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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 37
1/27/06 The Rolling Stones, Savvis Center. Having seen the Stones a couple of years ago, I knew that for all the talk of their advancing age, they’re still capable of delivering a high-energy, engaging show…I just wasn’t willing to pay the steep ticket price. So I made the solo trip down to the Savvis Center, hoping to find a cheap ticket. As I stood right out front for over an hour, I got a good dose of middle-aged classic rock fans on parade…tons (literally) of people in my general age bracket, many decked out in appropriate concert wear, some hooting and hollering, a few already stumbling drunk. I wasn’t sure if I should feel fortunate or ripped off that I ended up paying 2/3 face value for a ticket. Disposable income.
Usually my first trip to a concert venue rates some kind of description, but if you’ve been to a concert at any hockey arena in America, then you know the Savvis Center. I found my upper-deck seat shortly before the video screens went bang and Keith, Ronnie and Mick came racing out, ripping into "Jumping Jack Flash". Initially, the sound was pretty thuddy and Mick’s vocals muddy…over time this became less noticeable (I think it actually got better, but I may have just acclimated). Although they carry a horn section and backing vocalists with them, the real meat of the sound comes from 6 guys.
People have been saying that Mick is surprisingly energetic for his age for long enough that it isn’t really a surprise any more. He raced up and down, back and forth, all over a stage that had ample prancing room. Keef and Ronnie were their typical playful selves, as well. After opening with one of their biggest hits, they moved on to one of their big "new hits" from the 40 Licks era- "You Got Me Rocking"…OK but nothing new from what I’ve seen/heard last time around.
They also did a handful of songs form their current A Bigger Bang album. "Rough Justice" packs a decent rhythmic punch while the lyrics brashly complain, "Once upon a time I was your little rooster, but now I’m just one of your cocks". Mick played keyboards and sang in a falsetto on the reflective ballad "Worried About You"…didn’t do much for me. The disco riff in "Rain Fall Down" reminds me of Queen’s "Another One bites The Dust".
"Tumbling Dice" was nice enough, but felt a little "been there, done that" (BTDT)…it’s a staple of every Stones show. "She’s So Cold" was fun for me, simply because I’d never heard it live before. "Midnight Rambler" took us on a bluesy jam, Mick on harmonica. It was during this one when someone behind me shouted "Play something we know!" So what comes next? A Ray Charles cover- "Night Time" gave background singer Lisa Fisher a chance to step forward and belt it out alongside Mick.
That BTDT feeling struck again when Mick took his usual 2-song wardrobe change/rest break and Keith took the mic for his customary two songs: the ballad (in this case "This Place Is Empty") and "Happy". I still love the latter (Ronnie’s lap steel always pleases), but it seemed to fall predictably into place.
"Miss You" was one of my personal highlights. Because it’s not one of their obligatory hits, it rocked harder and fresher, at least to these ears. As the band laid into an extended groove, a sizeable chunk of the stage (with all six of the core band members on it) was slowly rolled down the middle of the arena until it docked with the "B stage". At this point, the sound was the clearest it had been all night, my upper deck seat was about head-on with one side of the stage and I was finally into it. Next came "Start Me Up"…another "fine, but familiar" moment, even though the playing was hard and crisp.
Next came the unmistakable perky guitar intro to "Get Off Of My Cloud". Everyone in the place was jumping up and down. Too bad it didn’t come as a total left-field surprise…some internet chatter had already tipped me off that they were doing this song again. Nonetheless, it was another of tonight’s highlights. They closed out the B-stage set with another warhorse: "Honky Tonk Women", as that keystone piece of stage slid back to the main stage.
Once back on the big stage, they launched into "Sympathy For The Devil"…this one blows me away enough to forgive it’s BTDT status. Next came the night’s biggest surprise (I live for the surprises)- Keith walked up the elevated walkway on our side of the arena and laid into the opening guitar line of "Paint It Black"…a measure later, Charlie whomped the drums leading the rest of the band into the mix and things were joyous. They closed out the set with "Brown Sugar" making good use of both the horn section and background vocalists Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fisher…it felt a bit more special having seen/heard these guys up close in the intimate setting of Finale the night before (see 1/26/06). The two song encore brought more of the fine but familiar: "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" and, you guessed it…"Satisfaction".
1/28/06 John Prine, Touhill Center. A bunch of us piled out of the car and made the dash through the late-January drizzle to the state-of-the-art Touhill Center. Not knowing who the opening act was, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be Irish (by way of Nashville) folk singer, Maura O’Connell. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar player, she put her best foot forward with Cheryl Wheeler’s "Summer Fly", applying her strong and spirited vocals to an upbeat, captivating melody. On "Blue Train", we got even more of that "voice as instrument" thing…toward the end of the song, she let out a long, loud and clear vocal blast, approximating a train whistle. Between songs, her hearty, lust-for-life persona reminded me of some feisty comedienne, maybe Rosie O’Donnell. Other songs that stood out were Patty Griffin’s "Poor Man’s House" and an original about a long term relationship that described the thrill at the beginning, the inevitable end, and in between, "I love you in the middle"…relevant for those of us in that particular boat. She won the crowd over enough to rate a rare opening-act encore…Van Morrison’s "Crazy Love" carried a warm and familiar glow compatible with the sensibilities (and record collections) of this particular slice of society.
After the long beer-line ritual at the intermission, it was time to head back into this pristine recital hall to hear John Prine. Even before the music started, I noticed a parallel between tonight’s concert and last night’s Rolling Stones show. Here’s another guy who earned his devoted fan base decades ago...and a quarter century later they’re still with him; only now they’re looking a little grayer and heavier and have the kind of income needed to cover the steeper ticket price. And also like the Stones, JP has a checklist of obligatory "hits" that necessarily account for most of the setlist on any given night. The trick is getting from "Pipedream" to "Paradise" while maintaining some degree of freshness and spontaneity.
…which brings us to tonight’s setlist. This show contained more similarities than differences to the set Prine turned in on this same stage two and a half years ago. I really enjoyed that show, and really enjoyed this one tonight, although I have to admit to having that "been there, done that" feeling a time or two. In fact, certain sentences I wrote about that 2003 show apply directly to tonight’s performance.
Prine and band (Dave Jacques on stand-up & electric bass, Pat McLaughlin on mandolin/acoustic guitar and Jason Wilber on lead electric) came out and opened with "Spanish Pipedream". Wilber reminded me of Don Rich (Buck Owens’ guitar player) in just about every way- his slim-fit suit, his haircut and especially the playful leads he ran off on his telecaster. His playing cast a refreshing tone to this familiar classic, while remaining faithful to the happy-go-lucky feel of the original…he even snuck in a few familiar C & W instrumental riffs as the song ended.
A couple of more contemplative songs followed: "Souvenirs", featuring Prine’s trademark penchant for picking patterns and "Six O’Clock News", a harrowing tale of deception, alienation and ultimately, suicide. It’s songs like these that serve to counterbalance the happier, sillier songs- this aint no full-on, feel-good John Denver type show. Another early song was "Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Any More", a song that might actually be more relevant now than when he wrote it in 1968.
I’ll stop short of commenting on every song, even though most offered plenty to enjoy and think about. Prine’s speaking voice is now a harsh croak, but his humble and personable song intros were charming and endearing.
The most notable update to this year’s show was the inclusion of a handful of songs from his current Fair And Square CD. "Safety Joe" is about a guy who was so afraid of getting hurt, that he refused to feel. "Taking A Walk (I’m Just Getting By)" has a hurt and reflective quality to it. John even pulled out an electric guitar on a couple of newer songs. But the new song that stood out the most was "Some Humans Aint Human", which features some big-time jabs at George W: "some asshole from Texas invades Iraq".
Prine’s sidemen left the stage for a while in the middle of the set, allowing for a stripped-down mini-set (another similarity to the current Stones concert format): just John and his guitar. Somewhere along the way he got a chance to get to some of his lighter, simpler songs: "Fish And Whistle", "Dear Abby" (repeated listenings turn this one into a virtual nursery rhyme), "Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian", "Please Don’t Bury Me" and "That’s The Way That The World Goes ‘round" were scattered among more poignant ones like "Angel From Montgomery" (Maura O came out to add verses on this one), "You Got Gold", "Late John Garfield Blues", "Sam Stone", and "I Aint Hurtin’ Nobody".
"Grandpa Was A Carpenter" received the same rumbling electric guitar treatment as on record. Spooky textures were applied by bowed upright bass and e-bowed guitar on "Hello In There", enhancing the loneliness of the lyrics. One pleasant surprise (and a personal highlight for me) was "Storm Windows"…the lyrics (less clever, more plaintive) combine with a classic country melody that breaks my heart. The set ended with "Lake Marie", a song that mixes American history with popular culture, while alluding to some cryptic and sordid events…all delivered in a somehow life-affirming tone.
The encore began with "Illegal Smile", which turned into an audience sing-along ("Well, I went to court and the judge’s name was…Alito"). The very last song was "Paradise"- the band was joined by Maura O"Connell on vocals and Billy Prine on guitar (and lead vocals on one verse). Billy’s a pretty average singer, but it was great to see how much it meant to John to be playing onstage with his "baby brother", who had made the trip over from Indiana.
1/31/06 Ransom Note, Frederick’s. Maybe a dozen people on hand tonight…I heard a couple of songs in the first set and all of the second. "All-star Supergroup" might be going a bit overboard, but this local five-piece consists of Ron (ex-Plaid Cattle) on drums, Sherm (ex-Fred’s Variety Group) on bass, JP (ex-Nadine) on keyboards, Dave (ex-Free Dirt) on guitar and Merv Schrock (ex-Stiffneck Roy, Nadine, Fran) on lead vocals.
Of all of Merv’s former bands, the one that Ransom Note most closely resembles is Whitey. Without taking themselves too seriously, they faithfully do old covers like Steely Dan’s "My Old School", Jimi’s "Little Wing" and Lionel Ritchie’s "Easy Like Sunday Morning". Merv sets the tone for this band, decked out in his swanky sport jacket and mischievous grin. There is now an official last date of live music set for Frederick’s: Saturday, February eleventh.
2/3/06 Three Fried Men, The Tap Room. The good news was the band had a good crowd out tonight…all of the tables were filled in the room where the band plays (about a 50/50 black/white mix…a rarity for this venue). The bad news was that if you have to try to listen to the band from the next room over (the pool table room), the sound is pretty muddy and there are lots of talkers…can’t really blame ‘em. So what little I heard through the lousy sound was more of that spirited DIY thing that 3FM do. Chris and Mike each sang lead vocals, their songs are quite different. Adam’s cello was kinda drowned out. Chris played bass on a song! The good news was the show was free, so after a while I headed over to…
2/3/06 Rough Shop, Frederick’s. Lots of people out tonight…Fred tried to give some of his regular bands one last gig before the place closes down. Bad Folk opened and Rough Shop headlined (a double-dose of the lovely Anne Tkach, on drums and guitar, respectively). Between being caught up in the party atmosphere, the beer and the fact that both bands pretty much stuck to their usual material, I’m gonna pass on doing the highlighted songs/instrumentation thing. I had lots of fun and stayed out real late.
2/4/06 Dave Insley and the Careless Smokers, Frederick’s. I finally got to hear this country four-piece (including twin Telecasters) from Phoenix that I’d been hearing good things about. They did a righteous mix of C & W classics like Buck’s "Made In Japan", Commander Cody’s "Seeds & Stems Again", Merle’s "Swingin’ Doors" (Fred Friction on pullchain flashing neon sign…he came in on all of his cues) and The Louvin’s "You’re Running Wild" (Katherine from Maidrite adding vocals) and originals that hit a similar spot (a nice one about his mom…something like "Geneva’s gonna leave ya").
Insley sings in a rich, ringing baritone not too far from that of Junior Brown…it’s a good voice for this kind of music. He’s also got a modest and gracious stage presence. The band wasn’t 100% straight-up country/western; they could take things in a punchy country-rock vein at times…in either mode, both Dave and the other guitar player laid on some tasty, twangy licks. They ended with a pumped up Ramones-ized take on "Knock Three Times" (more cowbell).
2/7/06 Magnolia Summer, Frederick’s. Dirty South opened…not hugely different than when I saw them a week ago. They opened with "This Could Be The Last Time"…appropriate enough, given that Frederick’s is slated to close in less than a week. Once again, they fluidly morphed this into "Turn On Your Love Light". Tonight, drummer John Baldus seemed more locked into what frontman Bob Reuter was doing, so things were a bit more coherent. Marc’s leads were firey in a sleazy/greasy kind of way. They ended with that slower Muddy Waters cover.
Tonight’s crowd was pretty big…maybe fifty people. It seems like everyone is trying to make it to the bar as much as they can before it closes down on Saturday. Lots of familiar faces.
Magnolia Summer opened with frontman Chris Grabau delivering one of his quiet, gentle songs on acoustic guitar with the band adding subtle background. It was nice, but I was hoping that this wouldn’t set the tone for one of those cozy, moody, textural sets. A bunch of those Undertow bands (MS, Waterloo, Milton Mapes) do that "simmer ‘til it shimmers" thing. Tonight we didn’t have to wait too long for things to shimmer. Guitarists Joe Thebeau and John Horton ramped up the volume and intensity on the second song and wouldn’t let go. Considering that neither one is a full-time member of the band, they sure do account for a large part of how the whole thing feels. Just as I was being wowed by that two-guitar interplay thing, Chris jumps in with his Les Paul and raises the bar even higher. Somewhere in there, they did their version of "Round and Around"…it’s one of my favorites on that Chuck Berry tribute CD, mainly because of how refreshingly playful and different it is. I’m no good at remembering Magnolia Summer song titles, so you’ll have to ask someone else for a setlist. I did catch the title of the encore- it was "Big Sky" which sounded like an intensified take of Yo La Tengo’s version of this Kinks classic.
Both of tonight’s bands contained members of Waterloo, and the other two members were in the house, so it seemed only natural for them to quickly convene and close things out…after all, this was their last chance to play on this stage. They did two or three songs, including "Picture Start" (the one that always reminds me of Badfinger’s "Day After Day") with an intensity they usually build up to. Dave Melson’s bass playing always grabs my attention…it’s very spirited and inventive.
2/8/06 Psychotronics, Frederick’s. My friend Curt Hendricks (ex-Plaid Cattle, Whitey) sent me an email saying he’s in a jam band that’s gonna be playing at Frederick’s on Wednesday. I guess the "my friend" part outweighed the "jam band" part of the message and I made it down to the bar. With the bar closing in just a few days, I halfway expected there to be lots of people out tonight, but there were only ten or twenty on hand. I’m not sure who to thank, but there were a couple of complimentary cases of White Castle burgers out on a table.
"Jam band" pretty much describes what these guys do (Psychotronics might imply something else). The two guitarists interact in a give/take conversational way. At its best, there’s a link to improvisational jazz as things cycle and evolve as it goes. The actual sound flutters in a way that is more reminiscent of The Allman Brothers’ "Mountain Jam" than, say, The Grateful Dead.
2/9/06 Open Mic Night, Frederick’s. If it’s Thursday night, it must be open mic night at Frederick’s…at least one more time. I kinda suspected it would be crowded, but was stunned to find the lot across the street completely full. Josh Weise was on stage singing "Dead Flowers" as I squeezed down the stairs. He also did The Replacements’ "Can’t Hardly Wait". Open mic nights are usually a hit-or-miss deal, but tonight rather than strangers off of the street, the steady stream of people on and off the stage consisted of the musicians who have hosted these hootnannies over the years. The packed house paid marginal attention. The scene was mostly a big social hour/cocktail party where people seemed to drift in and out of listening to the music.
Through the foggy blur of talk and beer, notable moments were provided by Brian Marek, Larissa Dalle, Justin Brown (he sang a pretty literal "Passenger Side"), Marc Chechik (got some audience participation on "Get Off Of My Cloud"…John Horton on guitar), Bob Reuter & Dirty South (that slow bluesy one again), Jesse Irwin and Tommy Halloran (announced he was gonna be a daddy, again). Any time Trish and Dana weren’t serving up drinks, they were locked in a big old teary embrace behind the bar…Frederick’s closing might be hitting them the hardest of anyone. In the final stretch, Bob Camp sang a few songs before getting Fred up on stage to sing and slap the silverware on a couple of originals. The sound was clear and the crowd was attentive as he sang "Cold Ice Water" and "Richer Than The Soil.