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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 50
12/31/06 Todd Snider, Mississippi Nights. The whole family was down south for the holidays, getting back into town around 7PM. It would have been easy to stay in and relax, but it was rumored that this would be the last ever show at Mississippi Nights, so I had to be there…the fact that I liked the bands playing didn’t hurt, either.
By the time I negotiated the New’s Year’s Eve Laclede’s Landing construction/traffic/parking mess, The Bottlerockets were into their second song. There was a good crowd, but you could still move around OK…just about perfect, especially when I found a crew of friends at a table (with an extra chair) right at the edge of the dance floor. I didn’t find out until after the show, that The BRox were intentionally not playing any of the songs they played here last night. I guess it speaks for the depth and breadth of Brian’s catalog that they played an hour and a half’s worth of impressive material without me missing any specific song. Things varied from the sixties country-influenced "Every Kind Of Everything" to the Neil Young electric style ballad "Things You Didn’t Know" to the more mellow "Baggage Claim"… after this one, Brian took a moment to point out that if it weren’t for "soft rock", you wouldn’t (by comparison) have hard rock…point taken as the range of styles/volumes/tempos kept things interesting and enjoyable pretty much start-to-finish: "Nancy Sinatra" (some of that "hard rock"), "Get Down River" (tonight I noticed a similarity to John Anderson’s "Wild And Blue"), "I Quit" (a funky Little-Feat style boogie), "Sunday Sports" (done up ragged, but spirited ala Neil’s "Out Of The Blue"), "Love Like A Truck", "Queen Of The World", "Early In The Morning" (reworked in a bluesy "Smokestack Lightning" kind of way) and "Define Yourself" (my favorite from the new album). After a brief pause, Brian’s guitar rang out with a familiar tease…"what is that?" Before I could place it, the band had fallen into Neil’s "The Loner"- one of tonight’s highlights.
Some folks complained that this set was too loud, but I didn’t have a problem with it. The current lineup (it can no longer be called "new") just keeps getting better. We’ve all heard John Horton play in any number of bands and styles…he’s developed his chops to mesh perfectly with Brian’s playing style as well as the tone of these songs. The bass sounds tougher than ever. Not that it matters to the music, but Brian Henneman looks a bit like Hank, Jr. these days, with his shorter hair, hat, beard and dark shades.
During the home stretch, I spotted my friend Trina up on the dance floor and decided it was time to get off my ass. We joyously jumped around to up-tempo favorites like "I’ll Be Coming Around", "Gotta Get Up", "Kerosene" (my all-time favorite BRox song) and "Indianapolis". It’s not a natural set-closer, but when you’ve got a song called "Brand New Year", it works just fine on December 31st.
Todd Snider and band took the stage around eleven. From the limited exposure I’ve had to Todd, his music and his fans, it all strikes me as a counterculture variation on what Jimmy Buffett has going: a devoted fanbase singing along to lyrics that affirm their "kick back and enjoy" philosophy. Todd’s general persona is one of a fun-loving fuckup, grinning big from beneath his hat and hair.
The vocals were muddy in the house mix tonight, so as far as lyrical content goes you either: a) already knew the words and were singing along, so unclear vocals were not an issue, or b) couldn’t make out what was being said/sung and couldn’t get it from listening tonight. Only on the simpler (sometimes spoken) songs could you pick up on the lyrical message. I need to check out some TS records some time.
Early on, lots of straight white American males were singing along to "Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males"…apparently, the first part of the title is what they’re ridiculing. Todd’s observational lyrics are always astute and coincide with my political leanings. "Ballad Of The Kingsmen" showed up early in the set list; it’s half spoken rant, half melodic ballad refuting charges about the adverse effects of rock music. Like most spoken-word/novelty songs, it has a little less impact with each repeated listen…kinda like hearing John Prine’s "Dear Abby" for the 40th time. Speaking of John Prine, Todd & band covered JP’s "Crooked Piece Of Time", flirting with a reggae-ish syncopation. From there, the band (including Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack on guitars and Molly Thomas on fiddle) deftly segued into another TS original ("Devil's Backbone Tavern") which seamlessly morphed into the easy, clean structure of Arlo Guthrie’s "Alice's Restaurant" (Todd mercifully spared us the accompanying story).
As the magic hour approached, Roy and I made our way to the bar to find the cheap champagne that was rumored to be available. It turned out to be free; the bar staff was pouring low-grade bubbly into dozens of paper cups that were there for the taking. We brought as many as we could back to our table just as the band (joined by The Bottlerockets) sang "Auld Lang Syne"…toasts hoisted all around. The Bottlerockets remained onstage for the next 40 minutes or so, as the proverbial guitar army was assembled. The highlight of this all-star jam happened right away- Fred Eaglesmith’s "Alcohol And Pills" was done up with exhilarating Cortez-style leads (not exactly a stretch for Brian or John) that left me stunned.
From this point on (a good half hour, plus), things felt OK, but less than amazing. There were isolated impressive blues-based solos (Chuck Berry’s "Bye, Bye Johnny" was fun), but it seemed like the focus was less on Todd’s songs and more on the extended mega-jam. "Enjoy Yourself" is such a natural drunken sing-along (especially tonight), that Todd held the mic stand out into the crowd as they took over for a couple of choruses. "Looking For A Job" had a nice ring to it (and was given an instrumental reprise at night’s end). Somewhere in the proceedings, the word got out that there will be another show or two at this venue, but I’ll savor this celebration as my final time.
1/19/07 R.I.P. Mississippi Nights. Mississippi Nights was the first live music club I wandered into after moving to St. Louis. Nancy wasn’t up for going out on a school night, so I went to see Jason And The Scorchers by myself in the spring of 1984. Being by myself, I ended up talking to a few friendly strangers. Twenty-three years later, I’m still in regular contact with three people from that night.
For 27 years, lots of people saw a wide range of bands play at Mississippi Nights, but my personal high point coincided with the glory days of the mid-eighties indie/punk scene…I got to see ground-breaking bands like Husker Du, The Replacements, The Minutemen, The Meat Puppets and The dBs in their prime. On the roots-rock side, I got to see The Long Ryders, Rank and File and The Beat Farmers. I still remember Asleep At The Wheel playing "My Baby Thinks She’s A Train" as a moving freight train was perfectly framed in that one big window to the right of the stage.
Once the place expanded to the 1,000 capacity range, I saw even more shows there…probably over a hundred bands. Relative to some of the stories that are currently flying around, mine are pretty tame. I never got laid in the dressing room or witnessed a knife fight out front, but here are a few scattered images that have stuck with me:
Someone walking up and asking me to sign his LP…apparently he thought I was in The Scorchers…in hindsight, I wish I had obliged.
Me and a bunch of friends sloshing beer mugs in unison to some rollicking shanty by The Pogues.
One of my most breathtaking moments in a lifetime of hearing live music was hearing Bettie Serveert play "Brain Tag"...I was transported.
Amusing field trips into another world to see King Diamond and Gwar.
Getting caught up in the mosh pit frenzy in front of Dinosaur Jr.
The final two Uncle Tupelo shows (ever). Even though they don’t rank among my personal favorite UT shows, there was a real sense that an era had ended when they walked off the stage for the last time.
During a both-bands (Golden Smog and The Geraldine Fibbers) encore, one of the Fibbers did an impromptu strip-tease to Roxy Music’s "Love Is The Drug". I didn’t want to see it; now I’ll never forget it.
Driving back into town from my kid’s Cub Scout campout to see Sleater Kinney and The Ponys right around the time the rest of the dads were roasting marshmallows.
Going to shows at Mississippi Nights was the only reason I ever went down to Laclede’s Landing. As the years went by, I found myself going less often. Jim Utz describes how the club managed to stay afloat for so long in the shifting seas of the live music business in this fond remembrance:
http://www.52ndcity.com/2007_01_utz.htm …check it out.
According to the local press, there’s about a 50/50 chance that the club will reopen in the midtown area this fall. I’ll keep my fingers crossed…more STL venues is better than less. In the mean time, I’ll wax nostalgic and run through the list (to the best of my memory) of acts I saw at Mississippi Nights: The Alarm, Asleep At The Wheel, Babes In Toyland, Bare Jr., The Beat Farmers, Belly, Bettie Serveert, Blue Mountain, The BoDeans, Blown, Blue Rodeo, Billy Bragg, Peter Bruntnell, Richard Buckner, Buffalo Tom, Calexico, Camper Van Beethoven, Joe "King" Carrasco, Rosanne Cash, Cheap Trick, Vic Chesnutt, Cracker, The Cramps, Robert Cray, The dBs, The Del Lords, Dinosaur Jr., Dream Syndicate, Steve Earle, Eleventh Dream Day, The Elvis Brothers, Enormous Richard, Jay Farrar, fIREHOSE, Flaming Lips, Fragile Porcelain Mice, Freakwater, The Georgia Satellites, The Geraldine Fibbers, Golden Smog, David Grisman, Guadalcanal Diary, Gwar, Robyn Hitchcock, Reverend Horton Heat, Husker Du, Jason and the Scorchers, The Jayhawks, The Johnsons, Freedy Johnston, Kamikaze Cowboy, Tommy Keane, King Diamond, King Missile, The Knitters, The Lemonheads, The LeRoi Brothers, Let’s Active, Live, The Long Ryders, Lookout Joe, Del McCoury, The Meat Puppets, The Minutemen, Morphine, My Blood Valentine, Nadine, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Pandoras, Anders Parker, Graham Parker, Naked Prey, The Pogues, The Pontiac Brothers, The Ponys, The Rain, The Rainmakers, Rank and File, Redd Kross, The Replacements, Jonathan Richman
Rocket From The Crypt, Shiner, Michelle Shocked, The Silos, Six String Drag, The Skeletons, Sleater Kinney, Darden Smith, The Smithereens, Todd Snider, Son Volt, Soul Asylum, Sour Patch, Stamey/Holsapple, Garrison Starr, Steve, Bob and Rich, Syd Straw, Sugar, Superchunk, Television, The Texas Instruments, Thin White Rope, True Believers, Uncle Tupelo, The Verlaines, Gillian Welch, Paul Westerberg, Lucinda Williams,X and Yo La Tengo. Yow.