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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 39
2/17/06 Mark Bilyeu, Off Broadway. The temperature was in the teens as I made my way in the front door…the four guys in Chicago’s Down The Road (?) were tuning up their vocals, doo-wop style, right there by the doorman. They then took the stage and did a set of loose, funky white boy acoustic jam/blues, at various times reminding me of Little Feat, Sam Bush and Leftover String Salmon. They have a lot of fun singing those high harmonies and swapping instruments all around: guitars, bass, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica and bongos (yes, bongos).
The middle act was Cindy Woolf. Her debut CD is a quiet folky thing, drawing comparisons to the gentle leanings of someone like Nanci Griffith (her voice is in a similar range)…but tonight’s backing band (Mark Bilyeu (Big Smith) on acoustic guitar, Joe Terry (Skeletons, Morells) on keyboards, Bobby Lloyd Hicks (also Skeletons, Morells) on drums and a bass player) added a bit more punch; just what the doctor ordered. Bilyeu’s cleanly picked acoustic guitar and Terry’s keys (sounding alternately like soulful organ and honky tonk piano) fleshed things out well. My personal highlights were the more upbeat ones: her original, "All About You" and that cool old Ray Price hit, "You Done Me Wrong".
Tonight’s headliner was Mark Bilyeu backed by the same band. He swapped his acoustic guitar for an electric as they opened with The Band’s "Aint No More Cane". He’s got a gentle, unassuming voice. Somewhere in the set, they covered Dylan, but my next day memory isn’t coming up with which song. The overall tone took on a jammy quality…it was funny to see that reflected in the movements of the dancers on the floor. The encore included a spirited version (what other kind can there be?) of Sam The Sham’s "Wooly Bully". The vocals were handled by Bobby Lloyd and Joe. Apparently, the band stayed up way late over at Dave and Angela’s place, playing music and carrying on until sunrise, but I was good and went on home to bed.
2/18/06 Kelly Hogan, House Concert. Remember that country song where the woman figures out that the only way she can keep her husband at home is to turn her house into a bar? Well, a few of the beer signs from Frederick’s have found their way onto the wall of our house and the beer truck stopped by earlier today… I was the only one at home when the band showed up; it was fun to watch the evening develop over the next couple of hours as the number of people in the room grew from one to around eighty- the most we’ve ever had at one of these house concerts.
Kelly’s band was assembled from her network of Chicago-area musician friends and was brought into the mix one by one. For the first handful of songs, she was accompanied only by her dog, Augie at her feet and Scott Ligon on acoustic guitar and vocals. Being the host of these shows, I find myself wrapped up in making sure everything is going smoothly, but as soon as they lit into their opening song, all of the details became secondary…they instantly had the packed room transfixed with their clear and convincing vocal harmonies on The Louvin Brothers’ "You’re Running Wild". My jaw dropped, as these two never let up, running through a string of well-chosen classic country gems; Melba Montgomery’s "We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds", Mike Nesmith’s "What Am I Doing Hanging ‘round?" and Willie Nelson’s "Permanently Lonely". Since KH’s most recent CD (2001) is largely a moody, ethereal affair, I was a little worried that tonight’s show might be a bit too dreamy and contemplative. This turned out to be a non-issue; she didn’t do a single song from any of her three albums and managed to blow everyone away with her impressive pipes and the band’s inspired instrumentation.
Joel Paterson joined in on second guitar for the hillbilly send-up, "Love Thy Neighbor" and Casey McDonough picked up his bass for the next song, Paul Burch’s "Thirteen Nights", as Paterson moved behind the drum kit. Lots of covers tonight, all pretty obscure. Toward the end of the first set, Doug Sahm’s "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day" had everyone grinning real big. Even with the temperature in the teens, a few people found their way to the fire out back for a nicotine fix during the break between sets.
Kelly and Scott opened the second set with another handful of songs in duo mode; highlights were Tom Paxton’s "The Last Thing On My Mind" and The Everly’s "Like Strangers". The rhythm section joined back in for "Be Real". Somehow this Doug Sahm obscurity rings genuine enough to forgive the hippie vibe…I loved it. The home stretch was all over the place: swingy jazz ("Watermelon Time In Georgia"), dopey pop ("Kites Are Fun" was like "Up, Up And Away" meets "Girl From Ipanema"), more Everlys’ style harmonies (The Blue Shadows’ "Coming On Strong") and more classic country (Melba Montgomery’s "You Put Me Here"). They ended their set with "Animal Life", Scott on lead vocals; it hits a spot similar to the end of "Rocky Raccoon" (when Paul finally stops talking and sings). The encore featured "Seems Like A Mighty Long Time" (lots of background oohs and aahs) and ended with "Southern Nights", Scott’s girlfriend Sharon joining in on second guitar.
An hour or so after most folks had gone home, Kelly, Casey and Scott pulled out an acoustic guitar and put together some impromptu soul songs: stuff like "Walk Away Rene", "Stone In Love With You", "Everyday People", "Smile A Little Smile For Me, Rose Marie" and so on. Nancy and I just took it all in like quiet little flies on the wall. This sublime little session lasted into the wee hours. After the traditional Sunday morning burrito breakfast, the band hit the road around noon.
2/21/06 Sigur Ros, The Pageant. In this day of esoteric niche markets, an ethereal Icelandic act (that sings in an idiosyncratic language they made up on their own, no less) can sell out the Pageant…I tagged along with a friend to see what the buzz was all about. Amina opened- four women (also from Iceland?) playing simple acoustic instruments like cello, violin, xylophone and keyboards. Things got further afield when they added some leads on wine glasses filled with water (you know the sound it makes when you run your finger around the rim), bowed saw (reminds me of the way guitar players bend the notes) and Apple computer (techno-pulse backdrops). They didn’t provide much in the way of between song repartee (presumably because of the language barrier). This cool detachment from the audience gave these purposeful blondes something of a Stepford Wives quality. The music was at times hypnotic and at other times bordered on absurdly avant garde. You wouldn’t have to exaggerate things much to make this band ripe for a mocumentary along the lines of Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind.
Right after the opening act finished, a huge translucent curtain (scrim?) was hung in front of the stage; it remained in place as Sigur Ros took the stage. The band (b, d, k and the lead singer playing a Les Paul with a bow) laid on the layers, constructing one of those dang atmospheric soundscapes while various stage lights gave us appropriately vague visuals…the audience got hazy glimpses of the band through the thin scrim, as well as silhouettes cast against both the back wall and front curtain. This opening "song" built in intensity until things erupted in a loud, exhilarating rock workout. The lighting crew synchronized the visuals to reach a simultaneous crescendo. The curtain was removed after this long first song.
Having virtually no prior knowledge of what these guys do, I’m not one to give a nuanced, song-by-song account of this set…but from where I stood, this pattern of moody textures building and occasionally boiling over into thrilling near-mayhem was repeated throughout the course of the evening. When the guitar player sang, it was in a dramatic foreign tongue…I’m told it’s a "language" of his own design, based on the sound of the syllables (two prominent ones are "Eeeeee" and "Sye"). Even without meaningful lyrics (or even song titles), the crowd (mostly college kids, I’m guessing) locked into what was going on enough to offer up recognition applause when the opening piano passage of a given "song" was introduced…"oh cool, they’re gonna do "Eeeeee, Sye…" Toward the end of the set the four women from Amina came out and added their stringed instruments to the edgy montage of sound. When they left, the four SR members huddled up around a few small sets of keyboards for a more intimate dialog. It probably says more about me than the band when I say that I liked them best when they most closely resembled an all-out pedal-to-the-metal rock band.
2/24/06 Rodney Crowell, The Sheldon. Nancy and I ended up with tickets from KDHX on pretty short notice…the Sheldon was almost completely full as RC came out for this solo acoustic show. The years haven’t been too cruel to Rodney…he looks a lot younger than most folks his age. He displayed an easy and endearing stage presence as he introduced his songs with colorful stories. His east Texas drawl hasn’t been diluted by his years in show business. Accompanied by just his simple but cleanly picked acoustic guitar, Crowell played quite a few of his more recent songs. "The Outsider", "Preaching To The Choir" and "Beautiful Despair" all appeared in the first set, relying more on spellbinding lyrical content than dynamic musicianship. The first set’s most notable change in tone came in the form of "It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long"…the song title pretty much says all you need to know about this comical "relationship" song. It made me grateful that I’m not in such a relationship. Between the generally uniform tone of the music and the warm air of the balcony I found myself a bit drowsy.
We moved down to the back of the main level for the second set; Crowell opened with a long spoken intro about running around in the fog behind the insecticide truck as a kid, before settling in for more songs. "Fate’s Right Hand" features a scattershot barrage of lyrical imagery ala Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues" or REM’s "The End Of The World (as we know it)". By and large, the prevailing tone of the evening was set by Crowell’s mesmerizing lyrics delivered over hypnotic picking patterns. This mode shone most brightly in "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Wandering Boy"…a couple of captivating songs about a childhood acquaintance whose travels led him into a sordid world of hedonism and eventually, AIDS.
The only other song from the second set that I’m remembering by name is "Telephone Road"…which brings me to Rodney’s song selection. When I’m seeing a veteran musician for the ___th time (most recently The Rolling Stones and John Prine), I find myself wishing they would stray from the checklist of obvious hits in favor of more obscure (yet still musically vital) material. Maybe it was because this was the only time I’ve ever seen RC, or maybe it was that I wasn’t consistently wowed by tonight’s melodies (melodies are big, in my book), but I was hoping to hear more of Rodney’s vintage back catalog…maybe not all, but certainly a few of his exceptional songs like "Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight", "Ain't Living Long Like This", "Song For The Life", "Ashes By Now" or "Heartbroke", just to name a few. Encore number one gave us more of the same: the moody, but meaningful "Glasgow Girl". Encore number two finally gave me a taste what I was hoping for- his lyrically gripping and musically moving masterpiece, "Til I Can Gain Control Again". He even laid on a few actual guitar leads…I was finally blown away.
2/25/06 Miles of Wire, The Duck Room. Family stuff kept me tied up until late…I heard the last couple of songs by The Transmitters. The sound was full and the music was harder than any of Kip’s former bands.
After the schmooze session among the 50 or so people on hand, it was time for Miles Of Wire. Up until now, their home field has always been Frederick’s (Fred and Kathleen were front and center, seated on the rather sparse floor)…this might be the first time MOW has played this room. I hadn’t seen/heard these guys in a while, but all of the previous reference points still apply: Ray’s voice (and phrasing) remind me of The Highway Matrons’ Mark Stephens and the grand and dramatic "rock song" structures invite a Ryan Adams comparison…bass and lead guitar add all the right fills in all the right places.
3/2/06 Matthew Ryan, Finale. I was on the fence about going out tonight around 10PM, but when the venue is three blocks away, it was just too easy. How many times do I get to ride my bike to a show? There might have been twenty or thirty people in the room (this was the night’s second show) when I found my little group right up front. David Mead had just started his opening set… he’s got a gentle voice that reminds me of Paul Simon, circa "Slip Slidin’ Away" or when he shifted into falsetto (which was often) more like that guy who sang, "Down in Jamaica they got lots of pretty women…" ("On And On"?). Instrumentation varied from acoustic guitar to Telecaster to Finale’s grand piano. Just to confirm the association, he ended with Paul Simon’s "Baby Driver"…it was the B-side on the copy of "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" I bought in 1972.
Next came the beneath-the-radar quasi-cult favorite, Matthew Ryan. Backed by Brian Beckett on spare but edgy Les Paul, he played a loose set of (presumably) originals in a ragged voice that might draw comparisons to Tom Waits or Jon Dee Graham. I went in knowing nothing of this guy’s music, but a high percentage of this small crowd were well-informed, many offering up their personal requests. I liked the one called "Irrelevant"…he spliced in a bit of "Suspicious Minds". Toward the end of the set, the evening’s worth of free drinks began to take its toll on this duo. Brian got all silly at the piano plunking out some Cory Hart hit (that Dana recognized!). MR made it through a song or two in his encore before becoming less than articulate at the piano. He eventually threw his hands in the air and walked away.
3/4/06 Robert Fripp, The Duck Room. I showed up a little before ten to find that I had missed the first 45 minutes…the show was scheduled to start at 9:30, but Robert decided to start at 9PM (he explained that earlier this week in Memphis, a later start resulted in a drunker, rowdier audience…not exactly compatible with RF’s agenda). Even at $20 a pop, the place was sold out and uncomfortably crowded. Everyone was reverentially silent, except for one lout behind me who liked to hear himself talk. He was clearly annoying everyone in earshot…I was tempted to say something to him, but my experience is that these folks don’t take well to polite requests from those around them.
So about the music…since I got there late, I missed any kind of explanation that may have preceded the set (RF often gives them), so here’s my uninformed take on what was going on: Fripp played these edgy guitar lines that would then find their way through various electronic devices to be synthesized, reprocessed, delayed and eventually sent back out to accompany the live guitar (from which it had originated). These synthesized "echoes" washed in loud and clear, just like on those collaborations he did with Brian Eno in the seventies. There was a screen hung on that brick wall behind the stage, displaying abstract graphic images: sometimes fractal-looking forms morphing about, sometimes more like a Spiro-graph in motion.
Things took on an academic tone when Fripp conducted his "Question and Answer" session while the images on the screen shifted to a slide show of photos from various points in his career (King Crimson, w/ Eno, his hometown in UK, etc.) The questions were at times overly clever…Q: What’s your favorite question to be asked? A: I don’t have one. At some point Fripp opened up a copy of the Riverfront Times and read a few east side club ads and one of the Savage Love letters. Most folks seemed charmed; I thought it was bit fey. One question was a request for a song…he said he’d do it for $100, and sure enough, a collection was taken up and he delivered- it was a distinctive, atmospheric piece…not a bad wage for three minutes work. One interesting bit in this segment was when he was asked if King Crimson might tour again. He went on a brief rant, explaining that he considered it a privilege to play with those guys and that if it were strictly a matter of playing music with KC, he’d be the first guy on the bus…but in the real world, it’s more about legal arrangements, tour hassles, promotions and assorted other headaches. It sounds like he’s figured out what works for him and does things on his own terms.
After a brief backstage break, he came back out for another fifteen or twenty minutes of more atmospheric interplay between himself and himself through the gizmos…just like on those LPs I used to drift off to a long time ago.
3/4/06 Curt Kirkwood, The Elvis Room. This was the first time I’ve ever done a Duck Room/Elvis Room doubleheader...two shows in the same entertainment-plex. I caught about the last 45 minutes or so; maybe eighty people in the room. Relative to the complete instrumental package that The Meat Puppets (Kirkwood’s former band) presented, tonight’s solo acoustic show was much less dynamic. A few unfamiliar (presumably new) songs didn’t do much for me and given that Kirkwood’s voice is a fairly monochromic everyman’s voice, I wasn’t blown away.
But things got better as he made his way through a few of the more memorable songs from his heyday. It was interesting hearing that distinctive run in "Up On The Sun" rendered with flat-picked acoustic guitar instead of the electric flutter of the original. "Coming Down" was fun, even if it wasn’t the full-blown hoedown it is on record. Somewhere in there, Marty Robbins’ "Big Iron" fit nicely in with the Country/Western elements Kirkwood has always messed around with. At times the whole plaintive "unplugged" sound reminded me of how influential the Meat Puppets were on Nirvana, especially when "Lake Of Fire" showed up in the encore. Right around this point, CK got Beatle Bob up to add background "Tra La La" refrains on a silly, bouncy song about turds. I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it.
A couple of well-chosen covers right at the end of the encore proved to be the highlight of my evening (including the Robert Fripp show/lecture next door): The Louvin Brothers’ "You’re Runnin’ Wild" and Roky Erickson’s "Nothing In Return" offered different takes on love and disappointment, each to heartbreaking effect. I was lost in the moment, grinning like a damn fool.
3/9/06 Jesse Irwin, The Red Sea. A bunch of musicians who used to frequent Frederick’s played on both the upstairs and downstairs stages tonight, but I only caught the tail end of the proceedings. Jesse sang a mix of clever originals like "Laduesier", "I Cheated On You With Your Mother" and "Crystal Meth". The latter is a modernized take on hillbilly improvisational enterprise, similar in tone and melody to "That Good Old Mountain Dew". Jesse has an energetic and convincing stage presence; he had the crowd of maybe 25 people drawn in. Catherine (from Maidrite, who played earlier) sang harmony on "You’re Running Wild" and Kevin Butterfield (from The Linemen, who did likewise) lent a hand on "Almost Persuaded".
I went downstairs just as Fertilizer Bomb was going onstage, but the sound was painfully loud and hopelessly distorted…I left before they finished their first grungy, country-rock song.
3/11/06 Tommy Womack, House Concert. The idea for this show was hatched on the spot after Tommy played his last-ever gig at Frederick’s in January. Rough Shop opened that show and later backed Tommy in electric mode. Though they had never even practiced before, it sounded surprisingly good and fresh. So two months later, they haven’t practiced any more, but they’ve re-convened in front of about 45 people in our family room…
But first Tommy did a nice little solo set. Behind a backdrop of his cleanly picked acoustic guitar, he did what he does best…which is to tell it like it is. Songs like "It Was A Good Day" (we all went swimming, my boy said he loved me-he said it twice, no one got sunburned, I didn’t freak out…I can relate), "Martin Luther" (no man gets to say who goes to heaven when we die) and another new one (What if Hendrix’ lighter had never lighted, What if Monet was just near-sighted?) all offer honest assessments and modest glimpses of fulfillment based on tempered expectations. His more rocking songs contain similar slice-of-life stories, but these tales are most easily grasped in solo acoustic mode. The melody of one new acoustic song borrowed liberally from "Blowin’ In The Wind"…he preemptively pointed this out, before the little bells went off in our collective heads.
A steady rain forced all of the smokers under a big umbrella out back during the "intermission". Tommy was joined by Andy, Ann and Spencer (g, b & d) from Rough Shop for the second set, once again without any prior practice with TW…he did send them all copies of his live CD ahead of time. Things were loose and fun. When Andy played his rhythm chops, it struck a swampy Credence/Tony Joe White vibe…his leads reminded me a bit of the way Jerry Garcia would embellish a melodic line with a certain amount of flutter. Tommy threw in a few of his own bluesy licks, as well.
The exact order was a bit of a blur, but they ended up ripping through almost every song from that live CD, Washington, DC…"Skinny and Small", "Sweet Hitchhiker" and "Tough" stood out. He granted Marie’s request for that eight minute spoken-word (w/ occasional harmonica) "song" about The Replacements- the band fell into that slow shuffle behind him. Somewhere in there, he covered that Helen Reddy hit, "I Am Woman" without any overt irony or hamming…I didn’t know what to make of it. He also did "Going Nowhere", one he co-wrote with Jason Ringenberg. Jason played his version in this same room last November.
In encore number one, they honored my request for the Velvets’ "Waitin’ For My Man"…it rocked hard and fell into an appropriately hypnotic groove; clearly the most rocking moment of the evening. There was a second, and even a third encore. Fred Friction clicked along on spoons during one song and Dylan’s "Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright" worked well with Tommy’s ability to express "tempered expectations".
All of these house concerts we’ve hosted have been lots of fun; each in its own way. Everyone was so blown away by last month’s Kelly Hogan show, that I was afraid tonight’s show would be something of a letdown. Even with a lot fewer people in the room, it still felt full and Tommy had the crowd in the palm of his hand. As always, a few people hung out late. Our whole family was up and at ‘em by around 8AM Sunday morning, while Tommy didn’t stir until around noon. He and his buddy Eddie hit the road shortly thereafter.