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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 92

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 92

4/21/10 Anders Parker/Will Johnson, House Concert.  This was show number 23 on the current house concert tour by this pair of indie/cult band front men.  Their booking agency has lined up host houses all over the country and sells printable tickets online.  Since these guys do an acoustic, unamplified thing, just about anyone can host a show.  It’s a very cool grass-roots/homegrown, alternative-model, community-based thing.  Dave and I followed the mapquest directions that were emailed to me and ended up standing among about fifteen dudes (and two women) standing out on the sidewalk, each with our printout tickets in hand (and a six-pack in the other), waiting for the hosts to open the gate in their fence and let us in. 
 
A few minutes later, the gate opened and we all filed in to this high-ceilinged, street-level room that looked to be an artist’s studio (the people working the door told us that it was originally a butcher shop), maybe 20’ by 30’ with about 30 chairs arranged in a arc, facing one of the broad-side walls where a couple of stools were set up in a small alcove, ringed by a string of white Christmas lights.  I talked to the guy seated next to me- a big fan who had driven in from Columbia. 
 
There were around forty people in the room when Anders Parker came out from the kitchen, took a seat with his guitar and started in with his opening set.  His playing most often featured intricate picking patterns, but would occasionally give way to straight-up strumming.  The overall tone was fairly gentle, although he did a good job of projecting his unamplified voice out into the room.  He reminded me a bit of Roky Erickson, with his long, disheveled hair, receding hairline and burly beard …even more so when he sang a song about demons. The one song I recognized by name is the one entitled “Song”.
 
During the break between sets, I went into the kitchen and met our hosts- very nice folks who live in this cool, artfully done-up space.  I love getting glimpses into unfamiliar corners of St. Louis…it’s good to know that there are folks like this and places like these in our city.
 
Will Johnson played next.  I’ve seen him about a dozen times fronting his eccentric/electric indie-rock band, Centro-matic, but never in solo-acoustic mode.  His singing voice is very stylized- it’s a vulnerable rasp that hangs out there in a melodic and dramatic way…even when the lyrics aren’t entirely discernable or open to easy interpretation, a general wash of emotion is always there.  It’s obvious that this long run of unamplified house concerts has allowed Will (as well as Anders) to develop an ability to “sing out”.  The only song I recognized from this set was “Flashes and Cables”, a staple of Centro-matic shows.  Will let loose as that soaring vocal refrain, “Ba ba da da da da da…” carried loud and clear through the room.
 
An equally entertaining aspect of this intimate show was the “up close and personal” stories that Will told…the attentive crowd was collectively leaning forward and (literally) drawn in to hear these interesting song intros and road stories.  Anders came out to join Will for the last couple of songs.  They ended with a song from a forthcoming Woody Guthrie tribute …sounds similar to the Wilco project where artists turn old WG lyrics into songs. 
 
After saying “thanks” and “good night” to the hosts, I drove home, via Del Taco, listening to the radio as the Cardinals gave up an eighth inning lead as I drove home.  I got home in time to watch them come up with five runs in the ninth to beat the Diamondbacks while I ate my late-night burrito.  Life is good.
 
4/22/10 Hot Club Of Cowtown, House Concert.  The band’s van pulled into the driveway right around 5PM.  Their dog, Eva hit it off pretty well with our new pup, Taguchi.  They pal-ed around in the house and back yard as the band set up and began to play; this was less a sound check than a rehearsal of new material- “…then I’ll come in after the second verse”.  Nancy and I could hear it all pretty well as we set up the tarp out back as a steady rain began to fall.
 
There were around 85 people in the house when they started up.  This trio from Texas opened with a swing-y instrumental that segued nicely into “Exactly Like You”.  These guys are very polished and professional, presenting a clean, impressive presentation in whatever style they play: Elana James on supple, bowed (and sometimes plucked) fiddle, Whit Smith with glowing, jazzy guitar and Jake Erwin thumped/bowed stand-up bass that sometimes got that “tick, tick, tick” thing going.  Elena and Whit alternated on lead vocals, keeping things varied.
 
Most often, they did a jazzy, Texas swing thing, typified by songs like “Stay all Night”, “Can’t Go On This Way”, “Oklahoma Hills” and “Don’t You Send Me Flowers”.  They managed to keep things diverse by throwing in a few moody ballads (“When I Lost You” and “Someone To Watch Over Me”…the latter has a dreamy “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” quality), a couple of gypsy/eastern European-flavored instrumentals and a few originals that were less classifiable (“Slow Boat To China” and “Reunion”).
 
The big crowd was loving it; the general style/genre and top-notch musicianship made things instantly accessible…kinda the opposite of something that might be considered an acquired taste.  I was especially taken by a father and son (both amateur musicians, who had driven in from Sullivan, MO) who were seated front and center, joyously taking it all in with wide grins on their faces.  They were full of praise during the usual post-show meet/greet/mingle session with the band and guests.  The band hit the road for their hotel right around midnight.
 
4/27/10 Kevin Gordon, The Ranch House.  Nancy was out of town tonight, so I did the single parent thing.  By the time I got the boys through dinner, soccer practice and homework it was already 9:15.  Ray and I made it over to the Ranch House in time to catch the last four or five songs.  Tonight’s set was similar to the last couple of times Kevin has played here…accompanied by Joe McMahan on guitar, the prevailing tone was murky/swampy/bluesy.  Dave (our host…no Angela tonight) played bass on the last two or three songs.  As is his pattern, Kevin saved his “greatest hit” for last- “24 Diamonds” stood out as the most tuneful, catchy and punchy of the handful of songs I heard.  This being a school night, things wrapped up by around 10PM and I took Ray home shortly thereafter.
 
4/30/10 James Brown Tribute, Off Broadway.  I did the family thing in the early evening and showed up at the club around eleven.  By then, the sold-out crowd had subsided some, so I could actually get in…right as one band was finishing its mini-set and another was setting up.  I said “Hi” to a few people before DJ Needles did a fun little turntable set, scratching and tweaking the knobs while a classic JB groove played on one of the turntables.  He got the crowd up front (myself included) worked up and shaking it, some.   The Murder City Players ran through a handful of songs (“Night Train/Good Good Lovin”, “Hot Pants/Get on the Good Foot”), adding their own reggae feel to things (the peppy, horn-fueled kind, not the slow, stoner kind).  Chicago’s Steve Dawson (tonight’s only non-STL act) imparted some smooth, soulful vocals on a couple, including “Prisoner Of Love”.  John W pointed out that Steve was the only of tonight’s acts who touched on JB’s soul period (as opposed to the funky stuff he was best known for).
 
Depending on your temperament, you could take the view that nobody could do JB like James, Maceo and crew could, so what’s the point?  …or you could acknowledge that fact right from the get-go and appreciate the whole thing- the songs, the groove, the vibe as a loving tribute by this fine collection of musicians.  I opted for the latter.  Given the range of artists on the bill and the artist being spotlighted, tonight’s crowd was the most diverse I’ve ever seen at one of these KDHX benefit tribute shows- a good mix of young/old/black/white. 
 
I ended up toward the back of the room as The Dogtown All-Stars closed things out with a set that included “Ain't It Funky Now”, “Givin Up Food For Funk” and “Soul Power”.  The musicianship was just fine, but what I really walked away with was a renewed appreciation for the material…maybe that’s testimonial enough for tonight’s lineup.
 
5/1/10 benefit house concert, The Marshall House.  A while ago, I got an email from a friend-of-a-friend, asking about how she might go about setting up a benefit house concert, featuring local musicians who would like to donate their time to a worthy cause (in this case, the cause was ProPapa Missions- a hospital in Central America, staffed and funded by volunteer doctors from the St. Louis area).   The band I recommended wasn’t available, but she was able to line up a few artists without much problem.
 
Nancy and I were happy to donate to this worthy cause and check out this event.  As it turns out, the music was something of a sideshow to the overall party, which spread out all over the first floor of this pretty big house.  The dining room has an impressive spread of gourmet food and Melissa’s husband was holding court in the kitchen making small pizzas to order.  The live music in the living room served as background music to the cocktail party atmosphere.  For the record, the first act was Danielle Aslanian.  Accompanied by a guy on bongos, she sang and played guitar.  Maid-Rite played next…5 women doing traditional folk/country/bluegrassy stuff.  Both acts deserved more attention than they got tonight, but they all seemed to take it in good humor, knowing that it was all for a good cause.
 
5/2/10 The Bangles, The Pageant.  John W and I showed up shortly after the opening band finished up; just enough time to get a beer and say “Hi” to a few friends.  A bunch of us ended up on the not-too-dense dance floor just as the house lights dimmed and the spotlights lit up the stage.  Looking remarkably good for 20 to 25 years after their commercial peak, Susanna, Vicki and Debbie instantly lit things up with “Hazy Shade Of Winter”.   Anyone with a passing memory of this band as a light, novelty-leaning chick-pop group was in for a jolt from the dark, urgent and exhilarating treatment they imparted on this Paul Simon classic.  And then there’s the vocals- they all still sing/harmonize with an inspiring degree of grace and ease.
 
I was a fan of this band back in their commercial heyday, but over the years my current playlist has moved on to other bands and songs, so hearing these songs (many of which I hadn’t heard since the eighties) struck me as a joyous, refreshing blast that made me wonder why I don’t revisit these songs more often.  What really works for me is the songs…whether it’s their originals (“Hero Takes a Fall”, “When It Rains”, “In Your Room”, “Be With You”, “Live”) or the numerous, well-chosen covers (“If She Knew What She Wants”…done up in a more relaxed, reflective tone, “Manic Monday”, “September Gurls”,“Going Down To Liverpool” as well as a few more that a couple of friends recognized), they always work with memorable melodies that have an infectious swing to them.  A band could have the most impressive instrumentation and the greatest harmonies, but if these things aren’t applied to catchy songs, it won’t do it for me.
 
It was especially fun seeing this show with a loose group of friends, scattered around the club.  It was nice to roam the perimeter of the dance floor, taking in a song or two from different vantage points.  Everyone was loving it…big smiles and clinking beer glasses all around.  We could have listened for quite a bit longer, all too soon, they had left the stage for a brief pause for the encore, which of course, featured their greatest hit, the silly, but fun “Walk Like an Egyptian”. 

   

 

 

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