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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 5

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 5

10/5/03 Centro-matic, The Hi-Pointe. The turnout was on the lighter side for this under-promoted Sunday night show, but that didn’t stop Glossary from playing their hearts out in the opening slot. They started off with a lineup that included bass, drums, a female vocalist and three guitars- quite the guitar army…the (left-handed) lead guitar player added this ringing line (similar to the one in Dinosaur Jr.’s "I Feel The Pain") over a Velvets-type droney/strum backdrop. The lead player was also the lead singer (the woman adding harmonies), so I’m guessing he wrote most of the songs. About the songs…this live setting wasn’t the time to take in the lyrics, but by and large, they got hooks, punch and melody. Each song took on its own character as one of the guitar players switched over to pedal steel on certain songs, and another moved over to keyboards on others. There was a tuneful twang to what they do, but mostly they’re a rock band. They closed with Nick Lowe’s "What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding?".

Then came another dose of Centro-matic. These guys are a textbook example of a cult band…here they are playing in front of only about forty people, almost all of whom are music junkies and enthusiastic fans…members of lots of my favorite local bands were represented in tonight’s crowd. Over the years, I’ve been both thrilled and lulled by these guys (often in the same set), as it seemed that they could never decide whether they were an eccentric pop band, along the lines of Guided By Voices (anthemic rock songs executed with an almost sketch-like immediacy) or a more textural, atmospheric, moody outfit, like Sparklehorse or Mojave 3. I guess bands like Yo La Tengo have made careers of freely drifting from the brooding murky depths to shimmering heights (and back again), but I find when I’m out to hear music, I mostly (not entirely) want to have my butt kicked.

Fortunately, Centro-matic was able to resolve this dilemma- frontman Will Johnson and friends have become so prolific in their writing and recording, that they recently released an album’s worth of the more cerebral, textural stuff under the name South San Gabriel. Lengthy digression said, the net result of creating this independent outlet for the slower, moodier material is that Centro-matic is much more free to be a full-out rock band these days.

They opened with an odd, mid-tempo rocker, Scott Danbom’s evocative violin and Will Johnson’s haunting raspy voice making their melodic, if quirky, vision materialize. From this first song on, these guys were making it happen. The presentation of each song varied, as Scott picked up an electric guitar for the second song, before swapping instruments with the bass player and eventually sitting down at the keyboards, which were, unfortunately, almost inaudible in the mix. Matt Pence’s emphatic drumming stood out, in particular, but whatever instrument anyone was playing was played with punch and conviction. I’m not familiar enough with their songs to list any song titles, but there were plenty of people singing along.

Within this small, but enthusiastic, bunch hearing the band tonight, there were those who like ‘em a lot, and those who have a near reverential adoration for everything they do- I’d have to put myself in the former category…Will’s voice, an acquired taste to begin with, can become a bit monochromatic over the course of an entire set, and while lots of their songs get me moving, not all do. I hope this doesn’t sound negative; I’m just not willing to say this is my favorite thing ever.

10/7/03 The Hangdogs, Frederick’s. These guys strike me as a quintessential bar band. It didn’t really matter that there were only 20 or so people (including tonight’s opening band) in the house…this four-piece from NYC just settled in and comfortably set about doing a nice mix of originals and covers. The sound is decidedly country-rock. The lead player started out on banjo before switching to electric guitar(s) for the rest of the evening. Early on, they covered "Long Black Veil" and the sound of the lead singer’s voice sounded very similar to someone I was familiar with, but I never could figure out who (whom?)…anyway, if I told you he had a slightly raspy, character-rich voice along the lines of Brian Henneman or even the guy from The Outlaws, you’d be in the neighborhood.

Things were loose as Fred kept the drinks coming up to the stage. When they asked for requests, they responded to "Wreck Of The Edmond Fitzgerald" by actually doing about three minutes worth, eventually exhausting their recall for the lyrics, as well as their (and our) patience. Covers of "Midnight Train To Georgia" and Robbie Fulks’ "She Took A Lot Of Pills And Died" fared much better. Toward the end of their set, the lead player switched to mandolin for one song and Mr. Friction added spoons on another. They did an "eighties block" as their encore…I was totally blown away when they started it off with "Enough Is Never Enough" by Rage To Live, one of my favorite songs of 1986…it’s three minutes of joyous, ringing guitar hooks…speaking of such qualities, they segued this gem into a Plimsouls song (subtract hipness points for me not recognizing it), before returning to "Enough Is Never Enough"…can’t argue with that.

10/9/03 Roger Wallace, Off Broadway. It can be hard to get the motivation to make the trip down to Off Broadway on a school night, but friends convinced me to get up off of the mat…our little crew accounted for seven of the twenty people there tonight (another handful was the opening band, who had already played). What we heard was a pleasing enough set of classic honky tonk (and related) music from this trio (stand up bass, electric guitar and RW on acoustic guitar & vocals). Wallace’s distinctive voice is in the mid-to-low register and pretty ideal for what is, for all practical purposes, period music. The time and place that provide the inspiration for what these guys do is the 40’s and 50’s in honky tonks in and around Texas. Covers of songs by Merle Travis, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price and Bob Wills were mixed with a few originals like "The Lowdown" and "Rose Marie".

Both guitars were enjoyable enough, but the stand up bass was particularly notable- I’m still not sure how it comes about, but a distinctive, rhythmic clicking sound could be heard (as if someone were playing spoons or something) in addition to the low plunking sound normally associated with this instrument.

The memory of Johnny Cash found its way into the house tonight in the form of "Rock Island Line", "Big River" and "25 Minutes To Go". They also covered a couple of Roger Miller classics, "Kansas City Star" and "I Aint Comin’ Home Tonight". Other songs I remember, in no particular order, include "Nine Pound Hammer" (sung by the lead guitar player), "If You Can’t Undo The Wrong…", "Thanks A Lot", "Honky Tonk Heroes", "Invitation To The Blues", "I Never Picked Cotton", "Just As Long As You Love Me" and "First Train Headin’ South".

10/11/03 Grandaddy, The Pageant. Tonight’s lineup featured three bands that I was more curious about, than familiar with…As soon as I arrived, I went straight out onto the floor to stand among a crowd of people who were about twenty years younger than me. The Starlight Mints were just starting their last song. Their latest CD, "Built On Squares" is a clever and precious studio album featuring lots of quirky song structures and odd instrumentation (cellos, horns, vibraphone, etc.), so I was somewhat surprised that the one song I heard was pretty much a relatively straight-up rock song played LOUD. I know one song is not enough to arrive at any conclusions, so I’ll have to catch them some other time.

Then came Elbow, a British 5-piece (D, B, K, G & G). They’ve got a moody, contemplative thing going, where the lead singer delivers the vocals in a dramatic, somewhat pouty manner (Morrissey might be a reference point) while the band drones on long and hard…seems consistent with my limited knowledge of that stargazer thing. During one song, I noticed that singer/guitarist Guy Garvey was strumming the same chord for an entire song, but wait…he’s got a capo affixed about halfway down the fret board, so why even bother with chords? Not that the feel of the song suffered; I just found it amusing. These guys probably get compared to Radiohead, some. One funny sidelight to their set was their guitar-tech, a fairly attractive woman with a smallish top that allowed for enough exposed midriff to get the notice of every guy in the house with each guitar change.

Tonight’s headliner was Grandaddy, a band that has been getting a certain amount of hype (and inevitable backlash) for their gentle, dreamy brand of pop music. Their first song reminded me of Pink Floyd’s "Wish You Were Here"; both in the acoustic, yet trippy instrumental tone as well as in the actual character of Jason Lytle’s higher range voice…on another song his voice was closer to that of The dBs’ Chris Stamey. Playful keyboard fills added to the quasi-space age feel of "I’m On Standby", a song that owes a debt to Neil Young’s "Transformer Man". They did most of the songs from their current "Sumday" CD- "El Caminos In The West" stood out, in particular. At certain points, the guitars would rise above the mellow monotone and make things soar.

These guys have been together for a number of years. They apparently played Cicero’s basement back in the day (I missed ‘em). Now that they have more fans, resources and stage space, they’ve expanded their live show to include large racks of keyboards as well as a video screen that features a different visual theme to accompany each song…everything from found cartoon footage to a Charlie Chaplin movie to some silly staged scene with kids pretending to be Grandaddy (complete with taped-on beards).

When they left the stage, another video segment played, accompanied by (presumably) recorded music…hard to get people cheering for more as they’re getting more. Odd. They did, however, come back out for a one-song encore- "He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot" from their "Sophtware Slump" CD. While most bands choose to go out with a bang, they opted for this eerily slow and moody (even by Grandaddy standards!) epic. But somehow it worked, sending everyone home with an intensified last taste of what they’re all about.

10/11/03 Dresden Dolls, Frederick’s. After the triple bill at The Pageant, I made it kind of late over to hear the last 45 minutes or so of this heavily hyped show. The hype must have worked, because the place was packed. Their elaborate website (http://www.brainwashed.com/dresden/main1.htm) presented a picture, both literally and figuratively, of a duo that was a cross between Kurt Weil and The Rocky Horror Picture Show…based on what I saw/heard, I’m thinking that description isn’t too far off. Amanda Palmer sings and plays keyboards while Brian Viglione plays some pretty furious drums (with his face painted white like a mime). I thought the actual sound and range of Amanda’s voice were similar to that of Karen Carpenter. Needless to say, the comparison drops right off after that. There’s a decadent, sultry character to the way she sings, plays and moves about…and then there’s that spotlight focused between her thighs.

They both stood on the bar rail up front for their one-song encore, Brian on acoustic guitar and Amanda continuing to seduce the house with her righteous pipes. I like to think that I would have liked this show just as much (maybe even better) if they lost the over-the-top visual schtick and let their considerable musical talent speak for itself. A couple of friends thought they liked the entire package, audio and visual, as is.

10/14/03 Bettie Serveert, The Duck Room. Lots of familiar faces in this pretty big crowd- the Cubs’ collapse in game 6 of the LCS was the topic on most folks’ lips as this Dutch pop band took the stage. They’ve been a favorite of mine since their "Palomine" album came out in 1992. Ever since they blew me away opening for Buffalo Tom at Mississippi Nights in 1993 (or so), I’ve been waiting from them to come back to town.

They opened with "Palomine", starting off all simple and quiet, before gradually increasing the tempo and volume until this song shook and shimmered…Carol Van Dijk’s pure and vulnerable-sounding voice convincing us of every word. It somehow managed to make a graceful landing, as the last few notes gently rang out. This song, as well as "The Kid’s Allright" typify the characteristic sound of this band- the drums rattle loosely as they propel the tempos from slow and moody to frantic and borderline chaotic, sometimes gradually and at other times with unexpected immediacy. Herman Banskoeke’s bass made me take note a time or two as well, contributing to the platform from which guitarist Peter Visser goes off- sometimes its ragged and intense like that guy who plays with Crazy Horse…during "Tomboy", he got that wah-wah thing going, while another song found that hypnotic Velvets-type strum creating a carbon copy of "Waitin’ For My Man", a song they did on their album of all VU covers. I think the lyrics Carol sang on this one were some inside-joke reference to Liz Phair, but I’m not sure.

The band’s stage presence is charming in a geeky, Euro-trash kind of way. Herman wore his shirt unbuttoned halfway down, exposing his hairy chest and Carol had her hair shooting off in a couple of high pigtails. The guitar player (I always end up saying his name in an accent that’s equal parts Sgt. Schultz from "Hogan’s Heroes" and Dieter from "Sprockets": Peetah Vissah…who’s the geek here?) is rail-thin and sports those dorky heavy-rimmed glasses. I wouldn’t expect this wonderfully quirky music to be made by normal people.

Somewhere in the middle of their set, a couple of songs lulled me a bit- the mid-tempo shuffle sounding a little too much like the one before, but these moments were short-lived. The set ended with "Leg" an extreme example of the "twist the rheostat" thing they do.

Carol and Peter came out to open the encore with a quiet (all the way through!) song, before being joined by the rhythm section for "Smack" (the "hit" from their current "Log 22" CD) and a fairly literal (and righteous) version of The Velvet Underground’s "What Goes On?". Now let’s see about getting them to come to St. Louis more frequently than once every ten years.




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