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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 54

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 54

4/15/07 Porter Hall, TN, Beale On Broadway. I got there about halfway through the opening set by The Red Headed Strangers.  There were 30 or 40 people out on a Sunday night.  This local country-rock band contains a number of the guys from The Roundups.  Among the crowd of musicians squeezed onto the tiny stage were two female singers, a piano player and a left-handed mandolin player.  They did a mix of traditional folk/country/bluegrass songs and (presumably) originals.  It all had a bohemian, DIY vibe to it.
Next came set #1 by Porter Hall, TN…the first time I’ve seen them since lead singer/songwriter Molly Conley’s bout with thyroid cancer.  This punk/honky tonk/bluegrass band has been one of my favorites from the first time I heard them at Frederick’s and it makes me really happy that Molly’s doing better and they’ve returned to touring.  They’ve got a whole new band (b, d & g) behind them now, but the heart and soul of what they do is the solid songwriting and evocative vocal delivery of Molly and Gary.  Set one was more country-flavored: “Screwed Blue” and “Golden Chain Of Hate” (my 2 favorites from their debut CD…I shared w/ Fred Friction via cell phone during the latter), “White Lightnin”, “Looking At The World Through A Windshield” and a few new ones (guessing at titles: “Easier Said Than Done”, “Little Jimmy Rant”, “Crazy Inside Of Me”, “All Messed Up” & “Broken Strings”…the latter owes a debt to UT’s “Nothin”).  Their new guitar player can lay on the licks and bend the notes.  In Nashville, even a lesser-known outfit like this can land a pretty talented lead player.  On this crowded stage, the lead player was tucked in behind Gary, providing the illusion that all of those slick leads were coming from Gary.
The set list for set two by The Red Headed Strangers could have been culled from my record collection, circa 1977 (read: “country rock”).  They covered Neil (“Love Is A Rose”, “For The Turnstiles”), Ronstadt (“Blue Bayou”), Prine (“Onomatopoeia”), Dylan (“I’ll Keep It With Mine”) and Johnny Cash (“Jackson”, “Folsom Prison Blues”).  Johnny Vegas joined them on vocals for the JC songs.
Set two by PHT started off slow with their dark, soulful cover of Uncle Tupelo’s “Whiskey Bottle”.  Sticking to their old M.O., they picked things up as the night wore on, getting more sassy and trashy as they raced through classics like “TV Eye”, “Be My Lover”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Country Death Song”, “You Aint Woman Enough To Take My Man”, and “People Who Died”.  Somewhere in there, they did a revved up gospel medley that included “Amazing Grace” and “I’ll Fly Away”.  The end was a little blurry onstage as well as out in the barroom.
4/21/07 Son Volt, The Pageant.  We lucked into passes to that private box up in the balcony- it worked out nicely, since my buddy Fred is still getting around on crutches.  We missed the opening act, but heard all of Son Volt’s set.  I saw (and was blown away by) the latest incarnation of Son Volt last October, so I’ll pass on describing the sonic nuances (urgent leads, surging keyboard fills, blah, blah, blah…) and give a more brief, personalized account of tonight’s show.
Things were comfortable enough in the upper deck box seats, but it all felt a bit removed.  The early portion of the set focused heavily on material from their new The Search CD, which I’m still not that familiar with.  One early highlight was “Jet Pilot”…this one rings more righteous as anti-Bush sentiment swells to record proportion.  “Voodoo Candle” was reworked to the point that I didn’t recognize it.  “Medication” was even more hypnotic and trance-like than usual.  Right around this point, I left Fred and Kathleen up in the balcony to see how things were down on the floor.
Attribute it to my move to where things were louder or the pacing of the show (I suspect a bit of both), but things really kicked into gear for the last handful of songs.  “Tear Stained Eye” has become Jay Farrar’s “Guitar Town”; it’s his catchy, familiar and obligatory calling card.  They sprinted to the finish line with a string of high-octane songs: “Bandages And Scars”, “Drown” and “Afterglow 61”.
Son Volt fans have come to expect the encore to contain some fun, left-field cover.  Tonight’s joyous surprise was The Stones’ “2,000 Light Years From Home”…big smiles all around the floor where I was standing.  From there we got the ever-inspiring and reassuring “Windfall” and another curveball- Jay’s treatment of “Life Worth Living” was so different that it felt like a cover song.  The band gave it a sharp, reggae-fied edge, not unlike the way Graham Parker did in “Don’t Ask Me Questions”.  The encore ended with a much less altered version of another UT classic…“Chickamauga” punched and crunched and sent people home (or at least to the Halo Bar) happy.
4/27/07 The Deadstring Brothers, The Duck Room.  There were bands before and after them, but I didn’t hear ‘em.  This Detroit 6 piece (b, d, k, g, g/steel, v) play ragged rock that most frequently gets compared to Exile-period Rolling Stones…jagged guitar bleeds into pedal steel bleeds into keyboards (sometimes piano/sometimes surging B3).  I don’t know their songs by name, but the two covers I recognized were The Band’s “Get Up Jake” and Dylan’s “From A Buick Six”.  They got that sway.  
4/28/07 Chuck Mead, House Concert.  We (me, Chuck and two other friends) got back from the ballgame (a disappointing 8-1 loss to the Cubs) just a couple of hours before show time.  For whatever reason (conflicting shows around town, etc.), there were fewer people in the house tonight.  I have to admit that having 50 people in the room was a nice, relaxed change of pace from the 70+ crowds we’ve had lately.
Chuck arranged ahead of time to eschew the usual “two sets w/ break” format, opting instead to do one long ninety minute set.  Fittingly, he opened with “One Long Saturday Night”, one of the more upbeat staples from the BR549 (the country band he typically fronts) catalog.  The set list contained other BR549 standards (“Lower Broad Street Blues”, “I’m Going Down”, “Too Lazy To Work…”, “The Shape I’m In”, “Out Of Habit” and “Let Jesus Make You Breakfast”) as well as a number of classic country covers from folks like Johnny (“I’m So Doggone Lonesome”…with Luther Perkins-style leads thrown in), Carl Smith (“Loose Talk”), Del Reeves (“Girl On The Billboard”) and Hank (“Ramblin’ Man”).
In BR549, Chris and Don trade the jaw-dropping leads and leave everyone blown away- it was nice to see that Chuck can still convincingly carry things all by himself when he has to. He was all over the place, not just your standard strum and sing thing. 
Somewhere in the middle, Chuck gave an endearing and amusing intro to a mini-set of songs from a “road-house opera” about the JFK assassination (an apparent obsession of his) that he wrote and performed back in his days with The Homestead Grays (HG drummer Guy Stephens was “in the house” tonight). “A Man Of Intrigue” offered a little “Secret Agent Man” instrumental tease and “You Still Got Something To Hide” sounds like a melodic precursor to “Chains Of This Town”, a song Chuck recorded with Dos Cojones and eventually, BR549.
Chuck closed out his marathon set by granting a request for “Muleskinner Blues”.  After a brief pause, he came out for an encore: “Lovesick Blues” (more Hank) and “Tell Me Mama”.  He then asked what song should he go out with…I offered up “Chains Of This Town”, which he immediately did up, to close things out.
I enjoyed the “pedal to the medal” nature of this non-stop set, but with so many friends in the room, I missed the chance to catch up with a few people during the break...fortunately, a good number of people stuck around for a while afterwards.  The last few stragglers filtered out around midnight.  Good times, all around.
5/11/07 The Redwalls, House Concert.  Having played British soccer stadiums as the opening act for Oasis, I had assumed this Chicago pop band was too big-time to play at our house, but through a mutual friend, I made a modest pitch to their manager… surprisingly, they agreed to drive down and do it up; they said they had heard good things about these intimate house concerts.  Two days after we booked this show, we had maxed out on RSVPs.  These four lads (they’re all in their early twenties) rang the doorbell around 5PM, all decked out in their distinctive apparel- ties, vests, Beatle boots, the whole mod look.  I was a bit concerned by their very LOUD sound check, but it all worked out.
An hour or so later, the room was packed…a nice combination of our regular group of friends and a younger bunch of strangers who had learned about this show via the band’s website (one girl made the trip from Philadelphia to be here!).  The latter group was so young….How young were they?  So young that some were accompanied by their moms.  So young that when we cleaned up the house the next day, we found a few gummy bears down in the cushions of one of the couches. Regardless of their age, they added to the intensity and enthusiasm.  It makes me happy to see so many people happy.
The band set up in front of the new cartoon space scene panels in the windows and opened set one with the melodic “Edge Of The Night”.  Let the early Beatles comparisons begin.  They got that sixties jangle going and sing in annunciated accents.  “Deep (in the heart of Texas)” makes me want to complete each verse with “Tuesday’s on the phone to me…”.  Justin (bass) sings lead on “Love Her”…it’s got an infectious repeated guitar hook and sounds a bit like The Kinks.  Logan (the brother who sounds like an early John Lennon) sang “What A Shame”…it’s a slower intense blues-rock song along the lines of “I’m Lonely…Wanna Die”.  Their cover of “Dead Flowers” is perkier than the dozens of country-rock versions I’ve heard over the years. “Build A Bridge (we’ll bring both sides together)” has a 60s cosmic “smile on your brother” thing going.  Set one ended with the dramatic “Falling Down”… “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh”.
After the usual re-beer break, it was more of the same…“Surf Song” has a hypnotic Twilight Zone-ish hook.  “Hung Up” elicited more Beatles comparisons; like some melodic hybrid of “Because” & “Hey Jude”.  Bob Dylan’s “Crash On The Levee” was sung by Justin and done up in a jagged electric blues style ala “Maggie’s Farm”.  Here’s a link to a video clip of this song that was posted on youtube:
This will probably give you a better idea of how it went than all of these words.
We hung out until around 2:30 AM, at which time I called it a night.  The band (all 4 of 'em) continued to hang around the fire out back until almost 5AM.  Andrew crashed on the couch downstairs and woke up around 10AM, still wearing his tie.  Logan was the last to wake up (closer to noon) and didn't have much of an appetite for breakfast burritos.  They were all very gracious and appreciative as they piled back into their two cars, wearing the same clothes they were wearing when they rang the doorbell 20 hours ago. 
5/17/07 The Mother Truckers, Broadway Oyster Bar.  Tonight was a throwback to my kidless days of ten or fifteen years ago.  I worked until around 9PM and went straight from work to the venue…in this case the oyster bar.  The band was about mid-way through its opening set as I sat in the slightly chilly outdoor courtyard, cold beer in one hand, shrimp grinder in the other.  About 40 people came out on a Thursday to hear these Austinites play country-rock like it was 1977, complete with a ringing leads and shuffling, boom-tap drumbeat.  A few songs I remember: “One After Nine O Nine” (Beatles), “Blue Bayou” (Roy, via Linda), “Folsom Prison Blues” and “So Doggone Lonesome”.
The lead (female) singer has a voice similar to Asleep At The Wheel’s Chris O’Connell and the lead guitar player was a demon, all up and down the frets.  They got ‘em some chops and their set list could be constructed from my record collection.  Good times for sure, but I somehow didn’t get a definable, distinctive thing that made them stand out…nothing to stylistically set them apart from hundreds of country-rock bands I’ve heard before.  On the plus side, you could do a lot worse than make 40 people happy on a Thursday night.
5/19/07 Two Cow Garage/Grand Champeen, Off Broadway.  There was a pretty good crowd on a Saturday night to hear this same double-bill that packed Frederick’s a few years ago…lots of familiar faces out tonight.  Grand Champeen played first, doing lots off of their brand new Dial T For This CD, as well as a Big Star cover.  Catchy songs, played hard.
Two Cow Garage came on next.  Blame it on the sound mix or the beer, but I didn’t notice the impact of their new keyboard player when they played this room a couple of months ago, but tonight they were less grungy and more nuanced (not a term often used in describing this band).  2CG also has a brand new CD out.  They did lots from Three, including “Aint No Shame”…this one roars and soars and gets me jumping up and down.  Their manager/sometimes-second guitarist Chris Flint joined in on a few songs.  Since they officially retired their grunge-ified cover of “Don’t Let Me Down” at Frederick’s a while ago, they’ve come up with another Beatles’ ballad to, um, interpret…“Oh Darling” pretty much received the same treatment, with a bit less bombast.  Don’t go thinking they’ve gone soft their old age (mid-twenties, I’m guessing)…some of the GC guys got up to join in on Neil’s “Ohio” (a rompin’, stompin’ tip-of-the-cap to their home state).
Since John and Marie were putting up Grand Champeen tonight, it was pretty much a given that an after-party would ensue.  I got home around 3:30.
5/26/07 The Starkweather Boys, Beale On Broadway.  I showed up on the late side.  Earlier rains moved this show from the outdoor stage to the indoor one, which given the size of the crowd (maybe 30 people), worked out just fine.  I pulled up a chair at Gary and Joann’s table.  What we have here is a four-piece (b, d, g/steel & g/vocals) from Tulsa who do a country/rockabilly thing that’s a bit more C & W than say, Big Sandy.  Set one featured a Johnny Cash medley among lots of other standards (“Sleepwalk” and “Together Again” showed up somewhere in the evening).  When the band took a break, I got a chance to catch up with drummer Bill Padgett, who played with Dwight Twilley at our house a couple of months ago.
There were a handful of people who seemed to be there specifically to hear the band (a couple who effortlessly danced in that vintage jitterbug style stood out), but the majority of the crowd was there to see a band/any band (the Cardinals game ended just a couple of hours ago a few blocks away)…this unfamiliar contingent had just as much fun, happily bouncing to standards like “Pipeline” (evolved out of Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron”) and “Suzie Q” (the closest they could come to granting repeated requests for CCR).   
6/2/07 Brian Capps and the True Liars, Off Broadway.  I got there somewhere in the middle of their first set…maybe 40 or 50 people in the room.  Brian has a real rich and pleasing voice that lends itself to twangy, country material and his backing band is The Morells (minus the keyboards).  That’s pretty much a recipe for a good time, in my book.  When it comes to laying down these country and rock ‘n’ roll classics, these guys are old pros.  As always, Donnie Thompson’s guitar leads were so expressive/impressive that you’d expect him to be the hired lead player for a bigger-level touring act.  Bassist Lou Whitney sang one, but mostly, they let Brian’s voice and stage persona carry things. There were some BC originals, but the next day, I’m only coming up with the covers: “Skip a Rope”, “Too Much Monkey Business” (Chuck), “Sittin’ And Thinkin”, “Run For Your Life” (Beatles) and “Folsom Prison Blues” (w/ Johnny Vegas on guest vocals).
6/3/07 Finn’s Motel, The Halo Bar.  This was that Sunday night RFT showcase thing where a $10 wristband gets you into a bunch of venues on Delmar, all of which have a lineup of local acts playing.  The only band I saw tonight was Finn’s Motel.  They did a brief set, pretty much sticking to the songs from their only CD, with yet another lead guitar player…this time it was Chris Grabau (Magnolia Summer, Stillwater, Waterloo, etc.).  Chris always finds a way to add his own, unique shimmer to whatever band he’s supporting.  I’ve never heard great sound in The Halo Bar and tonight was no exception.  A couple of songs that stood out tonight were “Eero” (that brief but cool, soaring homage to the designer of the gateway arch) and “Alright Tonight”.




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