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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 60
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 60
11/9/07 The Skeletons, House Concert. I started to write a long-winded explanation about who these guys are and all the times I’ve seen them here in St. Louis, but let’s just say that they’ve been around in one form or another since the late seventies and have a very loyal following of people in their forties and fifties (old guys like me). They’ve continued to play in various incarnations and with other musicians, but have only recently begun to play out again as The Skeletons. We felt honored to host the first St. Louis Skeletons show in many years.
They backed the van into the driveway around 6 PM and loaded in for sound check. I have only a superficial knowledge of our modest PA system. Fortunately, bassist Lou Whitney is a nationally recognized recording engineer…he sized up the room and the PA and made things sound better than they ever have here.
There were about sixty people on hand; mostly folks from back in the day. I’m guessing the average age to be late forties or maybe early fifties. The band opened with a couple of instrumentals that set the tone for the evening…the tight combo thing with Donnie (guitar) and Joe (keys…sometimes organ, sometimes electric piano) trading leads. Eventually everyone sang lead (and backup) in this most democratic of bands. They can all carry a tune just fine, but none is a show-stopping vocalist; this helps define them as a comfortable, unpretentious, good-time live band.
About midway through set one, Lou sang lead on “Country Boys Don’t Cry” while applying a walking bass line. The instrumental “Pop Belly” was a jazzy little swing thing with a little roller rink organ smuggled in. Keyboard and guitar alternately carried the melody line on “Sukiyaki”, while Donnie added a whistling part and Lloyd sang a verse in a foreign tongue. They did up Waylon’s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” with a tongue-in-cheek disco treatment, Donnie laying on a searing lead.
Set two was the same, yet different…how many times can I say, “this one had some great interplay between lead guitar and keyboards (which freely alternated between a piano and organ sound)”? “Outta My Way” stood out, as did Ronnie Self’s “Show Me The Way To Saint Louie”. Cool selection (and execution) of covers by The Band (“The Rumor”), Roger Miller (“Lou’s Got The Flu”), Sonny Bono (“Laugh At Me”) and Chuck Berry (“Slow Down Little Jaguar”…their contribution to the local Chuck tribute CD). “Hey Baby (I Wanna Know)” flashed me back to one of the few times I attended a frat party. By the time they finished with “I Don’t Wanna Rock”, they had done 35 songs…and still came back out (in) for a two-song encore: “Crazy Country Hop” and my personal favorite Skeletons song, “Trans Am”.
After everyone cleared out, we hung out around the fire out back for a good long while. Bobby Lloyd was still on the internet when I turned in around 2:30. I fed everyone coffee and burritos and Lou gave me a brief tutorial on our PA system before they headed off to Columbia on Saturday.
11/17/07 Terry Adams, Lucas School House. A couple of months ago, Scott Ligon called me from Chicago…he was all excited about his recent trip to Boston to play guitar with NRBQ pianist/founder Terry Adams. Given Scott’s musical background and sensibilities, this is on par with playing with someone like Rick Danko or Keith Richards. Scott went on to say that Terry’s new band was putting together a small tour and was looking for a St. Louis gig. I referred him to Joe Schwab (Euclid Records owner and huge NRBQ fan), who ran with it and set up tonight’s show. Joe also had some cool posters made up for the occasion…check ‘em out at his store.
About 80 to 100 people showed up tonight (lots of record store/band/press/music-related people). Set one featured some vintage NRBQ material (“Yes Yes Yes”, “That's Neat, That's Nice”), and newer stuff. Terry’s piano playing is hard for me to describe…obviously, he’s amazingly accomplished but throws off riffs with such right-on aplomb that it’s simultaneously wreckless and articulate.
I could struggle through describing the band, but instead, I’m gonna defer to Steve Scariano, who wrote this on one of those internet lists: “And what a Quartet it is! Damn what a band. Drummer Conrad Choucroun was like a more jazz oriented low key version of NRBQ's Tommy Ardolino. He swings every bit as hard as Tommy, and also throws in all kinds of subtle embellishments throughout every song. Mighty impressive drummer and quite a find. As is guitarist Scott Ligon! The Chicagoan is like a one man Al Anderson tribute band from the neck down, and then he opens his mouth to sing, and his voice is a dead ringer for Joey Spaminato's! It was a little weird at first, but damn, this guy is just great and if the Q never bothers to get back together again, Terry's got his guy then to help him go out and continue the legacy without missing a beat. And geez, bassist Pete Donnelly! Brotha totally took me to school yet again last night. He was sick as a dog yet his playing was simply outstanding”.
Set two touched on more Q classics: “Me & The Boys”, “Green Light”, “Want To Feel Good Too”, “Rain At The Drive-In” and “Girl Like That” (this one always makes me think of my sister-in-law). Scott stepped up and delivered the licks and the vocals like he was born to do this.
Terry was very appreciative of the band he has assembled…for being this legendary music figure, I found it cool that somehow, the band did a song written by Scott’s older brother. Also cool was when Terry said something like, “I’m so lucky to be playing with these guys” (who were all thinking the same thing). Knowing that this was Scott’s dream gig, it was appropriate that Terry ended with that song that goes (approximately): “If you never have a dream, you’ll never have a dream come true”.
11/18/07 Neil Young, The Fox Theatre. Since Neil is one of my all-time favorites, I can never not go see him when he comes to town, but this time around, the steep ticket prices made me think twice. Tonight Michele and I met up outside after the opening act (Neil’s wife, Pegi) had already gone on. At this point, it was a buyer’s market for the remaining loose tickets; we got two $99 tickets for $50 each (still not cheap).
Once inside, we found the lobby full of people milling about…with ticket prices so high, the crowd was relatively up-scale. More people would have caught Pegi’s opening set, but they wouldn’t let people bring their $7 beers into the theatre. Soon enough, the lights in the lobby blinked off and on and everyone drank up and found their seats for the main event.
The stage was laid out with an assortment of acoustic guitars surrounding a chair and microphone, front and center with pianos set up on both sides. Neil walked out smiling, giving that modest, long-armed wave. From our vantage point (on the floor, under the balcony) Neil’s long, thinning hair and loose-fitting jacket made him look a bit like Cain from “Kung Fu”. He opened with “From Hank To Hendrix”, providing a sense of perspective to things…Neil seems to be drawing from the depth and breadth of all that has transpired in that slice of musical/cultural time while simultaneously outlining the format of tonight’s show: start off acoustic and end up all crazy electric. The sound was clear and the feel was about as intimate as a 5,000 seat hall could ever feel.
I’m not sure where the scattered, weary and cryptic “Ambulance Blues” would fit into the pacing of your basic rock concert, but I’m sure glad he worked it in; it’s kind of Neil’s version of Dylan’s “Desolation Row”. All the women who used to play Harvest in their dorm rooms were growing a bit impatient by the tenth minute, but some of us were right there with him, riding that ragged 3AM feel that side two of On The Beach evokes. That’s a lonely sound he gets out of that harmonica. It was shortly after this song (and a scattering of requests) that Neil pointed out that when he plays (and we hear) the popular songs for the thousandth time, it’s much harder to appreciate them in the moment as we invariably make mental associations with all of the other times we’ve heard them…whereas a less familiar song is more likely to keep you focused on this time.
OK, I’m five paragraphs into this and he’s only played two songs…I gotta start skipping over some songs and be more brief. Neil made it over to the piano on stage right to play the dramatic and sweeping “A Man Needs A Maid” (he reached up to the organ above to play the fills provided by the symphony on the record) and to the piano on stage left for “After The Gold Rush” (some yayhoo shouting out during this one made him lose his place in the song). The newer “No One Seems To Know” (nobody did) and “Love Art Blues” were nice enough, but went largely unnoticed, but not “Harvest”; this one will get him a standing ovation every time.
When he picked up a banjo and began plunking out a pattern, it seemed like “For The Turnstiles” might be taking shape…but wait, what a total joyous surprise when it developed into “Mellow My Mind”, recast in a ragged, rural tone. The dude can still sing a song in a shaky voice that is real as the day is long. He gave a little nod to Linda Ronstadt before doing “Love Is A Rose”…he stopped early into it and asked the person who attempted the abortive clap-along earlier to try again. This time, with Neil’s blessing, the room obliged. I never was a fan of the clap-along…“hey, let’s superimpose a repeated loud slap over a simple, beautiful acoustic song.”
Set one ended with Neil’s greatest hit- “Heart Of Gold” got everyone on their feet. It’s a fine song, I’ve just heard it a few too many times (and I’m getting old).
This being coat season, I was able to smuggle a beer to my seat for set two (call me a rebel). The electric set (b, d, g, k, steel) opened with a couple of loud, ragged gems from the early years. “The Loner” and “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” both rang hard and joyous, the latter with a down-home, country feel. I had never heard either, live before.
Next came a couple from his current Chrome Dreams 2 CD. “Dirty Old Man” features a repeated grungy riff reminiscent of “Welfare Mothers” and “Spirit Road” provided room for some thrilling leads, kinda like a less urgent “Drive Back”. Neil then laid on the funky, chunky, easy-tempoed lead to…is that…? “Bad Fog Of Loneliness”! This obscure gem has been a favorite of mine since a buddy put it on a mix tape fifteen years ago…it says a lot about Neil’s prolific output that a song so melodic and evocative never found its way onto any of his albums.
And right as I was beaming from this, along comes “Winterlong”. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a song that moves me more. The tune is one for the ages- it’s simultaneously catchy and desperate while the lyrics paint a vivid picture of longing and loss. Neil crunched out the melodic (but ragged) chords as Ben Keith’s steel added a sweet, mournful layer. I was lost in the moment, briefly off in some blissful zone where nothing else matters…it took my breath away.
“Oh, Lonesome Me” was nice and soulful, but a bit plodding, given its placement in the set. They closed out the electric set with “No Hidden Path”…it’s the eight-minute epoch from the new album; the extendo-jam found Neil getting into it (what’s not to like about that?), but I wish the melody had as much impact as the jam, like it does in, say, “Hurricane” or “Cowgirl”.
A couple of tried and true hits showed up in the encore. “Cinnamon Girl” was as hard and crisp as you’d expect and “Cortez The Killer” always pleases, as Neil’s searing leads erupt out of the song’s dark, brooding underpinnings…it made me go back and re-read this line that James Parker wrote a few months ago in the Boston Phoenix: “We are present here at the first stirrings of electric/epileptic Neil, the instrumental genius who would convert the misfires of his nervous system into arcs of pure invention.” The spirited, slightly askew way he hops around in these moments gives a visual interpretation of this, as well.
Encore number two was brief and odd. The most notable thing about this new song (“The Sultan”?) was that a guy in a costume stood with a giant mallet and banged a huge gong at a handful of dramatically appropriate moments. After a number of transcendent moments earlier in the evening, to end on this goofy note left us shrugging our shoulders, but smiling, nonetheless.
11/28/07 Euclid Records Birthday Party, The Pageant. My buddy Joe Schwab has been running Euclid Records (it once was actually on Euclid, in the west end) for twenty-five years. He somehow arranged for The Pageant to host this birthday bash. Lots of familiar faces in the room and three great acts on stage, but the event and the room were a mismatch. When I showed up around 8:30, there were maybe sixty people seated in the first level of tables/chairs and the vast dance floor was completely empty (save for Beatle Bob, dancing, front and center). I’m not sure there were ever as many as a hundred people in this 1,500 capacity theatre tonight.
Once everyone got over the fact that this show would have worked better in a smaller club (like Off Broadway or The Duck Room), things were fine. I caught about half of the opening set by Robert Harrison (frontman of Austin’s Future Clouds And Radar). He plays bright pop songs that remind me a bit of The Beatles (by way of Squeeze). Almost all of my record store buddies are big fans; they were impressed with how he could convincingly convey his songs in this solo acoustic setting (apparently, his second time ever).
Next came The Blakes. This Seattle three-piece played dark and hard. The lead guitar had some of that ringing/sting delay that reminded me of early U2.
When The Hard Lessons closed things out, the dance floor swelled to, I dunno, twenty people? Under the broad category of “rock”, they keep things stylistically varied. Singer/guitarist Augie Visocchi made good use of the ample space on stage, hopping all over the place. The subdued, mannered “Milk And Sugar” sounds like something off of a Soft Cell record. Neil Young’s “Hey, Hey (into the black)” was announced as a request and rendered with less grunge than the original. Keyboardist Koko Hames has a tough, but pretty voice along the lines of Maria McKee. They closed things out by standing at the lip of the stage, singing with no amplification to the small, but enthusiastic bunch of us standing up front.
12/1/07 This Is American Music Revue, The Billiken Club. Four great bands at one low price- free. Those college kids got ‘em some money. The TV above the bar was showing the game between #1 Missouri and #9 Oklahoma…I’m guessing tonight’s crowd would have been bigger if not for this unlikely Big Twelve championship game. Anyway, about eighty of us had a fine time watching these four bands (all Twangfest alums) turn in loose, playful sets; lots of players sitting in with each other. I heard most of the short set by Glossary…tougher and harder than I’ve ever heard ‘em. They had that early Graham Parker vibe again.
Grand Champeen played next. They did a pretty true cover of Soul Asylum’s “Cartoon”, which means it soared and inspired. The original “Nice Of You To Join Us” had a warm, melodic and slightly dopey feel that reminded me of The Kinks. Since I don’t get out as much these days, it was nice to catch up with a few friends between sets.
One and a half of the bands on this bill were still stuck in traffic on I-55, so The Drams went on in a modified form- frontman Brent Best played with Glossary’s steel player and Grand Champeen’s Michael Crow on fiddle. He did a couple of early Slobberbone songs, including “Dunk You In The River” and “I Can tell Your Love Is Waning”.
Shortly after this set, the remaining carload of musicians showed up and the latest incarnation of Two Cow Garage took the stage. This is the first time I’m heard them with their new drummer…not surprisingly, his style is not as simple and ferocious as Dustin’s. Add that to the new keyboard player and bit of maturing on the part of Micah and Shane and 2CG is getting a bit, um, sophisticated. A new original had a classic, anthemic quality like Bruce or Tom Petty.
…speaking of whom, both were covered (“Born To Run” and “American Girl”, respectively) in spirited fashion in the inevitable all-star super-jam encore. This was the fifth and final night of this little four-band mini-tour. Someone posted these clips from last night in Chicago…they probably tell the story better than I can:
This Is American Music Revue - Cartoon
This Is American Music Revue - Born To Run
Grand Champeen (w/Shane and Andy) - Nice of You To Join Us
Grand Champeen (w/Micah) - Nothin' On Me