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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 55
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 55
6/6/07 Twangfest Wednesday, The Tap Room. If it’s the first Wednesday of June, it must be opening night of Twangfest. Somehow, hanging the banners and setting up the merch table has become less of an ordeal than it used to be. The first couple of hours was the official “opening reception”/schmoozefest, but since people come from all over the country and arrive at different times, there was a good amount of chatter all night long. Generally, the talkers end up on the porch or at least toward the back of the room while those more interested in the music gravitate to the front of the stage.
The room was pretty full early as William Elliot Whitmore started things off with a solo set, alternating between banjo and acoustic guitar…but this aint no sensitive singer/songwriter. This skinny, heavily tattooed dude in a pork pie hat sang in a gruff voice and strummed in a fairly raucous manner. Good thing, because anything quiet and/or subtle would be lost in this echoey room full of people socializing. I was totally unfamiliar him, but there were a number of people who were here specifically to see him; a few were singing along. He ended with a cover of “Aint No Sunshine” and delivered a one-song encore, a capella.
Next came Backyard Tire Fire…three burly-looking dudes with beards and flannel shirts from Bloomington, IL. The one CD I have by these guys has a few surprisingly poppy moments, along the lines of Wilco, but tonight the keyboards were very distorted in the mix, and subtlety gave way to an overall grungy-but-friendly country-rock vibe. When the lead player switched over to guitar, things were much clearer. They too, had a good number of fans up front singing along. I have to admit to becoming one of the talkers out on the porch for a good amount of their set.
When Twangfest received the contract rider from Centro-matic, our guy, Nico marked a big X through all of the special provisions and scribbled in “we’ll give you baseball tickets”. They got to see the Cards come from behind to win 6-4 before taking the stage. This quirky, indie-pop band is stylistically different enough from tonight’s first two acts, that it’s safe to say that each brought their own crowd and collectively filled the room. As always, Centro opened doing the slow burn; shimmering violin, guitar and keyboards steadily constructing a sonic fog from which they could (and sometimes would) erupt into some joyous rock songs. Song highlights: “Patience For The Ride” and “Flashes And Cables” (badadada). I have no idea what any of their songs mean.
6/7/07 Twangfest Thursday, The Duck Room. Me and the rest of the Twang Gang showed up around 5:30 to set up banners/merch tables etc. Since two of tonight’s performers (Tim Easton & Cary Hudson) have played/stayed at my house, there were a couple of a nice bonding “how are the kids?”/“have a beer” moments. Shortly after a round of Blueberry Hill burgers, Two Cow Garage started up in front of crowd of around 60 people. Their new keyboard player continues steer them in a more layered, nuanced direction. “Aint No Shame” and “Should've California” stood out. Dustin’s relentless drumming proved too much for the rented drum kit…the bass drum inched forward with every furious stomp. Acting on my McGyver instincts, I ran out to the car to get a 2 x 4 and some screws to make an impromptu bass drum anchor. By the time I got back, someone had come up with a cinderblock to do this.
The room was pretty full by the time Carrie Rodriguez (& band) came on. The quiet singer/songwriter thing that she does is deserving of more attention than the crowd was giving her. She was notably annoyed by all of the chatter at the back of the room. CR alternated between acoustic guitar and fiddle. Her lead guitar player got all slurry/blurry at times. A stand-up bass (no drums) rounded things out. The upbeat songs worked best in this festival setting while her slower material seemed to just sit there.
Act #3 was Tim Easton. He opened with a few of his sensitive, solo acoustic songs featuring his clean intricate picking patterns. “I Want To Be Next To You” and “Poor Poor LA” stood out. He’s got a rich, engaging voice. After a few songs in solo acoustic mode, TE was joined by fellow Columbusans (?), Two Cow Garage. They added a welcome punch to the set at just the right time while Tim steered 2CG in an atypical blues-rock mode. “Some Day In Amsterdam (?)” is the only song I’m remembering.
As tonight’s headliners were taking the stage, Marie asked me if I wanted to introduce the band. Since I’m a huge fan, and helped hook them up with Twangfest, I said “sure”…but before I got my chance, Blue Mountain just went from tuning up to launching into “Mountain Girl”, the opening track from their defining debut album, Dog Days. This was the first time these guys have played together in seven years and they had the dense crowd in the palm of their hands from the git-go. They had our little crew whipped up into a joyous love-fest out in front of the stage. All of our favorites from way back, which means almost all of Dog Days (“Mountain Girl”, “Hippie Hotel”, “ZZQ”, “Wink”, “Soul Sister”!!!, “Jimmy Carter” (Roy did his annual stage dive/crowd surf), “Let's Ride”, “Let's Go Runnin”, “Blue Canoe’, “Band Called Bud”) and selected songs from the rest (“Myrna Lee”, “Generic America”) and more than I can remember. Cary and Lauire seemed to be having lots of fun doing it. I always remember Cary's guitar playing as being spirited/edgy/exhilerating, but I had forgotten how full and soulful Laurie’s bass playing is. Ended the encore with “Cinnamon Girl”!
At your average rock show, going up to the front of the stage can be problematic...you don't know the people around you and they can be a bit territorial if they've been staking out their spot on the floor for a while...and then once you fight your way to a spot, are you gonna have to re-claim it after you go to get another beer? But at Twangfest, it's one big happy family. Whoever makes their way up front is greeted with hugs, high-fives, etc. Whenever someone goes to get another beer, they come back with six cold ones in cardboard six-pack holders, offering them up to friends and strangers alike...hard to be anything but happy when everyone is loving the music (almost everyone singing along) and people are passing out beers. Speaking of passing out, some classic Alex Millar photos are likely to show up soon. Being all wound up, I did the late-night hotel thing. Eric W and I made it back to U City/Clayton around 4AM.
6/8/07 Twangfest Friday, The Duck Room. The Linemen (the only STL act at TF Eleven) had a decent crowd (maybe 60 people) on hand for their opening set. They did most of the songs from their debut CD, Kevin’s gentle, evocative voice setting the tone. Greg’s walking basslines and Scott’s sweet steel guitar made this the twangiest set of this year’s Twangfest. Marc Chechik (keys) and Kevin Buckley (fiddle) joined in on certain songs. I’m already a fan, but I found myself wondering how this set was coming across to the uninitiated. In this festival/showcase setting, I got the feeling the crowd was hoping for a bit more of an uptempo punch. They did ramp things up at the end with “This Time Tomorrow”, which reminds me of Dwight’s “Please, Please Baby”.
Next came Nashville’s Elizabeth Cook, backed by husband Tim Carroll on lead guitar and a rhythm section. Her Tennessee accent, spunky stage persona and even her vocal register all reminded me of Dolly Parton. Alongside selected songs from her current “Balls” CD (the feisty title track stood out), she covered Lone Justice’s “Soap, Soup & Salvation”, The VU’s “Sunday Morning and “Punk Rockin’ Honky Tonk Girl”. The latter was written by Tim C and works well with EC’s sassy stage presence. Being tonight’s second act, she only got 45 minutes to play…it seemed like she (and the crowd) would have liked a little more time.
Chicago’s Dolly Varden played next; soulful pop with a touch of country/torch/twang. Unfortunately, my duties as backstage/hospitality dude caused me to miss most of the set. Long story short, I went on a wild search to get a corkscrew for Graham Parker (tonight’s headliner)…kinda reminds me of the roadie in “Wayne’s World” telling the story of having to come up with 300 green M & Ms for Ozzy Ozbourne. Anyway, about all I remember of the set was my friend Amy (a big DV fan) smiling front and center. The one song I was actually able to pay attention to was stark and somber “Truth Is Told”. It's not your standard festival fare, but that song is stunning. There are lots of songs in which the writer/singer seems to take pleasure in saying "get lost/fuck off", but this one seems to ring even more harsh and true with its "it gives me no pleasure to say this..." tone. Spooky.
Tonight’s headliner was Graham Parker, whose current Don’t Tell Columbus CD has enough of a rootsy Americana feel to make him fit at an event called Twangfest. He opened with a solo acoustic mix of new and old songs. “England's Latest Clown”, from the former category and “Saturday Night Is Dead” and “White Honey” from the latter, stood out. He’s still got that distinctive British sneering vocal delivery that we grew up listening to. I’ve seen him a bunch of times…tonight’s set didn’t strike me as the best or worse- somewhere squarely in that middle range.
Just like last night, that whole communal beer-buying thing was going on. So things were a bit frenzied and blurred as The Figgs came out to back Graham for the last half of his set. This snappy and fun trio are big GP fans, and have somehow fallen into the role of his on again/off again backing band. I’m not gonna be so good at the details, but looking at my GP records the next day allowed me to remember the songs by picking them out of a lineup: “Total Eclipse Of The Moon”, “Discovering Japan”, “Howling Wind”, “Don’t Get Excited” (one of my favorites), “Silly Thing”, “Discovering Japan” and “Back to Schooldays”. “Soul Corruption” was given GP’s trademark reggae-fied feel…someone beside me told me it was a Bob Marley song; I didn’t argue. Little Feat’s “Sailing Shoes” had some cool slide guitar and “Local Girls” turned into an audience sing-along, as the band brought things down to a whisper.
6/9/07 Twangfest Saturday, The Duck Room. Lots of people do the planning for Twangfest, but I’ve somehow fallen in to the role of the nice guy greeter dude who shows up early and helps the bands load in and shows them around. After a brief sound check and dinner, the doors opened and the forty or so people who had been lined up at the top of the stairs were released to descend and grab up the limited number of chairs in the room.
Detroit’s The High Strung opened with catchy original pop that at times, had that faux-Brit feel to it. The lead singer Josh Malerman’s high voice reminded me of someone…maybe Geddy Lee from Rush? But it somehow didn’t annoy me like Mr. Lee’s. The bass player (sporting some stylish goggle-glasses) was very animated and inventive. These guys gave a great jump-start to the evening.
Look over tonight’s 4-band lineup and pick the one doesn’t fit with the others…that would be Slaid Cleaves (and, BTW, the only band I was familiar with). This Austin singer/songwriter interjected his own brand of melodic country-rock (and a decent amount of fans) into the middle of this otherwise indie/pop/rock showcase. He graciously went with the flow, explaining that he had just called his mom to say that he was opening for Wussy. The crowd was dense and attentive as SC’s warm, rich voice laid into favorites like “Down At The Horseshoe Lounge”, the one that rhymes “horses” and “divorces” and “Broke Down”, the latter has a very memorable and moving melody and is his “greatest hit”.
After this earthy interruption (and a decrease in crowd size as a number of SC fans took off) Wussy took things right back out of twang territory. Chuck Cleaver (formerly of Twangfest alums, The Ass Ponys) plays guitar and occasionally sings in his quirky high-end voice, but the lead vocals are more often handled by Lisa Walker. Sleater-Kinney would be a reference point. The bass player switched over to lay on some spirited vibraphone runs at times.
Between the loose, alcohol-fueled tone of the evening and the lengthy lag in writing this description, my impression of The Figgs’ set is gonna be pretty impressionistic (I know, it’s the same disclaimer I used for last night’s write-up). Throw in my unfamiliarity with their material I aint got much. To the best of my cloudy memory, they rocked hard and had the crowd drawn in. Toward the end of their set, the guitar and bass players hopped down onto the dance floor, amongst the enthusiastic crowd. An hour after things wound down at The Duck Room, the whole Twangfest family (bands, fans, the Twang Gang) had all assembled at the hotel conference room out at the airport hotel. Right around sunrise, I said goodnight to everyone, before driving down to the arch grounds and walking around by the river. A quick Del Taco burrito on the way home and into bed around 7AM. Another one in the books.
6/15/07 Rosie Flores, Webster Groves Gazebo. My friend Joe from Euclid Records is the guy who books this weekly live music/movie series. When he mentioned that he had one live music slot left to fill for this summer, I suggested he try to get Rosie to play. Surprisingly, she was able to do it. She flew into town yesterday and stayed at our house. After a trip to the pool with me and the kids, it was time to drive down to the show. Bassist Lorne Rall drove up from Nashville and met us at the gazebo just before show time.
The first part of the show was marked by spotty sound quality. The power cut out and there was an outright pause in the proceedings for ten or fifteen minutes. Add to this, a picnic with the family and things were less than focused. Once the sound issues were resolved, they kept the song selection on the upbeat side, this being an outdoor party thing and all: “Hot Dog”, “Country Boy” and “Tweedle Dee” stood out.
The crowd got even bigger after this duo finished up, as people settled in to see “American Graffiti” projected on the big outdoor screen…first time I’d seen it since 1975. I didn’t realize how many now-famous actors are in it.
6/16/07 Rosie Flores, House Concert. As the host of these house concerts, I’m generally not inclined to book acts that have already played here before (we have a really long wish list of people we’d like to have play for a first time). But when Rosie’s gig at a local bar fell through, it just made sense for us to step up and offer her our “venue” to make her flight up from Austin worth her while. Since she played a free show the night before, it was harder to fill the room tonight with paying customers, so we had our work cut out for us. After our morning swim, I drove Rosie and Lorne down to KDHX so they could play a few songs and pitch tonight’s show…it yielded a bunch of calls and about a dozen more people, bringing tonight’s “crowd” up to around 60.
This was the first house concert we’ve had since we widened the doorway and punched a window into the adjoining room, greatly improving the sightlines. We also christened the brand-new PA system…it sounded great in this modest-sized room.
It was still light outside when Rosie opened with a few kind words about St. Louis in general and us, specifically, for hosting this show. She played two long sets, throwing in endearing stories along the way. She did songs from all over her considerable catalog… “Crazy Mixed Emotions”, “Rockabye Boogie” (Rosie led the crowd in a sing-along on this one), “God May Forgive You” (this Harlan Howard ballad got some laughs from first-time listeners), “Boxcars” (Lorne’s walking bassline gave this one a moody, almost foreign feel, ala “Minnie The Moocher”. Throughout, Rosie’s fluid acoustic leads elicited spontaneous bursts of applause. Severe tendonitis from a lifetime of playing had forced her to take an extended break; this was her first gig in six months.
She ended set one with “Blue Side Of Town”, having heard it earlier today on a mix tape.
Set two was more of the same, with Rosie granting a couple of requests. I convinced her to dust off “Somebody Loses”. She got a bit lost with the lyrics (she sang both of the short verses before the chorus), so she made up a third verse on the spot, impressively sticking to the song structure and getting another round of applause. Tim’s request was Robbie Fulks’ “I Push Right Over”…it’s got a nice easy swing to it. They went on to rip up “Heartbreak Train” before getting all moody again (“Devil Love”) and right back up again (“Tweedle Dee”). Toward the end she did the quiet, reflective “Bandera Highway” and closed things out with the perky “Rocking’ Little Angel”.
The crowd was really into it, pouring on the applause and pretty easily coaxing Rosie and Lorne into an encore: the smooth and easy “Bring It On” and the feisty “Tear Me Up”. We had a chance to hang out some before calling it a night. Rosie’s three-night visit gave us time to catch up and become better friends. Early the next morning Nancy drove her to the airport about the time Lorne stuffed his big ol’ bass into his rented car and headed back to Nashville.
6/19/07 Dutch Henry, Cicero’s. By the time I made it to the bar, these guys were almost done with their set. I really liked them the couple of times I heard them at Frederick’s, but tonight I just got to hear the last three songs…at least what I heard was loud and spirited, with two guitars ablaze. The only song I recognized was Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free”. The crowd was pretty light, especially considering that the other three(!) bands were in the room, as well.
6/22/07 Kevin Gordon, House Concert. Another house concert hosted by Dave and Angela Melson. There was a good crowd (maybe 50 to 60 people) on hand (including my folks, who were visiting from Birmingham). The new PA system sounded great. Kevin’s songs aren’t the kind you’re likely to be humming the next day; they’re more about the laid-back soulful groove and lend themselves well to the subtle phrasing/intonation that Joe lays on. For as many times as I’ve seen/heard Kevin play, I still don’t hardly know any of his songs by name. Dave (tonight’s host) joined in on stand-up bass for the last few songs. KG saved his most memorable song for late in set two: “24 Diamonds” has a familiar, timeless feel to it. They closed out the encore with John Anderson’s “Chicken Truck”…it was the most perky, peppy moment of the night.
A little while later, we got treated to a nightcap when Marc Chechik, Joe McMahan and Dave Melson took the “stage” to play. I recognized a couple of the songs, but can’t remember them now.