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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 67

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 67

4/15/08 The Gourds, House concert. Nancy and I have been big fans of this Austin band since before we moved to the house of concerts. In 2001, we took our kids (4 and 1, at the time) to the in-store show they played at Vintage Vinyl. We were the only people who showed up to see them and they were very gracious to the whole family…Kevin hung his mandolin around Travis’ neck and let him strum it a bit, before obliging both of our 4-year-old’s requests. We’ve kept in touch, off-and-on over the years and eventually their booking agent asked if we might be interested in hosting the band on April 15. Since it just happened to be Nancy’s 50th birthday, this was pretty much a no-brainer.

The band showed up around 5PM. We had the 2 cases of Dos Equis (as per their rider) iced down and fed ‘em all bar-b-q shortly after sound check. There were around eighty people (not bad for a Tuesday night) on hand as Jimmy Smith opened set one with the dark and moody “When Wine Was Cheap”, Claude on accordion. The Gourds are generally known as a rompin/stompin party band, but tonight they adapted to this intimate, living room setting, opting for a more nuanced thing (read: no “Gin And Juice” tonight).

These guys have three singers (and songwriters) and present all manner of instrumentation: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, accordion, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, all behind a strong, steady rhythm section. Kevin played electric guitar and threw in some “doo, doo”s, ala “Hang Fire” on “Flavor On The Tongue”. When Max sang “Blankets”, things shifted into a cleaner, acoustic mode. His fiddle intro to Jimmy’s “Right In The Head” is similar to what he did on Uncle Tupelo’s “Slate”. We got a little physical comedy when Kevin threw in some crazy arm motions during “Ants On The Melon”. Set one ended with the infectious swing of “El Paso” and the cocky swagger (think “Gimme Shelter”) of “Mister Betty”.

This being Nancy’s birthday party, Jeff (the band’s tour manager) asked us to write down any special requests she might have. Max kicked off set two with the first request, “Jesus Christ”. From there they kicked it up into a higher gear with a string of upbeat songs: “Burn the Honeysuckle”, “Pine Island Bayou” and “County Orange”. Kevin sang the rich and sad “Steeple Full Of Swallows” (request number two brought a big grin from Nancy across the room). Rather than the song you would expect, they saluted Nancy with The Beatles’ “Birthday” which quickly morphed into “Yer Blues”. They ended the set on a high note with “Piss And Moan Blues” (an accordion-driven Cajun-style rave-up) and “Lower 48” (Kevin racing through a tongue-twisting list of states…pausing for a shout-out for “Missouri”).

Kevin started the encore with a solo version of Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” while the rest of the band caught a smoke and drink break by the fire out back. Keith came back in to add a simple rhythm to Kev’s take on R Kelly’s “Feelin’ On Your Booty”…it was simultaneously funny and soulful. The whole band came back in to do “All The Labor”, closing things out with our final request. Taking advantage of the intimate setting, Jimmy stepped away from the mic and belted out, “All the labor stood up and shouted”. My buddy John pegged this one as “Ooh La La” meets “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”. If anyone’s interested, there’s a recording of this show available for streaming/download at:

Kevin and Jeff spent the night and the rest of the band showed back up from the hotel Wednesday morning for breakfast and load-out. They hit the road for Chicago around 11AM.

4/17/08 Big Smith, Lucas School House. There was a pretty good crowd out on a school night when Beatle Bob gave one of his sincere, long-winded testimonial intros to the opening band. Blue Mountain came out and did a set similar to the ones we heard in Austin last month: “Mountain Girl”, “Midnight In Mississippi”, “Band Called Bud”, “Butterfly”, “Soul Sister”, “Wink” and “Blue Canoe” stood out. They played hard and had lots of people jumping around.

After their set, a bunch of us were having such a good time out in the courtyard that it was hard to go back upstairs, even though Big Smith had already started their headlining set. I eventually made it upstairs and heard a few songs; Molly Healey played fiddle on a couple. Somehow, a trip out to Michele’s car turned into a side trip to The Shanti, where a few of us hung out listening to the jukebox. Neil Young’s “Winterlong” might have been my favorite musical moment of the evening.

4/19/08 National Record Store Day, Euclid Records. I got there just as The Bottlerockets started up their set on the newly constructed stage. They played in a pared-down incarnation, no bass player, Mark on tambourine, John Horton on lap steel and Brian on acoustic guitar. Things were especially loose today, as Brian actually forgot the second verse to “$1,000 Car”, a song he wrote and has been singing for years. They stopped right then and there, moving on to another song. Eventually the helpful staff at Euclid found the lyrics on the internet and called out the opening line to verse two, which the band then re-joined in progress. Somewhere in there, Nancy and Travis showed up. Next came a couple of new ones from the forthcoming BRox album. One contained a line about “get on the bus, get on down the line”…on another, Brian forgot the newly composed lyrics and stopped the song halfway through. A few scattered standards from this set included “I’ll Be Coming Around”, “Welfare Music”, “Kit Kat Clock”, “Gotta Get Up”, “Get Down River” and “Indianapolis”.

We came back from lunch in time to hear the set by Finn’s Motel. This was the first time I (or anyone) had seen them as a three-piece. Patrick’s drums were hard and crisp, as always (could have been brought down a bit, given the setting) and Steve’s fluid, assertive bass was more front-and-center, in this pared-down lineup. I’ve always liked the revolving cast of lead guitar players, but Joe was able to convey the essence of the songs just fine with his solitary Les Paul.

5/3/08 The Bottlerockets, The Duck Room. I squeezed into this sold-out show in time to hear the last handful of songs by Otis Gibbs. He does a gruff, left-leaning singer/songwriter thing. Roy called him the Billy Bragg of Indiana.

Tonight’s show was the official fifteenth anniversary show for The Bottlerockets. As they took the stage, Brian Henneman suggested that we all stand on the tables so that our heads would be closer to the ceiling (as it was when this space was Cicero’s Basement Bar…the site of the first Bottlerockets show).

As part of the fanfare, people were asked to suggest (on the band’s website message board) what songs should be played tonight. The winning set list was submitted by “Pig Farmer Jr.” Here it is, with a few scattered comments:

24 Hours A Day
Middle Man
Gravity Fails …contains the couplet: “maybe it’s something in my genes, maybe it’s something in my jeans”
Smoking 100's Alone
Waiting On A Train
Floatway …one of them Doug Sahm groove songs
Perfect Far Away
Welfare Music
Indianapolis ...my second-favorite BRox song
Dead Dog Memories
Kerosene ...my favorite BRox song
Love Like A Truck …with an specially inspired instrumental windout tonight
Alone In Bad Company
Gas Girl
Happy Anniversary
$1,000 Dollar Car
Align Yourself …Roy said “dumb song”, I differed
Gotta Get Up

Enter Bottlerockets friend/producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, throwing out the guitar tease to “I Love Rock & Roll” (he was once in Joan Jett’s Blackhearts)
Down By the River …Roscoe/John/Brian engaged in some breathtaking instrumental interplay. I was lost in a zone. The rest of the show was fun, but I had already climaxed.
Nancy Sinatra

Encore (chosen by the band):
Financing His RomanceGet On The Bus (New Song)
White Boy Blues
Mountain To Climb

5/15/08 Dave Melto, Café Boogaloo, Hermosa Beach, CA. Knowing that I was going to be staying at a hotel 2 blocks from this venue, I checked out their website and saw that Tony Gilkyson (one-time lead guitar player of X) was playing the night I arrived. The band was well into their first set when I paid my $5 cover and walked in.

I sat down with my $5 micro-brew and heard a handful of fairly standard bar-band blues songs…competent enough playing, but I’m guessing none of the thirty people in the room was raving about this to their friends the next day. When the lead singer announced that the band (b, d, g & g/v) was taking a break, I headed out.

On the way out, I asked the doorman for the name of the band, he replied “Dave Melto”. It wasn’t until this point that I realized that Tony Gilkyson had cancelled (due to illness) and I had been hearing someone else. I took a long walk on a long pier on the walk back to the hotel.

5/19/08 The Henry Clay People, Spaceland, Hollywood, CA. So there I am on the beach with Nancy and the boys…I would have been perfectly happy to just settle in for a relaxing Monday evening watching the sun sink into the Pacific, but the lure of hearing a bunch of bands in a Hollywood bar with my old STL buddy, Neil pushed me out into the alien landscape of the freeways of L.A. I actually navigated my way pretty well and did the valet parking thing.

I met up with Neil and one of his co-workers about halfway through the opening set by Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves. I had already heard a buzz about this white R & B singer from Boston. The band (b, d, g, sax, sax, trumpet & ER on g + v) do an homage to old-school R & B in that Otis Redding vein. Fun stuff, but I got a bit of a “period piece” re-enactment vibe from it…quite a few white dudes in pork-pie hats in the crowd.

Next up on this free, four-band show (how do they do it?) was Love Like Fire. This San Francisco quartet (b, d, g & a tough, cool Asian girl on g + v) play pop music that’s catchy, desperate and a bit dreamy. The register of the woman’s voice gave me glimpses of Grace Slick, Annie Wilson and Debbie Harry. She announced that all of these catchy originals were from their upcoming CD. I bought their current An Ocean In The Air CD tonight.

Next came The Mezzanine Owls (b, d, g, g). The lead singer’s vocal register (and sense of drama) was approximately in that Bono range. They didn’t consistently wow me, but they had their moments.

Closing things out tonight was The Henry Clay People (b, d, g, g + v)…trashy guitar rock along the lines of The Replacements. The lead singer took a couple of trips out into the crowd, handing the guitar over to one of his buddies at one point. Four bands in four hours, all for free. Four beers over four hours didn’t impair my ability to find my way back to the hotel. I finally got my wind-down time out on the balcony of the hotel room, overlooking the ocean at around 1:30. Life is good.

5/31/08 Blue Mountain, House Concert. I took a Saturday afternoon bike ride to the pool and then over to The Plush Pig for some carry-out bar-b-que. I got back home right as the band’s van was pulling into the driveway. After they loaded in and set up, we got a chance to hang out a bit. These guys have recently reformed to record and tour again after a five-year hiatus. In that time, Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt have gotten divorced, but still remain good friends and all three band members are really down-to-earth and genuine folks. Cary took a nap up in the tree house while Laurie helped us set up the smokers’ tarp (a thunderstorm was on the way). We all ate bar-b-que just before 80 people filled up the room.

Set one was acoustic: Cary on acoustic guitar and Frank on snare and brushes. They kicked things off with the opening track from their definitive Dog Days CD. “Mountain Girl” has an easy groove, Cary’s Neil-esque harmonica setting the tone. Laurie added the backing “ooh”s as Roy tweaked the house sound just right (we somehow never got around to doing a sound check). “Eyes Of A Child” features a relaxed, note-bending picking pattern and conveys a feeling of wide-eyed wonder. This one rings even more righteously with me as my kids now allow me to experience familiar things with renewed enthusiasm. They followed “Banks Of The Ponchatrain” (one of those traditional “fare thee well” type songs) with their own updated ode to New Orleans…“Lakeside” contains the line “we were making out to Supertramp”. I could go on and on, but I’ll try to be more concise…

Other highlights from the acoustic set included “Myrna Lee”, “Wink”, “August Afternoon” (Cary laying on the rural delta blues guitar and even a whistling part), “Free State of Jones” (Frank slapping the brushes pretty hard on this one) and “Soul Sister” (that opening harmonica blast and the funky/chunky structure reveal Cary Hudson to be Neil Young’s southern cousin) and “Midnight In Mississippi” (a vivid story told over a dark, driving melody).

Since Frank showed an affinity for the Stag beer that someone brought, I hung that neon Stag sign behind his drum kit for the electric set. When the band is in electric mode, Cary’s guitar is always front and center, but Laurie’s bass playing is a deep and funky force, as well. Once things got going, I kinda wished we had cleared out the folding chairs and had everyone stand up for this set…I, for one, was having a hard time sitting still. Songs I remember: “Butterfly” (owes a debt to Jimi’s “Waterfall”), “Hippy Hotel” (more wah-wah pedal), “Stop Breaking Down” (some down and dirty electric blues with searing slide guitar), “Let’s Go Runnin”, “Jimmy Carter” (I never get tired of this one), “Sha La La La” (probably wrong title…this new original reminds me of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”) and “Blue Canoe” (a perfect song on all levels, in my book: the melody, the lyrical sentiment and the inspired instrumental execution).

When they came back in for the encore, a few of us could no longer stay seated and jumped around pretty good during their cover of “Ooh La La” and the hard-hitting original “Generic America”. Note to self: If you’re gonna energetically hop around like a spazz, don’t do it right in front of the video camera. My dumb-ass pogoing head is featured prominently on the DVD John made for me.

Shortly after the usual wind-down, saying “thanks” and “goodnight” to everyone, we had the place cleaned up and the band and the family were off to bed…all except for me and Frank, who stayed up way late drinking beer and talking out back. A few hours later we fed the band breakfast and sent them on their way home to Mississippi.




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