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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 48

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 48

10/1/06 Taste Of St. Louis Festival, Gateway Mall. So much going on downtown today…you could watch the Cardinals clinch the division title (albeit while losing) at Busch, or watch the Rams come from behind to win at the dome or go down on the gateway mall for this impressive spread of art, food and (free) music.

We showed up just before Big Star took the stage. The crowd was smaller (not embarrassingly so) than I would have guessed. Apparently their following is deeper than it is wide…lots of familiar faces in the crowd, though. Early on, the sound quality was kinda hot and distorted. The band played all of their "hits"- in no particular order, we heard "Back Of The Car", "September Gurls", "I Am The Cosmos" (Ken Stringfellow sings this one written by the late Chris Bell), "For You" (sung by Jody w/ extended guitar jam), "In The Street", "Ballad Of El Goodo" (the emphatic drum rolls offer an inspiring surge to this idealistic ballad), "When My Baby’s Beside Me" (mine was) and "Thirteen". Toward the end, they covered a Kinks song that I didn’t recognize.

The crowd reached its peak as The Roots took the stage around 7PM. Between the dense crowd and friends/family I ended up hanging toward the back. From the glowing accounts friends have given of their live shows, I was expecting to be blown away…in fairness, I wasn’t giving it my full attention, but they didn’t do much for me at first, so I wandered the perimeter, still within earshot. Combine this with the fact that what they do is pretty far afield from what I usually listen to, and just about anyone else who was there could probably give a more informed assessment of this set…go ask them about it. Eventually I got glimpses of fun guitar leads and little tease/snippets of cover songs woven into the rap/rock thing they do. They seem to be heirs to those inventive funk/rock bands like Sly Stone and Funkadelic.

Not surprisingly, the schedule of starting times for each band slid a little each time, so tonight’s final band went on about 45 minutes late. The Sunday night crowd had thinned from its peak a couple of hours ago. Those who stuck around (still a good sized crowd) were treated to the most rocking set I’ve ever witnessed by Son Volt. Jay Farrar’s songs, impressive to begin with, where done up in glorious "rock concert" mode. I hadn’t seen this current incarnation of SV in almost a year…in that time, they’ve come to know what to expect from each other and tightened up their sound considerably. Guitarist Brad Rice (back after last year’s brief stand-in by Chris Frame) contributed heroic leads in all the right places while Derry De Borja’s keyboards added a more subliminal layer to the large and loud sound, recalling the better moments of The Heartbreakers. They did just about everything from last year’s Okemah CD, as well as a scattering of songs from the SV/Jay solo back catalog. I’m writing this several days after the show, so I’m having a hard time coming up with specific comments about individual songs. The overall tone was loud and celebratory but even when they weren’t in full-on soaring rock mode, the instrumentation felt full and well integrated. "Barstow" had a relaxed country feel to it, "Medication" had that hypnotic/narcotic quasi-eastern vibe and "Tear Stained Eye" remains a warm country-rock ballad for the ages.

The three-song encore dug back further in time: the always reassuring "Windfall" (from SV’s 1995 debut CD), the urgent guitar rock of "Chickamauga" (Jay’s exhilarating gem from the final Uncle Tupelo album) and a total out-of-the-blue surprise cover from the sixties: The Kinks’ "I’m Not Like Everybody Else"! Relevant words over a classic melody…lots of big smiles on familiar faces all around as we all said good night and headed home.

10/12/06 Euclid Records Party, The Duck Room. I was torn between watching the Cards in game one of the NLCS (on TV) and supporting other home teams tonight. A bunch of us hung upstairs watching the game (still scoreless in the fourth) until Finn’s Motel went on. They played lots of my favorites from their current Escape Velocity CD: "Highway Hawk", "Recent Linear Landscape" and "Alright Tonight" stood out. I wrote more about the new album when they debuted it last month at Euclid Records, so I won’t repeat it all here.

Tonight, James was on his honeymoon, so Robert Griffin filled in on second guitar. Robert was heavily involved in every aspect of the production of Escape Velocity, so his participation felt perfectly natural. "Dramamine For Engine 3" works really well as the opening song on the album and equally well as a set-closer, as the band wound things out.

Springfield, MO’s The Rugs played next…they’ve got a neo sixties garage-rock thing going. Two young guys with guitars and another belting out the vocals, supported by most of the Skeletons/Morells: Lou on bass, Joe on keys and Donnie on DRUMS! They took a couple of stylistic breaks- one song had a dopey oldies feel along the lines of, well, The Skeletons and another one had a driving "Gimmee Shelter" intensity to it.

During each break I started up the stairs to get an update on the game from the TV at the bar, but each time I encountered a friend coming back with the latest info, allowing me to make an about-face back downstairs.

Detroit’s Hard Lessons (d, k, g- no bass) closed out tonight’s show, offering another variation on the garage-rock theme. The female keyboard player sang in (approximately) the Maria McKee range/register. The guitar player bounced around with lots of enthusiasm…a couple of times, he reached up and swung from that huge beam above the stage. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t get around to typing this up for a quite a while, so my memory isn’t so good. I do remember liking it and jumping up and down some. They closed with Neil’s "Hey, Hey (Out Of The Blue)".

10/14/06 Two Cow Garage, Lemmon’s. I showed up about halfway through the set by Colorado’s Drag The River. I like a few songs on the one CD I have, but tonight, what these guy do wasn’t grabbing me. With a stripped-down lineup (2 acoustic guitars & steel, the latter low in the mix), they were on the quiet, gentle side without much in the way of memorable melodies, distinctive vocals or instrumental punch. I ended up hanging over on the "talkers side" of the bar.

There mighta been around 60 people in the room as Two Cow Garage came out and did what they do best, playing hard with lots of spark and passion…mostly unfamiliar songs (presumably from their new CD). Micah still sounds like Patterson Hood, Shane sang a couple and Dustin hits the drums as hard as ever. One song had an intense repeated hook similar to Husker Du’s "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill"…it turned out to be their version of Neil’s "Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World". Things got less focused as the set wore on (and shots were delivered to the stage). Some of the DTR guys got up and contributed to the foggy finish. Things got even foggier when I made my way over to Fred’s house for late-night hangout with FF and the band. I got home around 5:30…just like old times.

10/19/06 Eef Bazalay, The Duck Room. NLCS game seven kept a lot of people (myself included) in tonight. As soon as Carlos Beltran struck out (…looking, with the bases loaded to send the Cardinals to the World Series), I hopped in the car and headed to the bar. There were only about 35 people on hand to hear Eef do a mix of Clem Snide material ("Jews For Jesus Blues", "Beautiful" and "Something Beautiful") and songs from his current solo Bitter Honey CD; "Well" and "I Wasn't Really Drunk" stood out. It would be easy to say that his cover of Michael Jackson’s "Man In The Mirror" was ironic, but given his heart-on-the-sleeve outlook, I believe he meant every word.

Eef’s often-challenging vocal delivery was complimented tonight by a couple of instrumental quirks. His acoustic guitar was run through a small, crappy amp outfitted with a microphone in front of it, creating an intentional distorto-buzz. On a couple of songs, he stomped on the keys of a cheap toy piano he had set up off to the side, while playing his guitar standing on one leg. I don’t doubt that he’s being true to his muse, but these shenanigans make the music more hokey and less musically enjoyable (I don’t need to say "in my opinion" do I?). Yeah it’s playful, but it seems inconsistent with the poignant, heartfelt tone of what he’s got to say and flirts with the boundaries of novelty music.

He saved a couple of gems for the encore. "The Ballad Of Bitter Honey" is a spellbinding story told in the voice of a black chick who gives up on a nursing career when she realizes the rewards are greater hanging on in the orbit of the rap music world. Reworking the melody to "I Love The Unknown" was consistent with it’s lyrical message. You gotta hand it to the guy for not taking the easy route.

10/28/06 John and Marie’s wedding, Hawken House. This was more about the occasion and the people than an actual "concert", but a couple of bands played, so I feel like I at least ought to mention it. Chicago’s Step Five (fronted by Steve Dawson) and The Federales (including guitarist Scott Ligon) played separately and together for two or three hours, playing upbeat party music…everything from Motown to The Stones to a whole bunch of NRBQ and many points in between. Steve played guitar and sang "That's How Strong My Love Is" right before the outdoor ceremony. The couple’s first dance as husband and wife was "What A Wonderful World". Toward the end of the evening, Heather and Jason stepped up to the mics for a duet of Meatloaf’s "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" accompanied by The Federales’ keyboard player, who was a good sport and helped with lyrics when needed. At some point, Carey and I got out on the dance floor sporting giant cartoony fomecore cutouts (with face holes) of a moose and squirrel, respectively. I’m afraid there is photographic evidence of this. A couple of my favorites toward the end of the evening were "Let’s Get It On" and "Sway".

11/6/06 Hacienda Brothers, Off Broadway. We got there in time to catch another nice opening set by Rough Shop. Tonight’s lineup was: Andy on electric guitar, Anne on stand-up bass, Spencer on drums and John on guitar. Everyone sang lead at some point, including Spencer’s confident twang on Nick Lowe’s "Cold Grey Light Of Dawn". Other highlights included "I’m Your Man" and "Final Wild Son"…Andy’s confident chops and Anne’s easy vocals make this one sound like Creedence covering "Ode To Billy Joe".

There were maybe forty or fifty people on hand (including musicians…it was a Monday night) when The Hacienda Brothers took the stage, opening with "The Way To Survive" (probably wrong title). This song typifies the smooth, easy country-flavored blues these guys do. Frontman Chris Gaffney has a warm, character-rich voice and the rest of the band (b, d, g and pedal steel) have a nice feel for that vintage post-war bluesy, C & W sound. On their current What’s Wrong With Right CD, I prefer the more straight-up honky-tonk stuff to the bluesier numbers, but tonight Dave Gonzalez’s lead guitar made every song engaging. Gaffney alternated between acoustic guitar and accordion, adding additional textural layers. My favorite song of the night was "Cowboys To Girls", a smooth soul song which seamlessly segued into "Just My Imagination" and back again.




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