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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 69

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 69

6/17/08 Return To Forever, The Fox Theatre. Back in the seventies, some of my buddies were pursuing the jazz/rock fusion (JRF) thing while I was a more the country-rock fan.  Back then, I could appreciate the technical proficiency of most JRF musicians, but in general, the actual music left me cold. So going to tonight’s much-heralded reunion of this quintessential JRF band was more of a curious “field trip” to see how this music would strike me thirty years later.  I tagged along with Joe and Liz and scalped a single ticket out front for half face value (this has become my standard M.O. as the prices for tickets at The Fox have gotten higher).  
So from my seat in the middle of the balcony, with my limited knowledge (and predisposition), the music struck me about like it did way back when; the instrumentation, while always impressive on a technical level, sometimes engaged me and at others, felt self-indulgent and failed to connect with me. 
Chick Corea’s playing was all over the place.  Depending on which direction he reached (he was surrounded by all manner of keyboards) he could lay on some busy synthesizer that sounded more like horns, dip into that dramatic, surging sound reminiscent of Rick Wakeman (another seventies reference point) or create that “hovering over the ocean” sound on the grand piano.  At one point, he took to striking the strings inside the piano with mallets.  The crowd ate it up.
Al DiMeola’s guitar playing ranged from that flurry of noodling notes (kinda like a more bubbly version of that fluttering improvisational thing that Jerry Garcia did) to a rich, glowing acoustic chord vibe.  Stanley Clarke put a charge into the crowd with his trademark animated thump on electric bass and at other times, switched over to apply some atmospheric bowed upright bass.  Lenny White kept it all together behind the drum kit, with his rapid snaps and shimmering cymbals.
Somewhere during the second set, things drifted off into a zone, as did my attention.  In the home stretch, everyone was given an extended turn in the spotlight; each solo lasting long enough to allow for a range of expression… thematic tones (and tempos) shifted to showcase each player’s chops.  (my exposure to music theory is very limited, so someone more versed in such things could probably say all of this much better than I can).  If this kind of music is your thing, you’re not likely to find better practitioners of it.  Anyway, for as much as I tried to take all of this in and like it, I have to admit that what really grabs me is actual “songs”…verses, choruses, bridges and hooks.  Everyone else seemed to love it, so I was clearly in the minority with my less-than-glowing impression.  
6/18/08 New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Lucas School House.  Tonight’s flashback to the seventies was provided by my favorite band from my high school days.  Rather than the early show/late show format of their show here in 2006, tonight was just one show featuring two sets.  I made it upstairs just in time to hear the end of their second song- “I Don’t Know You”.
Having seen (and enjoyed) these guys in this same room just two years ago, tonight was something of a reunion of the reunion tour and, consequently had less impact on me. They once again delivered most of their classic country-rock originals from the early seventies (“I Don’t Know You”, “Panama Red”, “Sutter’s Mill”) and even more of the material that plays up their link to The Grateful Dead.  For many deadheads, this band represents one of the few acts peripheral to that whole scene who are still out doing it.  If it was this association that brought the people out tonight, then they weren’t disappointed, as these guys found that fluttering groove/jam with frequency.  “Fifteen Days Under The Hood” had the rumbling guitar lick to “Truckin”/”New Speedway Boogie” imprinted on it.  While they never covered any GD songs tonight, a few of the covers they did have also been covered by Jerry G & company (“Pretty Peggy O”, “Deep Elem Blues”, “Dark Hollow”)  This time around, they even had two drummers…now why would a country-rock band need two drummers?  What, are they do a…oh, no- DRUM SOLO.  This might have pleased some (maybe most) folks in the crowd, but I was hoping to hear more of the country bar band that I felt The New Riders should have been all along.
The honky-tonk ballad “Running Back To You” was, once again, a personal highlight for me, as was “Garden Of Eden”.  The latter is a slower, folk-rock song from their debut album, the lyrics telling of impending upheaval; socio-political as well as environmental.  This one never ranked among my favorite NRPS songs, but tonight lead guitarist David Nelson threw in a totally unexpected curve ball- out of the mournful mid-tempo chord progression emerged the unmistakable guitar riff from The Stones’ “Last Time”.  Within a few measures, the entire band had fallen in to this lively classic as Nelson broke in to “Well I told you once and I told you twice/ but you never listen to my advice…”  The lyrical theme tying right in, as well…this COULD be the last time.  Eventually the band found its way back to the original song and brought “Garden Of Eden” in for a soft landing. 
The combination of a weeknight show running late and the fact that the band’s fan base has an average age of over 50 led to the room thinning out considerably before set two came to an end.  The home stretch featured a fun run through Dylan’s “Lo And Behold” and the hyper-paced druggie hoedown, “Henry”.  Michele got her request granted when they did the upbeat and catchy “Louisiana Lady” in the encore.  By 1AM, things had cooled off nicely outside, so a handful of us hung out for more beer in the outdoor courtyard.  A little while later, most of the band joined us for a nightcap. 
6/26/08 Charlie Louvin, House Concert.  This 82-year-old country music hall of fame member showed up (with his band in tow) around 5PM.  After loading in, they all settled in and hung out for a while.  We brewed up a couple of pots of coffee as the band set up, changed strings, etc.
Charlie was quite personable; as he caught a smoke out back, he amicably told us all about his two current album projects (a traditional gospel album and a collection of murder ballads) and offered up advice on growing gourds (clip away the tender shoots) and marriage (love the person for who they are).  He even got around to telling us the circumstances surrounding the car wreck that claimed the life of his brother, Ira in Williamsburg, MO on Father’s Day of 1965.  After a brief sound check, the crowd trickled in; around 85 people in the house tonight.  The sun was still shining bright through the windows out to the back yard as the music started up. 
Sporting a flannel shirt, big thick glasses and a larger-than-life white cowboy hat, Charlie kicked things off with “Must You Throw Dirt In My Face?”, the opening track on his current CD.  Backed by a four-piece band (bass, brushed drums, electric guitar & acoustic guitar, the latter played by Charlie’s 50-year-old son, Sonny).  Playing no instrument, Charlie held the mic and provided some animated gestures as he put his whole body into his presentation.  His voice sounds like that of an old man, but his singing and phrasing are still evocative and rich in character.  Between songs, he threw in plenty of endearing jokes and stories.  On “Working Man Blues”, Brent Wilson laid on that trademark guitar lick, just like on Merle’s definitive version (the lyrical sentiment of this one is consistent with Charlie’s general socio-political leanings).  “Knoxville Girl” touched on some of that murder ballad material he was talking about earlier. 
Both times I’ve seen Charlie, I’ve been surprised at how many covers he does, given that he could easily put together a full set, just drawing from his own original material (I would have liked to have heard “You’re Running Wild” or “I Don’t Love You Anymore” tonight, but it wasn’t up to me).  Other set one covers included “Waiting On A Train” (Jimmie Rodgers), “Mary Of The Wild Moor” (a Dolly Parton waltz), “Worried Man Blues” (Carter Family) and “Freight Train Boogie” (bass and guitar kicked into that boogie-woogie beat on this Delmore Brothers classic).  Bill Anderson’s “Think I’ll Go Somewhere And Cry Myself To Sleep” segued briefly into “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” (and back).
He did get to a handful of his classic originals: “Ruby’s Song”, “Great Atomic Power” (with clean, ringing electric guitar and bassist Mitch Brown adding the trademark counterpoint vocals), “Ira” (a heartfelt original addressed to his brother…“you had a knack for the high parts, so I sang the low”) and “Let Her Go, God Bless Her” (an upbeat Louvin Brothers standard from way back with more ringing lead guitar).  He closed the long first set out with “When I Stop Dreaming”.
During the break, the band got to take a breather, but not Charlie…he graciously held court at the merch table, shaking hands, signing CDs and posters and standing in for group photos for about a half hour.  Somewhere in there, my buddy Bill requested “What Are Those Things?”  By the time the second set began, it was completely dark outside and the small spotlights provided a clear focus in the dark room.
Set two featured plenty more well-chosen covers, beginning with “Blues Stay Away From Me”…more Delmore Brothers; this one has an easy, bluesy groove to it.  Bill’s request for “What Are Those Things?” was then granted, even if the band had never done this one before…“it’s in D”.  The whole band fell in pretty quickly while Charlie confidently carried the melody. “Will You Visit Me On Sunday?” is a true classic country song, from it’s distinctive melody to the lyrical inclusion of undying love, prison and the lord.
He told an endearing story about meeting a very young Johnny Cash in his introduction to “I Still Miss Someone”.  Tom T Hall’s “Back When We Were Young” had impact, coming from this guy in his eighties.  He saved a couple of his own classics for the end…“Cash On The Barrelhead” was one of the first Louvin Brothers songs I became familiar with (via Gram Parsons in the seventies).  He closed things out with the biggest hit of his solo (post-Louvin Brothers) career. “See The Big Man Cry” brought a tear to my eye.  After singing the final chorus, he put the mic down, waved “goodbye” and exited the “stage” as the band lit into an instrumental outro/coda.
After a bit more handshaking and autographing, the crowd filtered out while the band stuck around for late-night bar-b-q around the kitchen island.  We got a few more stories from Charlie, as well as a few politically incorrect rants that caused the band to collectively shake their heads…this is an 82-year old man raised in Alabama.  After dinner, Nancy and I helped them load out for their hotel; hugs and handshakes all around.
6/27/08 Charlie Louvin, Webster Groves Gazebo.   After tending to some business across town, I hustled over to this free outdoor show.  That whole triangular greenspace was filled with people in lawn chairs.  I caught the last handful of songs, all of which Charlie and band had done at last night’s house concert… “Mother’s Hall Of Fame”, “Will You Visit Me On Sunday?” stood out.  A good amount of Charlie’s stage banter was similar, as well.  In this wide-open, outdoor setting, Sonny Louvin played electric guitar (last night he played acoustic).  Local DJ/record store owner, Tom Ray got up to add harmonica to one song toward the end of the set.  The power to the PA system unexpectedly went out right as they were winding down, so that was it.  It was nice to catch up with a few people and say “thanks” and “goodbye” to Charlie and the band.  Shortly thereafter, Nancy and I headed off to…
6/27/08 Susan Cowsill, Broadway Oyster Bar.   Nancy and I showed up just after dark; things had cooled off nicely as we found a table with some friends and ordered dinner.  The outdoor courtyard of B.O.B. was pretty full (maybe 50 people) as the band took the stage around 10PM.  Susan pre-apologized for the fact that they hadn’t played together in a year.  Not to worry…they’ve played together plenty before and Susan’s songs have an easy, melodic feel to them, so things were fine.  Drummer/husband Russ Brousard gave these familiar songs a solid foundation while Tad Armstrong’s bubbling bass (very Beatlesque, at times) and Aaron Stroup’s glowing lead guitar and fell right into place. 
I’m writing this up a bit after the fact, so it may not be as accurate or as detailed as what I wrote after seeing them the first time (almost never is).  As I remember it, set one highlights included “Palm Of My Hand” and “Nanny’s Song”…possibly my favorite two SC songs.  Good music and good friends in a pleasant outdoor courtyard; aint life grand?  The memory of Susan’s brother, Barry was called up a few times…once with her cover of Lucinda’s “Drunken Angel” and again with her version of Barry’s “Catch The Wind” (as the big box fan at the front of the stage sent her hair flying).  Other covers included Gram Parsons’ “A Song For You”, Gillian Welch’s “Annabelle” and John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”. 
There were a couple of newer songs that I didn’t recognize, but by and large, this show drew from Susan’s Just Believe It CD.  New Orleans (Susan’s home town) got a shout-out via Lucinda’s “Crescent City” (“my brother knew where the best bars are…”) and her own “Crescent City Snow”, with its inspired “who dat?” wind-out lyrical collage at the end.  At the end of the second set, Susan came back out for a one-song encore, which she rendered accapella.
4/18/08 Jon Dee Graham, The Ranch House.  Dave and Angela hosted tonight’s show; their kids had a sleepover with our kids, freeing up their bedrooms for the band.  There were about 80 people packed in to the room, all locked in and attentive.  The new track lights lit the “stage” up just right.   
Since Jon Dee has played house concerts at our place a couple of times, it was nice to give him (and his fans) this fresh change of venue.  Things were plenty different, musically, as well.  This time around, JDG played electric guitar and had a different rhythm section (including Son Volt’s Andrew Duplantis on bass) with him.  Set one opened with “Tie A Knot”, instantly establishing that hard/dark, snarly/gnarly loud electric sound.  The funky/chunky “Full” always reminds me of Little Feat.  A few new songs showed up, including one about a serial killer…I wonder when a new CD is coming out.  As always, Jon Dee had plenty of entertaining between-song stories.  A bunch of us hung out outside during the break for a little air and elbow room.
I’m writing this up a bit after the fact, so it may not be as accurate or as detailed as what I wrote after seeing Jon Dee the first time (almost never is).  As I remember it, set two highlights included “Faithless”, “Amsterdam” (with his standard intro about the city built out in the sea), “Laredo” (“we shot the dope ‘til the money ran out”), “$100 Bill” and “October”.  The one song encore was the Spanish-language “Volver”…the one that sounds like “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights”.
I ended up hanging with the late-night crew out back.  Andrew played acoustic guitar and Dave brought out his stand-up bass.  Since Nancy went home earlier, I caught a ride from the last car leaving the party and got home around 2AM.
7/19/08 Magnolia Summer, Off Broadway.  After a long, hot day that included a little league doubleheader, Dave, Walt, Jean Ann and I ended up at the club about four songs into the set by The Treeweasels.  This was a reunion show…the first time EJ Fitch and band have played together in several years.  I remember them being around back in the late eighties/early nineties, but only have vague memories of ever having seen them. 
Tonight, they often reminded me of another local band from that era, Enormous Richard…wide-eyed and exuberant (if a bit dopey and off-key) vocals delivered over instrumentation that has a homemade/DIY feel to it.  This was especially true in the one song that featured a guest fiddle player.  St. Louis ex-pat Mary Alice Wood got up to add backing vocals to one song.  Joe Thebeau (not an original member) sat in on bass tonight.  The only song I remember for sure from way back was “In My House”; the one that catalogs the contents of the singer’s home. They ended with a dark, driving song that touched that same spot that Husker Du’s “Girl Who Lies On Heaven Hill” does.
This being a reunion show (read: older crowd), the room thinned out a bit after The Treeweasels’ set.  Only a couple of the tables on the floor were still occupied when Magnolia Summer closed things out at around midnight.  Tonight, Chris Grabau’s ever-evolving cast of backing musicians included John Baldus on drums, Greg Lamb on bass, Kevin Buckley on guitar & fiddle and a steel guitar player. The overall effect was rich and warm; Chris’ gentle vocals nestled in among the multiple layers.  The combination of Chris’ guitar and Kevin’s fiddle reminded me (and a couple of other people) of early Whiskeytown.  The overall punch and crunch these guys laid on had my buddy Walt (visiting from Arkansas) shaking it up on the dance floor, alongside Beatle Bob.  I’ve never been good at remembering their song titles, but “Break-in” stood out.  They closed things out with a spirited version of REM’s “Document”.  On the way home, we made one of those decadent, late-night Taco Bell drive-thru stops and chowed down at my house before the rest of the crew headed home. 




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