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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 47
9/23/06 Calexico, Mississippi Nights. Dave and I walked in just as the TV above the bar showed the Astros’ Luke Scott beat the Cardinals on a walk-off three run homer…time to take consolation in friends, beer and music. The place was crowded, but not uncomfortably so, as Calexico came out and laid on their intense, hypnotic sound. Their atypical instrumentation (b, d, g, steel guitar, vibraphone and mariachi horns) seamlessly roamed from deep-toned, surreal spaghetti-western instrumentals to sparse but threatening "rattlesnakes on ether" dreamscapes to straight-up urgent guitar rock.
I’m not up on song titles, but my personal highlights were a couple of covers, both benefiting from the striking use of horns. Love’s "Alone Again Or" (with a nice dedication to the recently deceased Arthur Lee) was vital and engaging. I had to move up to the dance floor during their dark, gripping version of "Tulsa Telephone Book". They manage to turn this light, somewhat silly Tom T. Hall song into something dramatic and breathtaking…one of those "lost in the moment" experiences that I live for. For their encore, they were joined by the (female) singer from the opening act, who sang lead on Blondie’s "The Tide Is High", done up in an exaggerated reggae style.
9/25/06 Josh Ritter, Vintage Vinyl. We brought the whole family to this one. JR started up right at 6PM and played a nice long (by in-store standards) set, playing many of his more memorable songs (not sure you’d call ‘em "hits"). There was a very intimate feel as maybe thirty or forty people gravitated toward the back of the store, quietly listening.
My attention was somewhat divided between listening and keeping an eye on my eight-year-old who was wandering around the store. A few songs we heard (in no particular order): "Kathleen", "Me & Jiggs" (the one with the line, "sitting on the porch singing Townes Van Zandt") and "Hello Starling". My favorite moment was an unexpected cover- he laid down a hypnotic picking pattern and delivered a mesmerizing take on John Prine’s "Mexican Home". Apparently, this set was longer than the one he did opening for Jamie Cullum at The Pageant the following night.
Josh was very appreciative and congenial throughout this set. At some point, he grinned and invited us all to stop in if we’re ever in his hometown in Idaho. After his set, he graciously talked to quite a few fans and signed lots of CDs. The following day, he visited an elementary school down the street to offer his comments and encouragement to a class of fifth grade writing students.
9/28/06 Mike Nicolai, The Red Sea. On Thursday nights, The Red Sea has six bands on two stages (3 upstairs, 3 down) for one $5 cover charge. There looked to be around 20 or 30 people in each room (I’m wondering how many in the "crowd" had already played or were going on next). The only act I heard was Mike Nicolai. Currently living in Kansas City, Mike is on a solo mini-tour playing his offbeat observational songs. He strums a fairly simple guitar and sings in a matter-of-fact deadpan voice…both were a bit hot in the PA, so it was hard to make out the subtleties of either. The small crowd of college-age kids was more attentive and supportive than I would have guessed.
I wasn’t able to fully digest them, but Mike’s songs are odd but endearing and filled with quirky, left-field imagery. One manages to give the pope a dressing-down for leading a sham religion, while working in the phrase "lactose intolerant". "Mammoth" chronicles Van Halen’s Diver Down and bemoans "enter Hagar, 1984". "Grover" is a fond (I guess?) remembrance of a childhood friend with whom he once blew up frogs and generally got into trouble. Mike stayed at our place that night and headed off to some unknown club in Oklahoma around noon the next day.
9/29/06 New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Lucas School House. In 1975, the New Riders were my favorite band and my first without-the-parents concert (the opening act was some guy named Jimmy Buffett). I saw them three times back in the day; twice in opening slots and always in huge concert halls.
With only two veteran members (notably absent was principal singer/songwriter John Dawson) and over thirty years gone by, I was a bit reluctant to pay $20 to see this show, but somehow did. When I showed up for the late show, the word was out among those in the know that the band was not going to repeat any songs from the early show, so we wouldn’t be hearing such favorites as "Panama Red", "Glendale Train and "Louisiana Lady".
The crowd size (maybe 200 people?) was ideal as the band started up. Any misgivings I had about this show disappeared as soon as the band opened with their old staple, "Lonesome LA Cowboy" instantly capturing what I loved best about this band- melodic country-rock, sweetened with twangy guitar (David Nelson) and evocative pedal steel (Buddy Cage)…and it felt way better in a small-scale bar than in any arena.
Without John Dawson’s expressive tenor to carry the songs, the vocal chores were split up among four singers (only Cage didn’t take a turn singing lead tonight). "Sutter’s Mill", a cozy mid-tempo hoedown, was a bit plodding, relative to my favorite NRPS material. Dawson’s "One Too Many Stories" was an early pleasant surprise- Michael Falzarano (acoustic guitar) nailed the lonesome feel of this C & W ballad…this is the kind of song that never seemed to make it into their set lists when they played huge "rock concerts". JD got a nice shout-out in the intro to "Henry"…this fast and fun tale of a pot smuggling truck driver was lit up with alternating hot-picking leads between Nelson and Cage.
Raised on country music (my first with-the-parents concert was Johnny Cash), I was one of the few who somehow learned of the Grateful Dead from their association with the New Riders, rather than vice-versa. For better or worse, the New Riders will always be known as a GD spin off/side project. Tonight they most closely resembled the Dead on "Dirty Business" (the extended workout sounded like it could have easily evolved into "New Speedway Boogie" or "Truckin") and "Portland Woman".
This isn’t going to mean much to anyone but me (hey, this is my concert diary, dammit)…when the band started into "Running Back To You", my jaw dropped and my head was reeling. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected this obscure country weeper to show up. I’ve been known to sing this one all by myself driving down the road, so you can bet I was singing along, grinning like a fiend tonight. This classic tears-in-your-beer heart-breaking country song was the highlight of my night. From there they struck up a raunchy chord progression that I thought was going to be "Honky Tonk Women"…turned out to be "Let It Bleed" with more inspiring guitar/steel interplay. The one-song encore was "Ripple"…one of the Dead’s more melodic and reassuring ballads. I left with a big smile.