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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 45

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 45

7/29/06 Cindy Woolf and Molly Healy, House Concert. Lately, house concerts have accounted for a lot of the live music I’ve been hearing. This was the first house concert hosted by my friends Dave and Angela Melson. The layout of their ranch-style house in Olivette perfectly accommodated the forty or so people who came out to hear this acoustic duo. There was a nice "community" vibe as folks mingled and ate, pot luck style, before moving into the front room where the chairs and PA were set up. It was nice not being the host, for a change.

Cindy Woolf is a sweet country girl from Arkansas who sings with a pure, honest, young-sounding voice; maybe like a rural cousin of Nanci Griffith (FWIW, I like her better than Ms. Griffith). Accompanied by Molly Healy on fiddle, she played acoustic guitar and sang a mix of originals and covers. Early on, she did "A Fairy Tale", the one about sleeping out under the stars. "Dearest Pearl" is similar in structure to Uncle Tupelo’s "Slate" in the way that the easy, sustained fiddle alternately follows and leads the slow, simple melody. I think she said this song is about her aunt. She did another one written in the voice of her Grandma, about how her home was eliminated by the Greer’s Ferry dam. This is some simple, heartfelt stuff…quite the contrast to the wise-cracking, cynical Amy Rigby house concert earlier this month.

Most of the catchy, upbeat moments came via cover songs…she grew up listening to old country standards and has mined some gems from way back. The sassy and lively "I Told Them All About You" (apparently recorded by Smokey Joe Miller in the 20s) suited Woolf’s vivacious southern pipes as did George Jones’ "You Done Me Wrong" and Buck Owens’ "Down On The Corner Of Love". They played two sets with the usual stretch/refresh break in between.

Somewhere in the second set, Cindy gave an amusing intro before "County Roads" and covered "Dark As A Dungeon". She also did her reflective, six minute ballad, "Cloudy Head"…the one about chasing dreams. For the home stretch, this duo was joined by our host, Dave Melson on stand-up bass. He’s a pretty adept player (he usually plays electric bass in the STL band Waterloo), so with a little exposure to the basic song structures, he was able to fill in the bottom quite nicely.

Everyone I talked to was very impressed by the whole evening…the music, the place, the people, the food, the whole deal. As is the case with these house concerts, people took their time filtering out. I was the last of the people not spending the night to leave, just after 1AM. Apparently, there was eventually a jam session in the kitchen until sunrise, but I missed out.

8/2/06 Ryan Adams, The Pageant. I ended up with free passes to the east box…it’s that private box off to the side of the bar on the balcony level. The sightlines and sound are not as ideal as standing front and center on the floor, but it was nice to have an actual seat and a little elbow room at this sold-out show. Neal Casal opened playing a solo, loping piano ballad. He’s got one of those sincere voices in approximately the Marshall Crenshaw neighborhood. He then moved to the front of the stage to play acoustic guitar as Ryan Adams came out to accompany him with some fairly simple drumming. About halfway through the set, RA came out from behind the drum kit to play guitar and join NC on Gram Parsons’ "Hickory Wind" while Jon Graboff (I think) added some sweet steel guitar. The vocals sounded very muddy from where we sat in the upper balcony, not throughout, but just during this song, which would have otherwise been one of the highlights of this set.

Things ran late, by Pageant standards…Ryan Adams And The Cardinals went on just before ten, starting off in ballad mode, with "Peaceful Valley". There was a brief period about ten years ago when RA was the frontman in Whiskeytown, when I was familiar with most of his songs. Over the years he’s written and recorded literally hundreds of songs, and I haven’t really kept up…so I only recognized a handful of songs tonight. My favorites were a couple early on- "A Kiss Before I Go" and "To Be Young"…sharp, catchy, twangy melodies delivered with conviction. From here on out, the set took a turn toward a murky, moody instrumental jam zone…my internal "Grateful Dead" light went off a couple of times. Adams took occasional trips over to the piano to deliver some of his ballads. Somewhere in the middle of the set, the band seamlessly segued from one of Adams’ originals into the unmistakable syncopated rhythm of "Franklin’s Tower". It caught me off guard that he/they would actually cover the Grateful Dead, but there it was. It had a nice jump to it…I liked it. Things got even more dreamy as they covered yet another GD song, the narcotic ballad "Stella Blue"…Michele recognized it before I did (she and I were both GD fans in the seventies); the band later teased at "Wharf Rat" in the Adams original "Cold Roses". Toward the end of the set, Neal Casal came out and added vocals on "Lost Satellite ".

Often RA can leave more of an impression from his general stage presence and running commentary than from the actual songs he’s playing. Tonight he pretty much held his often over-the-top persona in check, so most folks’ impressions were primarily based on the music. On that score, I can safely say that my assessment was somewhere in between Michele’s "best time I’ve seen him" and Dana’s "what is this crap?": ( www.mailorderbridevintage.com )

Before his last song, Ryan explained that things had run long and that in order to accommodate the house staff, there was no time for an encore, so that was it- a modest and humble contrast to the prima-dona antics he’s displayed in the past. Leave it to me to recognize both Grateful Dead songs they did and not the Sonic Youth cover they ended with ("Madonna, Sean and Me") as the house lights came on.

8/7/06 X, Pop’s. We got there about halfway through the opening set by Rollins Band. When it comes to seminal 80s punk rock, I always gravitated to the more melodic variety (Husker Du, Replacements…X), so I’m not very up on my Black Flag history. Ex-BF frontman Henry Rollins (& band) played with lots of energy tonight…lots of hard, tight starts and stops, but melodies not much.

When X played this same room three years ago, it was billed as a reunion tour- it was the first time I had ever seen them play with original lead guitar player Billy Zoom. That night the entire packed house (myself grinning big in the thick of it) was in a zone and loving it. They played an energetic, vital set that faithfully recreated their sound, circa 1981. Tonight, they came out and faithfully recreated 2003…which is to say they’ve still got the goods, the songs, the chops, but somehow what was virtually the same set as three years ago lacked a critical intensity. Imagine seeing Repo Man for the first time in twenty years…"wow, this is great’. Now imagine seeing it for the third time shortly after that…"still fun, but not as much". Tonight the crowd might have been half the size it was last time around (I guess a lot of people decided to pass on the reunion reunion). The less dense dance floor made for a little more elbow room for the contingent of moshers (the average weight in the mosh pit goes up when an old-school punk band is onstage).

So what did it sound like? Audibly, about the only real difference between tonight and August 2003 was that the vocals in tonight’s mix were muddy. The odd but endearing harmonies that Joe Doe and Exene Cervenka lay out are a big part of the X sound and on that score, the unclear PA was a problem. But like the bumper sticker says, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work". Even with a diffuse crowd and blurry vocals, the considerable talents of the three musicians lit up the punchy, melodic songs that just kept coming: "Beyond and Back", "In This House That I Call Home", "We're Desperate", "I'm Coming Over" (they did a "second take" after a false start) and "Johnny Hit And Run Pauline" all let the twisted talents of Billy Zoom shine as big as his deadpan grin. My personal highlights were "Breathless" and "White Girl"…both still felt dark, dangerous and exhilarating. The line in "The New World", "It was better before they voted for what’shisname…" was written during the Reagan administration, but actually ring more relevant today. The encore got everyone jumping up and down to "Because I Do" and "Soul Kitchen". Unlike the set from three years ago, the response of the smaller crowd was not enough to elicit a second encore.

8/18/06 Tommy Womack, House Concert, Clinton, TN. We were visiting my in-laws just west of Knoxville, TN. By and large, it’s pretty much suburban sprawl out there…Appleby’s next to a Best Buy next to a Home Depot…not much different than Chesterfield or Springfield or ____field. Thankfully, there are a few things about this part of the country that keep it unique: no amount of strip mallage can obscure the muted beauty of the Smoky Mountains in the distance, local radio station WDVX plays a non-stop stream of bluegrass/country/roots/acoustic music, and most recently, Nancy and I got invited to a small-scale acoustic house concert in a rural corner of Anderson County. (I think "rural" would describe any corner of Anderson County)

Our detailed set of directions led us down windy country roads to the home of Bryan Smith and family. They’ve got a nice, big open-layout house with a front porch that affords an amazing view westward, across a valley and onward to a couple of ridges beyond. Bryan and Wanda were gracious hosts to about 30 people, most of whom were in from out of town for tomorrow’s Mucklewain Festival…a lot of these folks knew each other from internet music lists. A couple of people called from the road that they were going to be late, so Tommy waited until almost 9:30 to start playing.

He did a couple of nice solo acoustic sets…the usual mix of honest, observational songs and endearing between song stories. There was no PA system, but the setting was intimate and everyone was attentive, so things worked just fine. Old favorites included "Sheila’s On The Road Right Now", "Vicki Smith", "I Miss Ronald Reagan" and "Martin Luther", all delivering heartfelt lyrics with a good dose of humor. He also busted out a new one on us, something about a band called "Alpha Male"…it featured an extended, rapid-fire volley of words/images/concepts that all hit home and left me with a backlog of stuff to think about as more just kept coming. I’ll have to digest it further when his new album comes out. As usual, his acoustic guitar provided just the right amount of punctuation to his songs.

Set two included "Skinny And Small" (about the high school jocks/geeks thing), "I’ll Give You Needles" (a haunting true story about helping out a junkie friend when he worked at a hospital) and "Too Much Month at The End Of The Xanax" (self-explanatory). My favorite song was "It Was A Nice Day"- it’s the one that reflects on a day with the family where things were good. He counts it as a personal victory that he didn’t freak out about anything…I can relate.  Nancy was particularly taken by his spoken rant about the aging Gene Simmons in the middle of "A Little Bit Of Sex".  Tommy always manages to revise/update the details in this one.

Tommy also covered one of Todd Snider’s songs- "Looking For A Job" (Tommy accompanied TS on guitar on this one on Leno last week). At some point, Nancy tried to say that the crowd consisted of lots of "Todd Snider fans", but somehow, what came out was "Snide toddlers"…works on some level, I guess. After saying "thanks" and "good night", we conquered the challenge of following our printed set of directions, in reverse, in the dark (with a slight beer handicap, to boot).  

8/19/06 Mucklewain Festival, Harriman, TN. Nancy drove the kids back to STL today to get them ready for Monday’s first day of school while I stuck around in Knoxville for this roots-oriented festival, heavy on acts from Tennessee. I drove my father-in-law’s pickup truck 30 miles west to a big field just outside of Harriman, TN. From there, a shuttle bus took me to the festival grounds, which were pretty isolated, as well. As outdoor festivals go, this was on the smaller side; most of the bigger name acts could probably fill a club the size of Off Broadway while the smaller names have been known to play house concerts. So it aint no Bonaroo, but that’s just fine with me. There were some scary predictions of major thunderstorms, but they never materialized, although it was pretty dang humid in the late afternoon.

I showed up at the smaller-scale side stage just in time to catch the last couple of songs by Cary Hudson. He sat in a chair singing and playing some bluesy slide guitar stuff. It was pretty laid back; the "crowd" was seated in the grass at the foot of the stage. The PA system went a bit wacky on him in the home stretch, so he took that as a sign that his time was up.

Fifteen minutes later, the trio version of Daddy took the same stage…Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack on acoustic guitars and vocals, backed by a drummer with a spare kit (his kick drum was set up to whap on one of his drum cases). Tommy did a few that we heard at last night’s house concert: "Too Much Truth", "It Was A Nice Day" and "Alpha Male" all of which were fleshed out by the addition of Kimbrough’s spirited acoustic licks. WK sang about half of the material as well- the raucous, bluesy "I Don’t Like It" (the one that goes "Give me Jesus if Elvis aint home…") and one whose lyrics stated (approximately), "I gonna try to be less polite"…apparently he’s got some unpleasant truths to spill.

I then found my way to the top a grassy hillside that flattened out into a field at the bottom, where there were two stages set up, left and right, maybe 150 yards apart, facing each other. Jason Ringenberg was just starting to play on the right-hand stage. Sporting a shiny red cowboy shirt and hat, he did a solo acoustic set consisting of a lot of the same songs (and spoken intros) that he did at our house last November, opening with "Honky Tonk Maniac From Mars" and working his way through "Trail Of Tears" and "Hot Nights In Georgia" (once again with lyrical splices of "End Of The World As We Know It" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). I never get tired of his lonesome country tenor. His stage presence was as gracious and genuine as ever. He did one of his Farmer Jason (JR’s kid-friendly alternate stage persona) songs, revising the lyrics in "The Tractor Goes Chug Chug Chug" to "The tractor his name is John…BEER" (the last word was the audience participation part). His brief set wound down with "The Price Of Progress" (this one about the destruction of the rural landscape resonated in this natural setting) and Merle’s "Rainbow Stew".

Next it was back up the hill to the smaller side stage where Allison Moorer was just beginning her solo acoustic set. For whatever reason, this stage had no tent cover over it and a light sprinkle had begun to come down…it only lasted for a few minutes and turned out to be all of the precip we would get all day. The standout song of her brief set was "Looking For A Soft Place To Fall". A few songs into her set, the sound on this stage was once again going wacky, with several random dropouts and pops. Apparently, the sub-plot to this was that Moorer’s husband, Steve Earle, was on hand and wouldn’t let her plug her guitar into the sound system on this unsheltered stage. So with her guitar just playing into the mic, she would occasionally bump into the mic and/or stand. Earle was a bit of a backstage distraction ("hey, isn’t that Steve Earle back there…and what’s he all worked up about?") but came onstage to accompany AM on her final song. They did that P, P & M anti-war staple "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" They added an "Oh" at the beginning of each "When will they ever learn?" line…that extra syllable seemed to throw the flow of the melody off, IMO.

Soon, I was back over the big hill where The Yayhoos were in the home stretch of their set on the right-hand stage. I heard the last couple of songs, both of which they did earlier this summer at Twangfest: "All Dressed Up" with it’s Faces-like swagger (the bass was notably buoyant) and the always fun "Love Train".

No sooner had the sound faded from the right-hand stage than it started up on the left-hand stage. The crowd (I’m guessing maybe 2,000) did an en-masse about face to go hear Scott Miller And The Commonwealth, whose set list also looked very similar to that of Twangfest Ten. Scott has an affable, easy-going stage presence…his fans were out in force (he’s from Knoxville) and the crowd finally had a critical density to it; first time all day. Songs included "Eight Miles A Gallon" (their opener), "Motion Pictures" (they do an admirable job of pumping life into Neil Young’s moody/broody dirge, but imagine how revved they could get if they picked a rocker to cover; say "Walk On" or "Winterlong") and "Amtrak Crescent". "It Didn't Take Too Long" makes an obvious reference to Ten Years After’s "Baby Won’t You Let Me"…tonight they also morphed it into Prince’s "Purple Rain" with lyrics revised to "only want to see your drunk ass out at Mucklewain, Muckle-wain, Muckle-wain…" I guess you had to be there.

After Scott’s set, I wandered around a bit, only catching a passing glance (audio and visual) at American Minor (skinny white guys doing the heroic riff-rock thing made me think of The Black Crowes) and Will Hoge (bluesy Allmanesque Rock; WH's voice even sounds a bit like Gregg A).

By now it was completely dark out and a background chorus of crickets could be heard throughout as Steve Earle (appropriately) took the left stage for a rare solo acoustic set. It wasn’t entirely a mellow thing…he opened with "Fuck The FCC" in which he (and lot of people singing along) reveled in shouting the f word. Even more people sang along with the next song, "I Aint Never Satisfied"…the title says it all and it’s catchy as hell. The dude has a way with a tune. Since Earle usually tours with a band, it was a nice change of pace to get an extra dose of his considerable catalog of memorable ballads. Things quieted down some as he sang "Goodbye" and "My Old Friend the Blues" accompanied only by the crickets and a few partiers who weren’t familiar with the "listeners up close/talkers toward the back" concept. My personal highlight was Steve’s cover of Townes Van Zandt’s "Rex’s Blues" that segued into his TVZ tribute, "Fort Worth Blues". The set ended with one of his biggest hits, "Copperhead Road", minus the punch his band usually adds. By now, rain was no longer a threat…there were actually a few stars overhead.

The festival’s intensity peaked as Todd Snider (& band) took the stage. His loyal legion of fans hung on every word, many singing along. From what I’ve seen, the whole TS cult is devoted to kicking back and enjoying…life’s a big party with a communal vibe just this side of Deadhead/jamband culture. Somehow, I’m relatively unfamiliar with his stuff. Up to now, my general take was: "clever observational lyrics accompanied by less than amazing music"…tonight the lyrics were plenty relevant and funny, but I found myself liking the music a lot more than I would have guessed…his band had a lot to do with that. Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack ripped into it on guitars and Molly Thomas’ fiddle complimented Snider’s overall vibe in much the same way that Scarlet Rivera and Lisa Germano have done for Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp, respectively. Blah blah blah…what about the songs?

"Looking For A Job" gives a deeper, more complex update to the "Take This Job And Shove It" theme over a memorable melody while "Ballad Of The Kingsmen" allows TS to tell it like it is over a rhythmic spoken-word rant that occasionally busts into rhyme- not exactly a rap, but about as close as you’d care to hear a white guy do. Speaking of white guys, he got a good chunk of the crowd singing along to his current theme song, "Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males"…who are, apparently, "haters of tree huggin’, peace lovin’, pot smokin’, porn watchin’ lazyass hippies like me."

Now that the hippies got what they came for, it was time to take care of the punks…about face to the left stage where Memphis’ Lucero launched into their fest-closing set. Having been less than impressed a couple of months ago (at TFX), I wasn’t expecting to stay very long, but I liked ‘em a lot more tonight; was I in a different mood or were they actually better this time around? I’m thinking the latter. I’m still not humming any of their tunes the next day, but they played with plenty of punch and had lots of those succinct Tupelo-esque start/stops.

Soon enough, I made the dark hike back to the shuttle bus and hopped in the truck. I made it back to my in-laws' place around 1:30AM and woke up at 5:00 for the surprisingly painless 7AM flight back to STL.




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