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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 84
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 84
6/26/09 Bill Kirchen, Webster Groves Gazebo. I showed up about a half hour before show time. There was a decent crowd out, considering the 90+ degree heat. I got a chance to say “Hi” to Bill and band (Jack O'Dell on drums and Mac Cridlin on bass) before they started up…nice to finally meet after several rounds of emails and phone calls. After Darren Snow’s introduction, the band opened with “Too Much Fun”, one of the good-time party anthems from back in Bill’s days as lead guitar player in Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen. From there, they went into a string of several songs from Bill’s solo career, mostly in that honky tonk/rockabilly/dieselbilly vein allowing for lots of big, bold Telecaster leads. A couple of Bob Dylan covers stood out: “The Times They Are A Changing” (this one rang especially melodic and joyous) and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” as did Del Reeves’ “Looking At The World Through A Windshield”.
These Webster Gazebo shows are a bit of an odd gig as the music is essentially the opening act for a twilight open-air, big-screen movie feature (tonight it was “City Slickers”). BK’s set (especially his guitar playing) was impressive and accessible enough that it went over well, even with people who had never heard of him before. They closed out this relatively brief set with “Hot Rod Lincoln”. In this one, Bill takes an extended detour from the song/story to name-check a number of pop music icons (Cash, Orbison, Stones, Beatles, Elvis, Jimi, etc.), followed by a brief trademark guitar lick from each act…it’s a natural show-closing crowd pleaser.
After the band sold and signed CDs and packed into their rented car, they followed me back to our place, where Nancy was just pulling into the driveway from Ray’s baseball game. Mac opted to go straight to his air-conditioned bedroom, while Bill, Jack, Nancy and I walked over to Oceano for a late dinner.
6/27/09 Bill Kirchen, House Concert. The day started off with us feeding the band breakfast and hanging out a little bit before heading over to the ballpark. It was the first trip to the new Busch Stadium for all three band members. We only stayed for three innings in the scorching heat (long enough to see Albert hit one home run and hear the roar of the crowd for homer #2) before heading back home to chill (literally and figuratively) before tonight’s house concert.
About 85 people showed up and things started up right at eight, while it was still plenty bright outside. BK introduced the band and off they went, opening with “Hammer Of The Honky Tonk Gods”…this one name-checks a bunch of Telecaster players and features some hard, driving leads. Things varied stylistically from song-to-song allowing BK’s chops to shine in many different ways. “If You’re Gonna Get Gone” had a catchy swing to it while “Rocks Into Sand” found Bill laying on a range of tones, high and low. His nod to his days as lead guitar player in Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen was the “hazardous cargo trilogy”: “Wine Do Your Stuff”, “Seeds And Stems Again Blues” (the old stoners’ weeper; Cody played it here last summer) and “Semi-Truck” (vintage 70s dieselbilly).
A slow, soulful take on Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh” was followed by as perky/string-bending version of Buck Owen’s “Buckaroo” as you’ll ever hear. It would get a bit repetitive to gush about Bill’s leads as I describe each song, even though I was blown away a just about every turn. BK often closes out his shows with his calling card song- “Hot Rod Lincoln”, but tonight he busted it out at the end of set one. By now, I’ve heard it a dozen times, but I never get tired of the rapid-fire “name the artist- rattle off a trademark guitar lick” thing that Bill superimposes onto this old CC&HLPA hit. It’s entertaining and technically impressive. The crowd ate it up.
Set two focused entirely on Bill’s post-Cody material: “Hillbilly Truck Driving Man” (more dieselbilly), “Swing Fever” (as hopped-up as the title would imply) and “I Couldn’t Pass The Bar” (a humorous C & W ballad, written and sung by Jack, the drummer) all showed up early in the set. Bill was really liking the sound he was getting through the guitar amp he was using tonight…on loan from my buddy Tony Fafoglia, who showed up early to deliver the amp and talk guitars with BK. A few other songs I remember from set two included “Rockabilly Funeral” (a Tony F request), “Man At The Bottom Of The Well” (an actual rock song, with echoes of Jimi H) and “Sleepwalk” (the classic dreamy instrumental, complete with whistling part). They closed the set out with Dylan’s “Tom Thumb’s Blues”, Bill laying on some soaring, inspiring leads.
After a brief duck out to the patio out back, the band emerged for a one-song encore. The band started out in their standard setup as they launched into the old country-blues standard, “Milk Cow Blues”. About halfway through the song, Jack picked up the snare drum and stood right beside Bill, who then put down his guitar and picked up a trombone (lent by my friend, Joe H). From there, BK launched into a New Orleans-style trombone romp as he marched (with Jack on snare close behind) out into the crowd and through each room of the house, eventually re-emerging in the kitchen to rejoin the bass player. Jack limbo-danced beneath Bill’s trombone on his way back to the drum kit as the band wound things down…quite the grand finale.
Amid the usual wind-down (merch sales, saying “goodnight” to folks) my buddy Neal showed up from a catering gig with lots of leftover lobster, flank steak and side dishes. There was enough to feed the band as well as the hosts. The next morning, we fed the band breakfast before Nancy drove out to the airport with them…a really fun weekend, all around. I’m guessing we’ll stay in touch with these guys.
7/18/09 Susan Cowsill, Off Broadway. I hustled down to the club from the ball game (a 4-2 Cardinals loss) shortly after the opening act finished up. I got a chance to catch up with few people before The Craft Brothers did a few songs…rich, moody guitar/cello/vocals blend. One song was introduced as a Radiohead cover (subtract coolness points for not recognizing it).
After a handful of songs, The Craft Brothers became part of the backing band for Susan Cowsill. Susan, along with Russ Broussard on drums and Mary LaSang on bass and vocals took the stage and delivered a fun and fresh set; way different than the last couple of times I saw her. The varied instrumentation (violin, keyboards, cello, guitar, bass, drums, washboard) added all manner of layers/texture to a bunch of new songs (presumably from Susan’ forthcoming record). At times, the sound quality was a bit blurred and at others, Susan seemed a bit scattered (possibly due to the newness of the songs and band). But these issues proved to be momentary and the crowd (maybe 50 people, most of whom were big fans) were loving it. A major highlight for me tonight was a pretty stirring cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston” and the ever-inspiring “Crescent City Snow”. The one-song encore was an a capella version of a Carla Bonoff song.
7/23/09 Jill Sobule, House Concert. With a bunch of other things on our July calendar, we had pretty much decided not to host a house concert this month. But out of the blue, I got an email from Jill’s agent…apparently Jill was coming to town for a family event (her niece’s high school graduation party) and looking to book a small-scale gig on about three weeks’ notice. Sure, why not?
Jill and her brother arrived just a little after six. Shortly after coming inside and looking around, she realized that she didn’t bring the CDs she was hoping to sell tonight, so her brother dutifully hopped back into the car and drove all the way back to Belleville (in rush-hour traffic, with no highway 40!) to pick up the merch. Meanwhile, Jill settled in and did a sound check. A bit later the room filled up with maybe 65 people. I was especially happy for my friend, Heather, who is a big JS fan. When Jill came downstairs a little before show time, I brought Heather over to introduce her. It went something like:
Rick: Hey Jill, this is my friend, Heather.
Jill: Hi, Heather
Heather: I love you.
Heather went on to explain how Jill’s songs had got her through some rough times and breakups. It makes me happy to have a hand in making other people happy. Within a few minutes, everyone had assembled in the music room, Heather parked in a chair, front and center.
It was still bright outside when Jill took the “stage”, looking all sweet and modest in her pretty dress, black calf-high boots, somewhat disheveled hair and sheepish smile. With a slight shrug, she observed, “this is intimate” and started into the loose, syncopated shuffle of “Where Is Bobbie Gentry”, which essentially mirrors BG’s “Ode To Billie Joe”. The custom guitar she plays is very unique- it looks as if someone has put a guitar neck onto the body of a mandolin. She plays it in an appropriately quirky manner…without a pick, she uses a combination of open-handed thumps and strums to get a very full, satisfying sound. Toward the end of this set-opener, she coached the audience into a sing-along of the spelled-out chorus…“B-O-double B-I-E, G-E-N-T-R-Y”.
Without a pre-conceived set list, she continued with another song from her current California Years CD- “Nothing To Prove” is a bit wordy, but tells a funny story (this description applies to a number of Jill’s songs). “Bitter” showed up fairly early in set one (requested in advance, by me)- this song has a stark, but reassuring melody, consistent with the confessional tone of its lyrics.
Next came “Hey Wendell” (?), a new song about “googling the first person you ever googled”. This one is so new that she had to have her teenage nephew hold the lyric sheet up in front of her. Wacky title notwithstanding, “Mexican Wrestler” is one of her more quiet and stark songs. “Cinnamon Park”, a song about the hippie days, featured an effects-distorted guitar solo and a tease of “Roundabout” by Yes. “Jet Pack” is another of Jill’s quirky, flight-of-fantasy (literally, in this case) songs. She ended set one with her shortest song; “Ritalin Kid” ends when Jill gets distracted ten seconds into it (get it?).
Jill opened set two with a request for requests…and quickly granted one for the quiet, contemplative “Houdini’s Box”. When she was momentarily lost in the lyrics, Heather fed her the next line. “Now That I Don't Have You” (a laid-out, breakup song) was followed by a funny story about working with Todd Rundgren when he produced her debut album. “Palm Springs” pairs a winning melody with lyrics that are half-haunting/half-absurd. “The Rapture” packs a healthy dose of good-natured agnosticism. “Karen By Night” tells the story about her boss, who turns out to be more interesting away from the workplace.
Things stayed engaging with “Angel/Asshole” (yet another quiet, confessional breakup song), “Spiderman” (a relaxed fantasy of her super-human traits) and “Heroes” (a brief, up-tempo rant about famous folks’ flaws). She wound things down with “Underdog Victorious”…it’s a nice, anthemic set-closer, complete with a trip into the crowd and an audience sing-along…toward the end, she stepped on a pedal and her guitar went out all loud/distorted/feedbacky. Jill barely left the “stage” before returning to encore with “I Kissed A Girl”. It’s got a real classic folk-rock melody and the story/message is one of forbidden discovery. This song made something of a splash when it “came out” in 1995 and remains her greatest hit.
Things wound down with Jill selling and signing CDs (with a big assist from her brother). The whole Sobule family (brother, nephew, nephew’s girlfriend) were all nice folks. I hope they all have a good time when Jill plays their high school graduation party in Belleville Saturday night.
8/7/09 Wussy, Off Broadway. A bunch of us spent the early part of the evening in the cool outdoor courtyard at The Royale. When we got to Off Broadway, we learned that the order of the bands had been switched around and the band we came to see would play last, so we resumed the drink and gab thing in the outdoor area of OB. At around midnight, Cincinnati’s Wussy went on in front of maybe 40 people. Their songs were melodic and engaging and the band put a lot of punch into it. The vocals in the PA were so bad that I’m not sure I could make out a single word in any song. Their overall stage presence has an endearing, anti-rock star quality to it. Just as they were hitting their stride and hitting that spot, they announced their last song. We all found it ironic (that would be the nice characterization) that we all waited a long time to hear the band and then they were squeezed for time and had to play an abbreviated set.