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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 68
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 68
6/4/08 Twangfest Wednesday, The Tap Room. I got there at 4:30 to help get the upstairs room set up: banners, merch table, etc. Little-by-little, people started showing up: other volunteers, bands, fans from in and out of town. The little buffet/schmooze-fest was the usual good time.
Kicking off Twangfest Twelve was Portland’s The Builders And The Butchers. None of us had heard of these guys before (they’ve been touring around with Centro-matic and were part of the package). They do a very unconventional, sloppy but exuberant thing, featuring two drummers (one would occasionally switch over to trumpet, keyboard and melodeon), guitars and mandolin/banjo. The overall effect is more percussive than melodic and not well suited for this echo-heavy room. Over the course of the set, the sound got a little better (or maybe I acclimated) and eventually, twenty or thirty people found their way to that floor space in front of the stage. Toward the end of the set, lead singer/frontman, Ryan Sollee walked out into the crowd and passed out cheap tambourines and other percussion instruments to get a little audience participation on a song with a very pronounced beat.
Next up was Centro-matic. These guys headlined the opening night of last year’s Twangfest. Ordinarily, we try to avoid bands playing two years in a row, but routing was taking them through STL tonight, so we broke our own rule. They brought their faithful cult following to hear their grand and glorious (if somewhat quirky) brand of rock. Tonight’s show was one of the more upbeat I’ve seen from them…they didn’t linger in that moody/broody territory as much. As always, they swapped instruments around. By the end of their set, the dance floor was packed with lots of people jumping up and down. Dave and Angela were particularly animated, as was a contingent of drunk chicks on the “balcony” (that elevated platform/fire exit to the right of the stage). The only song that I’m remembering the next day is “Flashes And Cables”. Someone more familiar with song titles tells me they also did ''The Mighty Midshipman'', ''Huge in Every City,'' and ended with ''Without You.''
Continuing in cult favorite mode, things closed out tonight with Chuck Prophet and band. There are a few people around town who like what Chuck does, but our buddy John Wendland is the biggest fan I know. He’s been lobbying to get Chuck to play at Twangfest for years. Tonight, he finally got his wish. The music was making me smile, but seeing John a few feet up in front of me dancing around with a big smile, made me even happier.
Chuck and band (b, d, k and second guitar) did a deep groove, funky, blues-influenced thing, typified by songs like “You Did” (“Who put the "bomp" in the bomp-shooby-dooby-bomp?”) Throughout, Chuck lit things up on lead guitar while the other guitar player laid on slide guitar licks that reminded me of David Lindley. Chuck’s mic stand had a “splitter” with a standard mic on the right and one produced that low-fi, distorted vocal effect on the left; Chuck shifting from one to the other as each song dictated. My familiarity with the Chuck catalog is limited, but I saw a few people singing along. A few other songs that stood out were “Small Town Girl”, “Let’s Do Something Wrong” and “After The Rain”. Toward the end of this Wednesday night set, the crowd had thinned a bit, but from my vantage point (up front, looking toward the stage), this wasn’t very noticeable.
6/5/08 Twangfest Thursday, The Duck Room. Since Twangfest Twelve has the four nights/four venues format, a few of us showed up early to hang banners, set up backline and arrange furniture. There was confusion about timing tonight; we thought doors: 7PM, show 8PM, but the venue told their people: doors 8PM, show 9PM. The doors opened right at eight and the thirty or forty chairs in the room were immediately snapped up.
The Deadstring Brothers went on right around 8:30. This was the third time I’d seen them and they seem to get better each time. Everyone in the band plays hard and tough, but co-lead singer Masha Marjieh gets most of the visual attention with her spirited swagger and sway. As always, their sound was loose and loud, drawing obvious comparisons to early-seventies Stones. Steel guitar and keyboards blend in nicely with the ragged guitars. Since there were only three bands on the bill and people were digging it, they were given plenty of time...hard to believe a band this powerful is the opening act.
Since each of tonight’s bands features unique instrumentation (and a lot of it), the set changes were longer than usual. Even with only three bands playing, the schedule slid toward the long side. I ended up spending the first ten minutes of each set dealing with dumb stuff like getting various doors and elevators opened so bands could move in and out.
The Dynamites took the stage just before ten, jump-starting the crowd with an extended, funky instrumental workout- bass, guitar and keyboards found that groove while the peppy horn section laid on their rhythmic blasts. When the crowded room (close to a sellout) was literally and figuratively pre-heated, the guitar player announced the entrance of Mr. Charles Walker. Decked out in a stylish vintage suit, Walker delivered the goods, running the range from Otis Redding soulful to James Brown funky, while the band kept on keeping on. The dense crowd was swaying and sweating. A crew of uninhibited hippie-types were openly smoking a joint right there in the middle of the bar. Somewhere in there, the band clicked into ballad mode as CW laid on a captivating rendition of “Summertime”. All-in-all, this was one of the least twangy sets in Twangfest history. As with the Deadstrings, the crowd was loving it as the band’s set spilled beyond their time limit. Jason and Kip (tonight’s stage managers) were torn between seeing everyone having a great time and knowing that tonight’s headliners would end up being squeezed for time. Eventually, the band wound things down and a lengthy set change (a 9-piece soul band yielding the stage to a 5-piece country/bluegrass/rock band) began.
It wasn’t until almost midnight that band number three was ready to go. Kevin Russell game a quick intro of me as I walked up to the mic to give a nervous “deer-in-the-headlights” introduction of The Gourds. They opened with the long and raucous “Turkey In The Corn”, getting their string-band thing on. By now it was late and the set list is a bit of a blur, but it seems like they did quite a few of the same songs they did at Nancy’s birthday party in April: (not in correct order) “Right in the Head”, “Jesus Christ”, “Burn the Honeysuckle” (got the Olivette crew up and dancing off to the side), “Pine Island Bayou” and “County Orange” all had the crowd (now somewhat diminished from its peak, an hour ago). Somewhere early in the set, I was able to broker a guest appearance of Fred Friction on spoons, during “All In The Pack” (Jimmy Smith picked this one, specifically for Fred).
Because of the time slide (blame the festival organizers; I’m one of ‘em), right about the time the band was hitting their stride and getting the crowd into it, the sound man was telling us it was almost 1AM and time to wind things down. Kevin asked how much more time they had...I told him 3 or 4 more songs (wrong; it was more like 2). As soon as Kip corrected me, I had their tour manager get the word to the band and they ended with “All The Labor” as the house lights came on. It was late and the crowd had certainly got a full night’s entertainment, but I felt bad that the final band (and their fans) got shorted. This is almost exactly the way BR549 screeched their set to a halt on this stage two years ago.
After the load-out of banners, merch and backline, I reluctantly said “goodnight” to Fred as he hopped on his scooter, headed back to south city (“just crash at my house and you can drive home sober in the daylight, tomorrow...” I got the voice mail message around 2:30AM that Fred had made it home safely, but with a dent in his helmet (?)
6/6/08 Twangfest Friday, The Pageant. Jason and I showed up at around 5PM to hang the Twangfest sponsor banners from the rails around the balcony while The Old 97s did their sound check. After our brief task was completed, we hung out taking in the music...the band was in a loose mood and played songs that they wouldn’t normally do in an actual show. A handful of us were treated to covers of X’s “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” (while Exene’s husband and kid stood off to the side, taking it in), Elvis Costello’s “King Of America” and their own “This Beautiful Thing” (that new pop gem sung by bassist Murray Hammond). After sound check, we hung with a bunch of out-of-town Twangfest people over at John and Marie’s before heading back over to the venue close to show time.
At The Pageant, all work is done by union stagehands, so there was absolutely nothing for us Twangfest organizers to do; just hang out, drink beer and listen to the bands. It was a nice change from all of last night’s hassles. Opening tonight’s show was I Love Math, a side-project band of Old 97s drummer Phillip Peeples. Phil’s distinctive, manic boom-tap drumming and the disaffected drone of the lead singer made these guys sound quite a bit like early-period Old 97s.
Next up was Miles Of Wire. The relatively full dance floor contained a major contingent of this local band’s fan base, all cheering on their buddies. I haven’t seen them in a while, but they still do that ragged, tuneful rock thing. Comparisons to The Replacements and Ryan Adams (of a certain period) would apply. One of my friends dismissed them for rhyming “Ohio” with “bye-o”, but when a song is as raw and powerful as their original “Ohio”, correcting the singer’s diction is the last thing on my mind. I’m sure some people are thinking, “oh, great...just what we need- another earnest Midwestern guy in a baseball cap drawing comparisons to Ryan Adams.” I’m also naturally suspicious of bands fitting this profile, but somehow, these songs and the vulnerable, raspy phrasing of lead singer Raphael Maurice hits a spot with me. If I had any criticism of this set, I wish they would have done fewer mid-tempo songs and played a few more rockers (“Funny Feeling” would have fit the bill).
Next up was Texas singer-songwriter Hayes Carll and band (steel, g, b, d sometimes banjo). His distinctive Texas drawl and catchy country-rock material reminded me a bit of early Steve Earle. A few of his shuffling blues-based songs sounded like something you’d hear on one of Tommy Womack’s records. Songs I remember (in no particular order): “Beaumont”, “I Got a Gig”, “A Lover Like You”, “I Don't Wanna Grow Up” (this Tom Waits cover was a highlight of the set) and “Little Rock”. “Bad Liver And A Broken Heart” showed up late in the set list, reworked as an acoustic ballad. I think he made a lot of new fans tonight.
Between bands, I went backstage, just because I could. There was a film crew filming Joe Edwards talking to someone in The Old 97s in that room just off to the side of the stage. When everything was set, John Wendland walked out to center stage and introduced The Old 97s. John and I heard the band’s opening song, “The One” off to the side of the stage, looking over the shoulder of the guy working the sound board for the onstage monitors. From there, we had an up-close view of the band and could also check out the crowd pressed to the front of the stage. We were even able to spot specific friends out in the crowd. After hearing a couple of songs from this unique vantage point, we grabbed a few backstage beers and joined our friends out on the floor.
Once we found our crew toward the back of the dance floor, that whole friends/music/beer love-fest thing took over. Folks were jumping up and down, clinking beer bottles and just generally grooving...lots of people singing along. The band has come a long way from the early days; this was the most fun I’ve ever had hearing them. They did lots of songs from their current Blame It On Gravity CD: the oddly-paced “Do You Want To Dance With Me?”, “Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue” and “No Baby I” stood out, as did old staples like “Victoria” and The Waco Brothers’ “Over A Cliff”. They played a good, long set, but it seemed like it was over before we knew it.
The first encore featured a couple of acoustic ballads by front man Rhett Miller, as well as one by bassist Murray Hammond. Since “Time Bomb” had not appeared all night, it came as no surprise that they chose to close the night out with this song known for its catchy melody, breakneck pace and deadpan vocal delivery. With the union stagehands dismantling everything on stage, this was the easiest night for the Twang Gang...we had all of our stuff packed up pretty quickly and I headed home to rest up for the fourth quarter.
6/7/08 Twangfest Saturday, Off Broadway. Continuing with this year’s “four nights/four venues” theme, I showed up at Off Broadway at around 5PM to hang banners and move a few tables and chairs around. The entire dance floor was cleared of tables and chairs, so the early-birds who lined up right as the doors opened at 7PM staked out the handful of tables and chairs on the balcony.
Local singer/songwriter Caleb Travers opened the show tonight. Lead guitar (Jimmy Griffin) and pedal steel (Scott Swartz) fleshed out Travers’ original material, which had a gentle, rootsy feel to it. Wish I had more to say about it, but I was, once again, distracted a time or two.
Next up was The Everybodyfields. A few of my friends love the gentle, moody thing that this Tennessee four-piece (bass, acoustic guitar/steel/fiddle, keyboards…no drums) does, but as much as I try, I’m still not completely won over. Lead singer Jill Andrews sings like an angel and, at times, Sam Quinn’s voice mixes well with hers in an inspiring way. “Everything Is OK” is a good example of the quirky, but pleasing chemistry they have going. But I have to admit that at times I found Quinn’s voice annoyingly off key. I don’t doubt for a minute that it’s heartfelt, but I didn’t consistently like it. It’s really hard to articulate what didn’t click with me in those moments; I’m sure that in some kind of debate format, someone would (accurately) point out that lots of singers that I find compelling convey emotion while straying from tonal conventions, but all debate points aside, we all know when something is working for us and when it’s not.
The full room was stratified into those who were up front paying attention, drawn in by the band’s dark, dreamy vibe and people who were out for a good time with their buddies on a Saturday night, talking amongst themselves toward the back. They ended with “Helpless”. Keyboards, steel and the haunting vocal interplay worked well on this Neil Young classic. A few of us have an ongoing discussion about whether more subtle acts belong in a rowdy festival setting. I don’t think this set brought things down any, but it didn’t exactly put a charge into the crowd.
What did put a charge into the packed room (not quite a sellout) was the set by Ha Ha Tonka. This oddly-named Springfield quartet ripped through a spirited set of country-rock. These guys (all in their twenties, I’m guessing) play hard and have lots of fun. I’m not well-versed in their catalog, but “Caney Mountain” and “St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor” stood out. The second guitar player sang one; he sounded (and looked) a bit like Matthew Sweet. They mixed things up in the home stretch, hopping around from a clean and quiet four-part a cappella song to a dumb-but-fun/guilty pleasure cover of Ramjam’s “Black Betty” to the country clap-along of Red Meat’s “Twelve Inch, Three Speed Oscillating Fan”.
The best thing about the “four nights/four venues” format of Twangfest Twelve (no, it wasn’t setting up and taking down backline, merch and banners four nights in a row) was the fact that the headline act for the final night was the headline act for the final night of Twangfest One, right here on the same stage. So tonight, The Waco Brothers were bringing it all back home.
With several albums’ worth of material to draw from, they can cherry-pick to put together a set of songs guaranteed to keep the party going. They’ve been doing this long enough to know what works and we’ve all heard them enough times to know what songs we’re gonna get. The usual rollick, good time as they ran through songs like “Waco Express” (the set opener), “Too Sweet To Die” (the tough, snotty strut/swagger and the sound of Jon Langford’s vocals give this one a Clash-like vibe), “Do What I Say”, “If You Don’t Change Your Mind” (Deano’s vocals and songwriting offer a nice counterpoint to the others’), “Plenty Tough” (always with the socialist bent) and the ever tuneful “”Harm’s Way”. For whatever reason (maybe the late hour or the socializing out in the smokers’ courtyard), the crowd had thinned somewhat by the middle of this set. Their dark, searing cover of Neil’s “Revolution Blues” showed up toward the end and got me whipped up, bumping around with me mates up front. Roy and Dana each did the “hop onstage, fall into the crowd”” thing. In this thinner crowd, it was left to those of us who care to make sure they made a safe landing.
The encore featured a tribute to the recently-departed Bo Diddley as the drummer coached the crowd into that patented BD clap-along. We also got treated to George Jones’ “White Lightnin” and their own “Do You Think About Me?”
After the fourth consecutive night of loading out of the club, I ended up out at the out-of-towners’ hotel playing some dice game with the three Brits in The Waco Brothers until sunrise. There was a huge pile of dollar bills on the table. Every time one of the Wacos would win the pot, all three of them would break into some rowdy soccer-fan song. I said “goodbye” to everyone right around sunrise.
For some reason, every time I get on eastbound 70 at the Sunday morning sunrise of Twangfest, I'm strangely driven to the rising sun and end up walking around on the arch grounds and down around the river. It's so quiet and the horizontal sunlight lights up the arch and the city behind it in spectacular fashion. About the only sound to be heard was the chirping of birds. It's become a reassuring, annual ritual...I made it home around 6:30AM.