow. "Thick Walls Down" (from Caitlin’s "While You Weren’t Looking" CD) and Dylan’s "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You" picked things right back up. Percy Sledge’s "Warm And Tender Love" put us all back under hypnosis, once again ending with their breathy sighs. I could go on and on about each song, but I’ll just mention that "Waiting On June" (I hadn’t noticed that this one was about Mr. Cash and Ms. Carter until tonight) and "Conversation About A Friend (Katie’s Gone To California)" stood out in a set of standout songs. Eventually the music did end and everyone seemed to collectively breathe an adoring sigh along with their applause.
When the music ended, Dana said something like, "If I was you, I’d be skipping around the room right now". I told her that I was mentally skipping. A few people stuck around for a while; I said goodnight to 3 or 4 band members around 2AM and finally headed off to bed.
Around 7:30 Monday morning, Nancy and I sat in our family room, not quite believing how different things were just a few hours before. Thad was the first to wander downstairs around 10AM. We had a great time drinking coffee, listening to records and talking country music while whipping up some breakfast burritos for the rest of the band. They hit the road about noon.
We’re already talking about doing another house concert. We’re working on getting Jason Ringenberg (remember Jason & The Scorchers?) to play here in November. If you email me at rickwood at charter dot net, I’ll keep you posted.
7/27/05 Rosie Flores, Frederick’s. By the time we showed up, there was a pretty good (not sold out) crowd…we heard the last handful of songs by Craig Daddy & The Carbombs. They’re fronted by Craig from The Tripdaddys. The sound was pretty loud and distorted as they ran through an assortment of originals and covers…all in that rough and tough rockabilly vein. We ended up hearing the last few songs (including "The Greaser’s Lunchbox Theme" and Johnny’s "Big River") from out back.
Rosie Flores is one of the bigger name artists to play Frederick’s. She’s enjoyed a near-legendary status in the L.A. country/rockabilly scene for almost twenty years. For whatever reason, her drummer wasn’t along on this stop of the tour, so the trio was a duo tonight…not really a problem, as the stand-up bass player slapped it in that exaggerated manner that yields the happy "tick tick tick" of the strings hitting the neck. Rosie (now somewhere near sixty years old, give or take) still keeps it going, juggling the tasks of laying on delicate, sprightly vocals and fiesty guitar leads.
She got the crowd into it early, kicking things off with a string of perky rockabilly songs ("Heartbreak Train", "Rockin’ Little Angel", Johnny’s "Big River", Buck’s "Hot Dog" and a couple by Bruce Springsteen- "Cadillac Ranch" & "Lucky Town"). Eventually, she slowed things down for a bit; her bass player sat out when she switched over to acoustic guitar to do a couple of her more memorable ballads. "West Texas Plains and "Bandera Highway" both had a reflective, bittersweet quality to ‘em. When I requested "Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins" (another heartbreaker), she immediately delivered to the best of her memory. When she came up blank on the second verse, I had to feed her the first line. She picked up on it, finishing the song out with a good-natured grin. One of my personal favorites tonight was "Cryin’ Over You"…her sassy delivery of this smooth and easy James Intveld song hits the same spot that some of those early Patsy Cline songs do.
7/29/05 Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell, Patrick Sullivan’s, Knoxville, TN. When Thad and Caitlin played at our house last Sunday night, they mentioned that this current tour was going to take them to Knoxville on the same day that we would be visiting Nancy’s parents there. So the grandparents watched the kids and the band put us on the guest list. Life is good. It’s a rare treat to be able to hear a band a couple of times right as you’re falling I love with their current CD. I’ve listened to "Begonias" every day since I bought it a week ago. Which song do I like the best? Whichever one I’m currently listening to.
Rather than repeat how much I love their songs and voices, I’ll just explain how things compared to last Sunday’s house concert. There were maybe forty or fifty people on hand; not bad for summertime in a college town. Ironically, the sound quality was clearer at our house than it was at this live music venue. The vocals (especially Caitlin’s) started out a bit distorted. Eventually, this wasn’t as noticeable; did it get better or did we just get used to it? This being a Friday night in a barroom, they pumped the instrumentation up. Logan shed the brushes in favor of actual drumsticks. He’s a real rock drummer, crisply punching things up grinning big like he’s having the time of his life. Thad played electric guitar on a couple of the poppier songs- "Second Option" and "Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You".
8/2/05 RIP Hunter Brumfield. I was out of town when I heard the news that Hunter (AKA Toast) had killed himself. I never knew him really well, but always felt some kind of genuine bond (sounds corny, I know) with him whenever we were hanging out together. Lots of people knew him a lot better than I did. Randy Roberts’ cover story in this week’s RFT filled me in on a lot of details that I never knew about Hunter. I first became aware of the dude when he was playing an unconventional but spirited bass in The Highway Matrons. At the time, I had no idea that he had this whole previous life as a rapper/graffiti artist and that he had only recently picked up the bass.
I’ll never forget when Fred Friction introduced me to him. Being a guy who experiences music from the listening end, I’m almost always the one complimenting the musician…but when Fred said, "This is Rick Wood", Hunter lit up and said, "Are you the Rick Wood that makes all of those mix tapes Fred plays all the time?" I have to admit I was somewhat flattered when he went on about how much he liked some of the songs I had indirectly sent his way…one of which, The Replacements’ "Beer For Breakfast", he ended up covering in The Matrons. In these past few days we’ve heard a lot of people remember how bright and how dark the guy could be, but from my limited vantage point I only saw the former.
8/19/05 Li’l Cap’n Travis, Frederick’s. The first thing to notice tonight was how hot it was. Apparently, the air conditioner threw a circuit breaker early in the day and it didn’t get turned back on until late afternoon. One small consolation was that the bar was running a special- four bottles of Miller in a bucket of ice for $7.50. They sold out of High Life before the headline act took the stage.
Magnolia Summer started their set with a slow burner. Sometimes this approach can serve to slowly build and create a mood, but as a general rule, I like it better when a band takes the "jump start" approach…especially on a Friday night when you’ve got a crowd that’s ready to rock. Their second song (and most of the rest of their set) provided the punch I was hoping for. Just about every song was done up much harder than on their "Levers And Pulleys" CD (I’m not so good with their song titles).
The subtle touches and textures (fiddle, mandolin) found on the CD gave way to two noisy guitars (Chris G. plus Joe Thebeau subbing for the traveling John Horton) tonight. The band’s evolving/revolving lineup now contains Mark Ray on keyboards, as well, but his contribution was only occasionally audible behind the guitars.
After a breather out back (where it was actually cooler) we went back inside to hear Li’l Cap’n Travis. These five guys from Austin take a similar approach as Okervil River and Centro-matic. With a bit more of a lazy country feel than their Texas brethren, they lay on the layers, adding all manner of accents and textures. Throughout the set, the band would switch instruments all around. Every band member sings, but no one vocalist stands out as especially distinctive…they’re all variations of that modest monochromatic everyman voice. Only on the affected falsetto of their cover of The Beach Boys’ "Don’t Worry Baby" did one guy’s voice finally stand out from the rest. My personal highlights of tonight’s set were their cover of The Flying Burrito Brothers’ "I’m Your Toy" and their original "Natural Fool", with it’s twinkling steel guitar.
Somewhere in the middle of their set, the room was still plenty hot as someone took the last bottle out of one of those buckets of ice. I turned the bucket (ice, water and all) onto my head…it felt pretty refreshing, but I musta looked like the lout with the lampshade on his head (right about the time the band was singing, "But it aint in my nature to nurture a natural fool"). I might have to buy the pictures Dana took in order to destroy the evidence. John and Marie hosted the after-party which ran until the wee hours.
8/20/05 The Goldstars, Frederick’s. I stopped off at the bar around midnight just to say "Hi". There were only about fifteen people on hand to hear the last half of the set by this Chicago four piece. Fred tells me they contain two thirds of The New Duncan Imperials. This band is a much more straight-ahead rock band and a lot less silly than what I remember of NDI. They did a long hard encore including one song that might have been called "Run Run Run" (not the VU song). Even when the drummer walked out to the mic to sing "She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain", they weren’t as silly as The New Duncan Imperials.
8/24/05 Dallas Wayne, Frederick’s. I heard most of the opening set by Rough Shop. It was one of the rare shows where all six members were on hand. They did a few unfamiliar songs in the mid-portion before touching on some tried and true material in the home stretch: "Final Wild Son", "Wonder What It Means" and "I’m Your Man" highlighted the lead vocals of Ann, Andy and John, respectively.
Next came a nice, long solo set by Dallas Wayne. He’s one of those old-school country singer/songwriters in the style of Harlan Howard or Hank Cochran; simple, classic-sounding melodies supporting lyrics that often hinge on clever turns-of-phrase. Tonight the sound system allowed all of DW’s wordplay to come across loud and clear. On the more downcast material, his voice can get all weary in the same way that Merle Haggard or John Anderson do. A time or two, he clicked into a momentary baritone the same way that George Jones does. The material ranged from C & W weepers to drinking anthems to novelty songs, often mixing elements of each. "Old 45’s" started off as though it was about guns before revealing itself to be about old records. When he sang "Crank The Hank (And Crack The Jack)", a brand new bottle of Jack Daniel’s was brought up to the stage. He did, indeed, crack the Jack. In no particular order, here are a few other songs I remember: "Rock Bottom, Population One" (a co-write with Robbie Fulks), "I Did The Right Thing", "I’m Your Biggest Fan", "Big Thinking", "Tex Tosterone", "Bouncing Beer Cans Off The Jukebox" (my personal highlight tonight), "Stuff Inside" and "Coldwater, Tennessee".
8/26/05 Magnolia Summer, Joe and Gina’s House. On very short notice, The Gearbox closed its doors as a live music venue, leaving the Love Experts and Magnolia Summer without a venue for their Friday night show. On even shorter notice, Joe Thebeau (who has been known to sit in on guitar with each band) arranged to host the gig at his house in Affton. I brought the boys on the early side so they had plenty of time for whiffleball out back (Ray) and video games upstairs (Travis) while a good crowd was assembling around the grill.
After a couple of hours of hanging with friends and family, the first band started up in Joe and Gina’s living room. With a little furniture rearranging, the house worked really well- the space was long and narrow, not unlike the old Cicero’s (with a higher, dryer ceiling). The sound quality (through John Wendland’s PA) was better than the sound at your average venue around town. And there was always the back patio for those who needed a beer, brat or to deal with their kids.
The Love Experts opened with a new song (at least to me) that allowed their trademark dual urgent/hypnotic guitar thing to shine. Early in the set, they did my favorite LE song, "Your Shining Hour". That song always puts a big smile on my face and gets me moving around; luckily, other people were doing likewise in this crowd of friendly faces. They then proceeded to do a string of covers, none of which were recognized by my unexposed ears. They all sounded fun, but I’m not gonna be able to offer insights into how they transformed the originals. Somewhere in there, Steve C’s hand-held percussive accents (something between a woodblock and a cowbell) reminded me of a similar element in "Gimme Shelter". As is their pattern, they did "Bright Red Carnation" toward the end of their set. They did Joan Jett’s "Reputation" as an encore…fun to hear them something on the simplistic side.
Headlining this new venue (there are more shows coming, right?) was Magnolia Summer. Having seen them just last Friday, the biggest difference about tonight’s set was not the song selection or execution, but the sound quality. Things sounded much more even and clear tonight. Mark’s keyboards wove right in with the two guitars. Last week, I was trying to come up with a reference point for Chris’ vocals…tonight, at least during one of the more quiet moments, his gentle vocals offered a glimpse of Freedy Johnston. If I remember right, they ended with a song that might be called "Show Me Everything"…it sounded like it might be a cover. I hope these house concerts catch on and continue. I get a real "community" feel from attending shows out at a few of the clubs in town, but not like this. I was at a party the other night and a concert broke out.
8/30/05 Brain Regiment, Frederick’s. About twenty people were on hand to hear Mike Nicolai do a solo acoustic set. It’s pretty personal stuff…his modest vocals sometimes drift into that half spoken realm. Might be the first time I’ve heard the term "lactose intolerant" in the lyrics of a song. I was kinda lulled early on, but things picked up toward the end. His emotionally detached delivery worked well on Lou Reed’s "Satellite Of Love". "Sunday Drive" told a story of driving around after a funeral over a backdrop of a mesmerizing arpeggio. He closed with a catchy cover by a lesser-known Austin band (I can’t remember their name).
Brain Regiment went on while a few of us were hanging out up in Fred’s kitchen…the old dilemma: talking with friends vs. paying attention to the band. We made it back into the barroom in time to hear the last few songs by this local four-piece; good thing, because there were only two non-staff people in the bar (I think girlfriends of band members). The little bit of (presumably) original material I heard didn’t grab me, but they showed good taste in covers down the home stretch: clean and competent versions of GBV’s "I Am A Scientist", The Beatles’ "Rain" and Neil Young’s "Mr. Soul". If I was gonna go out and hear a cover band, these would be the songs I’d wanna hear.