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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 81
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 81
4/26/09 Sonny Landreth, Rock’n’Bowl, New Orleans. Earlier in the day, Joe Schwab and I made the trip south from St. Louis; it was the first time I had made this long drive. We stopped for bar-b-q in Memphis and listened to the Cardinals game on satellite radio. I was pretty pumped with anticipation by the time we closed in on NOLA on longest bridge I've ever crossed over Pontchartrain. Joe had us set up at this bed and breakfast- a cool old house with a big front porch overlooking Bayou St. John and the end of one of the street car lines. This being the Sunday evening of the first weekend of Jazzfest, things were winding down in the park across the water…we could hear Earth, Wind and Fire closing out their set as we came up the steps where Neal (a good buddy from St. Louis) was hanging with the owner of the B & B and few other folks. After a couple of beers, a group of us headed out to hear some music.
Rock’n’Bowl is an old New Orleans institution. It’s now in a new building that I’m told is roughly based on the layout of the old place, down the street. It’s really big…maybe as big as Mississippi Nights with about a dozen bowling lanes across the back of the place, a kitchen off to the left (I could still get red beans and rice through the kitchen window at midnight), a big “island” style bar in the middle and a stage on the right. Here’s a link to a video that gives a little history/overview of the place: http://tinyurl.com/mwygvl
All of the bowling lanes were occupied and the dance floor was pretty full (lots of folks squeezed in to get one last dose of live music before the weekend ends) when Tab Benoit (and band) took the stage. One song had a rollicking, Cajun feel to it, but most of their set was more straight-ahead electric blues. I mostly hung toward the back of the room, with one ear on the music and one on Neal telling me all about his weekend at Jazzfest.
Closing things out tonight was Louisiana’s own Sonny Landreth. I’m only marginally familiar with his music, but his songs (delivered via his slick slide guitar licks) have a characteristic stutter (is it called staccato?) to them. The crowd was plenty full and locked in, even as Sunday night became Monday morning. Sonny closed his set out with his ever-catchy hit, “Back To Bayou Teche”. By the time they finished up their one-song encore, it was way late- we made I back to that comfy porch overlooking Bayou St. John around 1:30…just enough time for one last beer.
4/28/09 Ponderosa Stomp, House of Blues, New Orleans. The day started out with Joe and me unloading a carload of LPs at this cool old building right on the main public square in the heart of New Orleans’ French quarter. The building is now a history museum and the room in which all of the record dealers were set up was the actual room where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. I had not participated (on either side of the table) in one of these record shows in years…the usual assortment of aging, heavy-set music enthusiasts…nice enough folks who roughly fit the stereotype. We loaded out and made it back to the B & B in the late afternoon. An hour or so later, we took the streetcar back downtown to The House Of Blues for the Ponderosa Stomp.
Their website (http://www.ponderosastomp.com/ ) can give you a more detailed description, but in short, this two-night festival (nestled into the Tuesday and Wednesday nights between the two weekends of Jazzfest) showcases American musicians from a generation (or two) ago. The genres represented run the range and include blues, country, rockabilly, garage rock, R & B and soul. The House Of Blues was heavily air-conditioned as we walked in at around 6PM (maybe pre-chilled in anticipation of hundreds of warm bodies arriving). The room is somewhere in between The Pageant and Off Broadway, both in size and feel. A small doorway off of the balcony leads to a whole ‘nother live music room/bar, about the size of The Hi-Pointe, where Johnny Powers was playing a fun little rockabilly set. During this set, we ran into a bunch of friends from all over the country, loosely associated with Twangfest. From there, we freely wandered about the club, alternating between the two stages, catching up with friends and meeting new ones.
Back downstairs we caught a set by Classie Ballou…he’s this big ol’ black guy who played a stinging electric guitar while seated in a chair. I think his backing band consisted of some of his children (and even a grandchild!). He ended his brief set with a cover of “Sweet Home Alabama”…I like this classic rock song OK, but it seemed a bit out of place in a showcase of this old-school bluesman.
Next up was Memphis’ The Hi Rhythm Section (b, d, g and 3 keyboards!). A couple of different lead singers stepped in: Percy Wiggins sang “Sexual Healing” and Otis Clay did “Love And Happiness” (I think HRS backed Al Green on the original recording).
The proceedings run so long (5 PM to 3AM, both nights) that most folks opt for a dinner break at some point. Joe and I walked over to a place for red beans and rice. We got back from dinner just as James Blood Ulmer was leaving the stage. The crowd size (and makeup) was just about ideal- the place was full, but you could freely move about and I never seemed to be far from a familiar face in the crowd.
Next up on the big stage was Dale Hawkins. He’s been through some health problems lately and it seemed like it was a bit of an effort getting up on stage, but he rose to the occasion and made people happy. His backing band included the legendary James Burton and Deke Dickerson. Both laid on the impressive licks. I’m not remembering the songs, other than his big hit “Suzie Q” (their closing number).
Then came The Remains (b, d, k and Barry Tashian on guitar and vocals). I know Tashian through his work with Gram and Emmylou, but have always known about his involvement with this legendary garage rock band. They played some spirited pop/rock, including “Hang On Sloopy” and their biggest hit, “Don’t Look Back”. I liked it just fine, but it didn’t grab me like vintage garage rock songs like “Pushing Too Hard” or “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.
Between bands on the main stage, I made it back upstairs to catch the last song by The Legendary Stardust Cowboy- this eccentric showbiz veteran does a ragged psychobilly thing with a high novelty value. Reference points would be Hasil Adkins, Nervous Norvis and The Cramps. By the time I got there, late in the set, The Ledge was hopping around all shirtless and was blowing on a trumpet as his backing trio laid into some dark, badass garage-rock. The crowd ate it up.
The last act I saw on opening night was Howard Tate. Backed by a big ol’ soul band (b, d, g, k and 4 horns!), Tate wore a stylish suit, sang with authority and owned the crowd. I was previously unfamiliar, but some of my hard-core friends are big fans and were locked in. The only songs I remember were “Aint Nobody Home” and “Get It While You Can”. I know the latter from Janis’ cover; tonight the horn section really lit it up.
I think there were more bands playing on into the early morning, but we headed out at around 2AM. Just by chance, we happened to look across the street and saw The Legendary Stardust Cowboy making his exit, all by himself. His spurs were still attached to his boots and jingled as he walked down the street with his arms wrapped around the rest of his stage props/clothing. Anyone who hadn’t seen him onstage an hour ago would have easily mistaken him for yet another of New Orleans’ disturbed homeless population.
4/29/09 Ponderosa Stomp, House of Blues, New Orleans. The B & B where we were staying had a couple of bicycles, so Joe and I spent part of the morning riding around that big city park where Jazzfest is held. We also rode through one of those old spooky above-ground New Orleans cemeteries (remember the one that they go through while tripping on acid in Easy Rider?). Another highlight was when we came upon a homemade shrine to Jon Bon Jovi that someone had lovingly crafted in their front yard. We had lunch with a couple who run the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund; Joe had some checks for them- the proceeds from sales of the 7” records he produced. These folks had lots of entertaining stories about New Orleans musicians. After an afternoon power nap, it was back over to The House Of Blues for the second (and final) night of The Ponderosa Stomp.
The first thing we saw tonight was the New Orelans Revue. There was an all-star band backing a revolving door of old-school R & B/blues/soul singers: David Batiste, Rocky Charles, Warren Strom (looking every bit like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton), Skip Easterling (smiling big like a televangelist, he sang a very sexually suggestive song), Jerry McCain (a guy in his eighties laying on the harmonica) and Tony Owens (sporting a bright orange suit) all got a moment in the spotlight. For those not familiar (like me), there was an easel off to the side of the stage with placards displaying the names of each singer as he/she sang; the cards were ceremoniously placed on the easel by scantily-clad showgirls as each artist came and went.
It’s great that the organizers (specifically, founder Ira Padnos) have lovingly put together this festival showcasing overlooked musicians from years past. For some of the more well-known acts on the bill (Wanda Jackson, James Burton), the stomp is a great chance for big fans to catch a rare performance by a legendary star, but for the lesser-known artists, this is a nice chance to be seen/heard for the first time, even by hard-core music fans, like myself. I had never heard (nor heard of) about half of the acts that played each night. The sight of this ongoing cavalcade of stars from a by-gone era made me momentarily smile at the thought of a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary of old blues/rockabilly artists, kinda like “A Mighty Wind” meets Billy Cristal’s “Smelt Night” skit on SNL.
When the music wound down for a brief stage changeover, we ducked out for dinner, this time to a local Latino taco joint (mmm…Cuban sandwich). When we got back to the club, we heard Lazy Lester and Little Buck And The Buckaroos. The band included James Burton (I know him as a country/rock guitar player, but wasn’t too surprised that he could lay on the blues licks, as well) and Stanley Dural (aka Buckwheat Zydeco) tucked away in the corner on B3 organ. Somewhere in between bands, a couple got married onstage.
Changing gears abruptly, the next act was the legendary songwriter, Dan Penn. Seated in a chair, he played an acoustic guitar and was accompanied by Bobby Emmons on keyboards and backing vocals. The overall tone in the room went from raucous party vibe to quiet singer/songwriter mode. The crowd was surprisingly attentive and respectful, even through a few shaky sound problems. Hearing Penn deliver plaintive versions of classic originals “At The Dark End Of The Street” and “Do Right Woman” offered a unique reading of these songs, even if his own vocals/phrasing didn’t take me to the same place that versions by James Carr and Aretha Franklin have.
A bunch of our crew moved right up front just before Wanda Jackson came onstage. Backed by The Eccophonics (Deke Dickerson on guitar) and additional guitar help from James Burton, Wanda ran through a long set that covered lots of her hits; the rockers (“Fujiama Mama”, “Let’s Have A Party”, “Hot Dog”) as well as the ballads (“Right Or Wrong”, “Funnel Of Love”). At 72 years old, she’s still pretty vibrant and on top of it. Her gracious between-song banter included a shout out to Bonnie Raitt in the VIP section of the balcony and a testimony to the lord (which led in to “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”).
Next up was the highly-anticipated reunion appearance of Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney, the two founding songwriters of the legendary Flamin’ Groovies. This was their first gig together since 1971. They came onstage looking as peculiar as could be- Cyril sporting glasses, a loud, striped shirt and long, frizzy hair (Joe says it’s a wig) and Roy with his “Captain Kangaroo gone awry” look…but never mind their appearance- once they lit into the loud and rocking “Second Cousin” the room was abuzz. Their backing band was The A-Bones (with an assist from Yo La Tengo’s Irs Kaplan on keyboards)…everyone involved rose to the occasion and lovingly laid on the appropriate infectious noise. The next hour was a joyous blur; songs I remember included “Can't Explain”, “Shake Some Action”, “Tallahassee Lassie” and “Teenage Head”. This was the high point of the evening for just about everyone I talked to.
Much fanfare was involved in bringing out the 1AM act… first the guy who does the cartoon voice of Spongebob Squarepants came out and (in character) introduced the handler/manager who then, in turn, announced the arrival of ? And The Mysterians. I’m not sure I ever knew what ? looked like back in the day, but these days he takes his cues from Iggy Pop…he’s all lean/slinky/sexy/manic. Long dark (not a touch of grey) hair (gotta be a wig, huh?) hung out from beneath a cowboy hat and he wore a tight pair of black leather pants which seemed to be “enhanced” in the groin. He ran through a handful of energetic songs that I didn’t recognize for a good half hour before we decided that enough was enough, given our long drive tomorrow morning. I’m sure he saved his big hit, “96 Tears” for near the end of his set, but by then, we were back on the font porch of the guest house, winding down with one last beer, looking out over Bayou St. John.
For a more detailed (and informed) account of this year’s Ponderosa Stomp, check out this review by Rick Cornell: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/concertreview.asp?xid=404
5/8/09 The Greencards, House Concert. As has become the pattern, the band showed up in their van a couple of hours before the guests. Quite the assortment of people: Carol (bass & vocals) and Kym (many instruments & vocals) are from Australia, Eamon (violin/viola) is from UK, and Americans Jake (18 year-old acoustic guitar prodigy) and Ryan (it’s a luxury when the band brings a sound man) rounded out the crew. Ryan got down to business during a brief sound check and things sounded great. About 85 people showed up tonight, including our next-door neighbors, who finally got a glimpse into what goes on here…we specifically invited them to this one, thinking it would be pretty impressive and accessible, even to people who were previously unfamiliar with the band.
It was still light outside when the band opened set one with the lively mandolin/fiddle/guitar instrumental, “Two O’Clock”. Next came the dreamy “Outskirts Of Blue”…Carol’s pastoral vocals in this one might get her compared to Allison Krauss. “The Avenue” has a syncopated, fiddle-driven gypsy feel to it. “The Ghost of Who We Were” was an early highlight, with Carol’s stark, confessional lyrics/vocals and Eamon’s solemn fiddle. Their onstage banter was cordial and charming, all delivered in heavy accents. Eamon gave a nice little shout-out to all of the cool artwork he saw around the house. Aw, shucks.
I’ll stop short of listing and describing each song, but things varied from slow/moody to fast/lively, from instrumental to lyrical, keeping things interesting all along the way. Carol sang the more traditional “Weather And Water” and Kym sang “Life's a Freeway”…the latter is as up-tempo as the name would imply, with impressive flat-picking/fiddle/mandolin interplay throughout. Kym also laid on some high-lonesome vocals to the high-octane bluegrass romp, “Lonesome Side of Town”. Set one ended with Patty Griffin’s ballad, “What You Are”, Carol on wistful vocals and Eamon on a somber, droning fiddle.
Kym kicked off set two with an extended mandolin solo leading in to the up-tempo “Another Night”, from which an extended fiddle/mandolin workout evolved. Carol sang the peaceful/pastoral Carter family ballad “Bury Me”, supported by mournful fiddle and some of that single-mic harmonizing on the choruses. Things got a bit eastern on the contemplative instrumental, “Su Prabhat” (…that’s Hindi for “Good Morning”) as Eamon’s fiddle alternated between plucked patterns and a sustained low drone. Next came “Tiger Rag”- it’s a lively, fiddle-driven instrumental with some speedy, nimble mandolin and guitar breaks thrown in. The melodic ballad, “The Time” was a poignant highlight, Carol laying on the haunting vocals. Not surprisingly, they closed things out with a rousing, rapid-fire instrumental (“Marty’s Kitchen”). Their one-song encore, “You Pulled Me Out”, had a similar feel to when The New Grass Revival would wind things out, giving each player one last turn in the spotlight. Nothing too memorable about the after-hours…the band sold and signed merch and hit the road by around eleven and I did my usual solitary wind-down/clean up. The place was pretty much back to normal when the family woke up the next morning.
5/9/09 Centro-matic, Off Broadway. The evening started off with a private dinner party at Local Harvest restaurant down on Morgan Ford…Angela and Donna celebrated birthdays as multiple courses came and went from our long table. Spiced chicken wings and lamb meatballs were my personal favorites. After we closed the place down, Nancy headed home while Dave, Angela and I made our way to Off Broadway.
We showed up just as Monahans were starting up. Greg on guitar and vocals, Britton on bass/keys/harmonica with a stand-up (literally) drummer. They simmered til they shimmered.
There isn’t much more I can say about Centro-matic that I haven’t already said in the dozen or so times I’ve seen ‘em. They’re as eccentric as ever…their aesthetic is uniquely their own, from their odd haircuts to their quirky stage presence (Will is the only guy I know of who can play/sing an entire song standing on one leg). This time I ended up focusing on how Matt’s drumming confidently guides a song from a slow, aching dirge zone into some exhilarating, jump-up-and-down territory. As for song highlights, my after-the-fact memory comes up with “Flashes and Cables” and “The Mighty Midshipman”. Dave shined in his role as designated driver, getting me home just before 2AM.
5/14/09 Blue Mountain, Off Broadway. I got there in time to hear the last handful of songs by The Brothers Lazaroff. This local five-piece (b, d, g, g, k) are very tight and well-polished. Tenement Ruth played next. The guy on guitar/lap steel played with an urgent abandon and the female singer reminded me a bit of Natalie Merchant. I only heard a few songs before going out to say “Hi” to some friends in the smoker’s lounge.
Getting a crowd to Off Broadway on a weeknight (especially with the highways all messed up) can be an iffy proposition…tonight’s crowd was also diminished by the fact that KDHX was hosting its annual free-to-members Midwest Mayhem party across town at The City Museum. The success of that party (1,200 in attendance) came at the expense of tonight’s turnout at OB…I felt bad for the club owner and the bands, all of whom deserve better.
Blue Mountain came on at around eleven in front of maybe 40 people. We all would have preferred a better turnout tonight, but once the band started, it was time to focus on the music. Cary and Laurie have a musical chemistry that hits that spot every time they play. They now have a new drummer- Tim has picked up on the material and nails it just fine, but it was a bit sad to hear that Frank was no longer in the band.
The set list wasn’t much different from the past few times I’ve seen them; songs we all know and love: “Jimmy Carter”, “Generic America”, “Wink”, “Mountain Girl”, “Band Called Bud”, “Lakeside”, “Midnight In Mississippi”, etc. “Soul Sister” and “Blue Canoe” (a couple of my favorites) showed up near the end. They encored with “Shady Grove”. The band followed me home where we hung out catching up over a couple more beers until almost 3AM. They hit the road for Dubuque around 10 the next morning.