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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 78
2/21/09 Future Clouds And Radar, House Concert. This Austin-based pop band isn’t ever gonna fill arenas, but they enjoy a cult status among people who pay attention this particular sub-genre. Having seen them once last year, I knew I would enjoy seeing them in our intimate setting, and I also knew that it would mean a lot to a certain sector of my music-loving friends (about 65 people on hand tonight). The band got stuck in construction traffic and didn’t show up at the house until very close to show time. Since they got a late start, they decided that they would pass on the “two sets with a break” format and just play one ninety minute mega-set.
Many of the people in the room could give a more detailed and nuanced account of tonight’s show, but given my limited knowledge, my description will be more about my overall impression, rather than a song-by-song critique.
This band is all about the catchy, playful pop. Frontman Robert Harrison writes (and sings) in a style that is reminiscent of classic Brit-pop practitioners (and their musical descendents); The Beatles, Badfinger, Squeeze and Guided By Voices each came to mind to varying degrees at different points. Robert’s guitar has an organic feel to it; less about the amazing solos than about nailing the character of each song. Joshua Zarbo’s bass was very fluid and punctuated, throughout and Hollie Thomas laid on all manner of keyboard effects. She’s eight months pregnant and has a real cool, mod look and demeanor. Drummer Darin Murphy alternated between sticks and brushes, from song-to-song. At other times, the band made use of a rhythm track. “Hurricane Judy” was a highlight from the early part of the show. “The Epcot View” features a distinctive ringing guitar hook and a faux-Brit accent.
A funny moment came when Robert began to do a song that required a capo. He looked (and asked) around some, but no capo. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but a guy came up from the audience to be the “human capo”…Robert showed the guy which fret to keep covered and they were off, Robert playing and singing his heart out while this guy stood there holding his finger on the fret and smiling big.
Other than a ten minute pause to tend to technical matters, the band stuck to their marathon mega-set plan. Holly and Josh stayed away a bit longer from the break as Robert played a couple of songs on acoustic guitar (“Aurora Borealis” stood out). The home stretch featured one of my favorite FCAR songs, “Build Havana”….rich, evocative layers applied to a memorable melody at a relaxed tempo. Darin’s brushed drum was augmented by a somewhat Caribbean rhythm track while Josh lit up the low end with an inventive bassline. Hollie’s dreamy keyboard part sounded like a flute. From there, they revved things up and ended the set with a rocker, leaving the “stage” amid an enthusiastic ovation.
Robert and Hollie came back out for a dreamy nightcap of an encore- “Green Mountain Clover” reminded me of one of those later period Elvis Costello ballads (think: “Sleep Of The Just”).
2/22/09 Future Clouds And Radar, Euclid Records. Lots of the same people who were at last night’s house concert were on hand for this daytime dose of FCAR. They played a good, long set (maybe 45 minutes), featuring lots of the same songs they did last night. Since the tape was rolling for a record that Euclid Records will soon release, the band treated this set as a recording session…they did some songs twice and may end up splicing the best segments of each take together for the final mix. You can buy the record (an actual 45 RPM record) on the Euclid Records website: http://www.euclidrecords.com/featured/instore.jsp?id=11 . One dollar for every record pressed will be donated to New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, an organization that does great work replacing lost and damaged equipment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
2/28/09 The Saps, Cicero’s. I got there late and only heard the last three songs. They were more punchy/punky and less goofy/dopey than I remember from back in the Frederick’s days. Their popularity with the old Fred’s crowd accounted for a pretty full house tonight. It was nice to catch up with people I don’t see as often after the show.
3/7/09 Townes Van Zandt tribute, Off Broadway. I got to this event (a local tribute to the late Texas singer/songwriter, Townes Van Zandt) about halfway through the proceedings. Since each band only did two or three songs, I missed several of the acts, altogether. Combine that with the fact that I’m way behind on doing these live show write-ups and I’ll have to admit that I don’t have much for this particular entry.
It was nice hearing "Delta Mama Blues" sung by a woman (in this case, Auset)...sorta like hearing Bonnie Raitt sing John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" or Tracy Nelson sing Doug Sahm's "I Wanna Be Your Mama Again". Theodore’s moody, brooding take on "Kathleen" seemed true to the overall tone of the song, while I felt like The Brothers Lazaroff’s treatment of "Pancho And Lefty" (while musically accomplished) was too slick and showy for the simple, plaintive nature of that story/song. Given that no one is gonna out-do the stripped-down, laid-out-bare ache-and-break confessional thing that Townes did, I was impressed by The Funky Butt Brass Band’s playful take on “I Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love”. It was probably my favorite song of the evening. Rough Shop closed things out, with my buddy, Dave Melson taking a guest spot on bass for a couple of songs.
That’s about all I got. Fortunately, Roy Kasten was there all night long, was paying more attention and is a better writer than me, so for anyone who wants the full story, here it is, via the blog section on the KDHX website (http://kdhx.org/blog/2009/03/16/townes-birthday-party-recap/#more-927 ):
When KDHX started what will likely become a series of benefit tribute concerts, the station began with Gram Parsons, a country rock hero whose songwriting and devil-may-care attitude resonate still with a wide audience. In truth, the idea belonged largely to Scott Swartz, guitarist and pedal steel maestro for Saint Louis country band the Linemen. That night last year, featuring a dozen Saint Louis bands and songwriters, was a wild success.
This year, the subject was Townes Van Zandt, an artist with a more narrow but no less passionate a cult following. If the phrase “songwriter’s songwriter” has any meaning, it should be applied first and foremost to Townes, who somehow tapped into the the heart of American songwriting–that would be the blues–while individualizing those archetypes with a kind of Byronic poetry and simple but elegant melodies. Still, as the leader of the Texan school of country folk, his music isn’t for everyone, and I wasn’t alone in wondering how this benefit would turn out.
As it happened, the 12 bands who performed the songs of Townes Van Zandt at Off Broadway last Saturday, were heard by at least 250 people, most of whom threatened to drain the bar of its resources, some of whom danced, and all of whom knew how to curb their enthusiasm when a performer, like Cassie Morgan say, would venture the most delicate of arrangements.
The night began with Chris Johnson, one of our city’s best songwriters and most interesting blues guitarists, playing “Marie,” then “Snake Song” and finally “The Highway Kind.” It was a minor key deep blues introduction to Towne’s world. The Dive Poets‘ kept to the dark side, beginning with one of Townes’s very first non-talking blues “Waitin’ Round to Die,” then rocking “Dollar Bill Blues,” with some sharp fiddle, and finally a lovely “Tecumseh Valley.” Ben Bedford followed with five songs, including the all-but-impossible-to-pull-off “Silver Ships of Andilar” and a gorgeous “Snowin’ On Raton” with fiance and partner Kari Abate. The Poorhouse Says, who should have a full length album out later this year, gave one of Towne’s darkest and strangest songs, “Nothin’,” a storming treatment and then a lovely “Snow Don’t Fall.”
Other highlights included Cassie Morgan and the Pines whispering “For the Sake of the Song,” Corey Saathoff combining pedal steel and mandolin on “Looking For You,” the Funky Butt Brass Band tearing the club apart with a ballsy and bluesy march through “Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love,” Auset picking up the electric guitar and sounding almost roadhouse tough, the Brothers Lazaroff getting dancers spinning on “White Freight Liner,” Theodore ringing all the joy from “Heavenly Houseboat Blues,” and Rough Shop putting an electric spin on “Rex’s Blues.” And even if May Day Orchestra threw tuning to the wind (the next benefit should be to get Off Broadway’s old piano up to snuff), they, like all the local bands this memorable evening, still seemed to be having the time of their lives testing themselves against these extraordinary songs.