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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 7
10/28/03Commander Cody, Generations. This was my first venture into this, um, unique venue. Itís the lounge of the Holiday Inn at Lindbergh and I-44; out in the Ďburbs and featuring acts that were drawing much bigger crowds twenty (or more) years ago- you can go hear Al "Year Of The Cat" Stewart there next week. If you ever go there (as ifÖ), get there early- I got there at 10 PM and had already missed the entire first set.
Commander Cody would definitely qualify in the "used to draw bigger crowds" category. I was a huge fan in 1975, or so, when he and his Lost Planet Airmen developed a unique identity as dope smokiní freaks playing an unlikely combination of classic sounding country & western truck driving anthems, rockabilly, swing and boogie woogie, sometimes all on the same record side. They had a guy who would play Cajun fiddle on one song and pick up a saxophone on the next. Four of the eight members sang lead vocals, further diversifying the sound of each song. Tonightís show was fine, but not quite as varied.
The old Commander came out to his keyboards, accompanied by B, D, G & steel guitar (played by St. Louis native, Don Curtis) and began to boogie- opening with "House Of Blue Lights". The treatment his lead guitar player laid on this one made it sound more like Charlie Danielsí "The Southís Gonna Do It Again". On the old records, Cody provided only a small percentage of the lead vocals; his half talk/half sing delivery was most memorable on songs like "Hot Rod Lincoln" and "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette". In this latest incarnation, he sings most of the songs, including those originally sung by the other Airmen. Consequently, he actually "sings" more now. His piano playing is as inspiring as ever, in that beer hall boogie woogie style, best displayed tonight in his romping rendition of "Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar".
With the exception of one or two songs, this set consisted entirely of material from the mid seventies, the heyday of CC&HLPA: "Truck Driviní Man", "Midnight Shift" and "Oh, Mama Mama" were memorable. His trademark spoken verses were applied to Memphis Curtisí "It Shouldíve Been Me" as well as his "greatest hit"- "Hot Rod Lincoln", a song that ex-Airman Bill Kirchen has reworked as the centerpiece to his own live performances. On "Back To Tennessee", the verse "Iím gonna hijack one of them big jet planesÖ" has been revised to "Iím gonna buy me one of them big jet planesÖ", for obvious reasons.
Toward the end of the set, he did up a couple of his trademark odes to altered states- the country weeper "Down To Seeds And Stems Again Blues" (done up with sweet steel guitar) and the revved up "Lost In The Ozone Again". The entire band came out for a one-song encore- the newer "We Used To Ride".
10/30/03The Bottlerockets, The Duck Room. This was their CD release party for the new "Blue Sky" album, one Iím still not familiar with. Like their August show at Fredís, the set opened with Brian on acoustic guitar for a song or two, before switching over to electric. Soon thereafter, these guys were doing what they do best...
Seeing The Bottlerockets in August with their current lineup (i.e., John Horton added on guitar) was such a quantum leap in my appreciation/enthusiasm for what Brain Henneman & band do live, that the bar was raised quite a bit higher in terms of my expectations. The past couple of months have allowed Brian and John to refine the interplay of the guitars, as each plays rhythm and lead at various points throughout the set. The unique character of each playerís leads were brought to the forefront on old favorites like "Iíll Be Cominí Around", "Every Kind Of Everything", "Indianapolis", "When I Was Dumb" and "Kit Kat Clock". Brian went Neil Young nuts at times, while Johnís leads were more fluid and concise- a very complimentary pairing of styles.
When Brian picked up his 12-string and started in on "I Wanna Come Home", my buddy Jim invoked the inevitable Roger McGuinn reference- isnít that what youíre supposed to say whenever someone picks up a 12-string? All clichťs aside, the ring and chime on this one proved Jim to be pretty accurate. Bassist Robert Kearns sang lead on Sir Dougís "Iím Not That Kat Anymore" and another (presumably new) poppier song.
Some of the new songs that stuck with me (just guessing at titles) were: "Man Of Constant Anxiety", "I.D. Blues", "Alone In Bad Company" and the one about the guy on workmanís comp.- ("I Fell Down"?). The end of the set brought us "$1,000 Car" and "Kerosene"; the latter never fails to move me- the vivid, tragic picture painted by the lyrics, paired with the songís haunting, yet beautiful melody strike me on a personal level first; thatís what makes it succeed as an anthem to a broader cause- the plight of the rural poor.
The encore began with another topical song- "Welfare Music", done up with just Brian and electric guitar. The remaining Ďrockets joined him for "Radar Gun". Theyíre playing here again tomorrow night, so certain songs from their considerable catalog were saved for later.
11/4/03 Palookaville, Frederickís. A small, but appreciative crowd (?) of maybe twenty people came out on a Tuesday night. I caught 3 or 4 songs byChris Johnson, whose acoustic guitar and harmonica backed his pleasant enough songs. His voice sounded like what I remember of Luka Bloom.
Bob Reuterís latest assemblage of musicians,Palookaville has been playing out for almost a year: Robin Allen (Civiltones)-guitar, Jenna Bauer- (bowed) upright bass, Mike Enderle (The Melroys)- drums and Kevin Buckley (ex-Ashtray) on violin. Having heard most of the older songs done up in a variety of styles (by a number of different musicians) over the years, itís nice to hear them presented in this more casual, relaxed setting. Bob seems totally at ease with this bunch providing a warm living room feel to songs like "Great Speckled Bird" (the Bob Reuter original, not the old Roy Acuff hit), "Down On The Square", "Rose Of Sharon", "Lynchburg" and "I Canít Look Away". Early on, we heard a new original called "False Eyelashes" as well as their contribution to the forthcoming Chuck Berry tribute "Bye Bye Johnny", a more obscure sequel song to "Johnny B. Goode".
The bandís even, organic sound added a rich glow to "October Wind" (my personal favorite of the evening) as well as Neil Youngís "Mr. Soul". Somewhere in there, we were teased by the opening line to Hermanís Hermitsí "Henry The Eighth". For whatever reason- limited repertoire (Bobís written hundreds of songs, but Iím not sure how many heís worked up with this crew) or maybe the spirit just moved them, the evening ended with replays of both "False Eyelashes" and the Chuck cover.
11/6/03Thad Cockrell & The Starlight Country Band, Frederickís. Cockrell and band (B, D, G) came out with a sound similar in feel to Neil Youngís "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"- warm country-rock electric guitar leads over a somewhat funky rhythm section- definitely more punched up than on Thadís records. This country boy sings with a sweet tenor that, at times, can sound a bit like fellow North Carolinian Ryan Adams. That comparison only applies to the character of Cockrellís voice, as his songs are much closer to the country end of the "alt. country" scale than the alternative end.
On his original "Why Go?", his voice quieted to a near whisper- he dedicated that one to Roy Orbison. Other songs I remember were "Why?", "Warmth & Beauty", "Breaking Of A Day", "She Aint No You", and Bob Dylanís "Tonight Iíll Be Staying Here With You". Just when things were getting a bit on the mellower side, the lead guitar player capoed down and went all nuts on a couple of louder, faster songs to close the set. (He sang lead vocals on one of them). I canít imagine that these guys are making much money driving around the country playing in little dive bars like Fredís, but hopefully there is satisfaction in putting big smiles on the faces of the twenty or so people who came out tonight.
11/7/03 Palookaville/Rockhouse Ramblers, Off Broadway. These two bands split the bill, shuffling two forty minute sets each. There were probably thirty people there when I arrived for set number two byPalookaville- same warm, intimate feel as last Tuesday. Kevinís violin leads werenít exactly down home Allison Krauss type stuff; they were somewhat quirky and dissonant, along the lines of Scarlet Rivera. Songs I remember: "Rose Of Sharon" and "Mr. Soul". They ended with an upbeat version of Son Houseís "Death Letter Blues".
Then came the nightcap set byThe Rockhouse Ramblers. They were without the services of John Horton, who is on tour with The Bottlerockets. This was the first time I had seen them with Thayne Bradford on fiddleÖnot sure if heís now a permanent member or was just sitting in. Either way, his playing made a nice contribution to the old school honky tonk/classic country sound that these guys recreate. Three different lead vocalists keep things from getting monotonous. A couple of songs that stood out were "Devilís Elbow" (an original?) and Buck Owensí "Hello Trouble".
11/8/03 Enormous Richard, CBGBs (the little bar in south St. Louis, not the legendary NYC venue). This was a rather hastily set up reunion show for a band of enthusiastic amateurs who were part of our oddball community of music-related people ten to fifteen years ago. These guys are scattered all over the country now, but all made the trip back to St. Louis- both coasts were represented.
Things got off to a shaky start asFredís Variety Group opened with the shittiest sounding PA Iíve heard a in a real long time. This was especially frustrating because lots of familiar faces from years ago were in the crowd tonight, but the sound was so loud and distorted, that I could neither talk to old friends nor enjoy the music. Under better circumstances, I enjoy hearing FVG, but not tonight.
After this inauspicious beginning, things were instantly joyous whenEnormous Richard started up their setÖfirst off, the sound system was all pre-tweaked to their instrumentation and sounded highlyÖacceptable. Secondly, they opened with the ER classic "Iím Not Religious", immediately reminding everyone in the room what these guys were all about back in the day- heartfelt, fun-loving, more than somewhat silly purveyors of a unique brand of DIY wide-eyed wonder. A patchwork of quasi-cacophony comes from frontman/vocalist Chris King and the five instrumentalists behind him: Elijah Shaw- banjo and fiddle, Matt Fuller- drums, Joe Esser- bass, Rich Skoobish- acoustic guitar and Guitar Johnny on electric guitar. Technical abilities varied from player to player, creating a loose, yet somehow endearing vibe to the whole thing.
They mostly did songs from their "Almanac" cassette, including originals like "I Feel Crummy" (or is this one from "Sesame Street"?), "Dogs With Their Heads Out The Window" (I think this one actually won an award in the Blueberry Hill songwriting contest a long time ago), "Timmy Todd" (lyrics based on a Festus, MO murder in the late 80s), "River Of Sadness", "Matadors" (I never knew Rich Skoobish wrote and sang this one- one of my favorites), "Little Hiawatha" (might be their dopiest song- and thatís saying something), "Tribal Rachel" (a song that spawned an article in the Post-Dispatch by Steve Pick), "Steve Pick, Music Critic" (see previous comment) and "Hanginí Out With Jesus".
Lots of my fellow music fan friends never developed an appreciation for what these guys did- "canít stand them", might have been one friendís words, but I was always sympathetic to their cause. I donít play their old cassette very often, but if theyíre playing for the first time in ten years, Iím there. This reunion show had a nice community vibe to itÖhere I was thinking I was the only weirdo who actually knew Enormous Richard songs, but I look around and the room is full of people singing along, many of whom Iím meeting for the first time. These guys apparently made a few die-hard fans around the Midwest, a handful of whom drove a long way to be here tonight.
Somewhere in the proceedings, they did a later song, "Warm Milk" (Dave Melson guesting on bass) and Beatle Bob said a few words about the late Pops Farrar (a good friend of Chris King) into the mic. A handful of covers included "Gospel Ship" (Carter Family), "When You Were Mine" (Prince), "Joy Without Pleasure" (Daniel Johnston- a kindred spirit of lesser technical ability) and right near the end, Warren Zevonís "Iíll Sleep When Iím Dead"- poignant in the wake of Zevonís death and apropos, as we all went to an after hours party around the corner until sunrise.