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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 22
11/03/04 Gasoline Alley, Frederick’s. Around thirty people showed up on a Wednesday night…The Baysayboos opened. They’re one of the more unique local bands out there- seven members: bass, drums, guitar/vocals, violin, keyboards, sax and trombone. The whole band dressed up a bit- coats, vests and such. At times, the violin (played by a woman who sang some) had a Velvet Underground feel to it…at other times, a more classical atmosphere prevailed. The keyboards could sound like anything from piano to organ to harpsichord, as each song presentation varied. I got glimpses of Belle & Sebastian, as well as Cake as the tone varied from romantic to somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Speaking of tongue-in-cheek, this crew of music majors (did I get this right?) managed to avoid getting too stuffy- in fact, frontman Matt Pace reminded me a bit of Adam Sandler, his physical appearance, as well as the mischievous smirk on his face. For all that there was to notice (and like) about this band, I never found any of their melodies to be catchy in a way that would have me humming their songs the next day.
Next came Gasoline Alley- if you were to look at any individual band member of this local 5 piece (g,g,b,d & k), you would likely imagine each to belong to a different band- quite the visually contrasting crew. Each instrumental contribution was interesting enough, but somehow the sum total, and the songs specifically, didn’t grab me. The frontman, this skinny dude in a cowboy hat, reminded me of Johnny Dowd, as he projected this ragged, spooked, been-through-some-shit vibe.
11/04/04 Open Mic Night, Frederick’s. In the brief time I was there, the only performer I recognized was Marc Chechik (Waterloo, Melody Den), who sang three songs, including The Geardaddies’ “Statue Of Jesus”. The place was still filling up when Fred and I went over to…
11/04/04 The Phonocaptors, The Way Out Club. Austin’s The Good Looks opened. I liked ‘em OK when I saw them at Fred’s last August, but tonight they made much more of an impression, busting loose in a way that instantly got the crowd hopping up and down. The bigger stage of The Way Out Club could barely contain the three guys out front as they careened left/right, front/back and up/down pounding out this energetic blues rock/garage rock hybrid. The drummer, while obviously less mobile, was on the same page, providing the kind of punch you’d expect from such a band.
The Way Out Club probably hosts a wider range of musical genres, but it seems like every time I go, they’ve got some variation of loud, primitive garagey rock. That didn’t change much when The Phonocaptors took the stage. I liked ‘em fine, but not hugely different than the time I saw them a couple of months ago at Frederick’s- loud, confident and purposeful. While the Good Looks used the bigger stage to add a dancin’/prancin’ rompin’/stompin’ intensity to their set, I actually thought The Phonocaptors lost a certain amount of intensity that the tighter confines (and denser crowd) of Frederick’s provided. I still need to get their record.
11/6//04 The Shemps, The Duck Room. I showed up with my out-of-town buddies in time to hear the last few songs by The Misses. Their primitive proficiency was applied to The B52s’ “Give Me Back My Man” as well as a few (presumably) originals. The lead singer’s delivery was less obviously campy than the last time I saw ‘em. Ann’s bass stood out as notably fluid.
For those who don’t know the story, here’s a brief intro to why The Shemps exist as a band. All of the band’s members shared an intense appreciation/devotion for the music of Iggy And The Stooges with longtime St. Louis music fan/bartender Mike Shelton. Mike, his wife Carrie Lindsey and their teenage daughter Emily were killed in a car wreck a couple of months ago. I knew these folks, but my friendship was nowhere near on the level of the people who put together this loving tribute.
Many of Mike and Carrie’s long-time friends were involved. Jim Roehm had a bunch of posters and t-shirts printed up. Tonight’s core band consisted of Bob Trammel on drums, Steve Scariano on bass and Craig Petty on guitar. Steve S. acted as the MC for tonight’s proceedings- as many times as I’ve seen him onstage, I can’t recall ever hearing him speak into the mic. He totally rose to the occasion and served as a heartfelt spokesman for all who knew Mike, Carrie and Emily.
This backing band locked into Stooges mode- the rhythm section established a sinister groove while the guitar would go off on squealing leads. My own familiarity with The Stooges lies somewhere between my friends who know little if anything of them and my music junkie friends who were opining how the pedal effects on a Les Paul were not as brittle as those applied to Ron Asheton’s Stratocaster (or something like that). The consensus from all corners was that this trio knew their shit and faithfully recreated The Stooges’ sound.
Joining this backing band was a steady stream of guest vocalists- friends of Mike and Carrie’s from over the years came onstage for a song or two, each. Since I just happen to have a set list in front of me, here’s who sang what:
Chris Condellire- “No Fun” & “Not Right”
Greg Lillard- “Down On The Street” & “Raw Power”
Toby Weiss- “1969” & “TV Eye”
Steve Carosello- “Real Cool Time” & “1970”
Debby Sue Mikles- “Shake Appeal”
Sheila Mikles- “Loose”
Al Swacker- “Little Doll”, “I Gotta Right” & “Search And Destroy”
Tory Z Starbuck- “Dirt” & “Funhouse” (the latter was an all-star sing-along)
All singers poured their hearts out, and made it clear how much it meant to be part of this cathartic experience…my personal favorite (and a few others’, apparently) vocal performance was the Toby Weiss segment. Before tonight, I didn’t even know that she sang, but man, she belted it out with a fire and attitude that reminded me of Patti Smith. We were treated to some visuals, too- Debby Sue shook it in a low-cut vintage dress while her sister sported a skirt that prominently featured the likeness of Iggy Pop. Al Swacker brought the room to fever pitch when he was carried out into the crowd for some ritualistic peanut butter smearing (mostly on himself…I think this recreates some legendary episode in the Iggy annals). The most visually striking performer (without even trying) was Tory Z Starbuck- this lean and freaky dude with spiky hair flailed about shirtlessly in a most Iggy-like way. During “Funhouse”, Andy Struckhoff from the Baysayboos and Mr. Starbuck laid on some way-out screaching saxophone, as most of tonight’s singers returned to contribute to this frantic extended workout.
As a tribute to our missing friend, the last song of the evening was presented with a black veil draped over the microphone. With Mike gone, it was up to the rest of us pick up the slack…as the band fell into the unmistakable trancelike intro to “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog”, the entire audience provided vocals (aided by some giant cue-cards displayed from the stage). Somewhere during this joyous sing-along finale, the black veil fell off of the microphone onstage.
11/8/04 Vic Chesnutt, The Duck Room. (sorry for another long-winded intro) Vic Chesnutt is one of the most personal and idiosyncratic songwriters out there- “not for all tastes” is a nice way of saying “this guy’s quirky, scattered (and often out of tune) vision is inaccessible to most folks”. But somehow his first three or four albums spoke to me like few records do- his debut, “Little” might actually crack my all-time top ten, if I were ever to compose one. Over the years, I found isolated songs to like on his later CDs, but none rivaled the early ones, start to finish. Recently, New West re-released Chesnutt’s first four albums with additional songs tacked on to the end (you know the drill), so I was optimistic that this current tour would find Vic dusting off some of my favorites from the early days…
Well, kinda. In front of maybe fifty people (it was a Monday night), he (with his wife, Tina on bass) opened with one of those older out-takes. “Assist” set the tone for most of the set- almost every song was played really slow and long, even by Vic Chesnutt standards. Even when he drew from those earlier albums (“Sponge” from “West Of Rome” and “Mr. Reilly” from “Little”), I found the instrumentation not as warm and glowing and his voice not as supple and vulnerable as on those early recordings. The lyrics remain idiosyncratic and profound, but those happen to be a couple of the most dirgy, least tuneful songs he could have picked. This was especially frustrating, knowing that we were hearing these instead of any number of more melodically engaging songs Vic has written. Even as a long-time fan, my patience was challenged a good amount of the time.
A few songs grabbed me and drew me in tonight, and stood out for that reason. “When I Ran Off And Left Her” and “Supernatural” are vintage Vic- the melodies and delivery were more on par with the always compelling lyrical imagery. He gave an endearing spoken intro to “Florida”- it was apparently written about a friend of his who moved south and killed himself with a nail gun. A newer song apologized to someone for being such a lousy friend, followed by an amusing list of oddball characters, all of whom are better friends than our miserable narrator, who is about to kill himself. Believe it or not, this might have been the most upbeat and light song of the entire set.
11/10/04 Highway Matrons, Frederick’s. This guy from Austin named Ghostwriter played first. He does this spare, solo quasi-rockabilly thing- kinda like Flat Duo Jets (in this case, the percussion provided by a foot pedal device). I enjoyed his set tonight much more than last time; probably because he kept things more varied- his electric guitar was replaced by banjo on certain songs, and on others he would use one of those distant-sounding muffled microphones.
Soon enough, it was time for The Highway Matrons- I’ve seen (and described) them a bunch, so I’m likely to repeat previous observations: Mark’s songs and guitar playing remind me of Roky Erickson- he applies acid-tinged slurry/blurry leads to somewhat theatrical songs that often feature these dramatic pauses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drummer play quite like Fred before- he has a way of haphazardly slinging the sticks at their intended target (if that makes any sense). They played the Fred-penned “Little Baby Dreams” and covered The Bottlerockets “Lost What I Had”, imparting their own odd but earnest feel to it.
At recent HM gigs, Fred had taken a hiatus from singing, leaving all of the vocals to Mark. I like Mark’s voice just fine, but found it to me a bit monochromatic over the uninterrupted course of an entire set. Tonight things were broken up nicely- Fred sang a couple, Johnny Vegas came up to sing a twisted, half-speed “Six Days On The Road”, and bassist Mark Sheridan sang Freddy Hart’s “Easy Lovin”. (The latter is a cheesy AM country hit from the seventies, sung with an appropriately wry grin). Fred’s song “Jailhouse Tattoo” is virtually interchangeable with his “Cold Ice Water”, both in its structure and in the way that Mark applies this moody guitar line akin to “Stray Cat Strut”. Their one-song encore was a request- one of their older “hits”, “Rhonda”.
11/12/04 Thad Cockrell, Frederick’s. There was a pretty good crowd out tonight (three or four times more people than last time Thad played). Unfortunately, Kevin Butterfield deserved more attention than this boisterous Friday night crowd was giving him. He opened with a solo acoustic set, accompanied by only his guitars (6 & 12 string). His rich voice packs a lot of ache and break into his originals as well as a few well-chosen covers: Hank’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, Ray Price’s “Burning Memories” and Bob Reuter’s “When Love First Comes To Town” (the latter accompanied by the author on backing vocals). The two originals that stood out tonight were the one that uses the clever turn of phrase, “There’s never been a sadder day/she left me last Saturday” (or something close to that) and “Five Years Later”, a melodic and reflective ballad that could be a country hit if put in front of the right A & R guy (what do I know?). Toward the end of his set, I was wanting him to throw a change-up, as things got a bit uniform in tone and tempo. He ended with “Faded Love”.
The tempo change thing was less an issue when Thad Cockrell and the Starlight Country Band took the stage. They opened with a slower original, allowing Thad to introduce his gentle tenor that sometimes gets compared to that of early Ryan Adams. I’m still getting used to the idea that Thad (& band) have moved away from the traditional, straight-up honky-tonk country of his first album- tonight’s second song “I’d Rather Have You” quickly showed that they’ve diversified. It’s three minutes worth of catchy rocking pop- maybe not as timeless as Lucinda’s “Passionate Kisses” or NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad”, but clearly in that vein. In terms of style and influence, this set was all over the place- throughout, Thad would introduce his originals by saying, “I wrote this one for _____ (Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Merle Haggard, etc.), saving us the trouble of identifying the (sometimes obvious) influences.
They haven’t entirely abandoned the country thing- they gave us bright and upbeat covers of Merle’s “The Runnin’ Kind” and Buck’s “Just As Long As You Love Me” as well as the almost whispered original ballad “She Aint No You”. Another new one offered a third-person perspective on an estranged relationship: “You didn’t hear it from me, but I don’t think he’s over you”. The last song of the encore was a funky country-rock version of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, recalling the twangier moments of Crazy Horse.
11/18/04 Ryan Adams, The Pageant. The Pageant was packed when I arrived during the opening solo set by Jesse Malin. I heard his last three or four songs. His voice was high (and borderline whiney)…“Since You’re In Love” stood out as the most notable original. He ended with Neil Young’s “Helpless”, dedicating it to John Kerry. He tried to get the audience to join in a mass sing-along, but couldn’t quite pull it off. During the break, we moved to a nice spot next to some friendly strangers right in front of the sound board- the sightlines and sound quality turned out to be great.
The stage was backed by thirty or forty of those metallic helium balloons as Ryan Adams And The Cardinals took the stage. When a musician’s reputation precedes (exceeds?) him, everything becomes a bigger deal…when he went off on a five minute rant about “Crazy Bowls”, was he being charming, self-indulgent, drugged-out, or just having fun? I’ll leave those who consider him a prima donna poseur to fight that issue out with the fanatics logged on to ryanadams.org, and limit my observations to the music I heard tonight.
The Cardinals consist of bass, drums, a guy on guitars/mandola (?) and a woman who played guitar, lap steel and dobro. They fleshed out Adams’ songs just fine. With a handful of solo (post Whiskeytown) CDs to draw from, he chronologically worked his way through his discography, selecting two or three songs from most (not all) of his albums. So the flow of tonight’s set mirrored the transformation of Adams’ songwriting style from flannel-friendly alt country to the more grandiose and reflective pop of his later records.
The set was heavy on the slow-to-mid tempo material, interspersed with catchier, more up-beat songs throughout. A few of his songs didn’t grab me, but mostly they did. Approximately in order, here are a few songs I remember: “To Be Young” (this freewheeling folk-rocker is a natural set opener), “Winding Wheel”, “Sweet Carolina” (no Emmylou backing vocals tonight, but enjoyable, anyway), “Come Pick Me Up”, “New York, New York” (his biggest hit has been slowed to a bluesy groove tempo, ala later-period Lucinda Williams…and he’s dropped the falsetto vocal delivery), “When Stars Go Blue” (this one features a smooth falsetto “ooooh” in it, right on the word “blue”…think: Jayhawks), “Chin Up, Cheer Up” (a catchy, up-tempo shuffle accentuated by dobro), “Cry On Demand” (a pensive solo ballad, played with guitar & a few bars on piano), “This House Is Not For Sale” and “Love Is Hell” (lush and dramatic in a U2 kind of way). Notably absent were any songs from his most recent CD, “Rock N Roll”. Go figure. He ended the set with a solo version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”- distilled to ballad form, it fit nicely alongside Adams’ moody, melodic originals.
The encore began with Jesse Malin singing his original, “Solitaire” as Ryan played acoustic guitar. I generally prefer encores that go out with a bang, but RA left us with a solo rendition of the piano-driven “Rescue Blues”, opting instead, for the soulful, reflective fade-out. After saying “goodnight”, he shook as many hands as he could from the stage, seeming to be genuinely grateful to the crowd.