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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 43
6/7/06 Twangfest Wednesday, The Tap Room. After the traditional opening reception, Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings opened…to look at this dude with a full beard and long hair hanging down his back, you’d never guess that his favored form of music is catchy power pop of the (early) Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds/Elvis Costello variety. The first thing to notice about the music tonight was the substandard sound quality- all night long, the sound was thuddy and echoey, the vocals muddy…the net effect was akin to watching a great movie slightly out of focus. The catchy melodies and overall good-time barroom feel of Walter’s songs and instrumentation (b, d, g, g & k) came through in spite of the fuzzy aural atmosphere. I’m not familiar enough with his originals to come up with song titles, but he did Buffalo Springfield’s "Burned" and ended his set with the bouncy "Half A Boy And Half A Man"…as on Nick Lowe’s original, the roller-rink style keyboards contributed to the cheesy but happy feel. The two song encore ended with Elvis Costello’s "Radio, Radio".
At this point, the room had swelled to over three hundred- the largest crowd ever at one of these Twangfest opening nights…attribute the big crowd to the draw of tonight’s second act, The Avett Brothers. By now, I know what to expect with these guys: All instruments (guitar, banjo and stand-up bass) raucously romp along in a spirited, somewhat sloppy manner (the banjo player also stomps on a high-hat pedal). Their exuberance exceeds their technical abilities…this simple sentence can describe bands that I love (The Ramones come to mind), but in the case of the Avetts, I find that I like what I hear from the instruments (the banjo is franticly strummed, as opposed to any kind of fingerpicking pattern) more than the vocals. I don’t doubt that their lyrics are heartfelt, but at times they’re downright painful to listen to. Their songs often have an old-timey feel to them…a couple I remember were "Traveling Song", "Love Like The Movies" and "Beat The Bad" (their encore…probably wrong title).
The big crowd made this the most successful opening night of Twangfest (in terms of attendance), but my limited enthusiasm for the Avetts (I’m glad other people liked ‘em) and the marginal sound quality made me think things could have been better.
If the festival organizers (I’m one of ‘em) intended to anchor tonight’s lineup with the most popular act going on last, they would have done well to have the Avetts swap slots with The Yayhoos. About ten minutes into the set by this Brooklyn-based "supergroup" the crowd had thinned to about half of what it was at its peak. Their performance was spirited, but Eric Ambel’s (The Blackhearts, The Del Lords, Steve Earle & The Dukes) guitar wasn’t mixed up very high in the already-muddy mix and the thinned crowd diminished the intensity, as well; a good amount of chatter could be heard from the back of the room during the quieter songs. Dan Baird’s (Georgia Satellites) "All Dressed Up" had a confident sway to it (think: The Faces). Eric sang the mid-tempo "It’s A Hurtin’ Thing" and the ever-amusing "Baby I Love You, Just Leave Me The Fuck Alone" (probably wrong title). "What are We Waitin’ For?" was hard and hooky, probably my favorite of the night. During The O’Jays’ "Love Train" a group of enthusiastic folks up front put their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them to form a line that chugged around the dance floor-I was grabbed by Roy and became the engine of this "Love Train" for a minute or two. The encore was Abba’s "Dancing Queen"…this song is catchy enough in its own right, but it also relies quite a bit on novelty value. It would have worked better for me if it had come as an unexpected left-field surprise, rather than a case of, "they still haven’t done that Abba song"…
6/8/06 Twangfest Thursday, The Duck Room. The Transmitters started things off to a light crowd a little after 8PM. This is the toughest sounding band Kip Loui has ever fronted; lots of people think it’s his best. The standout originals were "You’re Killing Me" and "Missing Person". One song had a slight reggae underpinning…kinda like Graham Parker’s "Don’t Ask Me Questions". Toward the end of their 45 minute set, they did Hank’s "Lost Highway", starting off slow before kicking it into gear and ending with a punch.
Tennessee’s Glossary played next…these guys had all of my internal indicator lights going off as they offered glimpses of a wide range of styles and influences. Joey Kneiser sings with a whiskey-soaked croak that at times reminded me of Paul Westerberg. "Holding On" (?) had a Drive By Truckers feel while another sounded like Thin Lizzy doing a Lionel Richie song (they introduced this as "a new one"). Yet another song had a full-on exhilarating sound that made me think of Marah. Throughout, steel guitar and (female) backing vocals sweetened the mix.
The club had filled up nicely by the time Detroit’s Deadstring Brothers went on. They’ve been getting quite a buzz lately…tonight they opened with an up-tempo bluesy rocker that reminded me of Dylan’s "From A Buick 6". Soon enough though, they displayed all the elements that get them compared to Exile-era Stones: the cocky swagger (as well as actual register) of lead singer Kurt Marschke’s voice, the hard, but melodic guitars, the rollicking piano and the bluesy steel guitar (the latter more closely resembles Ronnie’s lap steel on "Happy", than anything Buddy Emmons might come up with). They rocked hard and had the crowd with them. One song sounded like their own slow soulful take on "Soul Survivor". They did a fairly faithful cover of The Band’s "Get Up Jake". Female bassist Masha Marjieh sang a newer one that might be called "Maybe It’s True". When coaxed back out for an encore, they responded with "Ramblin’ Man"…everyone seemed to like it OK, but my friend Jim (whose opinion I value on these things) felt like they had planned their limited set to end the way it did, only to have to indulge the crowd one last roots-oriented cover, almost as an afterthought. Those of us who put Twangfest together might do well to ask acts ahead of time if they would prefer to do an encore or not. Nonetheless, The Deadstring Brothers were my favorite act (so far) of Twangfest X. They held that title for about twenty minutes…
The first thing to notice about The Dirtbombs is their lineup…quite the symmetrical quintet: Frontman Mick Collins stands front and center with his Telecaster (and cool sunglasses) as he belts out these hell-bent, soul-meets-garage rock songs, flanked by a bass player on either side of him. Likewise, drummers lurk over each of Collins’ shoulders making one ferocious, yet joyous noise. Pretty early on, a good number of my buddies had assembled up front as we were caught up and transported for a bit. Collins got all kinds of sounds out of his guitar: Jimi-like wah-wah, dissonant screeches, swirling psych stuff, as well as crisp badass rhythm riffs. Never mind that you couldn’t make out a single word that he sang; that’s not really the point. This is not your father’s Twangfest. Between being caught up in the moment and not being particularly familiar with their records, I’m at a loss to fully explain what they were doing. Fortunately, my friend Steve Scariano came up with a pretty articulate assessment when he saw them a week later, so I’ll defer to Steve’s words:
"The Dirtbombs tap into the hard R&B & free jazz elements---the real root of what made the MC5 so special. So that combined with the elements that reminded me so much of Love, had me standing totally freaked out in the middle of the dance floor of the ballroom with my jaw dropped to the ground."
And the two drummers and two bass players aren't a gimmick either. Both bass players are doing totally different yet complimentary things from each other, and boy does it work. And I love that they have a "lead" drummer and then a guy who is more the backbeat drummer. And Mick Collins' guitar playing is pretty out there, as is his role as frontman. They may not get as huge as everyone is predicting, cause ain't no way a major label can sell this to white 14 year old female White Stripes fans, and even folks I know who should like them probably won't, but damn did they knock me out."
The frenzied encore wound down as Mick (still sporting his cool sunglasses and big smile) left the stage to a two drum, two bass workout, each imparting their own character on the overall feel. Soon enough, the bass players peeled off, leaving the drummers to close things out. Eventually the right-side drummer bowed out and we got one last ass-whoopin’ from the remaining drummer. Yowza. Immediately afterward, lots of people were ranking this set among their favorite Twangfest moments (of this or any other year).
6/9/06 Twangfest Friday, The Duck Room. Tonight’s show was sold out a couple of days in advance…the first time this has happened at any Twangfest show. With a pretty long guest list, we all crossed our fingers that the Duck Room wouldn’t be painfully packed. The place was pretty full at 8PM when The Sovines took the stage. This is the only band on the Twangfest X bill that appeared at Twangfest I, way back when. Their lead guitar player, Matt Benz, has been a key force in the Twang Gang for all ten years. The Sovines’ sound is about the way I remember it from 1997- there’s a healthy dose of rowdy dieselbilly in what they do…boom-tap country drums, hard-living vocals and driving guitars going off ala Nine Pound Hammer. They also managed to work both sides of the country-rock continuum: Roger Miller’s "Jason Fleming" and Merle’s "I Can’t Stand Me" from the former and The Stones’ "Sway" (sung by bassist Ed Mann) and X’s "The Have Nots" (Bob Starker nailed Joe Doe’s vocal style pretty faithfully) from the latter. They went out doing Dave Dudley’s "Two Six Packs Away", a song that typifies that hell-bent, tough guitar thing they do…they claim this to be the last Sovines show ever.
Fred Friction was the guest MC for the rest of the evening, having hosted all of tonight’s bands at his club. Decked out in a lab coat, he set up an easel and elucidated some marginal words of wisdom (Did you know that "tips" is "spit" spelled backwards?) After said shenanigans, Fred welcomed Kevin Gordon and band to the stage. He’s got that bluesy swamp thing going…like an extended ride on that "Poke Salad Annie" vibe. Early on, I was a bit lulled by the steady, mid-tempo blues groove, but the guitars got more gritty and urgent as the set wore on. Songs that stood out were "Casino Road" and "24 Diamonds".
Only three bands on the bill tonight, because The Bottlerockets closed with a doublewide set. We (The Twang Gang) ordinarily wouldn’t have brought back an act that had just played last year’s ‘fest, but Bloodshot Records had decided that The Bottlerockets’ CD release party was going to be June ninth in St. Louis- attendance would have suffered at both events if this had happened separate from Twangfest, so we joined forces and made a big party of it. The place was packed, but not painfully so.
After Fred’s warm and wasted introduction, the BRox came out and played their new Zoysia album in its entirety. "Better Than Broken" was clearly written by the same guy that wrote "I Wanna Come Home". "Mountain To Climb" features that George Harrison "My Sweet Lord" guitar lick. The title track uses lawn maintenance as a metaphor for people being different but still getting along (the album’s cover works along those same lines). "Define Yourself" might be my favorite of the new songs; it’s funky, dark and syncopated…and atypical of anything Brian has done before. Tonight I missed the cool distorto-mic thing that works so well with that song on the album. The slower, moodier "Happy Anniversary" hits a spot similar to Blue Sky’s "Baggage Claim". One song (I think it was the title track) evolved into a major two-guitar workout. There was impressive instrumental interplay throughout this set, but the net effect of the new Zoysia album strikes me kinda like 2003’s Blue Sky disc- I’m not sure these rank among Brian’s all-time strongest songs. Years from now, when The Bottlerockets launch into a block of vintage crowd-pleasing kick-ass material, I wonder how many songs from Zoysia will be on the set list.
After pleasing (not amazing) the hometown fans with their new album, they took a brief backstage break before busting out the heavy artillery. They got things going with a pleasant surprise- Neil Young’s "Walk On", in all of its funky/chunky glory…interesting that they followed up the premiere of their new album with this song in which Neil dismisses the critics. What followed was one long, rapid-fire barrage of some of their most memorable songs: "Every Kind Of Everything", "Kit Kat Clock", "Indianapolis", "Thousand Dollar Car", Doug Sahm’s "Nitty Gritty", "I’ll Be Coming Around", "Radar Gun", "Lucky Break" (the only song included from Blue Sky) all got the crowd jumping up and down. During "Welfare Music", a number of raised hands held up the appropriate number of fingers as Brian sang the line, "It takes TWO to make THREE but ONE aint here…" The song ended with another striking Brian/John moment. There were a few curve balls: the more obscure "Smokin’ 100s Alone" and "Sunday Sports" showed up while "Kerosene" was conspicuously absent…nice to get a little something different. Speaking of "a little something different", covers accounted for both encores: Dylan’s "Trust Yourself" and the night’s most joyous surprise- bassist Keith Voegele closing the night out with Cheap Trick’s "Surrender". It was hard to stand still when this catchy gem roared by. I wasn’t the only one jumping around like a damn fool.
6/10/06 Twangfest Saturday, The Duck Room. I took a break from the Twangfest marathon long enough to coach my five-year-old’s baseball game and get to the pool, but still managed to make it to the Schlafly Bottleworks in time to hear the last little bit of the set by Magnolia Summer. The "revolving door" nature of their lineup keeps things interesting. Part-time guitarists John Horton and Joe Thebeau weren’t on hand today, but Kevin Buckley’s fiddle cast a new light on Chris Grabau’s original songs. The most memorable thing about this outdoor showcase was how damn hot it was…the bank clock said it was 97 degrees.
During the set by Austin’s Grand Champeen, it got even hotter. The band played under a small tarp, facing west, but the shade afforded by the big funeral-style tent was to the south, so most folks opted for the side view of the band. They did mostly unfamiliar material, presumably from their upcoming album.
A bunch of us ducked into the air-conditioned comfort of the bar between bands, popping back out only when Dolly Varden started up. They did quite a few new songs, most of which are on their current demo CD: "Complete Resistance", "The Panic Bell" and "Small Pockets" (Diane on breathtaking lead vocals) stood out. Their articulate lead guitar player always comes up with something interesting. Family stuff made me leave before they finished up.
I showed up at The Duck Room around 6PM; it was my job to meet the bands as they showed up and help them park, load in and set up. Everyone I dealt with was easy-going and appreciative. There was a pretty good crowd on hand when Mic Harrison and band opened the show. They were all over the place: they did a romping/stomping Irish-sounding rocker reminiscent of The Pogues, a boom-tap country song that rhymed the words "Anheiser" and "Budweiser" and a more straight-ahead rocker that made good use of that riff from Lou Reed’s "Sweet Jane" (circa Rock And Roll Animal).
Tonight’s sold-out crowd consisted of an eclectic bunch of people: in addition to the constant crew of maybe 100 people that you can count on to be there for every night of Twangfest, each of the night’s final three acts was well represented by a group of its own fans…quite the clash of cultures.
Next up was Memphis’ Lucero- loud, grungy rock along the lines of Two Cow Garage (lead singer Ben Nichols’ raspy twang is very similar to that of Micah Schnabel’s), but with a few more searing leads thrown in…they got ‘em two guitars. One song proclaimed "I’m so unsatisfied" while the guitars blared a riff akin to that in The Replacements’ "Happy Town"…am I imagining this reference? They played hard and I was glad their fans were out in force and loving it, but all-in-all, the actual songs didn’t grab me; I needs me some memorable melodies.
By the time Scott Miller And The Commonwealth took the stage, the crowd was bigger than at last night’s sold-out show. He opened with "8 Miles A Gallon" from his current Citation CD. "Amtrak Crescent" has a gentle, easy feel to it and features some of Miller’s trademark lyrics romanticizing the history of the American south. Neil Young’s "Hawks And Doves" gave us some rollicking flag-waving (those Canadians can write ‘em, ey?). Other songs (in no particular order): "I Made A Mess Of This Town", "Freedom Is A Stranger", "Only Everything" and "Is There Room On The Cross For Me?". I had my arms wrapped around Nancy during "For Jack Tymon", the wide-eyed wish written for his godson: "May your heart be so pure, it’s one that God wants to know"…made me a little glassy-eyed. They also covered Neil’s "Motion Pictures". This song fits perfectly with the moody/broody tone of On The Beach, but it’s not exactly Saturday night festival fare…these guys somehow made it work, though, turning the intensity up a few clicks. Toward the end, Scott was joined by former bandmate Mic Harrison for "Cold Beer Hello" and "Earthly Pleasures", both acoustic and full of working-class wisdom.
Closing out the night was the twangiest act of Twangfest X- BR549 opened with the upbeat and lyrically apropos "One Long Saturday Night". These five guys from Nashville ran through a set of vintage C & W/rockabilly/western swing. They’re great at what they do: Lead singer Chuck Mead had an affable stage presence while Chris Scruggs (guitar) and Don Herron (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, steel guitar) laid on the jaw dropping solos with uncanny regularity. A few other songs I remember from early on: "Waitin For The Axe", "The Shape I’m In", "Lower Broad Street Blues", "The Devil And Me", "Cajun Persuasion", "My Window Faces South", "Poison" and "After The Hurricane". As their set played out, the crowd thinned considerably from its peak about an hour ago…it was almost 1AM.
If I had any complaint about these guys (it sure wouldn’t be on any technical level), they feel like a "period piece"…I’m a big fan of that particular period, so it’s not a huge gripe. They’ve dropped a good amount of the "dress-up" vintage clothing thing (literally period pieces) and some of the comic schtick that once got them labeled "Sha-Na-Nashville". As amazing as the instrumental interplay was, it was primarily applied to a lot of mid-tempo material, making things sound somewhat monochromatic. This mid-tempo thing was probably improper pacing…just as they began to kick into gear and hit their stride, they were being told their time was up. All too soon, they were doing a couple of tried and true favorites ("Cherokee Boogie" and "Me And Opie") as their encore numbers as the house lights came on and Pancho was throwing the circuit breakers. Later, when we broke down the drum kit, we found a hand-written set list with 34 songs listed (they only had time for maybe 20)…Ironically, they never got to the last song on the list- "It’s Way Too Late (To Go Home Early)". I guess someone should have told them how much time they had.
Now that it’s way too late, it must be time to head out to that hotel by the airport where Austin’s Grand Champeen was set up in a big function room. They did an "all covers" set that started around 2 AM and ran until sunrise. Between catching up with a few friends and drinking beer, my attention zoomed in and out of the music. Whether I was listening from afar or up front jumping around, I was loving it. Not that I would remember all of it, but someone posted the set list on the internet: Rocks Off (Stones), Lights (Journey), You May Be Right (Billy Joel), Another Girl, Another Planet (Only Ones), Can't Hardly Wait (Replacements), Ace of Spades (Motorhead), Born to Run (Springsteen), Slack Motherfucker (Superchunk), Radio Radio (Elvis Costello), Motion Pictures (Neil Young), Walk of Life (Dire Straits), What it Takes (Aerosmith), Freaks (Soul Asylum), Closer to the Stars (Soul Asylum), P-9 (Soul Asylum), Daisy Glaze (Big Star), Toys in the Attic (Aerosmith), Safe European Home (Clash), Victoria (Kinks), Hey Tonight (Fogerty), American Girl (Tom Petty), I'm So Tired (Beatles), And Your Bird Can Sing (Beatles), Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson), Theme from Top Gun (don’t know).
In addition to the good attendance numbers, lots of people were calling this the best Twangfest ever, just in terms of quality and variety of music. I’m not really one to rank ‘em, but I had a lot of fun. I finally said my goodbyes and made the daylight drive home in the rain around 7AM.
6/14/06 The Plimsouls, Finale. Life is pretty good when I can hop on my bike, ride five blocks over to a club, meet up with a bunch of friends and hear a great rock band in an intimate "jazz club" setting. We had about ten people at a couple of tables right up front as Richard Buckner opened with a half hour solo set. He played seated, alternating between electric and acoustic guitars, often messing with that "tape delay" thing he did a couple of years ago at The Mound City Music Festival…kinda like a less polished version of what Bob Fripp does. Buckner’s lyrics were pretty unintelligible (due to his modest mumble, not for lack of sonic clarity). I didn’t recognize any of the songs by name, but Roy did (surprise, surprise). I liked RB better in his more articulate, less fuzzy days.
The room was pretty crowded (slightly more than a hundred people?) when The Plimsouls started up. They’ve just recently reformed after a long hiatus and sounded hard and tight (the loud and clear house PA went to good use tonight). It’s the same lineup we heard on the Valley Girl soundtrack in the early eighties: Peter Case is a bit heavier these days, but he’s still got that unmistakable voice; he and Eddie Munoz were still plenty tight on guitars as they cranked out their tough, tuneful songs.
I like what I’ve heard of The Plimsouls over the years, but never was a rabid fan, so I won’t be able to do the nuanced song-by-song rundown thing. The songs that grabbed me the most tonight were "Oldest Story In The World" and a punchy cover of Television’s "Glory". Others my next-day memory comes up with: "Hush Hush", "Dizzy Miss Lizzie", "Great Big World", "Zero Hour", "Hypnotized" and "I Want What You Got" (another highlight). There was a good amount of table-less space up front, so a bunch of people stood close to the stage; JJ got into it big-time (I bet this was first time anyone has done some floor-flopping in this upscale Clayton venue). When a band has a runaway, clear-cut "greatest hit", they tend to save it for the end of the show. That’s when these guys busted out theirs- "A Million Miles Away" still sounded fun and fresh, all these years later.
6/16/06 "Farmer Jason" Ringenberg, Webster Groves Gazebo. We picked up a bag of Sonic burgers on the way over to this free outdoor early evening show. The temperature was just right and there were quite a few familiar faces (young and old) in the crowd of a couple hundred people. (Farmer) Jason came out sporting his overalls, larger-than-life straw hat and acoustic guitar…he launched right into a kid-friendly set of songs from both of his childrens’ albums. Silly stuff like "Get Up Up Up!", "Hey Little Lamb", "He's A Hog Hog Hog" and "I'm Just An Old Cow" all had the two-to-five year old set jumping around and responding with all of the right animal noises in all of the right places. My kids were almost too old for this stuff; Ray (5 years old) went up front for a while and busted some cool dance moves he must have seen on TV while Travis (8) was more interested in his friends and his gameboy.
Along the way, Jason managed to slip in a couple of songs from his heyday as frontman of Jason and The Scorchers: "Help There’s A Fire!" (actually worked well with the kiddies, as well) and Dylan’s "Absolutely Sweet Marie". What Jason is up to now is worlds away from what I know and love him for. It’s great that he’s found a new outlet for his talents and that he’s making a bunch of kids happy, but there was a moment when he was standing knee-high in toddlers singing "The Doggie Dance" that I was wishing I could see/hear the old Jason. He still does shows as Jason Ringenberg, sticking to a less juvenile set list, but not tonight.
After a brief break (enough time to say "hi" to a few folks while keeping an eye on Ray climbing a tree) Jason did a second set of more of the same: stuff like "Guitar Pickin’ Chicken", "Moose On The Loose" and "If Money Talks" (another favorite from the Scorchers days). He ended with his big hit, "The Tractor Goes Chug Chug Chug". We got a chance to say "hey" to Jason after the show. He’s still just as gracious and down-to-earth as ever. He’s got a long drive tonight to make it to another Farmer Jason show in Iowa tomorrow morning.
6/24/06 The Bellrays, The Hi-Pointe. I missed the first couple of bands while talking with friends downstairs. The Bellrays went on right around midnight in front of a packed room. A couple of days ago, I ran a across a review in Magnet that described this California four-piece like this: They could’ve just as easily started with a "Musicians Wanted" ad circa 1975: "Fiery R & B singer seeks session players with Stooges fixation"...I’ll go along with that description and gladly went along on the wild ride Lisa Kekaula and band took us on. The band was tough and engaging enough to be perfectly entertaining as a badass instrumental trio on its own, but throw in this tough mama sporting a huge afro belting it out (think vintage Tina Turner) and this was some pretty explosive shit…lots of righteous testifying between songs, too. The crowd was into it, pressed to the front of the room and jumping up and down. Since I don’t know any song titles, there’s not a lot more I can add.