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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 62

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 62

12/8/07 Amy LaVere, House Concert.  This was the third annual Twangfest/KDHX holiday party.  KDHX comped a number of their big donors to this show and our email list accounted for the rest of the 80 people in the house. 
Amy’s current Anchors And Anvils CD is my favorite album of 2007, so I had been looking forward to this one for a while.  Amy & band opened with “Tonight Will Be Fine”, I’m not familiar with the original, but I’m guessing this was a bit more sprightly than Leonard Cohen’s version.  Throughout, the sound was typified by Amy’s sensuous vocals and moody upright bass, Paul’s shuffling brushed snare and Steve Selvidge’s varied lead guitar treatments.
Within this framework, things varied from song-to-song: “Overcome” is a playful waltz while Jimbo Mathis’ “Nightingale” has a delicate, high-lonesome feel to it.  Koko Taylor’s “I’m A Little Mixed Up” was loose and sassy.  “I’ve Never Been Sadder” shuffled along at a brisk clip; atypical for a song so light and ethereal…one of my personal favorites.
Somewhere in the middle of the set, Steve sang one written by his father (“Lazarus”?)…it’s a brooding murder ballad; a perfect lead-in to Amy’s “greatest hit”- “Killing Him”.  This one has a moody “Ode To Billie Joe” shuffle paired with some pretty spooky crime-of-passion lyrics. 
Amy switched over to electric bass for “Washing Machine”…it’s got a heavier blues-rock feel to it.  Set one ended with her sweet and dreamy version of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Remember You”.
With all of this dang global warming delaying the onset of winter, it finally turned cold here in December…there were icicles hanging off the tarp we had set up as the “smoker’s section” out back. This was another one of those nights when the band was having such a good time hanging around the fire during the break that I eventually had to remind them about set two.
Set two opened with “Green Grass”…less murky and theatrical than Tom Waits’ original version (no surprise, there), but plenty enjoyable.  “Take ‘em Or Leave ‘em” (my favorite song from her debut This World Is Not My Home CD) was smooth and slinky.  Next came “Cupid’s Arrow” (my favorite from Anchors And Anvils)…I have to admit that I missed the extended bridge (?) provided by violin, mandolin and dobro on the CD, but Steve’s guitar lead sustained the loose, playful feel of this one.
The band gave “If Love Was A Train” a fitting “chug” and “Whatever I Am, You Made Me” had a dark, bluesy vibe (not to mention Willie Dixon’s suggestive lyrics).  Amy switched back to electric bass on “People Get Mad” while Steve laid on the smooth, post-disco licks.  “I Treat Him Bad” had some heroic rock leads ala The Who (they still haven’t worked out how to end this one).  “Pointless Drinking” (written by Amy’s drummer/boyfriend, Paul Taylor) is a convincing torch ballad/boozer’s lament; it packs a “healthy dose of resentment”.  The set ended with Carla Thomas’ “That beat”…it’s got a slightly foreign, samba (?) feel, along the lines of “Hernando’s Hideaway”.
After a rousing ovation, the band re-emerged from out back for a brief encore.  Amy started things off with a modest, sketch-form song (“Aint That Just Like Christmas”?), just her and her stand-up bass.  The lyrics were all about her particular sad state of affairs during the holidays.  They closed things out with Johnny’s “Big River”…Steve got all Scotty Moore on guitar (think: “Mystery Train”).  Amy got lost in the verses and had to pause & regroup before the band finished with a spirited, if slightly discombobulated flurry.
The end of the evening was spent around the fire out back, catching up with old friends and getting to know our new ones.  The following morning, we fed the band breakfast before they hopped in the van; they had a gig opening for Loudon Wainwright in Louisville that night. 
12/14/07 John Prine, The Alabama Theatre, Birmingham.  My mom called me last August to tell me that she had bought seventh row tickets to this show shortly after they went on sale and asked if I wanted to go.  She overheard the records I listened to in high school and they, obviously, stuck with her.  (I just recently sent her a bunch of JP CDs, so she could re-familiarize herself.)  Nancy found me a cheap flight and gave me a weekend pass from family stuff, so the date was on.  I got into town in plenty of time to have dinner before we headed downtown. 
This cool, ornate old theatre (think: a mini-Fox Theatre) was filled with baby-boomers (now fifty-somethings) as Jason Wilber opened with a brief solo set.  He’s been John Prine’s lead guitar player for the last ten (or so) years.  He’s got a pleasant enough singing voice and his playing was warm and clean.  But I gotta say, he wasn’t as distinctive and moving as previous opening acts Prine has brought on tour (most recently, Todd Snider and Maura O’Connell).  Wilber told an endearing story about how an impromptu jam with John Prine in a small bar in Indiana twenty years ago eventually led to his current gig as John’s lead guitar player.
Having seen John Prine a couple of times in the last four years, I wasn’t too surprised by anything tonight.  This show contained more similarities than differences to the sets I saw in 2003 and 2006.  The thing that made this one special for me was being there with my mom, who was seeing him for the first time and loving it.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and made me appreciate what might have otherwise seemed “been there, done that”. 
So about the set…the journey from “Pipedream” to “Paradise” was fun, if familiar.  I used my write-up from two years ago as a cut-n-paste template, modifying it to make it work for tonight’s show (repeat when necessary):
Prine and band (Dave Jacques on stand-up & electric bass and Jason Wilber on lead electric) came out and opened with “Spanish Pipedream”.  Wilber reminded me of Don Rich (Buck Owens’ guitar player) in just about every way- his slim-fit suit, his haircut and especially the playful leads he ran off on his telecaster.  His playing cast a refreshing tone to this familiar classic, while remaining faithful to the happy-go-lucky feel of the original…he even snuck in a few familiar C & W instrumental riffs as the song ended. 
A couple of more contemplative songs followed: “Souvenirs”, featuring Prine’s trademark penchant for picking patterns and “Six O’Clock News”, a harrowing tale of deception, alienation and ultimately, suicide.  It’s songs like these that serve to counterbalance the happier, sillier songs- this aint no full-on, feel-good John Denver type show.  Conspicuously absent tonight was “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More”…I’d like to think this wasn’t omitted because he was playing in a very red state.
I’ll stop short of commenting on every song, even though most offered plenty to enjoy and think about.  Prine’s speaking voice is now a harsh croak, but his humble and personable song intros were charming and endearing.
The sidemen left the stage for a while in the middle of the set, allowing for a stripped-down mini-set- just John and his guitar.  Somewhere along the way he got a chance to get to some of his lighter, simpler songs: “Fish And Whistle”, “Dear Abby” (repeated listenings turn this one into a virtual nursery rhyme…my mom sang it over the phone a friend the next day), “Please Don’t Bury Me” and “That’s The Way That The World Goes ‘round” were scattered among more poignant ones like “Angel From Montgomery”, “You Got Gold”, “Sam Stone”, and “I Aint Hurtin’ Nobody”.  “Illegal Smile” turned into an audience sing-along.
Spooky textures were applied by bowed upright bass and e-bowed guitar on “Hello In There”, enhancing the loneliness of the lyrics.  “Taking A Walk (I’m Just Getting By)” has a hurt and reflective quality to it.  John even pulled out an electric guitar on a couple of songs.  The set ended with “Lake Marie”, a song that mixes American history with popular culture, while alluding to some cryptic and sordid events…all delivered in a somehow life-affirming tone.
The encore began with a gruff, sassy version of “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus”, followed by “Christmas In Prison”.  As always, he saved “Paradise” for last, leaving everyone with that warm, fuzzy feeling.
1/10/08 Charles Walker & The Dynamites, The Voodoo Lounge.  I had never heard of this guy until a day or two ago…heard him live on KDHX this afternoon.  A couple of hours later, Spencer emailed, saying he had an extra ticket and off we went.  The crowd was on the light side (our crew accounted for a dozen of the fifty or so people in the room), but it’s nice to know the band is still making good money, this being a casino gig and all.
The show opened with a ten-minute instrumental workout/tune-up by The Dynamites (b, d, g, k, sax and trumpet).  Are “tight” and “funky” contradictory adjectives?  Soon enough, Charles Walker made his entrance.  What we have here is an old-school soul singer from Nashville (of all places).  Otis Redding is the reference point I would use.  Whether the band was jumpin’ and pumpin’ or bringing it down, CW was up there (high atop the Voodoo Lounge bar) working up a sweat, testifying and making us all feel it.  The only song I recognized was “Summertime”.  I wish I had more nuanced, song-by-song observations…this isn’t my area of expertise, but they got this goofy white boy jumping up and down.




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