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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 36

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 36

12/16/05 Rosie Flores, House Concert. When Rosie played at Frederick’s last month, she asked about the possibility of playing at our house on her upcoming Christmas tour. Being a big Rosie fan for about twenty years, it didn’t take long for me to say "sure". We ended up calling it the "Twangfest Holiday Party" and things fell nicely into place. Schlafly Bottleworks donated a keg of Pale Ale and the Pabst Blue Ribbon guys dropped off six cases. Dang.

The band (D, B, K & Rosie on guitar and vocals) set up in the corner of our family room, right next to the Christmas tree, in front of 50 or 60 people. They brought their own spotlights that complemented the tree and the giant light-up Santa head that hung behind the keyboards. In general, I’m not real big on Christmas music- a little bit goes a long way in my world. But if it’s being sung by Rosie Flores in my living room and there’s free beer, I’m likely to be a bit more receptive. They opened with the first song on their current Christmasville CD- "Little Saint Nick"; it’s got a loose, swingy feel to it: brushed drum, stand-up bass and jazzy piano. "Christmasville" kept things bright while turning the tempo up a notch. "Christmas Every Day" had a smooth pop/soul feel (think: "The Way You Do The Things You Do").

About midway through the set, Rosie called up the handful of kids in the room to sing into the mic on "What You Waitin’ For Christmas?" The kids basically shouted the word "Christmas" every time it came up in the chorus…quite the Kodak moment for all of the parents. They then moved on to a few non-Christmas songs: everything from rockabilly ("Crazy Mixed Emotions", "Rock-A-Bye Boogie"…fun boogie-woogie piano on the latter) to country (Johnny Cash’s "Country Boy") to a few moodier ones (a nice slow groove on Joe Ely’s "Boxcars"). This long first set culminated with "Dance Of The Sugarplum Fairies". Keyboardist Will Barrow has come up with an inventive reworking of Tchaikovsky’s seasonal favorite that features a nice interplay between Rosie’s electric guitar and Barrow’s accordion.

During the break between sets, people got a chance to re-beer and hang out around the fire out back. Set #2 opened with "Secret Santa", Rosie’s deep and dark guitar approximating that "Secret Agent Man" tone. One couple got up and danced, jitterbug-style during "Honky Tonk Moon". "Devil Love" and "Blue Christmas" slowed things down and gave us more moody accordion. They sprinted to the finish line with a string of rockabilly rave-ups, including "You Tear Me Up" and Chuck Berry’s "Run, Run Rudolph". Rosie made it about as far as the stove before being called back for an encore. She left us with the smooth and easy "Cryin’ Over You" from her 1986 debut album.

People stuck around for a while after the band finished up. Rosie talked with a few people and Charlie showed his cool collapsible stand-up bass to Waterloo bassist Dave Melson before everyone called it a night. After a fine burrito breakfast the next morning, the band held a brief practice (they had left their instruments set up from the night before) and then headed off to Kansas City.

12/17/05 Rough Shop CD release party, The Focal Point. A bunch of us did the Maplewood package deal: dinner at The Bottleworks and a show at The Focal Point. I was still pretty weary from last night (see 12/16/05) and somehow, a meatloaf dinner and a beer didn’t make me any less tired.

The band had a good crowd out for their CD release party, around a hundred people. They opened with the CD’s opener, the Andy-sung "Wonder What It Means". I’ve seen/heard these guys so many times it’s hard to come up with anything I haven’t already said about them: three different singers (and songwriters) keep things interesting from song to song, Andy’s warm country-rock electric leads get more fluid all the time, lots of instrument swapping, etc. As the first set progressed, each vocalist got a chance to shine: John sang the soul/pop original "I’m Your Man" and Ann sang "Everything You Love…" The latter was written by our friend Michael Friedman. It’s about being young in the hills of Virginia, so it always hits a spot with me.

The set was heavy on songs from this, their only CD, but they also managed to fit in a handful of Christmas songs, a pet passion of John Wendland. He sang "Daddy’s Drinkin’ Up Our Christmas" and one by Faron Young. Andy sang The Band’s "This Must Be Christmas", one of my favorite songs on the subject. John and Ann left the stage as the rest of the band ended set #1 with a piano-driven instrumental that sounded like it might be from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I stuck around for only three or four songs of the second set- My mind wanted to hear more, but my body was telling me it was time to go to bed.

1/6/05 Tommy Womack, Frederick’s. I got there right before Tommy took the stage. This was the first time he’s played St. Louis since I read his book, Cheese Chronicles…it’s an entertaining memoir of the trials and travels of a small-time band, playing in small-to-mid-size venues around the south and Midwest in the eighties. The book is all the more appealing because Tommy’s band, Government Cheese, was barely a blip on the radar screen of national popularity…and still bigger than most of the bands that come through the doors of places like Frederick’s. Tommy has taken it all with good humor and a decent sense of perspective.

But now it’s 2006 and he’s got a wife and kid and plays out less frequently, tonight as a solo artist. What stands out most about Tommy’s music are his vivid and clever lyrics. Against the backdrop of his cleanly picked acoustic guitar, he dispenses endearing stories and observations. Older songs like "Skinny and Small", "A Little Bit Of Sex", "Sweet Hitchhiker" and "Nancy Dunn" are amusing anec dotes, like isolated stories from his book, set to music. A newer song gave us the rhyme: "What if Hendrix’ lighter never lighted/what if Monet was just nearsighted".

After about forty-five minutes of this solo acoustic stuff, Tommy brought up three members of Rough Shop (tonight’s opening act…I’m missed their set) and swapped his acoustic guitar for an electric one. Without so much as a practice, Spencer Marquart (drums), Ann Tkach (bass) and Andy Ploof (guitar) filled things in just fine. It probably helped that they mostly stuck to some well-known standards. Tommy’s leads on "Satisfaction" drifted into Neil Young’s "Mr. Soul" (I’ve always thought that these were virtually the same song, so it was nice to hear someone else make that connection). "Sing Me Back Home" made things momentarily slow and twangy…"Watin’ For My Man" had me jumping up and down. Not being very smart, I stayed out way too late. Fun at the time, not so much on Saturday morning.

1/11/06 FCAB, Frederick’s. Fertilizer Bomb opened in front 20 or 30 people. They’re a local 5 piece (B, D, G, G & G/steel). They’ve got that southern Skynyrd thing going; one song was reminiscent of "Gimme Three Steps". Not too far removed, they covered the Drive By Truckers’ "Sinkhole", convincingly replicating that trademark riff. Justin sang a moving original ballad in a ragged southern rasp about growing up in St. Louis…one line was about watching the Cardinals winning the series when he was five (I was a bit older). Somewhere in there, they romped through an energized cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "You Can Go Your Own Way". Thankfully, it wasn’t until the last song that I noticed that their hefty drummer was playing shirtless, with all of the visuals you might expect.

Next came Chicago’s FCAB (Free Chicken and Beer…a cheap ploy that apparently has never tricked anyone into attending one of their gigs). The guitar player confidently ripped through the leads while the bass player ferociously laid into it…somehow, though, the sound of his bass came off as a lightweight midrange without the thunder I would have hoped for. The overall sound was typically riff-based, balls-out rock, but they drifted into reggae territory a time or two…the perky kind, not the plodding kind.

They seemed genuinely surprised and grateful when they got enough applause to warrant an encore: reggae-fied versions of "Oh-Bla-Di" and "Dream Lover" and an urgent and intense instrumental ending. Before they left the stage, they made the pitch for people to buy their $3 CD so they could drive to tomorrow night’s gig in Moline.

1/13/06 Chris Mills, Frederick’s. The place was packed (maybe 70 or 80 people) when I got there midway through the opening set by Nice Peter…very much like the other two times I saw him… He’s this thin, mischievous guy with a Pee Wee Herman gleam in his eye, spouting irreverent/scatological/sophomoric lyrics over strummed acoustic guitar and simplistic drum kit (courtesy of Pete’s girlfriend). Song subjects ranged from dead babies to anal sex to the mystery of the clit. In addition to these songs he made up a while ago, he’s pretty quick to free-associate and come up with improvisational rhymes based on whatever is going on in the room. Fred and Kathleen are big fans and stood front and center in the dense crowd for the entire set.

Chris Mills and band started up while I was still over by the jukebox talking to some friends. It took me a while to warm up (or even pay attention) to what he was doing…his voice is fairly monochromatic and, at least early on, the songs plodded along at slow-to-mid tempo. But eventually, I moved up closer and things grabbed me more. I didn’t recognize a single song all night long, but CM and his rhythm section delivered some catchy enough originals, roughly in a bluesy rock style. Tim Easton might be a reference point.

The other two guys left for a song or two, leaving Mills to do some of that ringing/stinging Billy Bragg solo Telecaster thing. I was a little surprised to see a guy who looked to be in his sixties in the crowd, until Chris gave a shout-out to his dad. When the music finally stopped, lots of people continued to hang around and it looked like things would run late…I felt like I was exercising moderation by getting home at 2AM.

1/18/06 The Damnwellbetters, Frederick’s. I only heard the last few songs of their first set. I’m guessing they’re local? 30 or so people in the room. The lead singer’s voice reminded me of Peter Case. The lead guitar was impressive enough and the drummer hit hard (add bonus points for heavy use of cowbell).

1/20/06 Dutch Henry, Frederick’s. I heard the last few songs by John Bonham & Friends (no Bonzo jokes, please)…three guys, all seated, playing guitar (John, presumably), dobro and drums. They had a nice, back-porch feel as they covered Neil’s "Pocahontas" and ended with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?"

Next Dutch Henry came on and played a nice, long set of pop/rock/country. The bass player’s voice sounded like David Lowry from CBV/Cracker. The other three guys sang as well, not varying much in range or character, one from the next. Their drummer was a wild man, often playing from a standing position, as he got all worked up. Two guitars loudly traded leads. From the country side of the menu, they covered Merle’s "Mama Tried" and (fellow Michigander) Commander Cody’s "Semi Truck". The rock portion was represented by "Mercury Blues". One original reminded me of The Bottlerockets’ "Indianapolis". Just like last time at Frederick’s, their encore was Neil’s "Ohio", done up with fire and passion.

1/21/06 Dirty South, Schlafly Tap Room. I heard the last song by Wormwood Scrubs. Larissa laid on some wailing banshee vocals from behind the keyboards while the rest of the band did a loose, wild blues-rock thing.

Dirty South went on around 11:30. Bob Reuter’s latest band is appropriately named; there’s a ragged, down and dirty feel to what they do, aided tonight by lots of echoey glass and a distorted PA turned up to eleven. Bob sang a mix of new and old originals (including "Birda" and "Laurie") as well as a few well-chosen covers ("Heat Wave" and a cool "Last Time" splicing into "Turn On Your Love Light"). Seated in a chair, he gruffly yelped out distorted lyrics while Marc Chechik (also seated) confidently ripped through some scrappy leads. Chechik moved over to keyboards for one song. John Baldus whapped along on drums, often shooting from the hip on less-than-precise arrangements. I’ve never seen/heard anyone slam a pair of brushes as hard as he did tonight.

Only a handful of people came specifically to hear Bob play, but this was a free show right on the street level of the Tap Room, so there were maybe fifty people in the room. The overall tone of the set benefited from the bigger crowd size, and specifically from the group of drunk chicks dancing to a band they’ve never heard before (and probably never will again). Bob ended by shedding his guitar and walking around with the mic, howling out some slower old song (maybe a Muddy Waters cover?) while Marc wringed out some bluesy licks.

1/25/06 Black Diamond Heavies, Frederick’s. Maybe 40 people on hand to hear this Nashville trio who now play St. Louis pretty regularly. As always, the big dude (named Porkchop) sat in a chair and played sleazy/greasy double-neck guitar (he used the bottom neck when laying on the slide licks) in that nasty old-school blues tradition, howling out the vocals and blowing on the harp from time to time. When he sings about scoring some heroin in the VU’s "Watin’ For My Man", it rings totally believable. The keyboard dude lays into things with his own brand of ferocity, getting all manic as he sang "Got My Mojo Workin". These two deserve a hard-hitting drummer, and they got one. All three seem to have lots of fun doing what they do. Toward the end of their set, Bob Reuter picked up a mic and sang a slower old blues song with them…now that I think about it, the BDHs are probably responsible for Bob’s recent shift to a grittier, bluesier sound in his singing and playing. There was lots of between-song talk alluding to the fact that Frederick’s won’t be around much longer. After the show, a bunch of us hung out really late, discussing music and people and such…not so much the fate of the bar.

1/26/06 The Rolling Stones Project, Finale. Saxophonist Tim Reis is one of the handful of additional musicians who play behind the Rolling Stones on their recent tours. When the Stones have an off-night from touring and find themselves in a city a day ahead of time, Reis and a few other sidemen will occasionally book a gig in a small club where they can step out of the background and apply their considerable musical talents to…Rolling Stones songs(?!).

Having heard these guys play, I think it’s safe to say that they could put together an impressive set of their own compositions, jazz standards, you name it. So one line of thought might ask, "given that this is their moment to step out of the shadow their musical mothership, why do they limit their material to only Stones songs?" Are they relying on the association to draw attention and fill seats? Is this the music they’d truly prefer to play on their off-night? I personally would have been game for letting them wander where they might in terms of song selection, but this is what they’ve chosen to do, so I won’t think any more about it. Just think of it as a night-before extended celebration of the Stones and their music…up close and personal.

"Up close and personal" is what Finale is all about. I’m guessing this club in downtown Clayton holds just a little over 100 people. The sound is great and it’s got assigned tables/waitress service just like those big-city nightclubs. I was able to see the stage OK, but the big column up front definitely affects the way the table layout/sightlines are set up.

So about the music...when I heard "horn-heavy arrangements of Stones songs", I immediately hoped for high-energy rock along the lines of "Bitch" or "Rocks Off". So when the band (Reis on sax, Michael Davis on trombone, Daryl Jones on bass- all from the Stones tour, plus Jay Azzolina on guitar, Larry Goldings on keyboards and a drummer) opened with the smooth and relaxed "Waitin’ On A Friend" I was a bit let down. The instrumentation was well executed, but it just felt a little "adult contemporary" to me. Things got a bit more adventurous when they did "Paint It Black"…the band drifted pretty far out at times, but somehow managed to reconvene just as each verse came back around…I’m no jazz aficionado, but it seemed to me like they were doing something similar to what John Coltrane did to "My Favorite Things". My friend Joe (who is a jazz aficionado) used The Crusaders and Steely Dan as his reference points as their set played out. The warm organ fills (I think it’s a Hammond B3?) were particularly notable.

Although it was highly unlikely, there seemed to be a slight air of anticipation that just maybe someone from The Rolling Stones might show up at the club…after all, they have the night off and their hotel is only six blocks away. I have to admit that I caught myself looking over every time the door opened. As it turns out, the most famous person to show up tonight was TV sports journalist Bryant Gumbel (I didn’t notice him).

Somewhere in the middle of the set, Stones backup singers Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fisher came out and applied some rich, soulful vocals to "Honky Tonk Women" and "Wild Horses". Much like a Stones concert, "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" showed up in the home stretch of the set, both as instrumentals tonight. The encore was a nice spare reading of "Ruby Tuesday", Reis on sax, Azzaolina on guitar and Bernard slaying us all with his singing. This was a tasty enough appetizer for tomorrow’s main course.




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