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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 94
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 94
6/9/10 Twangfest Wednesday, The Tap Room. For me, this year’s Twangfest got started last night when the guys from Big Smith rolled into our driveway just before midnight. They had agreed to go on one of the local morning TV news shows, so they had to show up a day early. We hung out and caught up over a couple of beers, beginning a five-night run of music, friends and good times that had a few thematic threads running through, virtually start-to-finish.
Wednesday morning we got the Big Smith guys out the door in time to make their TV appearance. I watched at home…among the scattered other items being highlighted (crazy intern races, motorcycle stunts, etc.) Big Smith occupied a couple of brief spots, playing their happy brand of bluegrass and smiling for the announcer who read off the information about tonight’s Twangfest opening night show.
I showed up at the Tap Room around 5:30 and started the usual drill: arranging furniture, hanging banners, helping bands get set up/settled in. The familiar pre-show reception for friends/press/sponsors featured a spread of bratwursts and beer. I would have guessed that tonight’s crowd would have been a bit bigger, but things still felt full and focused.
Tonight’s opening band was the local honky-tonk cover band, Colonel Ford. It’s pretty much the same lineup as the old Rockhouse Ramblers, minus Kip Loui on guitar/vocals and adding Jay Farrar on pedal steel. The lead vocal chores are split between Dave Farrar (upright bass) and Gary Hunt (guitar) while the impressive leads were freely traded around between Gary, John Horton (guitar), Justin Brannum (fiddle) and Jay on steel. I get the feeling that Jay enjoys playing somewhat anonymously in this band, off to the side and out of the spotlight. Sporting a goatee and peering out from beneath his captain’s cap, he’s looking quite a bit like his dad, the late Jim “Pops” Farrar. Song selection was all about the classic covers: “Moanin’ The Blues”, “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” (Dade’s voice striking a tone similar to that of Gary Stewart) and “Mystery Train” (with a little bit of TVZ’s “White Freightliner” spliced into the middle). They ended with Buck’s “Streets Of Bakersfield”.
Shannon McNally played next. Accompanied by a four-piece band, she did a set of blues/groove/rock roughly along the lines of later-period Lucinda Williams. Her voice is very rich and southern-sounding. Shannon has recently recorded (an entire album, I think) with Jay Farrar, so there was some speculation that Jay might get up and sing with her, but it didn’t happen. Getting good sound in this open room full of hard surfaces (concrete, brick, glass) is always a problem. Tonight, Schlafly hired a professional sound man (Jerry?) who came in early with all of his equipment and made things sound as good as they ever have in this room; no small task given the conditions and the range of sound of tonight’s three bands.
Since I was the prime guy lobbying to book them, I was the one to get up on stage and introduce Big Smith. They romped through a fairly typical set that is always a big ol’ hoedown/throwdown. This six-piece band (g, d, b, fiddle, mandolin, ukulele) from Springfield played a bunch of songs from their new Roots, Shoots and Wings CD, including the bold “My Overalls (Don't Fit Me Anymore)”, the traditional “Handsome Molly” and the swingy “Texas Can Wait”. One nice moment of overlap came when John Horton got up and traded electric leads with guitarist Mark Bilyeu on the Big Smith original, “Back Water” (Jody on keys). John had never heard this song before, but easily picked up the general vibe of this relaxed country blues song. The meat of the set got the crowd moving around to a few tried and true favorites: “Big Rock”, “Twelve Inch, Three Speed Oscillating Fan” and “Don’t Call Me Trash (til you’ve slept in my trailer)”. This being night one of our four-night festival, I passed on the late-night hotel party, said my good-byes to everyone and headed home.
6/10/10 Twangfest Thursday, The Duck Room. I got an early start on things today when my cell phone rang around noon…it was the tour manager for Blue Rodeo saying that they needed to get some cars cleared out so they could park next to Blueberry Hill. By the time I got there, things had taken care of themselves and their big old bus/trailer combo was parked on the side street beside the club. I met three of the guys from the band and spent the next hour or so helping them load a mountain of gear down the elevator into a huge stack off to the side of the stage. BR are hugely popular in their native Canada and regularly sell out hockey arenas, but in the states end up playing more modest-sized venues. I suggested that they may want to pare things down and bring in less gear for their hour-long set in this 350-capacity venue. Their reply was that this was the bare minimum they could work with. Once they were all loaded in, we locked off the room and I ran home for a little chill time.
A few hours later, I met up with the rest of the Twangfest people back at the bar for the usual setup of chairs/banners/merch tables and to help bands load in. There were a good number of tickets pre-sold for tonight’s show and the few remaining tickets sold out some time during the opening set by Magnolia Summer. This local band, fronted by Chris Grabau, has an ever-shifting lineup; depending on the setting (and who might be available), they can do a moody, violin-tinged thing or a more full-on multi-guitar rawk thing. Tonight, they were all of the above and then some. Kevin Buckley laid on some of that atmospheric fiddle in places and John Horton (who played with two of last night’s bands) engaged Chris in some jagged lead guitar interchanges. As is often the case at Twangfest, the slower, moodier material was diluted by a bit of crowd chatter. Things matched the mood of the room better on the upbeat ones, including “Along For The Ride”…for this one, the lineup expanded to include the trumpet and sax players from The Funky Butt Brass Band. The addition of horns to the punchy/catchy guitar rock hits a spot similar to The Replacements’ recording of “Can’t Hardly Wait”.
Next up was These United States. This five-piece from Lexington, KY does a loose, ragged guitar thing. Their songs often evolve/revolve around a ringing, repeated hook (one guy alternates between guitar and steel). The lead singer’s voice is high, ragged and expressive, kinda like J. Mascis meets Leon Russell.
For a sold-out room, things weren’t as claustrophobic as I might have guessed, especially considering that Blue Rodeo’s guitar tech station/bunker of gear took up a good ten by ten piece of real estate at one corner of the dance floor. It wasn’t until I went to summon the band from their air-conditioned tour bus (right at show time) that I realized that none of the people I had been dealing with earlier in the day were actually in the band; they were all just handlers/roadies.
The place was pretty packed and locked in when Blue Rodeo took the stage. Their whole package (sound, look, general production values) were all on par with that of an arena-rock band. The songs and overall sound of this 8-piece band (b, d, g x 3, k, steel & fiddle) are in that smooth and warm country-rock vein, along the lines of Firefall or a flute-less Marshall Tucker Band…not exactly my cup of tea, but I was glad that they drew a good crowd of folks who enjoyed it. One song featured a dreamy extended instrumental jam with lots of subtle interplay between keyboards, guitar, fiddle and steel. They ended with what I know to be their “greatest hit”… “Til I Am Myself Again”.
When BR finished up, I became part of the effort to help them get their sizeable stash of instruments packed, up the elevator and out to their trailer…all in the confines of the packed bar as tonight’s headline act was setting up and starting. Tomorrow we’ll talk about what a huge operation this band has going while their roadies tell the story about what a tiny venue they played last night.
I was only able to pay partial attention to the first half of the set by Ray Wylie Hubbard and band (a drummer and Ray’s 17-year-old son, Lucas on guitar). The prevailing tone was a deep bluesy groove, typified by “Snake Farm”, in which Lucas laid on some pretty impressive licks. One caught a hypnotic vibe along the lines of “Who Do You Love?” “Conversation With The Devil” tells a long story in song (“to tell you the truth I thought your solo was the better of the two”), blending dense wordplay and humor, not unlike Dylan’s “On The Road Again”.
For better or worse, Ray is best known for his comical outlaw country anthem “Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother”, which he openly admits is a blessing and a curse. He’s had plenty of time to come to terms with it, concluding, “the way I look at it, careers have are been based on less”. Tonight’s version was pretty true to that drunken Jerry Jeff/Willie version, the audience gladly supplying the “so well, so well…” in the choruses. They ended the set with a murky, chooglin’ version of “John The Revelator”, RWH testifying on the spirited vocals. The encore began with Ray giving a few shout-outs to the band over a “Poke Salad Annie” groove before they all lit into James McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo”.
As if seven hours in a bar wasn’t enough, when we left The Duck Room, Roy and I headed over to The Moonrise for a nightcap. We popped out of the elevator on the rooftop just as Ray Wylie and Lucas were leaving…Lucas is, of course, underage and not allowed at the bar. So father and son headed down to their hotel room while Roy and I had a couple more beers before calling it a night.
6/11/10 Twangfest Friday, The Duck Room. After last night’s four-band, sold-out show, it was a relief that we were dealing with one less band, no tour buses, a little more elbow room and a lot less stress tonight. I could put in the effort to describe each of tonight’s three bands, but Christian Schaeffer did a better job that I would have, and it’s already written. Here’s his review from June 12 on The Riverfront Times’ website:
“The local American music festival Twangfest is now in its fourteenth year. Long past its adolescence and its awkward phase, the booking for the four-night showcase shows that its teenage years are both classically minded and musically adventurous. For every old-timer on the bill (Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jason & the Scorchers), the Twang Gang brings in new talent as well. Friday night's line-up skewed younger with two up-and-comers (JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound and Those Darlins) and one established garage-rock favorite (the Detroit Cobras).
Hailing from Chicago, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound opened the night a little after 8 p.m. and wasted no time ingratiating itself with '60s soul-revue licks and plenty of James Brown-indebted drum breaks. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the reigning monarchs of this particular soul revival subset, but Brooks and his crew are proof that the scene has strong enough legs to support others. Of course, that all rests on Brooks' shoulders - bands like these live and die with their singers, and the bulky but baby-faced vocalist had all the right moves, from extemporaneous soul-shouts to Marvin Gaye-worthy crooning.
Brooks & the Uptown Sound have found no shortage of blog love thanks to its cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," which came early in last night's set. The band is smart enough not to paint itself in a corner by reworking indie hits as Stax/Volt classics, but as a one-off it works beautifully. (In particular, interspersing part of "Theologians" in the bridge is a masterstroke, and proof that Brooks is a skilled stylist and interpreter.) The Uptown Sound's originals kept the vibe percolating; "Baltimore is the New Brooklyn" should be adopted by Charm City's tourism board and "Beat of Our Own Drum," the title track to the group's LP, closed out the set with a heavy thumping bass line.
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound won over the crowd with smooth soul and hot horn lines, but Those Darlins proved more divisive. The five-piece looked more like an art-rock collective than a country-garage girl group, taking the stage in tattered hospital gowns (a nod, perhaps, to singer/ukulele player Nikki Darlin's broken arm. She made the best of a bad situation and used her sling to ferry a PBR tallboy to the stage). Nikki, along with her "sisters" Jessi and Kelley, play junked-up country rock that sounds like your grand-dad's C&W record collection being kicked down the stairs. None of the three ladies have a remarkable voice, but when they sing in congress (but rarely in harmony) the songs take on a lovably fucked-up quality.
Last night's set was particularly loud, perhaps due to overdriven amplifiers, and eventually the sound man was able to make the vocals more present in the mix. But by that point several patrons had decamped to Blueberry Hill's upstairs bar (where, to be fair, you could still feel the bass frequencies from below). Those who stuck it out until the end were in for a treat, and not just because Nikki liberated herself from her hospital gown. A ten-minute version of "Shakin' All Over" (written by Johnny Kidd but popularized by the Who) was a blast of fuzz bass and snaking guitar lines. Some joker in the crowd tried to up the ante by throwing a roll of toilet paper on stage; Nikki responded with a spit-take of PBR, dousing the first few rows with spittle and cheap brew. Consider it a baptism from these Tennessee ladies.
The end of Those Darlins' set veered towards sloppy British Invasion licks and sweaty garage rock, which was a fitting intro for the Detroit Cobras. But where Those Darlins were long on antics and short on discipline, the Cobras were the model of professional, efficient garage rock. The songs were dirty but the performances were clean, and singer Rachel Nagy didn't need more than her smoky vocals and a cool stare to win over the remainder of the audience.”
The band built its reputation through well-executed covers of songs by the likes of Irma Thomas, the Shirelles and Garnett Mimms, but they owned each performance. The slinky "Puppet on a String" was a highlight, and the proper set ended with Ruby Johnson's "Weak Spot." After a quick smoke break, the Detroit Cobras returned for a few more songs, ending the night the way it began with the Uptown Sound: with a Detroit groove that would have made Berry Gordy proud.”
6/12/10 Twangfest afternoon party. After three nights out at the bar I woke up surprisingly early to an empty house (Nancy and the boys are at a wedding in Kentucky this weekend). Me and the new puppy spent the morning getting the house ready for the afternoon party…beer, ice, groceries, etc.
People started showing up around 1PM for what was billed as the afternoon party/reception for Friends Of Twangfest. There were maybe 60 or 70 people on hand to hear this special acoustic set by the founding nucleus of Jason And The Scorchers. It turns out that this was the first time in all the years that Jason Ringenberg and Warner Hodges have played together, that they had ever done an acoustic duo show.
A little after 2PM, I turned on the PA and stepped to the mic to introduce the band. They opened with “Greetings From Nashville”, an obscure, but poignant song from the heyday of JATS…it’s all about shaking things up in the home of country music- something these guys did to great effect back in the day. “Obscure” would be the operative word today. Jason specifically said that they would be saving their “hits” for tonight’s headlining set at The Duck Room, but that people were welcome to ask for requests of lesser-known songs.
They got to one of my requests pretty early- Jason’s voice put the same kind of ache and break into “Streets Of Baltimore” that you hear on Gram Parsons’ version. “Shot Down Again” and “Still Tied” also stood out, as did Warner’s version of “Time Marches On”. I think the latter is a classic rock ballad; Warner’s singing voice reminded me a bit of Rodney Crowell. This intimate room was also a good setting for Jason’s personable between-song stories.
Since today’s setlist was “off the menu”, Jason and Warner spent the break between sets out on the back patio running through the chord changes of a few requested songs that they hadn’t played in years. Marcia got a pretty nice picture of them with Nancy’s garden in the background. I’ve known Jason for a few years, but had never met Warner until today. He was super cheerful and easy-going…quite the contrast to the chain-smokin’, beer drinkin’ badass image I had of him from the band’s heyday.
Jason kicked off set two with his take on Guadalcanal Diary’s “Trail Of Tears”, an upbeat, catchy staple of his solo shows. Warner got a chance to flash his chops on acoustic guitar on “Two Plus One (Equals Nothing)” and “When The Angels Cry” …completely different than his legendary electric licks, but just as impressive. He also sang a nice, plaintive version of Merle’s “Branded Man”.
Jason introduced REM’s “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” with a story of playing with those guys in the mid-eighties. He and Warner gave this one a twangy, yet heartfelt treatment, while keeping that ringing guitar riff and the succinct instrumental pause; it was my personal highlight of the afternoon. “Somewhere Within” (Lori T’s request) offered up more wistful vocals and some reflective harmonica. They closed things out with “Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel”, the closing track from their debut EP, all revved up and reckless- Jason with the yelping and yodeling and Warner laying on the clean, acoustic bluesy licks. “Thanks everybody, we’ll see you tonight…”
The band stuck around a bit to greet their fans and eat some barbeque before heading out. After a cursory cleanup of the house, I got in a quick swim before heading over to the Duck Room for one more night of music.
6/12/10 Twangfest Saturday, The Duck Room. I showed up pretty close to show time; tonight was a sellout…the second of this year’s Twangfest. First up was Magnolia Mountain…this big ol’ country-rock band from Indiana came recommended by Jason Baldwin, who introduced them onstage tonight. With eight people in the band (d, g, acoustic guitar, mandolin, steel, stand-up bass & 2 female singers), they laid on all manner of layers. The overall sound is warm and friendly with a distinct country/bluegrass flavor, which makes them an unlikely favorite of Jason…go figure, but I liked them, too. My favorite song of this set was my favorite from their CD- “A Little South Of Birmingham”.
The place was plenty crowded (but not uncomfortably so) when Ha Ha Tonka took the stage. These guys are all over the place, doing melodic but punchy rock with a slight twang to it. Front man Brian Roberts sets the tone with his enthusiastic, if a bit squeaky clean presentation. Songs I remember included “Walking On The Devil’s Backbone”, the Ozark-influenced “Caney Mountain” and a cool four-part a capella song. Toward the end of the set, they did “12 Inch, Three-speed Oscillating Fan”, a song that Big Smith did on opening night of Twangfest; another of those threads of continuity that seemed to run through the week. They really got the crowd worked up with their “guilty pleasure” cover of Ramjam’s “Black Betty”.
Closing out TF14 was the full-on version of Jason And The Scorchers. Lead guitarist Warner Hodges and the new rhythm section were onstage when Marie introduced the band…as soon as they lit into the first song, Jason Ringenberg came lurching onstage, displaying the energetic, reckless stage moves and hillbilly yelp that won him widespread recognition back in the eighties. They opened with the frenzied “Mona Lee Mon Amor” from their newly-released Halcyon Days CD. From there, they wasted no time getting to a couple of staples from the heyday of JATS: “Shop It Around” (Warner still got the chops) and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (this revved Bob Dylan cover was the world’s introduction to the country-meets-punk thing that defined their sound).
By now the set is a bit of a blur, but they played for almost ninety minutes, doing most of their hits from back in the day… “I Can’t Help Myself” gave us the best glimpse of Jason’s trademark loose but frantic stage presence. Other songs that stood out were “Bible And A Gun” (Jason accompanied only by Warner’s guitar), “I’m A Gypsy Now” (Warner laying on the slow, bluesy licks) and “Drug Store Truck Driving Man” (preceded by a nice story about ruffling Ralph Emery’s feathers a few years ago).
By now, I had found my way to the thick of the crowd up front, where things were a little testy…apparently, there was friction between some wound-up dancers and people who took exception to being bumped into. For a few minutes this tension detracted from what should have been a non-stop funfest. Eventually the conflicting parties were separated and we were able to re-focus on the show.
This good, long set ended with their greatest hit. “Broken Whiskey Glass” started as a slow sing-along with a brief tease into the expected rave-up…the band then unexpectedly started all over, will only the audience singing the slow intro part, leading right into that part where the band jumps in, catapulting things into a roaring hyperdrive. By the time the song wound down, the crowd was plenty whipped up and quickly had the band out for an encore… “White Lies” gave us all one last hopped-up romp…Jason left the stage with a typically gracious wave and smile, signing off with “Long live Twangfest”.
Since the wife and kids were outta town, the after party was at my place…probably a bad idea, given that people arrived at around 1:30AM and that it’s nearly impossible to keep people quiet on our back patio. Our neighbors put up with a lot from us and we probably shouldn’t push things. The guys from Ha Ha Tonka ended up crashing in all of the vacated bedrooms. So Twangfest 14 officially ended for me when the band hit the road around noon on Sunday, more or less bookending the arrival of Big Smith right before things got rolling five days ago. Another one in the books.