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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 44

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 44

6/25/06 Susan Cowsill, House Concert. The band showed up right around 4PM- they were in a good mood and we all pretty quickly had a friendly, easy-going rapport. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and there was a nice air of anticipation. I got a pleasant preview as they sound-checked "Palm Of My Hand" (my favorite SC song) as I iced down the beer…this is gonna be fun.

About 75 people showed up and milled about, eating/drinking/talking for about an hour. With each of these house concerts, there is a core group of friends whose musical tastes more or less coincide with ours, as well as a smaller contingent of strangers who learned about the show through the particular artist’s website. Some of these Cowsill fans (they call themselves "Hairheads") came bearing flowers; one brought a cake decorated with the message, "All You Need Is Love…Welcome Susan". Susan graciously held court with the twenty or so hard-core fans, signing autographs, standing in for group photographs and such. She even spent a little time up in the treehouse out back with a few younger fans.

It was still pretty bright outside when Susan and band (b, d & g) opened with the equally sunny "Palm Of My Hand". Everyone in the room was instantly won over by the whole package: Susan’s expressive voice carrying this warm and infectious melody while Aaron Stroup laid on the glowing country-rock leads. "Nanny’s Song" is on par with Lucinda’s "Sweet Old World"; it describes the simple joys that will be left behind when it’s time to leave this world and is supported by an appropriately haunting melody.

Susan recently lost two brothers, both of whom had a history of substance abuse problems. She dedicated Lucinda’s "Drunken Angel" to their memory; it rang sweet and sad. Things lightened up again when she followed it with the upbeat "Just Believe It", drummer/husband Russ Broussard switching over to lively Cajun-style washboard. Aaron then sang an original- "A Thousand Magic Fingers" is one those "I killed my sweetheart" songs done up ala vintage Beat Farmers. Given all of the trials and trauma that Susan has been through over the past year, there was genuine joy and reassurance when she sang The Traveling Wilbury’s "End Of The Line" shortly before the break. For this one, Susan played bass as Tad Armstrong played acoustic guitar and joined in on the "It’s allright" chorus.

Everyone in the band (especially Susan) spent the entire break accommodating their adoring public, selling and signing lots of CDs and T-shirts. The second set started up right around dusk…Susan seemed to pick up on this shift in tone, opening with the slower, moody "White Light Of Winter". By now the room was pretty dark, so the cheap but colorful clip-on lights provided a nice focus on the band for all of the second set. The Beatles’ "Drive My Car" perked things up…the fan club contingent on the couch was loving it; a mother/daughter duo was bouncing up and down, making steering wheel motions. Tad sang a country-rock original that might have been called "It’s Gonna Be Different".

After a couple of more songs, Susan (aided by a bit of inside information) asked if there was anyone who played music in the crowd; this was her way of coaxing uber-fan Keith Osterberg into getting up and playing the song he had written about Susan. A lot of artists might respond to such extreme devotion with a restraining order, but not Susan- she handed over her guitar and took a seat on the couch while Keith stepped up to the mic, explaining how he was taken by Susan at an early age, viewing her as some kind of brighter-than-life personality…his "Disney Girl". With that, he launched into his song (of same name) while the rest of the band followed along, instantly picking up on the key and song structure. It wasn’t half-bad as obsessive love songs go, but in terms of entertainment, it could have been a couple of verses shorter. Nonetheless, the crowd was in a good mood and shared his sentiment (if not to the same degree), so he got a hearty round of applause when he finished up.

Susan re-took the stage with "Spring Day In Ohio" a song from her days in the quasi-supergroup The Continental Drifters…it’s the one with that tag line, "this is your life/how do you like it so far?" "Crescent City Snow" is her "hurricane song"; she and Russ live in New Orleans. This one starts off slow and contemplative before building into an up-tempo good-time NOLA tribute. When she sings about the saints, it simultaneously refers to them that go marching in, a football team and those lives claimed by Katrina. Their surprise cover of Gram Parsons’ "A Song For You" had me grinning almost as big as when I first heard the Drifters do it in 1993…Tad handled the lead vocals on this one. It was probably the hardest rocking song of the evening. Russ played acoustic guitar (and simultaneous high-hat) from behind the drum kit as Susan laid on a mesmerizing reading of Gillian Welch’s "Annabelle". During the home stretch, she got a few of the pre-teen second-generation Cowsill fans up to add background "All you need is love" vocals to "I Know What You Know". The one-song encore was "Snow".

This being a Sunday night, the house emptied out pretty soon after the music finished. Nancy and I got a little quality wind-down time with the whole band before they headed out for their hotel. They had a recording session at KDHX and an interview with the Post the following morning. If it’s still up on the web, this link should take you to Dan’s article about Susan:  

7/1/06 Waterloo CD release party, Lucas School. Family stuff kept me tied up until late…I didn’t make it to this new venue until around eleven. The owners have converted this old schoolhouse in Soulard into a reception hall/live music venue. The downstairs room features a large screen TV that was projecting a video feed of the band playing upstairs in a room that is not quite the size of Off Broadway. It’s about as intimate, but a lot less funky. The ceiling is high, as is the stage…impressive lighting and sound system, as well. I bet the stained glass windows look great in the daylight, but they (along with brick walls and the hardwood floors) contribute to a slightly echoey audio atmosphere…something they should be able to dampen with some kind of wall treatment. It seems like the layout of the room is very flexible; they probably host wedding receptions and such here. Tonight the floor in front of the stage was laid out with several rows of comfy leather chairs; appropriate enough for the friendly, cozy tone of the CD being debuted tonight.

Waterloo’s Out Of The Woods CD has a friendly feel to it. On "Chain Of Lakes", the combination of Mark’s gentle, melodic vocal delivery and the soaring/searing instrumentation reminds me of something Grandaddy might do…there are even a few dreamy keyboard flourishes. The impressionistic nature of other songs draws comparisons to REM from some folks. "Out On The Lawn" might be the closest thing to "alternative country" that these guys do (is that a banjo on the CD?), but it’s not likely to be mistaken for The Bottlerockets or Buddy Miller.

If your only exposure to Waterloo was hearing Out Of The Woods, their live performance of these same songs would come as a shock. Sure, lots of bands play harder live than on CD, but these guys cover a greater distance, transforming the sound from "gentle and dreamy" into something that at times is pretty urgent and intense. Chris and Mark’s guitars lead the way, but the rhythm section is no less driven and vital. In addition to songs from both of their CDs, they covered a Radiohead song (I didn’t recognize it). Adam Reichmann and Steve Rauner opened the show (I missed ‘em) and stuck around to add drums and lap steel to certain of Waterloo’s songs. Since frontman Mark Ray will soon be moving to Portland, this was likely to be their last St. Louis show for quite a while. They ended their set in "celebration mode", Fred Friction, Cat Pick and Christine Ray joining in on tambourines.

About half an hour after the set ended and the crowd had thinned out some, they re-took the stage, for a loose, less official encore, opening with their characteristically moody instrumental, "A Picture Made". Things then evolved into an even looser hootenanny, Joe Thebeau joining in on guitar. Eventually there were three or four guys sitting on the edge of the stage taking turns playing acoustic guitar and singing. Big Star’s "Ballad Of El Goodo" was the highlight of this acoustic coda.

7/3/06 The Blasters, Beale On Broadway. Tonight St. Louis felt kinda like Austin, Texas. On my way from the car to the club, I walked past another open-air courtyard bar (Broadway Oyster Bar) where the happy sound of loud live music could be heard out on the sidewalk. There was even a decent amount of foot traffic on Broadway. Once inside the packed (maybe 250 people) courtyard of Beale On Broadway, things felt very much like Austin- the band was setting up in a funky wooden structure over in the corner…a view over the back fence gave glimpses of a couple of distant office towers while over the south fence was a view of the elevated train tracks. Even at 11PM it was hot out.

The Blasters launched into their set as I was squeezing through the crowd, opening with their take-no-prisoners statement of purpose, "Long White Cadillac". If I had a tail, it would have been wagging mightily, as the song stopped on a dime at the end of that succinct, repeated riff, right as I found my bunch of friends at a table maybe twenty feet from the stage. A handful of us stood on the bench along the fence for the entire show; great sightlines and there was a nice breeze blowing. We all took turns muscling back to the bar to retrieve six-packs throughout this long, intense set.

Frontman Phil Alvin is a bit heavier than the last time he was in town (about ten years ago?), but his voice is as strong and distinctive as ever. "Border Radio" showed up early in the set as did a loud, hard cover of George Jones’ "The Window Up Above". Joining Phil and original bassist John Bazz were drummer Jerry Angel and guitarist Keith Wyatt. You would expect that whoever these guys picked up on lead guitar would have some high-octane rockabilly chops and Wyatt didn’t disappoint on that score. The dense, hot and happy crowd was worked up as the band ripped through the old favorite "So Long Baby Goodbye", Alvin’s harmonica leading the charge.

As the set played out, they occasionally brought things down; the tough swagger of "And I’m Shakin" and "Dark Night" kept things engaging even as the tempo momentarily dropped. A nice coincidence occurred when they did "Mystery Train" as a freight train simultaneously moved eastward on the elevated tracks to the south. There were twenty or thirty people hanging in the parking lot grooving on this audio/visual combination, as well. Since Marie was part of our lineup standing along the wall, we all jumped with added enthusiasm when the set ended with the catchy, upbeat "Marie Marie". Since the clock had struck midnight some time ago, it was officially the fourth of July when they closed out their encore with "American Music".

About a half hour after The Blasters finished up, Scott Kay & The Continentals (who opened tonight’s show) came back out and played another set to a significantly smaller crowd. They did a bunch of rock and rockabilly standards that I recognized at the time, but can’t remember the next day. We took off before they finished.

7/10/06 Matt Keating, Off Broadway. A relatively unknown singer/songwriter playing on a Monday night in a distant corner of the city (at least for some of us)…there might have been a total of 20 people in the room when I showed up (including employees and presumably, the opening band). This number would have felt okay at Frederick’s, but was embarrassingly sparse at OB.

The light crowd didn’t stop MK and a stand-up bass player from giving it their all as they did most of the songs from his brand new Summer Tonight CD. It’s got a country-ish roots flavor to it. In this mode, he reminds me of the rootsier moments of Peter Case’s solo work, both in the feel of the songs and the register of his voice. The bass player (Nick?) switched over to banjo for a couple of songs. "Down There" reminded me of Richard Buckner’s "22". "Never Stop Cryin" also stood out, as did "No Further South", his 9/11 song (he’s from NYC). The latter feels like an update of one of those tragic Appalachian ballads, projecting haunting images over a slow, simple waltz structure. The title refers to a train line that was taken out by the destruction.

The Candy Valentine EP is my runaway favorite batch of MK songs, but I’m usually reluctant to make requests of a musician, deferring to their artistic vision to decide what to play. But once someone else spoke up with a request that he said he couldn’t do, I followed by asking for "All The Rest", which he immediately accommodated. He hadn’t played it in a while and had a hard time getting through even an abbreviated version, but the beauty of the melody shone through despite a couple of lapses in both chords and lyrics. I was happy. I think Matt found a little consolation in the fact that people in this tiny "crowd" actually knew his music well enough to make requests.

7/15/06 Wreckless Eric, Lemmons. I got there after eleven, so I automatically assumed that the headliners were already on…the female guitar player looked a bit like Amy Rigby and the bass player was wearing what looked to be a Stiff Records t-shirt, and since I’d never seen Wreckless Eric before I wondered for a moment if this was him. This misguided notion was pretty quickly dispelled, though. This was still the opening act, The River City Tanlines. They’re a three-piece punk band from Memphis. They played in a ragged but spirited style…nothing earth-shaking, but fun enough.

The legendary Wreckless Eric went on later than expected, but that fit nicely with my late arrival. Early on, he did "Reconnez Cherie", which has a Kinks-like feel, as Eric’s cynical, yet cheerful British sneer was applied to a classic-sounding pop melody…no saxophone accompaniment tonight, but Eric’s guitar conveyed the message just fine. "The Final Taxi" reminded me of Robyn Hitchcock (WE preceded RH by a few years)…yet another twisted-but-tuneful Brit.

Being a "piss and vinegar" punk from way back, he had lots of between song banter, including a "reading" from his memoir/journal, as well as a few caustic barbs to the audience, including me, when I was talking to a friend during one song!…guilty as charged; I deserved it. I didn’t hear what he specifically said (I was talking to a friend), but it’s probably just as well. "Walking On The Surface Of The Moon" and "You Can't Be A Man (Without A Beer in Your Hand)" stood out. The latter somehow talked me out of ordering one more. 

Toward the end of the set, Eric’s girlfriend, Amy Rigby, got up on stage and sang her original "All I Want"- its intro borrowed from Eric’s "Whole Wide World". Eric and Amy seemed to be hitting their stride just as they were told that their time was almost up (the opening act had something to do with this), so they fast forwarded to their greatest hits/grand finale. The grand and glorious "Whole Wide World" segueing into "Take The Kash" closed things out with the crowd (maybe 80 people) jumping up and down pretty good.

7/16/06 Amy Rigby, House Concert. I was standing in the front yard in the ninety degree heat right as Amy and her boyfriend, Wreckless Eric pulled into our driveway. Things got off to a slightly awkward start when Eric stepped out of the car and immediately apologized for giving me shit from the stage the night before. Amy must have explained to him that the guy he chastised for talking during his Saturday set was the host of her Sunday night gig. I told him not to worry…I deserved it. Just then, we were both distracted as a hummingbird hovered briefly over Nancy’s flowers before disappearing around the corner. Things were better after that.

About sixty people showed up tonight. Since it was Sunday evening, the music started slightly earlier than usual. Playing solo with an acoustic guitar, Amy opened with the first two songs from her current Little Fugitive CD: the upbeat and sassy "Like Rasputin" and the catchy and lyrically complex "The Trouble With Jeanie". The latter typifies her penchant for painting modern "slice of life" pictures that find irony in the unexpected twists and turns. It’s written in the voice of a woman who doesn’t know what to make of it when her new husband’s ex-wife turns out to be surprisingly positive and supportive…not your typical subject matter for a hooky pop song.

The crowd was quiet and attentive and the PA was clear enough that even those unfamiliar with Amy’s songs could hear her lyrics which ranged from reflective ("Summer Of My Wasted Youth") to novelty ("Men In Sandals", "I Hate Every Bone In Your Body…But Mine") to somewhere in between ("Beer And Kisses", "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?"). "Cynically Yours" offered her typically clever wordplay against fairly pedestrian musical accompaniment. While her lyrics always provide plenty to think (and laugh) about, the ones that hold up for me are the ones with the more memorable melodies- "All I Want" and the playful "Dancing With Joey Ramone" were a couple of my early favorites. Somewhere near the end of the first set, Wreckless Eric got up and added backing vocals to a couple of Amy’s songs before doing his minor-hit anthem "The Whole Wide World"…it was an inspired moment and a nice stylistic changeup from the general tone of Amy’s material.

During the break between sets Ray (five years old) coerced me into pitching whiffleballs in a little back yard version of Home Run Derby while everyone else did the usual drink/smoke/mingle thing. Everyone was having such a good time that nobody seemed to mind that the break ran close to an hour.

With the room dark and a few colored lights focused on the "stage", the second set felt more like an actual "concert". Amy continued with more of her pairing of clever lyrics and catchy melodies (in varying proportions). "Keep It To Yourself" had a gentle folky quality to it as it spelled out tacit instructions for her new boyfriend to go beat up her old boyfriend. "Astro Van" described all of the quirks of her old beat up ride. "Don't Ever Change" is a resigned "I love you, faults and all" song. "Knapsack" might be my favorite AR song and was one of my personal highlights of tonight’s show. It’s a quiet confessional song about having a crush on a stranger…all potential with none of the inevitable compromise/disappointment (Nancy pointed out that it’s followed on the album by "(I loved him more when he was) Just Someone I Had In Mind"). On the clever/catchy spectrum, "Girls Got It Bad" contains more of the latter than the former. Amy mentioned that The Ronettes recently recorded it- it’s that tuneful…another of tonight’s highlights.

A few people were blown away by the unannounced inclusion of Wreckless Eric as part of the night’s bill. In addition to accompanying Amy on a few songs, he sang his own "You Can’t Be A Man Without A Beer In Your Hand" and one about records that might be called "33s and 45s". They closed things out with a fun duet cover of Abba’s "Fernando"…no encore, things felt complete, as is. We had a nice little wind-down time over beers and a late dinner before heading off to bed. Amy and Eric hit the road around ten the next morning, off to play a double bill at a club in Memphis.

7/27/06 The Peter Rowan Trio, The Voodoo Lounge. An old favorite performer at a not-so-favorite new venue. Around a hundred people braved the alien landscape of Harrah’s Casino to see this legendary folk/bluegrass singer-songwriter, who would have been a much better fit in some place like Off Broadway or The Sheldon. The sound in the room was better than I remembered from before, but the visuals were as distracting as ever. This intimate bluegrass trio was perched fifteen feet above the main floor (literally above the bar where hotshot bartenders make a show out of mixing drinks) while the giant video screen behind the stage displayed these new-agey time-lapse nature scenes.

So about the music…accompanied by two women (who were probably half his age) on mandolin and stand-up bass, Pete ran through a set that traversed a range of styles, settling in for a song or two in each mode before moving on to another.

He opened with the folk/acoustic "Dust Bowl Children". He’s looking older and grayer (as is his fan base) than when I last saw him (1988?), but his unmistakable voice was as strong and clear as I’ve ever heard it. He followed with "To Live’s To Fly"…Peter’s voice convincingly delivered Townes Van Zandt’s simple, honest lyrics while the mandolin fluttered and the bass provided a slow, steady pulse.

PR might be best known for his collaboration with Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements and David Grisman in the hippie-grass supergroup, Old And In The Way. He put together a mini-block of three songs from O&ITW’s self-titled album. His original, "Panama Red" gave nods to his dope-smokin’ counterculture past while "Hobo Song" and "White Dove" kept things in a more traditional bluegrass vein, as did one he sang in a lonesome falsetto that must be called "Vassar"…a tribute to his ex-bandmate. Throughout, the instrumentation (featuring frequent flat-picking runs) was solid, if not jaw-dropping. Rowan’s strong suit remains his original songs and his distinctive voice.

The next stylistic stop was the Mex-influenced stuff from his self-titled album from the seventies: "The Free Mexican Air Force" (again with the pot references) and "Break My Heart Again"…although they’re sung (and written) in English, the picking style and the high "ay yi yi" vocals give these songs a convincing "south of the border" feel. Onward to more folk/bluegrass in the form of "Wild Mustang" (from his recent collaboration with Tony Rice), "True Companion" and "Walls Of Time". He closed out the set with the up-tempo "Midnight Moonlight", pleasing the crowd (didn’t I see some of these people at the John Prine show a few months ago?) with one last staple from the "Old And In The Way" album. The two-song encore was nice enough…more fine vocals and picking, but I can’t really remember anything specific to say about these newer songs ("Paper Bride" and "Same Direction"?)




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