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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 58

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 58

8/8/07 John Doe, House Concert.  I thought it might be a long shot, but I got my friend Marie to inquire about having John and band play here on their swing back from the east coast.  Somehow, she was able to make it happen.  Not surprisingly, we reached max capacity on RSVPs shortly after we sent out a limited round of invitations. 
Early in the afternoon, JD’s tour manager called to say that their van was just getting out of the repair shop in Nashville and that they would be cutting things close, time-wise.  They showed up about half an hour before show time.  Once they sized up the layout of the house, John took the wheel of the van/trailer rig and expertly backed it down our neighbor’s narrow driveway so they could load in.  I was a bit nervous about keeping the neighbor happy, but it somehow worked out, even as the band made the narrow space between our houses the “backstage” area, complete with a pile of instrument cases and an assortment of tattooed dudes drinking beer and smoking…not your typical Clayton scenery.
Dead Rock West is the LA band that is backing John on his current tour.  They opened things with a tough set of originals from their debut Honey And Salt CD with almost 90 people in the house. Frankie Drennen and Cindy Wasserman have a bright vocal chemistry.  They harmonized nicely on the melodic “Desert Rose”. They got a good response when they ended their set with a cover of X’s “Burning House Of Love”…Frankie and Cindy clicked up the vocal intensity while Frankie crunched out the chords over Bryan Head’s brushed snare shuffle.  
After the usual re-beer break, John Doe was standing front and center in our dang family room.  He opened with a brief “bare with us; we’re not used to playing someone’s kitchen…” (to the best of my memory, I’ll try to put JD’s paraphrases in quotes as I go along).  Backed by Dead Rock West, he eased into things with the slower “Losing Kind”, from his current A Year In The Wilderness CD.  He introduced “Meanest Man In The World” as an “autobiographical murder ballad”.  Next came the big “hit” from AYITW, “Golden State”…Cindy W convincingly laid on all of the lines delivered by Kathleen Edwards on the CD.  The sound was a bit hot…given our modest PA (and no time for a sound check), clarity was sacrificed in favor of a bit more volume. “I keep thinking your mom’s gonna come in and bust us…”  
A couple of songs later, Nick Luka’s guitar intro to “White Girl” elicited a few recognition “wooo”s.  Cindy did just fine on all of the Exene parts.  On the part where the lyrics go, “She’s a white girl”, they extended the phrase “white giiiiiiirl”.  “I missed some of the opening set because I was upstairs shooting heroin…”
Things briefly calmed down as JD switched over to acoustic guitar while Nick L added some smooth keyboards on “Forever For You”.  “More Time” started off solo acoustic…the band (brushed snare, subtle keys, Cindy’s sweet backing vocals) slowly & subtly joined in and filled things out.  This quiet segment worked well in this intimate setting; they didn’t lose the crowd at all.
“Emily Post once said that women can’t wear white shoes past Labor Day…well, this song has a similar shelf life” was his way of introducing the X classic, “Fourth Of July”.  JD still on acoustic guitar as Nick wound things out with an extended country-rock lead.  “Twenty years ago, I woulda come into a place like this and fucked something up”.
A steady drum rattle accompanied “There’s A Hole” as the band climbed back in to full-on electric mode.  Nick’s repeated electric riff lit up “Highway Five” as Cindy’s vocals most closely resembled what Exene does/did with JD.   As they ripped into “Lean Out Your Window” (the most exhilarating song from AYITW), they were clearly building a head of steam and sprinting for the finish line.  They ended the set with another X classic, “The New World” which seamlessly segued (musically and thematically) into The Beatles’ “Revolution”.
After a brief duck out the side door (wave to the neighbors), they came back out (in) for an encore, starting with Joni Mitchell’s reflective ballad “A Case Of You”, Nick adding an earthy keyboard fill while Cindy provided background ooohs and aaahs.  Then a dreamy guitar intro evolved into…a most thrilling and unexpected version of “Gimme Shelter”.  Dead Rock West’s Frankie jumped in to prance around with tambourine ala Mick and added a madman harmonica part.  Cindy belted out the chick verse and Nick let it rip on guitar…burned our love house down.
After a long and loud ovation, John and band graciously hung out for a good long while, selling and signing merch and saying “hi” to people.  After the crowd thinned out and the van was loaded, we fed the band bar-b-que and potato salad (thanks to Janet at Cherry Bomb Vintage for her generous donation).  Eventually, John and a few others walked over to their hotel while Frankie, Cindy and Danny (their tour manager) stuck around…these three were wound up and asked for a movie.  We ended up watching “Borat” on pay-per-view cable until way late.
The next morning, we served up breakfast burritos before the band hopped in the van, heading off to visit Exene in Jeff City and then on to a Thursday night gig in Kansas City.  
8/10/07 Finn’s Motel, Ten Mile House.  Buck, Laurel and I showed up just as Tinhorn was finishing their opening set.  In front of maybe 40 or 50 people, FM played most of their one and only CD (Escape Velocity)…Robert has settled in to being their full-time lead guitar player.  The songs were as poppy and playful as ever, so I’ll pass on saying things I’ve said about them before.  About the only thing different from the last time I saw them might be a more urgent, intense treatment of the near-instrumental, “Eero”.  Since my out-of-town guests had an early flight out the next morning, we passed on the after-party.
8/17/07 The Redwalls, Off Broadway.  After dinner at this great Honduran restaurant on Cherokee Street, Bruce and I showed up at around ten, just in time to hear Strawfoot.  The band they most reminded me of was Enormous Richard.  Like ER, they have an unpolished, but exuberant vibe…a boom-tap drum keeps the beat while a simple fiddle does a gypsy kind of thing and the guitar player lays on some country-rock leads.  My buddy Eric plays bass in this band, but was apparently replaced by someone else tonight.
John Henry & The Engine (another STL band) played next; apparently, the audience was supposed to vote between Strawfoot and these guys to see who would move on to the next round in some kind of battle of the bands thing.  These guys (b, d, g & k) reminded me of BTO at one point and Eddie Money at another.  The only cover I recognized was “Stand By Me”.  At some point, they pumped it up and had me jumping. 
Considering that these two local bands each brought a certain number of fans out tonight, I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a bigger crowd out to see/hear The Redwalls tonight (maybe 100 total people in the room…not embarrassing).  Since they didn’t go on until around midnight, they didn’t have time for a real long set.  They did a good a mix of tried and true favorites and threw in a few new ones.  The house sound was great tonight…all instruments and vocals were crystal clear.  After the show, I got to catch up with a few people whom I met when these guys played at our house last May. 
8/25/07 David Olney, House Concert.  Another house concert at Dave & Angela’s place.  I bought one of Olney’s CDs a few weeks ago, hoping to become familiar with his stuff.  I couldn’t get into it; it sounded all stuffy and, well, folky.  After a couple of attempts to get through the whole CD, I gave up.  But I had heard that he was great live…
A good crowd showed up tonight, maybe 60 people.  Among this crew, I didn’t feel as old as I sometimes do when I’m out to hear live music.  David took the “stage” all dapper and distinguished with his gray hair, hat, and sharp, but casual jacket. Tonight, he was accompanied by Sergio Webb on electric guitar.  Webb was very adept, laying on the crunchy chords in places while subtly applying delicate single-note droplets in others.  He could also do the slurry/blurry Telecaster thing to impressive effect. 
Given my limited familiarity with the DO catalog, I’m not gonna be able give a very detailed account of the set list.  I did recognize a couple of Townes Van Zandt songs early in set one: “Rex’s Blues” was melodic and folky while “Snake Song” was appropriately disturbing and venomous.  Olney has a smooth, pleasing voice; if he chose to, he could keep things smooth and pleasing all night long and end up boring me.  But he threw in plenty of irreverent curve balls.  His between-song stories were always askew and amusing.  During one song, Sergio provided backing “vocals” through a bullhorn, adding a distorted, surreal, carnival-barker tone to the proceedings.  More bullhorn.  Set one ended with the moody “Sweet Poison”.
During the break, I drove Nancy and Travis home…they had had enough.  By the time I got back, set two had begun.  All of the intricate picking/pleasing vocal thing carried through to the second set.  At one point, David and Sergio busted out a couple of ukuleles and delivered a quirky but convincing instrumental.  The between-song stories included references to “Gunsmoke” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”.  His colorful story about Tallulah Bankhead inspired me to learn more about her via the internet.  The home stretch featured an upbeat blues groove, splicing “Who Do You Love?” in with another familiar cover that I can’t remember today.  This was probably my favorite show at this “venue”.
8/27/07 Detroit Cobras, The Creepy Crawl.  My first trip to the new location of the Creepy.  I got there around nine and hung with me mates in the front room, talking, drinking beer and not paying attention to the opening acts.  The place was full, but not painfully packed.  With so many bands on the bill, the Cobras didn’t go on until close to eleven.
I’ve heard a lot about these guys for a while, but have never heard them, live or even on record.  The reputation that precedes them is that of a female-fronted, R & B influenced, garage-rock band with a track record worthy of comparisons to The Replacements…you never know if you’ll be treated to an hour of transcendent rock genius or witness a drunken train wreck.  I was having fun with my friends, so either scenario would be a fine night’s entertainment.
What we got was much closer to the former; they didn’t seem at all drunk and weren’t sloppy.  The house PA was surprisingly lightweight- the music was not loud at all…c’mon this is a punk club.  Between the timid volume and my unfamiliarity with the band, I wasn’t instantly won over.  Some of my buddies were singing along to the songs and I was wishing I knew more about what I was hearing.  Lead singer Rachel Nagy, has a sweet, sassy and soulful voice and the band played hard behind her.  I recognized one cover: “Ninety-nine And A Half Won’t Do”.  Wish I had more to say, but I would just be making shit up.
Even up against these obstacles, I found myself up front (leaving my pals in the back) all whipped up into a minor frenzy for the last few songs.  Now I gotta go buy some of their records.
8/28/07 Amy LaVere, Lucas School House.  This show popped up on the LSH website about a week ago…not much time to get the word out for people to come out on a Tuesday night to hear this relatively unknown singer from Memphis.  Amy’s current Anchors And Anvils CD is probably my most played CD of 2007, so I made a point of getting there early.  No opening act, Amy (on standup bass) backed by guitar and drums, went on right at 8:30, playing to maybe 25 people.  Most folks were in those comfy chairs, right up front.
Styles and tempos varied, but the prevailing tone was rich and soulful.  The PA sounded perfect.  Amy’s voice is very similar to that of Skeeter Davis- it sounds nuanced and mature while somehow simultaneously sounding young and innocent.  Highlights of set one were the spooky “Killing Him” and the ethereal “Pointless Drinking” from Anchors, as well as Merle’s “Swinging Doors”.
Between sets, Paul and I joined Roy and Dana out in the cool confines of the outdoor courtyard…one of those rare St. Louis nights where you don’t wish it were hotter or cooler.  Amy came over and sat with us for a while.  She was very sweet and gracious.
Set two was even more fun- a few more people had shown up, the band was more familiar with the audience (& vice versa) and everyone had a few drinks in ‘em.  Amy gave us more favorites from Anchors, including “Overcome”, the sassy “People Get Mad” and the flirtatious “Cupid’s Arrow” (an RW request).  On “Washing Machine”, Amy switched over to electric bass…this one had a bluesy, rock vibe to it, kinda like The Beatles’ “I’m lonely, wanna die”.  Covers included Johnny’s “Big River” and Michelle Shocked’s “If Love Was Train”.  She gave Dylan’s “I Remember You” a gentle, dreamy treatment.  Back to Merle Haggard for the encore- they wound things down with “Mama Tried” right before our little crew headed back out to the courtyard for a nightcap.
9/6/07 Scott Miller, Otis Campbell’s, Washington, MO.  Nancy and I got a babysitter and drove an hour straight west.  The bar was in the cool old part of town.  We ate dinner in this outdoor courtyard with a view of the train station and the Missouri River.  Scott stopped by our table to say “Hi” and insisted on putting us on the guest list.  An hour later, we walked across the street to the venue.  About 60 people paid the $5 cover; this being a small-town Thursday night, there were about as many people interested in the Saints/Colts game on the TV as the music starting up.
An acoustic duo called Frank Smith opened…this pair from Austin reminded me of HBO’s Flight Of The Conchords…two deadpan dudes sporting acoustic guitars (one sometimes switched to banjo), pouring their hearts out to a crowd that was more interested in socializing than listening.  They did the acoustic roots thing with all the sincerity of, say, Ben Weaver or a few dozen other acts you mighta heard at Frederick’s back in the day.  Toward the end of their set, they covered Uncle Tupelo’s cover of “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog”.
After we said “Hey” to a few friends, Scott Miller And The Commonwealth took the stage.  Since I’ve seen/heard Scott four times in the last year or so, I’m gonna be more concise with this description.  The band (d, b, g/k and Scott on guitar) was tight as ever.  Shawn McWilliams is a dynamo on drums.  Scott is so impressive as a singer/songwriter/front man that his abilities as a guitar player tend to get overlooked.  Scott’s songs are solid enough that they can hold a crowd in either solo/acoustic or full band mode.  The latter was confirmed by the good crowd of locals who found their way out onto the floor to dance to songs they were hearing for the first time...got some good air guitar action, too. 
Songs (in no particular order): “Eight Miles A Gallon”, “Amtrak Crescent”, "It Didn't Take Too Long", Neil Young’s “Hawks And Doves”, “I Made A Mess Of This Town”, “Jody”, “Dear Sarah”,  “Wind Out”, “Freedom Is A Stranger”, “Only Everything” and “For Jack Tymon”.  The set ended with “Is There Room On The Cross For Me?”   Encore: “Drunk All Around This Town” and The Stones’ “Street Fightin’ Man”.
9/14/07 LOMA Festival, Laumeier Sculpture Park.  Contemporary Productions has been putting on this festival for the past couple of years.  This time around, they decided to go with a more modest (read: less expensive) lineup- so no James Brown/BB King/Indigo Girls/Cowboy Junkies on the bill. KDHX/Twangfest helped put together tonight’s lineup of smaller-scale acts.  The ticket price was proportionally smaller, the weather was perfect and the lay of the land was ideal- a nice grassy hillside sloping down to the stage with the KDHX/Schlafly hospitality tent set up off to the side.  There were lots of people sprawled out on blankets, and the overall vibe was casual and relaxed; I prefer this to that “acres of standing fans” thing that typifies higher-profile festivals.
John and I got there just as the first act finished up, so the first band we heard was Gentlemen Auction House.  This St. Louis septet (d, d, b, g, g, g/trumpet & k) has a real playful feel.  The lead vocals reminded me of Mick Jones at times.
A little while later, John stepped up to the mic and introduced Glossary.  I was already a fan of this Murphreesboro, TN band (b, d, g, steel, k & backing (female) vocals), but I end up liking them a little more each time I hear them.  Some of their tough yet melodic song structures reminded me of Graham Parker and they played with a badass swagger/abandon that at times recalled Marah.
Somewhere earlier in the evening, Nico asked if I wanted to introduce tonight’s headliner.  Before I knew it, I was nervously walking out onto the stage.  I couldn’t see much further than the lights shining down on me and I’ve never got used to hearing my voice through a PA, but I managed to stiffly read off the list of sponsors and introduce Todd Snider.  I was still a bit nervous as Todd and I passed as he took the stage, acoustic guitar in hand.
I found my way out front where I sat on a blanket with the Olivette crew as Todd did his usual mix of clever, observational songs and extended, amusing rants.  I still haven’t picked up any of his records, so once again, my familiarity was limited to this brief glimpse.  Populist, anti-establishment songs like “Looking For A Job”, the drunken sing-along “Conservative Christian Straight White American Males” and the pointedly on-target, half-spoken “Ballad of the Kingsmen” stood out.  His haunting cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Alcohol And Pills” works just as well solo/acoustic as it does with his band.
Just as Angela and I were having a between-song discussion about Todd’s hostile encounter with an obnoxious fan at The Duck Room last March, Todd brought it up himself.  He went on to explain that he didn’t dislike the song the lout was requesting (“Beer Run”), but resented not being allowed to finish the intro to “If Tomorrow Never Comes”.  He then got to some unfinished business, completing the intro and the song.
Most of our group hopped up from our blankets and joined the 50 (or so) people standing near the foot of the stage for the last few songs.  His encore included Robert Earle Keane’s “The Road Goes On Forever”.  After saying “goodnight” to a scattering of people, Dave, Angela and I stopped off at Steak ‘n’ Shake.
9/20/07 Robbie Fulks, Lucas School House.  Lucas School House usually starts their shows early on weeknights, but somehow things ran late tonight…and there was an opening act.  Beatle Bob got up on stage and gave one of his patented glowing intros for The Smoke Rings.  This 5 piece (b, d, g, g/k and female vocals) from southeast Illinois plays the hard rock, with heroic guitar leads aplenty.  It all had a somewhat dark/sixties/retro tone to it; not what you might expect from southeastern IL.
Beatle Bob, also had a lengthy, glowing intro to bring Robbie Fulks onstage…Robbie opened with some kind of oblique remark that wasn’t especially flattering to BB.  I’ve seen RF maybe 20 times before, but never in this format- flanked by Robbie Gjersoe on second guitar, he ran through a long and entertaining acoustic set that drew from all over his catalog.  Early on, they did “That's A Good Enough Reason” which pretty much set the tone of the evening and typifies what this duo does best…crisp, fast flat picking alternating rhythm & lead.  If you ever heard Steve Goodman’s version of “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie”, it’s kinda like that- a traditional-sounding song structure infused with jaw-dropping flat-picking leads.  In no particular order, other songs I remember included “Parallel Bars”,  “Act Like A Married Man”,  the ever-catchy “I Push Right Over”, “Georgia Hard” and “I Like Being Left Alone” (my current theme song).
“Cigarette State” provided some especially impressive leads…the lyrics convinced Fred that he needed to head down to the outdoor courtyard of this non-smoking venue.  I joined him outside; we never get to hang out these days and it was one of those nice St. Louis September evenings.  We were actually able to hear the music just fine through the speakers they have set up out in the courtyard.  
Once we were back upstairs, we heard Tim Carroll’s “Every Kind Of Music But Country”, “Let’s Kill Saturday Night”, “Rock Bottom, Population 1” and “I Wanna Be Mama'd” (another impressive rhythm/lead exchange). 
Robbie has always shown a healthy tongue-in-cheek, none-too-serious attitude toward what he does and the people who like his music.  At one point he gave a little rant about the fact that the cover charge was $8…“In Chicago, we’d throw $8 out the window and not even notice, but I realize that $8 is probably a week’s pay around here, so I should be respectful”.  Late in the proceedings we got a twisted version of the “Deliverance” theme, recast with an eastern European flavor.   Fred and I were standing front and center, PBRs in hand for the encore- “She Took a Lot Of Pills and Died”.




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