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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 4
9/23/03 Murphy Lee CD release party, The City Museum. This account is more about tonight’s overall scene than it is specifically about the music (even more so than my usual ramblings)… A week ago, I had no idea who/what Murphy Lee is…does that come on after "Cagney And Lacy"? But I somehow ended up with tickets to this show (I work in the City Museum building), so what the hell…? While we were in the entrance line to be patted down for weapons, we got to check out the large screen video board set up in the parking lot- big time exposure for U. City natives Murphy Lee and Nelly teamed up with NFL stars, all sponsored by Champ Sports…this was a big deal. Once inside the eclectic confines of the City Museum, we could choose from a range of free beverages- Pimp Juice (a Nelly-endorsed energy drink), Envy (a blue colored cognac available on the rocks or over a sno-cone), or Coors Light (insert disparaging remark here). The crowd was about 50/50 black/white – kinda like U. City.
Everyone milled about the first floor and mezzanine levels of the museum as DJs pumped the sounds through the space, but as soon as the first live act (Striker?) came on, the crowd pressed toward the stage. Seeing these rappers do their thing against the visual backdrop of whimsical concrete animals, wild mosaics and a 30,000-gallon fish tank made for some striking juxtaposition. Not knowing nothing about this kind of music, it only took a few minutes for the constant beat and the rhythm of the unintelligible lyrics to start to sound all the same to me- probably the way that rock music sounds to my grandmother or hillbilly music sounds to my brother in law. Right about this point, a friend who works in the museum led Paul and me away from the stage and on an impromptu tour through the cool sculptural tunnels that are being built beneath the first floor level. As the constant beat of the nearby music (I think a few rappers came and went from the stage) pounded through these dimly lit passageways, we checked out huge dinosaurs, grotesque faces and naked women, all sculpted in concrete. All of the representational forms flowed seamlessly out of these convincing stalactite/stalagmite forms to create this dark fantasyland environment- kinda like something out of The Hobbit. Anyway, the three of us emerged from the tunnel tour about the time the first act left the stage.
I know almost nothing about this whole genre of music, let alone any of the specific players, even though they’re homegrown and hugely popular. So when tonight’s headliners took the stage, I had no pre-existing appreciation for what I was looking at. I did recognizeMurphy Lee and Nelly from the recent barrage of publicity they’ve received. I’m guessing the rest of the crew on stage was the St. Lunatics…anyway, the first thing to be noticed was how fresh, distinctive and original their whole show is- kinda nice to be assured that, even to unfamiliar ears, it doesn’t all sound the same. There’s a reason these guys are getting all of this attention. The underlying rhythm track (don’t ask me what it is or where it comes from; I didn’t see anybody playing actual instruments) could literally be felt pounding in my chest. The vocal bursts (delivered through these cool cordless mics) and rhythmic response volleys were crisply delivered with much punch…punch as in knockout punch. This whole crew was exploding with energy, bouncing all over the stage, each member making his way left, right, front and back. They did "Air Force One" fairly early on…not that I would have been able to identify it, but my friend Trina was singing along and grooving to it. Another song had this "Hold on…Wait a minute" call and response thing going on.
The visuals are a significant part of the package, as well. Oversized pro sports wear seems to be the preferred dress of this crowd- all manner of colorful jerseys, like the kind you can buy at Champ Sports (see banner hanging behind stage). There’s probably a whole "commercialization of the message from the streets" tangent that could be pursued, but I’m gonna leave that to someone else. One of the St. Lunatics wore a white mask, cut away on a diagonal and carried no microphone. His gyrations and gesticulations were more pronounced than everyone else’s; almost like he was signing this performance for the deaf. As the show went on, a posse of women gathered to dance in the middle of the stage, further enhancing the visuals.
Topping off this collection of characters on stage were the bodyguards. Two of these big, bouncer-looking dudes were positioned at the front of the stage, arms crossed and eyes scanning the crowd, while Nelly had his own roving bodyguard who shadowed him around the stage, as if on an invisible six-foot leash. When a minor skirmish near the front of the stage necessitated the removal of an audience member, a big bouncer-looking dude positioned within the crowd took care of the escorting chores. In addition to providing the necessary security, the conspicuous presence of these bodyguards added a certain dramatic mystique to the whole thing.
The scene was pretty wild and intense. Lots of people were making use of the latest in consumer electronics, photographing the show with the digital camera feature on their cell phones. Just as things were reaching fever pitch, it was time for me to leave…Nancy was out of town and I was already later than I told the babysitter I’d be home. What ya gonna do?
9/25/03Meat Purveyors, Fred’s. Not being one for promptness, I got there a couple of songs into their set. When things are going right, there’s a nice moment of recognition and anticipation stepping down the stairs into this bar…you’re instantly hit by the sight and sound of the band right in front of you…the steps are also a good vantage point to get smiles of recognition from a few friendly faces in this relatively big crowd on your way to the bar…this is going to be fun.
I’ve seen the Meat Purveyors a couple of times before, so no big surprises…just more of the same sassy country/folk/bluegrass from this four-piece from Austin; two guys on mandolin and acoustic guitar, a woman on stand up bass, all fronting Jo Walston, this big mama of a woman who confidently belts the vocals. Originals they did tonight included "Hey Little Sister", "Thinkin’ About Drinkin’", "Trucker’s Speed", "Why Does There Have To Be A Morning after?" and "I’m More Of A Man Than You’ll Ever Be". Covers included Abba’s "S.O.S.", Nick Lowe’s "Without Love" and Madonna’s "Like A Virgin", all masterfully interpreted, without any tongue in cheek irony. This somewhat husky woman doing a soulful country croon made me think of Tracy Nelson. Tonight’s crowd (about 80 people) was just the right size- big enough to create a focus and feel like this was something big, yet not so tight that you couldn’t move around. Give me more nights like this.
9/26/03Diesel Island, Fred’s. Another fun, if familiar, set of country covers from the seventies. For whatever reason, the big crowd that has come to be expected when these guys play was not as big tonight. They play here once a month, so maybe people figure they don’t need to hear them every time…
If you caught any of their recent shows, tonight was more of the same. Brian downed a handful of O’Doul’s during this set, while encouraging the rest of us to drink up, before delivering songs like Merle’s "Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink" and Willie’s "Whiskey River". Looks like staying sober allows him to keep all the leads clean and fluid all night long. Even though I’ve heard him play guitar for years, I still get blown away a time or two each time I hear him. I could say the same for John Horton’s guitar playing, but in this lineup, he’s playing a relatively simple bass (an instrument he just recently took up). Kip sang lead on only one or two songs all night- one by Freddy Fender and maybe one other. The only song I had never heard them play before was "Folsom Prison Blues", adding to the list of Johnny Cash tributes I’ve heard in the past few weeks. Some song titles from the set that I’m remembering a couple of days later include "Good Hearted Woman", "Friend, Don’t Take Her", "Tulsa Time", "Wild And Blue" (done up with more inventive guitar leads this time), "Mr. Spaceman" (no 12-string this time), "Take This Job And Shove It", "Only Daddy", "I Can Help" and Mel McDaniel’s "Stand Up".
9/27/03 Jay Farrar, The Pageant. I got there in time to hear maybe half of the opening set byCanyon. This five piece (B, D, K, G & G/V) provides a moody, edgy, textural backdrop (sometimes quiet, sometimes more grandiose and shimmering) for the not especially catchy songs of their frontman. He had an earnest enough voice that reminded me a little bit of Jeff Tweedy at one point. Tonight the balcony of The Pageant was closed off and the main floor in front of the stage was not especially full.
Jay Farraropened with a few songs featuring just Jay on acoustic guitar and harmonica (blown in that not-so-precise Bob Dylan kind of way). He even did an Uncle Tupelo song in this style- "Punch Drunk", recast as a something of a folk song. Somewhere in there, someone shouted "D. Boon"; either the guy didn’t know it was a Jeff Tweedy song or was being sarcastic…probably the former. One song I didn’t recognize featured that Bob Mould style hyper-strum. Jay has always had a modest, quiet stage persona. I think the most we got in the way of between song banter was a hastily mumbled, "how’s everybody doin’ tonight?" After a handful of solo acoustic songs, Jay was joined onstage by the evening’s opening band.
Jay’s only sideman when he played this room in November 2001 was Mark Spencer on guitars and keyboards. Tonight, he had the five musicians of Canyon to fill in the sound. All in all, I think I liked Mr. Spencer’s guitar leads and lap steel playing better than that of either guy playing those instruments tonight. I remember "Damn Shame" having a more convincing ring to it last time around. But, for the most part, tonight’s band was able to recreate the textural feel of the songs on Jay’s current CD, "Terroir Blues". Songs like "Heart On The Ground" and "All Of Your Might" typify the way the band layered on drums (what do you call those balls they put on the end of the drumsticks to make them sound more dramatically thuddy?), lap steel, e-bowed electric guitar, bass and eerie keyboard fills. "Drain", from 2001’s "Sebastopol" still maintains that keyboard passage that reminds me of "Wild Horses". The moody soundscapes (sounds like tape being played backwards) labeled "Space Junk" on the new CD were provided between the actual songs; I couldn’t tell if this was being created by the keyboard player, or just a prerecorded program being played. "Driving The View" was done up slower and simpler than on "Wide Swing Tremolo"…I missed the way that song swings and sways when Son Volt would wind it out in that Faces-influenced way. Other songs I remember (in no particular order): "Hard Is The Fall"’ "Feel Free", " Voodoo Candle", "Feedkill Chain", "Barstow" and "California".
The first encore found Jay back out with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica again. He did his "hits" from "Trace"- "Tear Stained Eye" and "Windfall". They really are timeless classics. Lots of people singing along…Jay left the stage with a characteristically modest half wave/shrug followed by loud applause and a crew of frat-boy types chanting "Tu-pe-lo…Tu-pe-lo…"
Jay and band came back out for encore #2- a spirited version of "Like A Hurricane". When Jay wants to, he can still deliver the most urgent electric leads. Anyone who may have been lulled by the prevailing moody/murky tone of most of this show, was quickly jolted out of it. Whether intentional or involuntary, his voice jumped significantly higher in register as he sang Neil Young’s lyrics. The second guitar and keyboards fleshed out this soaring gem and sent everyone home happy.
9/27/03Melody Den, Fred’s. A handful of us went over to Frederick’s after the Jay Farrar show, increasing the attendance by maybe 40%. We heard the whole set by this local four piece (B, D, K & Marc Chechik on guitar and vocals). A couple of Marc’s original songs stood out, but in general the melodies and the vocals (couldn’t say about the lyrics) are nice enough, but not spectacular. But somehow the collective sound of each player’s contribution breathes vitality into these songs and makes them fun to hear…more than you would expect from a bunch of guys with day jobs who play out once every month or so. Dave Melson’s bass playing, in particular, is very animated and has a distinctive, playful bounce to it. They covered Uncle Tupelo’s "Whiskey Bottle" with Marc bringing the vocals down to a near whisper. The song that grabbed me most tonight was their cover of Blue Mountain’s "Soul Sister", Marc’s guitar nailing the crunchy, funky verse structure as well as the soaring leads.