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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 83
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 83
6/10/09 Twangfest Wednesday, The Pageant. Twangfest Thirteen officially began a couple of hours earlier with a reception at The Schlafly Tap Room. The Rum Drum Ramblers played a nice enough set of old school ragged, raucous blues, but largely served as background in this kind of cocktail party atmosphere. Around 7:30, things wound down and we all made the drive over to The Pageant.
I got there just as Amy LaVere and band were arriving backstage. After a brief catch-up with Amy, Paul and Steve, a few general announcements were made from the stage and tonight’s show was under way. Even at around 8PM, there was a decent crowd on hand (the dance floor was maybe 1/3 full) as Amy LaVere opened the show with her slinky, hypnotic cover of Carla Thomas’ “That Beat”. In this brief opening slot, Amy stuck to some of her strongest, most familiar songs: “Killing Him”, “Pointless Drinking” and “Lazarus” all went over well with a crowd of people, most of whom were hearing her for the first time. Having seen/heard this same band (b, d and AL on stand-up bass and vocals) in more intimate settings, I felt that things were a bit distant in this more wide-open setting. They closed things out with “If Love Was Train”.
Tonight’s middle act was Hot Club Of Cowtown. Western swing would be a starting point in describing the sound of this Austin three-piece (fiddle, acoustic guitar, stand-up bass). The two songs I remember were “Don’t You Send Me Flowers” and Bob Wills’ “Ida Red”. One jazzy instrumental drifted into Django Reinhardt territory. The loose, fun vibe was enhanced by the presence of their dog, Eva casually perched on the edge of the stage.
Headlining the opening night of Twangfest Thirteen, was the guy who’s been on our “wish list” for years- Alejandro Escovedo. Since we’ve had preliminary verbal agreements for him to play in years past (none ever panned out), there was a little bit of a “I’ll believe it when I see it” feeling among the Twang Gang. Shortly before he was to go on, Al came down the stairs to the area just off to the side of the stage- he was very relaxed and approachable and graciously signed the two posters I had for our KDHX benefit auction.
After the usual salutations and shout-outs associated with Twangfest, Alejandro Escovedo was introduced and came out with his three-piece backing band. All of Al’s previous STL appearances have been in smaller rooms with an acoustic band (cello, viola, acoustic guitar), so my buddy Steve Scariano likened tonight’s full-on electric band set in front of 550+ people to a Springsteen arena show (vs. a theatre show).
Even if I took the time to come up with a description of this set, it wouldn’t be as accurate or articulate as the review written by Dan Durchholz that appeared in the June 12 Post-Dispatch, so with all appropriate credits and footnotes, here’s what Dan wrote: “Backed by a three-piece band, Escovedo opened with a three-song salvo that was as much a force of nature as the thunderstorm raging outside. "Put You Down" and "Everybody Loves Me" unwound slowly but rose to moments of blistering intensity as Escovedo traded solos with guitarist David Pulkingham. Sandwiched between them, "Always a Friend" — the lead single from his most recent album, "Real Animal" — proved to be the best Bruce Springsteen song the Boss never wrote.
From there, Escovedo began pulling songs and stories out of the past. "Dear Head on the Wall," he said, was about "taxidermy and Buddhist beliefs." Introducing a hushed, acoustic take on "Sister Lost Soul," he drew applause when he mentioned his first band, the Nuns, and said, "If you're clapping, you never heard the Nuns."
Escovedo connected with his family's Mexican roots, performing two songs from his play "By the Hand of the Father." Pulkingham also added some south-of-the-border flourishes to the darkly confessional "I Was Drunk."
Recalling his early forays into St. Louis with his band True Believers, Escovedo name-dropped Cicero's Basement Bar and said, "I lost my mind there one night. It might still be there."
The set ended as furiously as it began, with "People," a song Escovedo played at last year's Democratic National Convention. "We opened for Hillary Clinton," he said. He followed that with the punk memoir "Chelsea Hotel '78" and "Castanets," which Escovedo dedicated to Joe Strummer and played as if he was fronting the Clash.
The encore featured the David Bowie-penned Mott the Hoople classic "All the Young Dudes" and the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden," on which guitarist Jimmy Griffin of the Incurables joined the band.” …(end quote) After the show, a bunch of us adjourned to The Halo Bar (via the hot dog cart out front) where The Incurables (b, d & 3 guitars) were playing. Most folks (myself included) were mostly focused on catching up with friends and didn’t give the band much of a listen. At some point, Alejandro showed up in this small bar and shook a few hands before settling into the booth next to ours. Local country-rockers, The Dock Ellis Band closed things out with their usual half heartfelt/half jokey material. At one point the band gave a tongue-in-cheek "thank you" to Alejandro for opening for them. I got home around 2AM. One night down, three to go.
6/11/09 Twangfest Thursday, The Duck Room. I spent the early part of my evening hanging banners, greeting bands as they arrived, showing them where to park and getting them set up in The Duck Room. First up on the bill tonight was The Brothers Lazaroff. This local (by way of Austin) 5-piece (b, d, k and brothers Jeff and David Lazaroff on vocals and guitars) play a polished, soulful brand of layered country-rock. Their Austin roots resulted in Gary Newcomb (from Bruce Robison’s band) sitting in on pedal steel throughout their set. The wealth of accomplished players onstage allowed for rich layers during the groove of the verses as well as for some impressive lead trading during the breaks. They closed out this 40 minute set with TVZ’s “White Freight Liner”.
After a quick changeover, I got up onstage and introduced Eilen Jewell. She and her band opened with the glowing, tuneful “Rain Roll In”. From there, she ran through a fun set ranging from torch twang (“High Shelf Booze”) to straight-up C & W (Loretta’s “Fist City”) to dark, rumbling rock (“Shakin’ All Over”…with a little “Train Kept A Rollin” riff thrown in). Song selection in this relatively brief set was very similar to that of March’s house concert. Eilen’s rich voice and Jerry’s hot guitar licks went over well with the big crowd in this, their first club gig in St. Louis. They ended with that Bessie Smith medley.
Soon enough, CK came out and introduced the next act- Bruce Robison and band (b, d, k, g/steel). Bruce is tall and lanky and has a very relaxed, congenial stage presence. He’s got several albums worth of material to draw from and shook things down to a dense 60+ minutes. This was one of the twangiest acts of TF14. They opened with “It Came From San Antonio”, a cool Doug Sahm send-up, cheesy keyboards and all. Other songs that stood out included “This Is The Good Life” (a classic-sounding honky-tonk song, with weeping steel throughout), “Angry All The Time” (one his most melodic and well-known ballads), “What Would Willie Do?”, “My Brother And Me” (a humorous ballad) and “Wrapped” (w/ distinctive steel guitar hook). This nice long set ended with “Poor Man’s Son” (an upbeat accordion-driven zydeco romp with a blue-collar theme). Since the next act was still awaiting the arrival of their lead guitar player from the airport, I went up to the mic and asked the crowd if they wanted to hear one more from Bruce…BR obliged with “Rock And Roll Roll Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man”- bluesy leads traded back and forth between guitar and keyboards.
Tonight’s headline act was Big Sandy And His Fly-Rite Boys. Early in the evening we were tipped off that their lead guitar player was going to be cutting it close on his flight from LA to STL. He still had not shown up when it was show time, so Sandy came out and did a couple of songs by himself. His voice is well-suited to solo/acoustic mode, but he seemed a bit out of his element and off of his game. Somewhere in the second or third song, he stopped and shook his head and announced it was time to bring the band out…Sandy’s rhythm section and Jerry from Eilen’s band pinch-hitting on lead guitar. Anyone who has heard Jerry play would not be surprised to hear that he pretty quickly fell in line with the rest of the band and made it work. The only song I remember is Buck’s “Just As Long As You Love Me”. About halfway through the set, Sandy’s lead guitar player arrived and immediately took over. The whole band (especially Sandy) turned things up a notch and jumped with more confidence as they wound things up for a tight sprint to the finish line.
6/12/09 Twangfest Friday, The Duck Room. Having done all of our setup (banners, backline, merch table) yesterday, my early-evening tasks were limited to checking bands in and making sure everyone had whatever they needed. Tonight’s crowd was a bit thinner than last night’s (not embarrassingly sparse) as St. Louis’ own Jon Hardy And The Public took the stage. I have seen them before, but tonight’s set really clicked with me (and, apparently, many other people). Decked out in suits, this seven-piece band (b, d, g, k, 2 saxes and JH on g + v) played hard and peppy from start to finish. They did several covers, including some spliced snippets of Randy Newman (I recognized “Little Criminals” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” but I think there were more). Their cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It” closely mirrored the way The Band did it- emphasis on the beat and punchy horns…it rocked.
Next up was Sarah Borges And The Broken Singles. Having seen (and enjoyed) them a few times, it was nice to see them get a positive response in front a bigger St. Louis audience. In this 45-minute set, they mostly stuck to up-beat material, allowing Sarah’s big vocal delivery and sassy stage presence to come through. Songs that stood out included: “Day We Met” (with its distinctive repeated guitar hook) and “No One Will Ever Love You” (this Magnetic Fields’ ballad was one of the few slower numbers). To close out the set, Sarah asked for a few people to hop up on stage…I ended up standing behind one microphone, along with Roy, Dana and a couple of other people while Sarah walked out into the middle of the crowded dance floor, where she sang the lead lines to “Open Up Your Back Door”…those of us on stage following with the response vocals.
In the early part of Sarah’s set, I have to admit to having one eye on the door, as the band due onstage next had yet to arrive. Fortunately, Andre Williams (squeezed into a mini-van full of guys all about half his age) arrived in plenty of time to take the stage right at 10PM. In the tradition of many of the old-school blues guys, his backing band (b, d, g, k) opened things up with a brief instrumental warm-up, but in this case, the instrumentation had a hard, tight garage-y vibe to it, along the lines of The Sonics or The Lyres. After the proper amount instrumental pre-heating, one of the band members announced the entrance of Mr. Andre Williams.
Williams came strutting out in grand fashion, all decked out in a stylin’ white three-piece suit and matching hat and proceeded to lay into a set of sleezy, greezy, sometimes smooth, sometimes raunchy blues numbers. His voice and vocal style recalled Otis Redding, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Rudy Rae Moore (AKA Dolomite) in varying proportions throughout the set. Even at age 78, he’s still able to pull off this badass, sexually charged presentation. I wouldn’t have to go much past listing the song titles to give you an idea of what I’m talking about: “Bad Motherfucker”, “Jailbait” (introduced as Keith Richards’ favorite song), “Let Me Put It In” and “Pussy Stank” all dripped with testosterone. The tough, tight and non-traditional treatment the band applied had the crowd whipped up and shaking it out on the packed dance floor. Most of these folks up front would tell you that this a real highlight of this (or any other) Twangfest. His encore was truly an encore, as he re-did “Bad Muthafucka” for a second time.
Even in the best of circumstances, any band would have had a hard time following AW onstage after this rompin, stompin set, but The Asylum Street Spankers might have been the worst possible band to be next on the bill. Their stage plot (they gave a revised plot to the sound man during Andre’s set) required moving away the backline drum kit, setting up chairs and lots of mic check time. I’m not sure who was more annoyed, the band or Pancho. At around 11:30, Spankers’ front man, Wammo, stood up and instructed the audience on how they were to behave during their set…he required everyone standing up front to sit on the floor (never mind the minor tributary of beer) or move to the back and asked that all talking cease. There’s a time and place for everything; this would probably work well in a setting where everyone came specifically to hear this band, but this is Twangfest, and SHIT AINT LIKE THAT.
As the room rearranged in reaction to these instructions (some sitting down, some moving to the back and many people leaving, altogether) the band (rhythm section standing behind a row of four seated players- fiddle, dobro, acoustic guitar and Wammo on vocals and harmonica) started into a set of typically swingy/stringy/hokey/jokey stuff that they do. Not being that familiar with their silly, often scatological repertoire, I’m only remembering a couple of songs: “My Baby’s In The CIA” and “Mujahideen Mama” (something like “with a bomb under my birka, I’ve got something else for you to strap on”) stood out. Throughout the set, Wammo, already in a mood, was visibly annoyed at the chatter near the bar and was none too pleased when he was told he had time for one more song at 12:40. He said something like “first you tell me 60 minutes then you say it’s 90 and now it’s back to 60?” from the stage. They ended with the “Beer, Beer, Beer” song. They were nice enough guys during load-out (I had a nice talk with Charlie, the dobro player, about Frederick’s Music Lounge), but it was clear to us and them that this wasn’t a good pairing of band and setting.
6/13/09 Twangfest Day Party, Schlafly Bottleworks. Nancy and I took Ray to this afternoon thing at The Bottleworks. There were maybe 30 people at the tables under the tent, mostly familiar faces. In years past, the band would set up under a smaller tent right next to the dining tent so everyone could pretty easily see/hear the band. But this time the stage (one of those flatbed truck stages) was set up across the hot parking lot, leaving a huge gulf of vacant asphalt between the performers and their audience.
Maybe at other times, the bar gets enough of a crowd to make this layout work, but not today. I felt bad for Fred Friction as he poured his heart out to a couple of people standing up close to the stage with everyone else sequestered away beneath the tent. What I remember of his set was typically ragged and heartfelt…Steve Earle’s “Sometimes She Forgets” got the Fred treatment. Did I mention that he wore his leopardskin-print leotard (with tail)?
Melody Den played next, opening in slow-burn mode. True to their pattern, they built things up and brought things to a boil. Toward the end, they covered GP’s “One Hundred Years From Now”.
As soon as the band finished up, Nancy and I hustled over to Euclid Records to hear the last few songs of the in-store performance by the duo-version of Daddy. “You Made Your Bed” stood out, with Will and Tommy trading bluesy acoustic guitar licks. Then it was back home for a brief breather before heading back over to The Duck room for the final night of TF13.
6/13/09 Twangfest Saturday, The Duck Room. I showed up around 6:30 to help bands load in and set up as they arrived. For the longest time, the only band who had shown up was the 10PM act- Daddy. At around 7:30, we were freaking out a little because the 8PM act had yet to show up. At just about the last possible moment, the guys from the local band Theodore showed up and pretty much went straight up onto the stage for a brief sound check at about the same time the doors opened and the crowd filled in. The band is a four-piece with one guy playing a range of instruments (saw, banjo, electric guitar with weird effects). The singer’s voice reminded me of Loudon Wainwright III and the overall effect was somewhat spooky. I liked it.
Next up was Nashville’s The Deep Vibration…pop music rendered with dark, hard guitars. One song reminded me of Neil Young’s “Helpless” while another resembled Neil’s “Revolution Blues”. My scribbled notes say that they did The Beatles’ “Money”, but it was a long time ago, so I’m not 100% sure. A few people I talked to afterward hated this band, more for the cocky swagger/demeanor of the lead singer than for the actual sound of the band. I didn’t have a problem with them.
Last night’s unsettling experience with the lead singer of The Asylum Street Spankers (see 6/12/09) made me appreciate how easy-going and appreciative tonight’s bands were. The biggest demand that anyone had tonight was Jason Isbell asking for a bottle of Jack Daniels, which we happily provided.
Probably the most approachable/down-to-earth of all of tonight’s bands was Daddy. Co-led by the singer/guitarists Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough, this four-piece (also from Nashville) played a nice, long set of blues-based originals, opening with “Glory Be”, a rave-up with an accelerated boom-tap beat. Will Kimbrough’s leads, Tommy Womack’s rhythm guitar and Tim Marx’s bass were impressive and clear in the mix. Scattered songs from the set included “Nobody From Nowhere” (glowing country-rock leads), “The Ballad Of MLK” (Tommy with funky harmonica), “Love In A Bottle” (Tommy sang this one with a loose, swampy vibe), “I Don’t Like It” (that one riff reminds me of The Band’s “Don’t You Tell Henry”), “Wash And Fold” (slide guitar leads applied to an “Aiko-Aiko” beat) and “You Made Your Bed” (Will getting all Duane Allman on slide guitar, call-and-response vocals on the choruses). They closed their set with a smoking version of “Yo Yo Ma”, which somehow reads as “Go, Johnny, Go”…it’s got a real Chuck Berry feel to it and Will somehow splices Bach’s “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring” into the a couple of the guitar breaks.
Since everyone was loving it and the timing was right, Marie told the band they had time for a couple more songs…usually a band will opt to go out on a high note, ripping through some smoking rocker and leaving the crowd whipped up in a frenzy. But instead, amid a certain amount of crowd chatter, Daddy encored with the slow, bluesy “Gloryland” and the quiet ballad “Redemption Is A Mother’s Only Son”…plenty soulful and well-executed, but not exactly the rip-roaring finale I was expecting.
Closing out Twangfest Thirteen was Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit. Jason was once an integral singer/songwriter/guitarist in The Drive-by Truckers. His new band moves about in similar territory, featuring lots of mid-tempo classic-sounding rock songs with plenty of intense soloing. Songs that stood out were “Cigarettes And Wine” (an endearing and ragged power ballad) and “Outfit” (an old DBT staple). I’m not sure if it’s praise to say that my favorite song of their set was their driving cover of The Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”.
As is the pattern on the last night of Twangfest, I headed out to the hotel for the late night/hang-out with all of the out-of-town people. For whatever reason, tonight’s party was a more subdued than previous ones- instead of Grand Champeen rocking the hotel ballroom with an all-covers set that wound down at sunrise (a highlight of TF Ten), things never got any wilder than a food fight with Cheetos tonight. I got home around 4AM. Another one in the books.
6/24/09 Steve Earle, The Pageant. Nancy was out of town, so I dropped the boys off with Jessie at Bon Aire and drove to the club and scalped a ticket to this reserved seat only show. Just by luck, my (slightly cheap) ticket was for a seat on the bar rail at the left corner of the room. I sat there for all of the opening set by Joe Pug …nice enough acoustic guitar/harmonica/vocals. He had a nice, personable stage presence and the crowd was attentive and receptive.
There were maybe four or five hundred people, all seated, when Steve Earle came out for this solo acoustic show, opening with an animated, syncopated take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Where I Lead Me”, one of the songs from Steve’s current release (a double album of Townes covers).
Being a big TVZ fan from back in the seventies, I was very excited about this. I hadn’t heard these great songs played live since 1994, when Townes last played St. Louis, and even then, Townes’ scattered manner and sloppy execution didn’t do his songs justice.
So tonight it was a real treat to hear one of my current favorite singer/songwriters breathe new life into songs that I’ve known (and loved) for thirty years. Early on, these songs came in rapid-fire: “Colorado Girl”, “Pueblo Waltz", “Pancho & Lefty" (as compelling of a story-song as you’ll ever hear) and "Brand New Companion" all had me transfixed. Somewhere in there, Steve’s own tribute to Townes, “Fort Worth Blues” fit in nicely, with its hypnotic picking pattern and solemn tone.
By and large, SE did the Townes songs pretty true to the originals, very much in the style of Townes’ solo acoustic “Live At The Old Quarter” album. Steve really has that Texas blues picking style down. Like Townes, he came to it by way of Lightnin Hopkins and Mance Lipscom (at one point he told a story of he and Townes being in the same room with both of these legendary Texas bluesmen). Steve threw out several colorful stories about Townes throughout the evening.
At some point, he hit the “pause” button on the Townes material and went into a string of his own songs. Originals that worked well in solo acoustic mode included “Tom Ames Prayer”, “My Old Friend The Blues” and “Can’t Remember If We Said Goodbye”. The crowd was especially attentive and drawn in. From there, Steve bounced back and forth between more Townes songs (“Mr. Mud & Mr. Gold” and “Marie”, the latter all haunting and disquieting) and a few more originals (“Rich Man’s War” and “The Mountain”) and back again- TVZ’s “Lungs” (another ragged, unsettling, obscure favorite of mine) and the set’s closer- the more reassuring and hopeful “To Live’s To Fly”.
Given the unique format of this show (and current tour), I was slightly disappointed that the encore featured the two most well-known songs in the Steve Earle catalog. I love “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” as much as the next guy, but I felt like he could have closed things out with something less predictable this time around.