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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 46
8/25/06 Jon Dee Graham, House Concert. JDG & band (b & d) showed up around 5:30…enough time to get used to the house layout and the borrowed bass rig and drum kit (they were traveling light) before everyone (around 75 people) showed up. It wasn’t painfully hot for late August, so lots of people hung out back until the music started.
Thanks to my friend Pax (who volunteered to keep an eye on the door) I was able to pull up a chair front and center in the dense crowd when the music started. JDG opened with "Tie A Knot"; his gravelly voice and dark songs often get him compared to Tom Waits…the comparison holds up on this song, in particular. Graham is pretty well known for his abilities on electric guitar, but tonight his acoustic guitar rang just as clear and expressive; a nice stylistic changeup from the last few times he’s played STL. "Swept Away" kept things dark and melodic; he dedicated it to "anyone who has ever considered faking their own death…and don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it". Throughout, he was very congenial and had lots of amusing song intros. Things got brighter from there- his next song predicted "something very wonderful is gonna happen" accompanied by a similarly uplifting melody and a notable bass line. "Holes" had a funky Little Feat vibe to it (think "Rock & Roll Doctor"). The general message/tone of JDG’s music seems to say (approximately) "I’ve been through a lot and seen some hard times, but things are going to be OK." "Amsterdam" is the best example of this on the new album and my personal highlight of the first set…nice lyrical imagery in this one, as well. The set ended with "Big Sweet Life"…are you catching a theme here?
With most of the new album covered in the first set, JDG used the second set to cherry-pick his most memorable songs from his back catalog. I’m not gonna list ‘em all, but my favorites were a couple from his days in The True Believers- the bittersweet "Sleep Enough To Dream" (dedicated to Nancy tonight) and the driving "Lucky Moon" (requested by Roy). "Volver" gave us some old-school Mexican pop. Sung in Spanish, it’s a precursor to "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights"…nice south-of-the-border acoustic leads in this one, as well. Jon Dee was very gracious and appreciative of the dense, attentive crowd. He told a few colorful stories about Frederick’s Music Lounge (the Stag sign from Frederick’s was hung behind the band tonight). Things came to a joyous crescendo with "Airplane", which served as a stirring "I’m outta here" closing number… "I’m on the airplane now".
The two-song encore included the reflective "The Majesty Of Love" (dedicated to the soon-to-be-married John & Marie) and "Anymore". The band stuck around for a while talking to folks (they sold a bunch of CDs) before heading off to their hotel. Jon Dee said that this was the most fun he’s had in St. Louis. I’d say this was the most fun I’ve had seeing JDG. A handful of my no-good friends stuck around until way late.
8/26/06 Rough Shop, Schlafly Bottleworks. I caught the end of set one and the beginning of set two. I sat at a table with three friends whom I had hung out with until almost 4AM the night before (see 8/25/06), so we weren’t the liveliest bunch. Rough Shop played with their mid-size lineup tonight: John (g), Ann (stand-up bass), Andy (g & m) and Spencer on drums. In addition to their usual set of originals ("Waiting In The Wings" stood out) they busted out a few covers I hadn’t heard them do before: John sang lead vocals on a faster-tempo reworking of T-Bone Burnett’s "No Love At All" and Andy sang "Catfish John", but my favorite was Nick Lowe’s "Cold Grey Light Of Dawn". They (and the light crowd of listeners) had fun with this exaggerated country weeper…the first time I’ve heard Spencer sing lead.
8/27/06 R.I.P. The Hi-Pointe. When the old Cicero’s closed in 1997, a certain sector of the STL scene (employees, patrons, bands) relocated to The Hi-Pointe. I never made that jump, opting instead to make Frederick’s my regular bar. I saw a bunch of shows at the Hi-Pointe (fewer and fewer in recent years), but I never developed a fondness for the actual place. I guess I’ll miss it, but its closing doesn’t mark the end of an era in my world…not like the closing of Cicero’s or Frederick’s. So, I’ll leave all of the heavy eulogies to those a little closer to that scene.
I did take a few minutes to go back in my journal and read the names of the bands I’ve seen at The Hi-Pointe over the years. In reading a list of band names, a rapid-fire rush of images/memories/associations accompanies each word: the band, the music, who I was with, funny stuff that happened, etc. Anyway, here’s what I came up with: Ashtray, Babe The Blue Ox, The Black Family, The Bottlerockets, BR5-49, Caution Horse, Centro-matic, Cigar Store Indians, The Civiltones, Ray Condo & The Ricochets, Core, Marshall Crenshaw, The Cripplers, The Deathray Davies, Robbie Fulks, Glossary, Grandpa’s Ghost, Gris Gris, The Handsome Family, Hazeldine, Head Candy, The Hold Steady, The Humpers, Johnny Magnet, Killbilly, The Loaded Forty-Fives, The Mighty Blue Kings, The Neckbones, New Bomb Turks, New Patrons Of Husbandry, The Old 97s, Photo By Husband, The Picketts, The Ponys, The Revelators, Jonathan Richman, Seven Shot Screamers, Shame Club, Six String Drag, Skull Orchard, Skulls, Stillwater, The Supersuckers, Three Fried Men, The V-Roys, Wake Oolloo, Waterloo & Whiskeytown. Whew.
9/17/06 Tim Easton, House Concert. Tim made the long rainy drive from central Ohio, arriving around mid-afternoon. He immediately went upstairs for a nap. By the time he wandered downstairs for this solo acoustic show, there were over fifty people in the house. He opened with "News Blackout" from his current Ammunition CD. This one has some pointed political lyrics ("I know that he’s lyin ‘cause his lips are still moving")…its hard-driving structure, bitter tone and ragged harmonica blasts owe a debt to Dylan’s "Ballad Of Hollis Brown". "Black Dog" turned things more cozy and friendly. "Lexington Jail" featured some up-tempo intricate blues picking ala Misssissippi John Hurt. He managed to fill out the "solo acoustic" sound by adding rhythmic stomps to the metal base to the microphone stand. At one point, he added layers of sound by whistling into his harmonica- both were simultaneously audible…first time I’ve witnessed this.
Tim’s most accessible song might be "Poor, Poor LA"- a few people were singing along to the familiar tagline "You don’t have to break your mother’s heart". The rhythmic strum/cadence on this one reminded me of something on Jorma’s Quah album.
The vehicle for tonight’s interactive dialog with the audience was the "first concert" question. Throughout both sets, he would use the pause between songs to point to someone and ask what the first concert they attended was…"and be honest…don’t say your second concert, because it would be cooler to say Bob Dylan". Answers ranged from David Cassidy to Rick Springfield to MC5 to Jefferson Airplane. When someone answered "Heart", Tim rattled off the intro riff to "Barracuda".
"Next To You" is one of those sensitive songs you might play when wooing a chick. "Bitters Past (Drinking With You)" was followed by "Some Day In Amsterdam (?)" which name-checks about every form of drug you could imagine in a syncopated lyrical volley. Toward the end of the first set, TE brought his friend Kevin Buckley up to accompany him. This local fiddle player adeptly added nice fills and leads to "True Ways", "Tired & Hungry Baby (?)" and "I Wish You Well (All The Way To California)".
The second set gave us more impressive guitar/fiddle interplay (Kevin had a nice feel for when to come in and when to lay off). "Oh People", while a bit lyrically vague, seems consistent with his general dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. The upbeat tone of "Not Today" lends a flip indifference to the line, "she might love me again, but not today". Along the way, a few more people answered the "first concert" question: The Who, Leonard Bernstein, James Taylor and Johnny Cash. On "Carry Me" Tim established a hypnotic picking pattern over which he delivered soothing, reassuring vocals. "John Gilmartin" tells a disabled worker story similar to that in The Bottlerockets’ "I Fell Down". Kevin’s fiddle was especially lively on the encore; as the title might imply, "Cigarettes Whiskey & Wild, Wild Women" was raucous and irreverent. When this song finally wound down, Tim sheepishly thanked the appreciative crowd and announced that he was heading over to see what was left at the pot-luck table.
9/18/06 Finn’s Motel CD release party, Euclid Records. A CD release party at a record store…what a concept. When I walked in, the band had already played a few songs to a pretty full room; lots of familiar faces, young and old. Since this was a 7PM show (and not in a bar), lots of people brought their kids. Euclid Records did up the hospitality, providing a nice spread of food and drink. The songs were catchy as hell and the band played with a lot of punch and passion. The two guitars (Joe and James) rang and Steve’s bass was particularly animated. Patrick Hawley (their usual drummer) messed up his arm in a bike wreck, but Peter Lang filled in nicely on relatively short notice. Toby Weiss added vocals to one song somewhere in the middle of the set. Even without being familiar with the songs, I was grabbed by "Alright Tonight" (a joyous, catchy chorus assures us that "everything’s gonna be alright") and "Dramamine For Engine 3". They ended with the latter, winding things out in glorious, soaring fashion. This one had me grinning like a fiend and not caring about anything else for a couple of minutes as it all just washed over me.
This comfortable, family-friendly setting was appropriate for what this band is all about. Joe Thebeau, the mastermind of Finn's Motel, describes himself as a "40-year-old married-with-children rock guy" (this sentence was lifted directly from an article about the new Escape Velocity CD in The Illinois Times): http://www.illinoistimes.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid:5764 If you follow that link to Rene Saller’s article, you’ll learn more than I can tell you about the new CD; in the mean time, here are my scattered observations:
A lot has been made of how Joe’s lyrics reflect a more tempered, "older but wiser" perspective. But what makes these more than just middle-aged laments are the way the whole package fits together. Throughout this carefully crafted album, Joe uses aeronautical imagery as a metaphor for approaching the middle years. Even from the comfort of our domestic trenches, we can still aspire to ascend. In the reflective ballad "Hangover In An Aging Suburb" he refers to his "ongoing war with gravity". On "Exit Strategy Failed", he sings about a "slight miscalculation of the speed". There’s a cool, inspiring (and appropriately brief) interlude song called "Eero"…it’s an ode to the designer of the gateway arch. The CD’s cover art features Toby’s photo of the interior of one of the elevator cars that take you to the top of the arch; it looks like it could be a pod on some spacecraft…escape velocity, indeed.
As well thought out as all that is, it wouldn’t work without killer songs. Escape Velocity is peppered with roaring, soaring hooks worthy of comparisons to bands like Superchunk ("Accelerate And Brake"), The Raspberries (classic-sounding power pop on "Alright Tonight") and most often, Guided By Voices ("Dramamine For Engine 3" and the one-minute sketch ballad, "Exit Strategy Failed" sung in a Pollard-like semi-precious tone). Apparently, Joe and his collaborators spent a lot of time getting all of the sonic layers and overall sound just right. Their efforts paid off nicely- there are new things to discover each time I listen to this CD (which has been about once a day since I got it). You’d never guess this was the work of a 40-year-old married-with-children rock guy with a day job.