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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 63

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 63

1/26/08 Robbie Fulks, House Concert.  Another full house on hand tonight; Robbie started off this solo acoustic show with a couple of quieter songs: the unsettling murder ballad (are there any other kind?) “If They Could Only See Me Now” and the contemplative “You Don’t Mean It”.  The house sound was especially clear tonight and the volume was just right.  He had the crowd drawn in and attentive.  After this quiet intro, Robbie jumped into a country-fied high gear with “Busy Not Cryin”, rattling off the first of many impressive clean and fast acoustic leads. He had earlier explained that this was his first full gig with his new custom-made guitar. 
 
Robbie mentioned that he was aware that Jim’s parents (Al & Mazie) were in the house, celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary tonight…leading into “We Live A Long Long Time To Get Old” with a smile and a shrug.  Next came a couple of his clever observational/autobiographical songs- “Check Out The Career” (“Willie Nelson, I’m not…but I ain’t no Willie Loman”) and “I Like Being Left Alone” (a personal anthem of mine).  If Robbie’s in the house, you can count on a charismatic performance punctuated by irreverent humor and a shit-eating grin. Cher’s “Believe” was delivered in a dopey, hyper-animated voice and got lots of laughs.  He ended set one with one of my favorites- “I Push Right Over”…it was actually the third time this song has been played in this room (versions by The Flat Five and Rosie Flores preceding the author’s).
 
Set two opened with “Waiting On These New Things To Go”.   This old-timer’s lament (also dedicated to the anniversary couple) featured more of Robbie’s trademark slick picking.  Another quiet murder ballad (“White Tail Woods”) was followed by a song Robbie quickly made up for Al and Mazie’s anniversary…he sang it with an old-timey Vaudeville/“Mammy” intonation and rhymed “anthrax spore” with “56 more”.  Tim Carroll’s “Every Kind Of Music But Country” and Robbie’s original “Tears Only Run One Way” also showed up in set two…the latter is one of my favorite RF songs; it’s got a real melodic vintage honky tonk feel to it.
 
Things got a bit silly with “Godfrey” (Robbie’s cheeky contribution to that kids’ CD from a few years back) and a loose response for a request for some Michael Jackson…he pieced together “I Want You Back”, while the audience provided backing vocals on the chorus.
 
Everyone was eating it up and the time just seemed to fly by.  I guess it’s a tribute to Robbie’s songwriting abilities that he played for an hour and a half and still didn’t do a lot of people’s favorites.  More requests were shouted out than he had time to oblige, but he busted out a few in rapid-fire fashion during the home stretch: “I Told Her Lies”, “Cigarette State” (more impressive flat-picking) and “She Took a Lot Of Pills And Died”…the crowd singing along to the chorus as Robbie walked out into the room to end the set. 
 
After a brief nibble at the food table, he came back out for a two-song encore: Bill Anderson’s “Cocktails” (refitted with lyrics about Rick, Nancy and Twangfest while the audience sang the chorus) and “Little Joe”, an old Bill Monroe standard, sung from the perspective of the dead baby waiting to meet his mama in heaven.  Robbie graciously sold and signed lots of CDs for a good long while before heading off to his downtown hotel.
 
1/30/08 Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings, The Duck Room.  Expecting a big crowd, a few of us assembled at the bar upstairs at about 7:30…not that drinking beer and eating cheeseburgers at the bar got us a better spot downstairs or anything, but it was nice to catch up with a few friends. 
 
Fortunately, enough of our crew had staked out some space front and center that we all were cozy, but accommodated as The Ivan Milev Band began their opening set.  Now what kind of act is gonna work as an opener for a smokin’ soul band?  I know…how about an all-instrumental violin/accordion duo?  The latter was a huge dude who would occasionally punctuate his broad, sweeping swells with a raised eyebrow and demonic grin, while Ivan was all over the place on the fiddle.  Within a traditional eastern European structure, the extended interplay was always expressive and sometimes irreverently speedy…“Oh Susanna” made a brief appearance toward the end of the set.  I’m not sure how much of the crowd’s enthusiasm was based on appreciation or amusement.  At any rate, these guys provided a seriously white backdrop against which tonight’s headliner would seem uber-funky. 
 
The headlining set began with The Dap Kings (b, d, conga, g, g, trumpet, sax & baritone sax) laying on a peppy instrumental workout, priming the crowd for the entrance of Ms. Sharon Jones.  At this point, the evening just took off and I (along with the rest of the room) was so absolutely taken away that I’m expecting that this description will somehow write itself.  We all loved it…what’s not to love about it?  But how do I describe it to someone else?  Roy wrote this blog entry for the RFT: http://tinylink.com/?kYp1dcuOVN  while Dan came up with this review for the Post that is aimed at a broader audience: http://tinylink.com/?w4Io0UTnoE  .  Between these two, I feel like I don’t need to try to describe every detail, and can just add my own scattered observations.
 
Ms. Jones was getting down with it (think: Otis Redding or James Brown) as the band kept a tight running thread throughout…all were cued into subtle (and at other times, abrupt) shifts in volume/tempo/intensity.  They’d ride a repeated “In The Midnight Hour” riff for a few bars, then seamlessly shift gears into something akin to the “The Tighten Up” before stopping on a dime to launch into the next thing.
 
Here’s the paragraph where I walk out onto thin ice in a well-intentioned, but possibly misinterpreted, Larry David kind of way: In these days of political correctness, it’s tempting to adapt a colorblind, “we’re all the same” mindset when it comes to race. So is it wrong to point out the obvious…that we’re not all the same?  Toward the end of the set, Sharon kicked off her shoes and danced liked she was possessed.  The primal jumping and pumping we were witnessing was truly out of my experience and refreshingly transcendent.  At another point, she brought things down a bit to do a song that chronicled the struggles of her African and Native American ancestors. 
 
Some songs I remember: “One Hundred Days”, “Be Easy”, “Something's Changed” and “My Man Is A Mean Man”.  On “Tell Me You Love Me”, SJ got the crowd to provide the vocal “Tell me you care…” responses.  A couple of times she got a guy or two from this 99% white crowd to hop onstage to dance with her.  This goofy white guy was shaking it to the best of my limited ability, as well. 
 
Given that SJ was working in James Brown territory all night long, she sealed the deal in the encore when she covered “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”.  Hearing this forty-year-old song sung by a woman (and with convincing conviction) presented it in a fresh, new light.  The earlier teases of “The Tighten Up” riff finally materialized into the real deal, as they wound it out on The Drells’ classic.  Somewhere in there, the baritone sax player took an impressive turn, front and center.  When the smoke had cleared, John W said what a bunch of us were thinking, when he predicted (here in January) that this would be his favorite show of the year.
 
2/2/08, Iron Barley.  It took a while for our party of seven to get seated, but we had a fine time catching up at the bar.  The food was amazing…I had oak smoked prime rib.  By the time we finished dessert, we were closing down the restaurant.  We could hear the band starting up downstairs and got our waiter to explain how we had to go outside and around back to enter the basement bar.
 
Frederick’s Six Feet Under Lounge is a cozy bar with close stone walls and a seven foot ceiling.  The “crowd” of 20 or so people filled the room pretty good.  It was great to see Fred Friction behind a bar again.  He’s looking as healthy as I’ve seen him in a long time…no crutches or casts. 
 
The Dock Ellis Band (named for the Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher who once pitched a no-hitter while on LSD) is a local country-rock band consisting of six guys who frequented Frederick’s Music Lounge back in the day: Justin Brown and Jesse Irwin on guitars and vocals, backed by b, d, steel and keys.  These guys aren’t gonna be the next big thing, but everyone in the house was having a fine time here…competent enough versions of classics by Johnny, Buck, Merle, Hank and Johnny Paycheck.  Maybe not the right titles, but they also did “Gonna Tie My Pecker To My Leg” and “I Cheated On You With Your Mom”… the irreverent, scatological vibe fits right in w/ the sensibilities of the host.
 
2/15/08 Leo Kottke, The Sheldon.  Tonight’s show was billed as the St. Louis Folk Festival, but this “festival” was pretty modest in scope…it was, in fact, just Leo Kottke with an opening act (whom we missed, entirely).  The place was packed as Leo walked out, guitars in hand and took his seat.  It’s hard to believe, but I first saw him play 32 years ago.  We’re all looking older these days, but he’s held up pretty well, all things considered.  His glasses and graying hair make him look a bit like Garrison Keilor (tonight’s wholesome, folkie setting supporting the illusion). 
 
As soon as he lit into his first song (I never was good at instrumental song titles), it was apparent that his chops on the twelve-string guitar are as impressive as ever.  He can still effortlessly lay down those rapid-fire hypnotic patterns. This is where someone more knowledgeable about the technical aspects of guitar playing would have more to say.  My knowledge in this area is limited, but I can tell you that while LK always plays with an impressive and unique technical virtuosity, I was most moved when a more discernable, melodic swing/sway came forward. 
 
LK stayed in strictly instrumental mode for the first half hour or so, limiting his deep, plaintive voice (not for all tastes) to his typically askew between-song observations (sometimes simple, sometimes deep).  This time around, his running dialog seemed to have more focus; he carried an ongoing thread about his distaste for doing innocuous, superficial interviews throughout the evening.  He got around to explaining how Al Franken once praised his song “Julie’s House” while simultaneously tossing off the song’s trademark bounce/slide guitar lick…and finally opened his mouth in song.  It’s one of those “older-but-wiser/lesson learned” songs that somehow comes across as life-affirming.  I’d have to agree with Al on this one…it was the highlight of my evening.
 
Back to the instrumentals, we got LK’s mesmerizing take on The Jefferson Airplane’s “Embryonic Journey” and some kind of cubist reconstruction of a ballad along the lines of “Make The World Go Away” or “End Of The World”.  He ended his set by singing “Rings”, another of those wide-eyed, “life is good” songs.  I got a bit glassy-eyed sitting with my sweetheart, here on the day after Valentine’s Day.  Ignoring shouts for a couple of his “hits” (“Pamela Brown” and “Louise”), Leo opted to let his guitar do the singing in his brief, instrumental encore.
 
2/16/08 Sarah Borges And The Broken Singles, House Concert.  Shortly after the band arrived, Ray and I had to run out to his basketball game (I’m a coach).  By the time we got back, they had already set up and sound-checked.  There was a chilly drizzle outside, but about 75 people showed up to hear this Boston 4-piece (b, d, guitar/steel & SB on guitar and vocals). 
 
Sporting a black dress, cowboy boots and electric guitar, Sarah opened with “All This Weight”…it’s one of those “slow buildup” songs, Mike Castellana’s steel guitar casting a sweet, melodic tone. The sound was, once again, clean and clear- only the vocals were run through the PA while the bass and guitars were run through the band’s amps.   The intensity clicked up a few notches when Mike switched over to electric guitar to lend some Albert Lee-style chugging to “Streetwise Man” and an especially “out there” solo on “Same Old 45”.  Mike was back on steel to kick off the hard-core honky tonk classic “Just Between You And Me”.  “Modern Trick” took things into a slower and dreamy zone and “Daniel Lee” (dedicated to a not-so-nice guy of same name) was tough and upbeat.  A couple of electric bluesy songs preceded her current “hit”- the joyous Reigning Sound/Mary Weiss cover, “Stop And Think It Over”…it’s hard to sit still during this one.
 
Set two was pretty stylistically varied, as well.  “The Day We Met” has a fat, twangy guitar hook.  Sarah provided an endearing story about the time she met John Doe (she was dressed as a groom at the time) before covering “Come Back To Me”.  The rough and rowdy “Open Up Your Back Door” (an old Canned Heat staple, I think) featured shouted backing vocals from the rest of the band.  The set ended with “Glory Be”, a song brought to Sarah’s attention by Tommy Womack’s band, Daddy.  Somehow, these little one-sentence characterizations of isolated songs doesn’t convey how spirited and infectious the whole show was…big smiles all around the room.  With the chilly drizzle persisting outside, the band couldn’t make the cursory exit to the back patio and quickly reassembled for a two-song encore: the smooth and contemplative “Belle Of The Bar” preceded a badass blues-rock rave-up, Mike’s steel sounding more like Duane Allman than Buddy Emmons.  As is the pattern, people hung out for a good long while, as the band sold and signed CDs before loading out.  They stayed with Gary and Joann out in St. Charles.

   

 

 

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