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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 87
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 87
10/17/09 Lucinda Williams, The Pageant. I missed the last time or two that Lucinda came to town, but when a friend emailed that she had a plus-one, I said “sure”. Attribute it to the economy or to the fact that LW comes here often, but the The Pageant wasn’t as painfully packed as other times when she’s played this room. We found a little standing room in front of the stage right before Buick 6 opened with an all-instrumental set. This four-piece (b, g, d & g/steel) from L.A. started off dreamy and atmospheric, ala Calexico. Just as I was wondering if they were gonna remain in murky mode or kick it up a notch, they lit things up, all hard and dark. Their second song was an instrumental version of Television’s “Marquee Moon” that got plenty urgent and shimmering toward the end. The drummer was emphatic and impressive…at some point, he did an intense solo reminiscent of The Grateful Dead, even more so, when one of the other band members joined in on a second drum set. They ended their brief set with a Led Zeppelin song I’m not remembering; the shouted “aaaaaaahhhh...” (no it wasn’t “Immigrant Song”) was the only vocal they imparted all night.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me when Buick 6 came back out as the backing band for Lucinda Williams. Having seen/heard Lu in several instrumental settings over the years, it was nice to hear her songs done up by this bunch of younger musicians whom I had just got excited about a half hour earlier. The other pleasant surprise was the format for Lucinda’s current tour. Since a typical LW tour focuses on her current CD (with scattered songs from the album or two before it), it was nice that tonight’s set list was a chronological retrospective of her 30 year-old recording career. She opened with a couple of songs from her early Folkways records. Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin On My Mind” stood out.
From there the set list included two or three songs from each of her albums. My favorite segment was the three-song run from her self-titled breakthrough album. “Crescent City” (the melody and lyrics are as relaxed and easy as the town it describes), “Big Red Sun Blues” and “Side Of The Road” (a haunting “I love you, but I sometimes wonder” ballad) all had me in a zone. Sweet Old World was represented by the vivid loss/suicide tandem of “Little Angel Little Brother” and “Pineola”.
Car Wheels (Lucinda’s other breakthrough record) is such a significant milestone in her discography that it rated four songs in this retrospective (“Greenville”, “I Lost It”. “Lake Charles” and “Still I Long For Your Kiss”). My personal votes would have been for “Right In Time” and “Metal Firecracker”, but I wasn’t asked. “Lake Charles” was pleasing, with its lush, dreamy melody and wistful lyrics.
The second half of the show (naturally) followed the same pattern, as LW’s more recent albums were visited. This is the period where I felt her songwriting became less about catchy, ringing melodies (think “Am I Too Blue?” or “Metal Firecracker”) and more based on a sustained, soulful groove. Not my favorite period, but the rich, layered treatment that the guys in Buick 6 applied gave me something to latch on to and appreciate. Blue and Essence were represented by their title tracks. “Righteously” and “Come On” got the later-period blues/groove treatment as well. She closed the set out with the hard, syncopated “Honey Bee”, the whole band jumping around pretty good.
The three-song encore was an encapsulated redo of tonight’s set. She began with an early blues cover (Memphis Minnie’s “Nothing In Rambling”), moved on to a mid-period original (the hard, rhythmic “Joy” from Car Wheels) and closed things out with a hard-rocking “guilty pleasure” cover from her latest release (AC/DC’s “It's a Long Way to the Top”).
After the show, Angela (Angela B, not Angela M) and I hung around the club for a bit. She’s friends with Lucinda and had scored us a couple of “after party” passes, so we hovered, along with a couple of other people, by the stage door waiting for the door man to give us the “OK” to go on backstage for a little “meet and greet” with LW. After about twenty minutes, Lucinda’s tour manager came out and told us that Lu was wiped out from the cumulative toll of this tour and had already gone back to the hotel, so no “meet”, no “greet”. He went on to say that the band was staying at The Ritz Carlton and that if we wanted to stop by the bar, people may be assembling there after a while.
So now we had to decide whether to hustle down to Deluxe to catch what was left of The Supersuckers’ show or head over to The Ritz to see if any of the band was gonna show up at the hotel bar. Angela was really hoping to catch up with Lucinda, so we opted for the hotel, arriving just as the tour bus was pulling up. Angela thought it would be easy enough to shout in to Lucinda on the bus and get to hang out, but the hotel staff wouldn’t let her approach the bus (I’m sure that keeping fans away from rock stars is an ongoing chore at this high-end hotel).
Not quite sure what to do, we went inside and got a drink at the hotel bar where a hundred well-dressed white people were drinking and dancing to a fairly sterile bar band that was playing “That Old Time Rock And Roll” and “Play That Funky Music, White Boy”. Eventually Angela made another attempt to contact Lucinda, this time via the front desk. As you might guess, this was also unsuccessful. Shortly after the guy at the front desk summoned a cop, I drove Angela home.
11/6/09 Son Volt, The Pageant. Still not quite over a nagging cold, I had decided to pass on tonight’s show, but a late offer of a free ticket was enough to get me out the door and over to The Pageant. I totally missed the opening act but really enjoyed the classic country music playing over the house PA as I met up with a few friends at a table tucked under the balcony. This location turned out to be less than ideal, acoustically. As soon as Son Volt opened with “The Picture”, a handful of us found our way onto the floor, right up front. The crowd density was ideal- full and focused, but with enough elbow room to allow trips to and from the bar.
The current incarnation of Son Volt is a five-piece: Jay Farrar on (usually acoustic) guitar with the rhythm section of Dave Bryson (d) and Andrew Duplantis (b) remaining from the more recent SV outings and are now joined by James Walbourne on lead guitar/lap steel and Mark Spencer (Jay’s right-hand man during his solo album days) on keyboards and pedal steel.
By now, Jay has achieved a near-legendary status in my book…not far behind the likes of Neil Young or Bob Dylan. Over the years (decades, actually), he’s provided me with some of the most memorable and engaging music I’ve known, from haunting acoustic ballads to roaring electric anthems, and many points in between. For me, the Bob/Neil analogy runs further- as much as each has thrilled me through the years, I haven’t always followed the changes and can’t claim to universally love everything they’ve done. I guess this is a tactful way of saying that the current American Central Dust CD (as well as tonight’s show) is not my favorite chapter in the ongoing Son Volt saga. In looking around the room and talking to friends afterward, it’s clear that mine is the minority opinion, but I gotta call it like I see it, even if I feel like a heretic for offering anything less than total praise.
To my ears (and sensibilities), Jay’s current batch of songs are plenty heartfelt and presented with top-notch musicianship, but the overall tone lingers in a slow-to-mid-tempo zone that doesn’t grab me like his material has at other times. As much as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to latch on to the songs in a way that has me jumping up and down, lost in the moment or humming the songs the next day (something that happened frequently in the past). I didn’t hate it…I just felt bad that I wasn’t loving it as much as everyone else around me.
“Ten Second News”, "Big Sur" (from that Kerouac-inspired collaboration with the guy from Death Cab For Cutie), "Cocaine and Ashes" (a new one about (and inspired by) Keith Richards…like a grunge-free “Whiskey Bottle”) and “Medication” (hypnotically eastern and droney) all worked in a slow, soulful zone. “Damn Shame” and “Afterglow 61” were among the up-tempo exceptions.
“Windfall” and “Tear-Stained Eye” (two classics from the 1995 debut CD), have become to a Son Volt show what “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” are to a Steve Earle show- obligatory crowd-pleasers that get everyone singing along. I love all four of these songs, but given the depth and breadth of both songwriters’ (Farrar and Earle) back catalogs, I wouldn’t mind seeing these predictable warhorses occasionally give way to equally engaging, less obvious older songs.
One of the most anticipated parts of a Son Volt show is seeing what surprise cover(s) they might bust out during the encore. It’s actually a two-part experience- there’s the initial thrill of recognizing some cool, semi-obscure song, followed by being swept away on a joyous ride as the band winds it out and rips it up. Over the years, we’ve basked in the glow of songs like “Shake Some Action”, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, “Looking At The World Through A Windshield” and “Cortez The Killer”. I’d have to say that both of tonight’s covers weren’t as satisfying on both counts: Doug Sahm’s “I’m Not That Kat Any More” is a fine song and the band found a mid-tempo groove with it, but it didn’t sound all that different than what The Bottlerockets did with it on their Songs Of Sahm tribute CD a few years back. And Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” was given a low-key, held-in-check treatment- musically nuanced and textured, but pale in comparison to the rompin’, stompin’ ass-whooping that Jay (as a member of Uncle Tupelo) gave this same song sixteen (or so) years ago.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m clearly in the minority on this, so you should be able to find plenty of rave reviews of tonight’s show. As is the pattern, a bunch of us wound down with a nightcap or two in The Halo Bar after the show.
11/15/09 Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express, House Concert. This was one of those rare Sunday house concerts…I spent the early part of the afternoon coaching my nine-year-old’s flag football team (a win in their season finale) and got home about an hour before the band rolled in from Kansas City. They ran through a sound check that featured one loud and one quiet, melodic song. We fed them dinner as the pretty big crowd began to show up.
Chuck and band (b, d, g, k) started things up with a loud song called “Styrofoam” (apparently, it’s an early Stiff single by Tyla Gang…not that I would have known)…it’s got this joyous, romping repeated hook, that’s like a rockier version of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”. The second song also featured a repeated hard, electric hook that found James DePrato trading some slurred leads back and forth with Chuck. Being the host, I was a bit nervous that the volume might be too much for the neighbors, but soon I was too caught up in the music to worry about it.
Throughout, Chuck displayed his sly, unedited observational humor. He introduced “Abandoned Love” by saying something like “In true Bob Dylan fashion, this is how it’s gonna go down- I’m gonna noodle a while on the guitar and the band’s gonna fall into place and we’re gonna get into a groove and then it’s just gonna go…” And it was gorgeous…Stephanie Finch contributing a couple of verses and harmony vocals.
Other set one highlights included “Wasn’t I Always A Friend To You?” (Chuck co-wrote this glorious pop/rock anthem with Alejandro Escovedo), “Hot Talk” (like a more urgent “Sultans Of Swing” with some Greg Kihn “Ah Ah Ah”s thrown in), “For You” (Springsteen cover) and “Let Freedom Ring” (more cowbell!). Toward the end, the band left the “stage” for Chuck to close things out in solo acoustic mode: “Summertime Thing” (half of the verses were sung through Chuck’s distorto-mic) and “We Had It All”, a beautiful and tender ballad (I think it’s a Harry Belafonte song) featuring some nice harmonizing between Chuck and Stephanie.
During the break between sets, a woman came up to me and told me that she had accidentally flushed a pill bottle down our toilet (it apparently fell out of her back pocket as the toilet was flushing). I told her we’d keep an eye out for a malfunctioning toilet…
Set two started with the light, playful “Where Does A Little Tear Come From?” (bright keyboards and twangy guitar on this George Jones cover) before Chuck and band lit into the opening track from their current Let Freedom Ring CD- “Sonny Liston’s Blues”…they ripped and rocked like a darker, more urgent version of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
This is probably as good of a place as any to point out the contrast between this dark and funky music and the setting: an early-evening pot-luck get-together of 30-to-50 year-olds in the suburbs. I guess you can’t really deny who you are…the world spins us all around in different ways and this is where I’ve ended up- smack in the middle of a good school district. On the plus side, the crowd truly was appreciative of this awe-inspiring performance and the band got a pretty good turnout (and door take) for a Sunday night. Chuck took it all in good humor, letting us know that, “it was a pleasure to play at your Tupperware party…”
Chuck also gave us a long, animated story about his experience recording his latest album in Mexico City (in which he was the uptight white guy) as an intro to the slow, soulful ballad “You And Me Baby (Holding On)”. Stephanie then sang a couple: “Don't Back Out Now” (intense, Television-esque leads traded back and forth) and an impressive version of the Motown hit “Do Right Woman”. This was right around the time that it was brought to my attention that the toilet was, indeed, stopped up. So just as Chuck was slaying us with a fairly accurate and wicked take on Alex Chilton’s “Bangkok”, I was borrowing the neighbor’s plunger and scribbling a sign that said something like: “out of order…use the upstairs bathroom”. It was only upon watching the DVD that John shot a week or so later that I really got to fully appreciate the middle part of set two.
Once our little crisis was (at least temporarily) addressed, I was once again able to focus on the music. Songs like “Love Won’t Keep Us Apart” (James on double-neck guitar) and “Barely Exist” (a vivid tale of the plight of illegal aliens typical of Chuck’s vocal delivery which drifts from singing to speaking) stood out. Chuck left us with a rocker and implored everyone to, “drive home safe in your Volvos tonight”. The band hung around for a while, selling and signing CDs. Eventually we loaded the driver up with caffeine and the rest of the band with beer and they hit the road around 11:30…they’re playing in Raleigh Tuesday night.
11/19/09 Ezra Furman & The Harpoons, Firebird. Tonight was just like the old days…I worked until around 9PM and went straight from work to the bar. This was my first time at Firebird, which is a slightly reconfigured Bluebird club. When I walked in, some guy with an acoustic guitar was playing a solo opening set. He played a clean style of guitar-picking and his songs were all sensitive and confessional. If you closed your eyes, you might think it was a girl singing. There were a handful of guys standing in front of the stage and as many over by the bar loudly talking and laughing.
The crowd swelled to somewhere between 40 and 50 when Ezra Furman & The Harpoons took the stage. Ezra does a quirky indie-rock thing, singing in a high, eccentric voice that made me think of people like Pete Shelley, Nikki Sudden and Wayne Coyne. Lead guitarist Andrew Langer laid on the licks and fit right in to the mix. It was odd seeing him sporting a beard and loose-fitting flannel shirt after years of seeing him as a member of The Redwalls (where he was clean-cut and wore a vest, consistent with the sixties Brit-pop vibe that band radiated). The only song I recognized was Daniel Johnston’s “Walking The Cow”.
11/21/09 Lisa Warner and John Ellis, Deluxe. Nancy and I got there in time to order dinner (Hawaiian chicken salad sandwich and meatloaf w/ mashed potatoes, respectively) and catch up with a few friends before the music started.
There were maybe 50 people on hand for the opening set by Rough Shop. Tonight Fred Gumaer was sitting in on drums (Spencer was playing with his Springsteen tribute band across town) and Andy played electric guitar all night. Songs I remember (in no particular order) included: “No Hiding Place” (each member sang a verse), Michael Freidman’s “Everything You Love”, Zevon’s “Roland”, The Louvins’ “You’re Running Wild (Andy on vocals…this one lends itself to a mandolin treatment, but worked with electric guitar), “I See Shadows” (Anne), Hank’s “Mind Your Own Business” (Fred on lead vocals!) and “Final Wild Son” (they really found a groove on this one). Nancy headed home to the kids after this set and I found my way to some friends at another table.
Next up was Lisa Warner and John Ellis. These St. Louis expats now live in the Dallas area, but come back to town with some regularity, collaborating with a number of local musicians- eight people onstage tonight: bass, drums (Fred G), percussion (Brian Smith on tambourine/maracas), dobro (Bob Breidenbach), accordion, fiddle (Geoff Seitz), with Lisa and John on guitar and vocals.
They did a number of songs (presumably originals?) that I was unfamiliar with. This kind of long-distance collaboration makes for some interesting dynamics; the band wasn’t always spot-on, but all members are pretty accomplished, so it all worked. The band would establish a groove/tempo/tone from which isolated solos took off. Bob’s dobro sounded less twangy than most and more often sounded like straight-up slide guitar (think Duane Allman). Lisa’s voice is in the approximate Maria McKee range. Toward the end, they pulled out covers of “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and “Hip Shake”; the latter sounded like the slower version of Los Lobos’ “Don’t Worry Baby”. It was here that each instrument sounded most fully mixed and developed…bass and accordion especially kicked in.
11/30/09 Jill Sobule and Erin McKeown, Off Broadway. A pretty good crowd (over 150 people) came out on a Monday night. Heather and I found a couple of chairs near the back of the floor (I kinda figured I would run into her) right as Jill Sobule started her opening set. Accompanied by Erin Mc on guitar, they opened with a song they had written that day about St. Louis; it name-checked Nelly, the Rams, Miles Davis, #2 in crime rate, etc. This song isn’t likely to make it onto an album, but there was a certain charm in hearing a brand-new song, the one-and-only time it might ever be played. From there, EMc left the stage and Jill started into her solo set, beginning with the soulful groove of “Where Is Bobby Gentry?” I have to say that I got spoiled by the extended, intimate show Jill did at our house. With less time available, Jill could only do about half as many songs as she did in July.
Jill’s songs are gripping slice-of-life confessional narratives that might get too introspective, were it not for the modest, self-deprecating humor that always seems to accompany them. All of the above was in evidence (in varying proportions) on “I’ve Got Nothing To Prove”, “Mexican Wrestler”, “Cinnamon Park”, “Jetpack”, “Wonder Lost” and “The Rapture”. If anyone is really interested (as if…), I wrote a little more about each song in my journal entry from 7/23/09.
This being late November, Jill busted out a cover of Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas From The Family”…this one paints an endearing picture of a dysfunctional cast of characters, kinda like some of Jill’s originals.
Somewhere in here, I should give a little shout-out to Off Broadway- they had it down tonight: good sound and sightlines for everyone seated in the rows of folding chairs.
Headlining tonight’s all-female double-bill (lots of female couples in the crowd…no line at the mens’ room) was Erin McKeown. She does a tough, rockabilly-ish thing with that Merle Travis-like simultaneous bass/lead thing on a hollowbody Gibson. She’s got a butch look going, as if KD Lang had decided to ape Brian Setzer. Her voice reminded me a bit of that of Kirsty MacColl (made me think that Kirsty’s “Caroline” would work sung by a woman of any orientation). She played keyboards on a couple of songs- when she did, the prancing lope of the songs reminded me of Supertramp (only more gay). Not that I would have recognized them, but I was able to recognize these titles from a quick scan of some album tracklists: “To A Hammer”, “Beautiful (I Guess)”, “James” (I especially liked this one) and “Rhode Island Is Famous For You”. Erin and Jill are near the end of their collective tour and there was plenty of in-jokes and hijinks tonight, including an exhortation on the “Christian side hug” (a form of platonic salutation that avoids the dangers posed in a full frontal hug) and a playful/ironic duet of Riskay’s “Smell Yo Dick”. I had to go hear the original on youtube and now it’s stuck in my head. Another good thing about tonight’s show was the timing- things started (and consequently) ended relatively early. I made it home (via Del Taco) by eleven…not bad for a Monday night.
12/1/09 Camera Obscura, Vintage Vinyl. Since tonight’s show at Off Broadway has been sold out for some time, a bunch of us had to settle for this early-evening in-store performance. There were over a hundred people lining the aisles of the record store when I got there. This Scottish pop band is hugely popular among some of my friends, but for whatever reason, has until recently escaped my attention. The handful of songs I heard this evening sounded fresh and fun. Lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s haunting, plaintive voice is the centerpiece of their sound, which is fleshed out by guitar (acoustic on some songs, electric on others), glockenspiel and a tinny, but emotional trumpet. The drummer pounded out a simple beat on tambourine similar to that on The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”. If you’re familiar with Belle And Sebastian (does this name automatically trigger the image of that Jack Black rant in “High Fidelity”?), it’s along those lines. A couple of songs that stood out were “James” and “Tears For Affairs”. Now I’m regretting that I came late to the party and will miss the full set later tonight.
12/4/09 Big Smith, House Concert. I had a pretty hectic day and had a few more things I needed to tend to after I drove the kids home from school. But as soon as we got out of the car, my nine-year-old asked if we could throw the football around outside (in the thirty degree weather). Sure…let’s do it. I played quarterback (with gloves on) while Ray ran patterns and caught my passes. We had been out in the front yard for about twenty minutes when a car with Arkansas plates pulled up- it was Roger, the sound man for the band. Apparently, the rest of the band was about a half hour behind him.
I took Roger inside and showed him our modest setup. It quickly became apparent that this guy has a really good understanding of sound equipment in general, and the specific sound and gear of his band, in particular. Shortly after the band (six musicians and a tour manager) loaded in, all available floorspace was covered with audio equipment, instruments and cases. The mixing board that these guys brought along made my eight-channel mixer look like a toy. I was less embarrassed than relieved that I would not be working sound tonight.
This being December (‘tis the season), the band was dusting off some of the Christmas songs they know, as well as learning a few they’ve never done before…they’ll be playing a big theatre show in Springfield, MO (their hometown) tomorrow night. Before any of the guests arrived, they set up and played a good long while; this served as a rehearsal, as well as a sound-check. They stopped long enough to eat from the spread of bar-b-q and fried chicken before the place filled up.
I guess I ought to start with a quick description of the band: it’s five guys and woman from southwest MO (mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, upright bass, drums and ukulele) that are all related: two sets of brothers (who are cousins to each other) and a fifth guy, who is also a cousin. Molly is married to the mandolin player. Are you getting an Ozark hillbilly image yet? The biggest guy (Rik, on ukulele) sports a big cowboy hat, long graying beard and a big ol’ belly protruding from a pair of Big Smith overalls. How about now? If you want to know more about them, there’s a nice documentary DVD available: http://www.mayapplerecords.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=DVD0100&Category_Code=
They opened up with “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”, Mark on lead vocals and Jay on washboard and quickly moved into an instrumental. Leads were freely traded between fiddle/mandolin/guitar…I’m only going to mention it once, but that’s pretty much what they do on any given song. Early on in the set, they also did “I Am A Pilgrim” (Jay on lead vocals, followed by everyone else on close harmonies, ending in an impressive four-part a capella). These guys all grew up going to church together and it shows, in both their song selection and ability to harmonize.
The feel of each song varied from speedy flat-picking (“Hard Headed Woman”) to Texas swing (“Texas Can Wait Til Tomorrow”) to something jazzy (“Aint Got Nobody”). A couple of their trademark songs showed up as well: “Backwater” (a loose, lazy feel to this one written & sung by Mark, with an extended guitar solo) and “12 Inch, 3 Speed, Oscillating Fan” (written by another of their cousins…it ends with some a capella singing and an audience clap-along). Along the way, they did up a couple of traditional Christmas songs, Johnny Cash style- “Rudolph” was sung to the tune of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” was sung to the tune of “I Walk The Line”.
While last month’s house concert with Chuck Prophet offered a bit of a clash of cultures (a ragged, spirited rock band ripping it up in front of an older, suburban/soccer-mom/dad crowd), tonight’s show found the band and audience much more on the same page- it was all pretty wholesome, with the Christmas tree set up beside the band and a number of kids in the house…some taking in the music, others chasing each other around the basement.
The band started set two by granting a request from our friends Dave and Angela- “No Sir” has a lighthearted, melodic feel to it, ala “Friend Of The Devil”. After that, set two was pretty much the Big Smith Christmas Pageant. We got treated to Bill Monroe’s “Christmas Time Is Coming” (now I know where the melody for The Bad Livers’ “Hogs On The Highway” came from). Next came “Christ Was Born In Bethlehem”- it started off with just big Rik on acoustic guitar and rich, clear vocals. He was eventually joined by the full band, one instrument joining in at a time. The crowd sat in stunned silence…this was clearly the musical highlight of the evening.
From there, the Christmas music came in many forms: an up-tempo instrumental medley of “Let It Snow>Frosty>Jingle Bells”, “Wenceslas” (done entirely a capella… “yes I was in madrigals in high school”) and “Beautiful Star” (another melodic traditional one). They snuck in one more non-seasonal song (“Crawdad Hole”- a real hoedown, complete with washboard solo) before wowing us with more four-part a capella magic on “Last Month Of The Year”. They closed this set out with their original, “Don’t Call Me Trash (‘til you’ve slept in my trailer)” with an extended, loose jam that got a few people (Angela among them) dancing around. The encore included “Angels We Have Heard On High”, sung to the tune of “Ring Of Fire”.
Immediately after each of these house concerts, my buddy John quickly runs off a DVD copy of the video he shot of the show and gives it to the band. Usually, the artist says “Thanks” and takes it watch later (if ever). But tonight the band promptly popped it in the DVD player and settled in with a few beers and watched it, in its entirety, staying up until well past midnight. Since they were trying out a bunch of new songs tonight (and were set to play in front of hundreds of people tomorrow night), they were intent on seeing how things went and offered up song-by-song critiques. Eventually everyone found their way to the assortment of beds and couches we had to offer at our little slumber party. We fed them all breakfast the next morning before they headed back to Springfield.
12/12/09 Rough Shop Christmas Show, The Focal Point. Rough Shop’s annual Christmas show has become an eagerly awaited event among a certain bunch of St. Louis music fans…tonight’s show sold out about a week in advance (a first). A handful of us (all old friends) arrived right around seven, and huddled into the entry alcove to stay out of a light rain until the doors opened. Within twenty minutes, the place was packed with lots of familiar faces- we all could have easily spent the evening just gabbing and catching up, but soon enough, it was time to find a seat and settle in for the music.
Given that they only do this once a year and that everyone will love whatever they do, it would have been real easy for the band (and all of their musical guests) to just dust off last year’s set list and be done with it, but everyone involved lovingly put together a fresh new batch of songs just for this one performance. They all poured their hearts into it and I felt honored and blessed to be among a bunch of good friends taking it all in.
The overall ensemble (the basic Rough Shop quartet joined by Jon Parsons on keys and Michael Ludwig on steel) anchored things through both sets while an impressive assortment of guest musicians came and went, carrying things through a range of tones and moods, from jolly to twangy to rocking to contemplative. Rather than give an in-depth, play-by-play of everything, I’ll direct anyone interested to Rough Shop’s youtube site, where you can watch most of tonight’s show, song-by-song: http://www.youtube.com/user/roughshop . If you have the time, it’s really worth checking out (a big shout-out to Roy Kasten for taking the time to set this up).
My personal highlight was “Little Wrapped Gift” http://www.youtube.com/user/roughshop#p/u/2/WhTEPwH2Rbk …it’s an adaptation of The Nightcrawlers 1965 hit, “Little Black Egg”- a cool pop song with an infectious jangle and swing to it; Toby Weiss on rich lead vocals with Kate Eddens and Anne Tkach on backing vocals. Other fun moments from set one included “Just Like Christmas” (Anne on lead vocals), “This Silent Night” (Steve Carosello & Anne on vocals, with a guest mandolin player and Andy on dobro) and the rock/pop guitar segment featuring Chris Grabau, John Horton and Joe Thebeau. Set one closed out with John Wendland (the consummate Christmas music fan and mastermind to this whole evening) singing Paul Kelly’s “How To Make Gravy”…it felt a bit like The Allmans’ “Sweet Melissa”, with a bunch of oohs and aahhs in the background.
Early on in set two, John W sang “Must Be Santa”…the tempo of this joyous standard was gradually turned up to the point that the band could barely hold it together. Things got all quiet and acoustic as Andy Ploof (national steel guitar, I think) and Colin Blair (fiddle) did “Santa’s Last Stop” (this one has a relaxed strum and easy vocals ala Robbie Fulk’s “You Wouldn’t Do That”) and “Heat Miser/Snow Miser” (a cool verse-trading song from the TV Christmas special “The Year Without Santa Claus”). I also enjoyed “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Toby sang lead on this one that started slow and soulful before jumping into hyperdrive), “Snowbound Girl” (a brand new John Wendland composition, featuring Kate Eddens on call and response vocals with dreamy steel and swelling keys) and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" (the general tempo and Michael’s ethereal steel guitar cast a moody tone to this Darlene Love composition, similar to that of Giant Sand’s “Yer Ropes”).
Tonight’s show also served as the CD release party for Rough Shop’s latest CD, Just Because It Was Christmas. Appropriately enough, they closed with the title track, Andy on vocals. This one holds its own with many of the strong covers that were performed tonight. Since I always leave town for the holidays, tonight’s show served as my personal St. Louis Christmas celebration and provided a nice bit of closure for 2009…we can pick all of this back up when I get back into town in the new year. Do yourself a favor and watch some of the video clips.
12/17/09 Rough Shop, Schlafly Bottleworks. Santa Claus came to our house tonight, so I didn’t make it to the bar (a ten minute drive with the highway reopened!) until late. I only heard the last two songs- they went out with “Just Because It Was Christmas”, sung by Andy, with Steve Carosello on backing vocals…a brief encore of last Saturday’s Christmas throw-down at The Focal Point. Since we’re leaving town for the holidays tomorrow, this was a nice chance to catch up with a handful of people and wish them happy holidays.