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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 96

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 96

9/17/10 Big Smith, George’s, Fayetteville, AR. Our whole family made the six hour drive to Fayetteville for the wedding of some good friends (almost family), arriving in the late afternoon.  The early part of the evening was spent at a dinner get-together of friends and family from in and out of town.  From there, Nancy took the boys back to the hotel while I caught a ride with a few people down to a bar on Dickson Street.  Things were set up so that admission was free to those attending the wedding festivities (the password to the doorman was “Xanax”).
 
George’s is a decent-sized live music club (Lucinda W is playing here Sunday night) with no room for a proper green room, so they’ve set up a trailer in the parking lot out back.  That’s where we met up with the band right before they went on in front of maybe 100 people (apparently this was an off-night for them, in terms of attendance).  It was fun hanging with a collection of Walt and Jeananne’s friends and family (some old friends, some I had just met a few hours earlier).
 
The band’s set wasn’t that different than the last few times I’ve seen them.  Songs included “12 Inch, Three-speed, Oscillating Fan”, “Back Water”, “Brady And Duncan”, “Hay Is For Horses” and “No Sir”, all sounding plenty easy, clean and pleasing as ever.  The Beatles’ “Rain” was a nice, new surprise.  Set one ended with a rompin’, stompin’ version of “I’m Gonna Burn Down The House”.  With a full day ahead of us tomorrow (and knowing that this same band will be playing the wedding reception), we headed back to the hotel just as set two was starting up.
 
9/18/10 Walt and Jeananne’s wedding, Fayetteville, AR.  Our whole family (as well as a few others from out of town) started the day off with breakfast at the hotel and took in the beginning of the Arkansas/Georgia football game on TV before putting on the formal wear and driving up this huge hill to the site of the wedding.  The top of this hill, overlooking downtown Fayetteville, is the site of a church grounds, where rows of folding chairs were set up and a bunch of people had begun to gather.  Mark Bilyeu (singer/guitarist for Big Smith) is a recently registered official and presided over the ceremony.  He provided a comfortable, reassuring tone to the whole thing.  The biggest smile was on the face of Jeananne’s six-year-old son, Aiden. After the ceremony, a bunch of us ended up over at a pizza place where we ate a late lunch and watched on TV as the Hogs made a late, tie-breaking touchdown to down the Dawgs.  The place went nuts.  After a brief stop back at the hotel, we made it over to a local restaurant that had been rented out for the reception
 
We arrived at the reception in time to hear Cindy Woolf sing a couple of songs with Mark Bilyeu on guitar and Molly Healy on fiddle.  From there, the late afternoon was a blur of hanging with friends, old and new, while toasts were offered and various musicians came and went from the stage.  Big Smith played a bunch of old favorites (“12 Inch, Three-speed, Oscillating Fan”, “Back Water”, “Brady And Duncan”, “Texas Can Wait” and “No Sir”).  One nice, unexpected treat was Andrew Duplantis joining in to sing The Beatles’ “Rain”.
 
Charliehorse played a mix of country/rock songs that could have come from the shuffle feature on my iPod (if I had one): “The Race Is On”, “I’ll Be Gone In The Morning”, an original that reminds me of “The Weight” and “I Know You Rider” (Dave Melson guesting on bass).  These guys play southern rock that at times offers glimpses of The Drive-By Truckers and The Allman Brothers.  By now it was dark outside and the music went on “pause” long enough for everyone to go outside to the curb to send the bride and groom off in their freshly decorated ride.  A smaller, but enthusiastic crew went back inside as Charliehorse wrapped things up with a few more…“Summer Wages” and “The Image Of Me” stood out.  Toward the end, they were joined by Zack Bramlett (did I remember correctly?) who laid on some electric blues-rock, ala Stevie Ray.  From there, we made it over for late-night leftovers at the site of last night’s rehearsal dinner before heading back to the hotel.  One last beer in John and Jill’s room and off to bed.
 
9/22/10 Eilen Jewell, Off Broadway.  By the time I got to the club, the band was into their second or third song.  There were maybe 40 people out on a Wednesday night; a handful of familiar faces among them. 
 
With a few exceptions, this was a pretty familiar set from this band: “Shakin’ All Over”, “Codeine Arms”, “Rich Man's World”, “Dusty Boxcar Wall”, “High Shelf Booze”, “Thanks A Lot” and “Heartache Boulevard” (I could be off a little).  As always, the tone was in that moody torch twang vein- Jerry’s dark, evocative leads backing Eilen’s dreamy vocals all presented against the backdrop of that red velvet curtain.  There were a couple of new things thrown in: a few songs from her current CD of Loretta Lynn covers (“Fist City” and “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin” stood out) as well as a couple of new originals.  They ended the set with the revved and rambling “If You Catch Me Stealin” before coming back out for a one-song encore- a ballad in waltz time.  I was home (via the Taco Bell drive-thru) before midnight.
 
9/23/10 The Spampinato Brothers, House Concert.  The band was running a bit late from its in-store appearance at the record store and showed up around 6:30…just enough time to load in, set up and do a quick mic check.  With three different lead vocalists/mics and two monitors, it took a while to arrive at a satisfactory combination of level/effect settings and speaker positioning.  These long-time professional musicians were patient with our limited sound system and my entry-level sound man skills.
 
There was a lot going on this week and tonight, specifically, so we didn’t get as big of a crowd as we might have guessed…no worries, really; about 60 people filled the place up nicely.
 
Joey and Johnny Spampinato were both members of the cult-favorite rock band, NRBQ; most fans of their current band came to know and love them through the Q.  They jump-started the show with “Rocket In My Pocket”, a favorite from NRBQ’s collaboration record with Carl Perkins, Joey on vocals and Johnny and Aaron Spade trading hot leads.
 
I always start off sitting right in front of the mixing board, to make any initial tweaks to the mix and general sound.  Pretty early on, a nasty squeal of feedback came from Aaron’s mic…I never fully understood what was going on, but stayed seated at the board the whole time, just to turn Aaron’s mic up and down, depending on whether or not he was singing lead.  He did a nice job on “Crackin’ Up”; it’s got a cool slow smooth pop groove to it.
 
Set one featured a nice mix of old favorites (“That I Get Back Home”, “A Little Bit Of Bad”…Johnny on vocals and some deep, string-bending leads), material from their current CD (“Bear Is A Bear”) and a scattering of well-chosen covers (“Route 66”…sung by Aaron, “Lose That Girl”, “C’mon Everybody” and “Johnny B. Goode”).  Not surprisingly, the instrumentation was awe-inspiring and pretty loud all night long. Joey and Johnny’s voices are very warm and familiar-sounding (from all those NRBQ records we listen to) and imparted a charming, friendly tone to the proceedings.  Set one ended with “Flat Foot Floozy”, an upbeat, goofy favorite from the heyday of NRBQ.
 
Set two started with another old favorite…Joey’s voice naturally conveys the joy expressed in “Wild Weekend”.  This energized, happy tone prevailed all night long.  Fun covers like “Sea Cruise” and Lonnie Mack’s “Wham!” stood out, as did their smooth, dreamy “I Love Her”.  Toward the end, Aaron sang lead on The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That”, the brothers coming in with the harmonies.  They closed the set on a high note with the revved and animated “Ain’t It Alright”.  The one-song encore was Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm”, a staple from the old days.
 
After the show, there was the usual wind-down/hang-out session.  The guys in the band figured out from the photos on the wall that we know lots of the same people, so we had a lot to talk about.  They were all pretty easy-going and we have stayed in touch, via the facebook.  They hit the road around midnight; heading over to Joe and Sandy’s place.
 
9/24/10 September Gurls (Alex Chilton Tribute), Off Broadway.  Another one of those local band artist tribute shows, once again as a benefit for KDHX.  As is the pattern, the place was packed with lots of familiar faces; a real community vibe in the room.  On the spectrum of Alex Chilton fans, I’d place myself somewhere in the middle- I’m familiar with a couple dozen of the most accessible, recognizable songs, but my knowledge drops off pretty quickly after that…which means there were plenty of people in the room more attuned to all that was going on tonight.  I recognized not quite half of the songs that were played tonight.
 
Every act tonight poured their hearts, time and energy into the three songs they each did.  A couple of the drummers did well in capturing the unique sound on those Big Star records…it’s dense with fast fills that somehow seem to rise and collapse (if that makes any sense?).  The Edward Burch set might have been my favorite segment.  When The Deciders did “When My Baby’s Beside Me”, it flashed me back to seeing Big Star do this song under that big tent at their big reunion show in Columbia in 1992.  We were all wondering if that Replacements song might show up at some point.  This paragraph pretty quickly exhausts my own personal observations, so for those who want more, here’s what Mike Appelstein wrote about this show on the Riverfront Times website:

“It's been a tough year for Big Star fans. In March, guitarist/singer Alex Chilton died - ironically, several days before he was to perform at South by Southwest with original members Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens. Then, four months later, Hummel died too. These twin tragedies arrived just as there was renewed interest in Big Star, thanks to Rhino's 2009 Keep An Eye on The Sky boxed set. Nonetheless, the songs endure -- and it's a testament to Chilton's catalog that even after four hours of cover songs, I was actually disappointed that I hadn't heard all my favorites.

The latest in a series of KDHX benefit concerts, "September Gurls & Boys" featured thirteen bands each performing three-song sets. KDHX has now produced enough of these tribute nights that everything ran smoothly. Bands loaded in and out in prompt fashion, no one exceeded their onstage time, the energy level rarely flagged and the whole thing kept to schedule.
When Chilton died, he'd clocked more than four decades in the music business, leaving behind a sprawling and confusing body of work. The man went through countless phases: the gruff-voiced teen idol fronting the Box Tops, the yearning proto-power-pop songsmith of Big Star's first two albums, the fractured and desperate voice behind Third/Sister Lovers, the guitarist for Tav Falco's primal Panther Burns, and the seemingly detached presence behind such overlooked solo albums as Like Flies on Sherbert and High Priest. This left last night's performers plenty of room to mold Alex Chilton in their own image, without significantly tinkering with the original arrangements.

Almost none of the three-song sets stuck to one era, and many of the bands took the opportunity to spotlight the more obscure corners of Chilton's catalog. The Jans Project unearthed 1980's Like Flies on Sherbert with "Hey! Little Child" and "My Rival" - in the process evoking the angular yet melodic approach that influenced so many '80s college radio favorites, from R.E.M. and the Replacements on down. The Remodels picked one Box Tops song ("Neon Rainbow," the B-side of "The Letter"), one Third/Sister Lovers song ("Kanga Roo") and one solo song (the college radio hit "No Sex"). That's twenty years worth of music in fifteen minutes; not a bad value at all.

When the bands did attempt to reinterpret the songs, the results were often intriguing. (When these experiments failed, they were at least over quickly.) Edward Burch rearranged "Lost My Job" and "Paradise," two tracks from Chilton's 1984 solo album Feudalist Tarts, with a country twang. Magic City vocalist Larry Bulawsky prowled the audience like a demented lounge lizard during "Take It Off," from 1987's High Priest. Most radical of all was Wormwood Scrubs' overhauls of "I Am The Cosmos" (technically a Chris Bell song, but close enough) and "Holocaust," both of which were nearly unrecognizable underneath screamy male-female vocals, discordant keyboards and squealing guitar.

Most of all, the bands were audibly overjoyed to be onstage playing these songs. It would be an overstatement to suggest that Alex Chilton's spirit was in the room. But by the time Jimmy Griffin ended the night with a note-perfect solo version of "The Ballad of El Goodo," a stellar "September Gurls" and a raucous finale of the Replacements' "Alex Chilton," we'd surely heard a big chunk of one of popular music's premier catalogs. A wonderful night all around.”

9/25/10 Robbie Fulks, The Ranch House.  I showed up a bit before show time; lots of familiar faces among the 60 or so people.  It was nice to not be the host.
 
This time around, Robbie was teamed up with Jenny Scheinman, who played fiddle and sang a handful of her own songs.  Over the years, I’ve seen Robbie in many different settings (solo, duo with another acoustic guitarist, full electric band)…tonight’s arrangement lent itself to more traditional material.  I don’t know if there were any official “jigs” or “reels”, but you get the idea.  Not that I would have come up with the titles, but a friend told me that a couple of the traditional instrumentals were “Bill Cheatham” and “Whiskey Before Breakfast”.  Given how many striking original songs Robbie has written, it was surprising that I only recognized two in the first set- the super-silly “Godfrey” (featuring an audience sing-along on the choruses) and the relaxed, traditional-sounding “Waiting For These New Things To Go”.
 
Set two opened with our host, Dave Melson joining the duo on electric bass.  This little mini-set most closely resembled a typical RF set, featuring a good cross-section of Robbie’s classic and clever songs: “Busy Not Crying”, “Cigarette State”, “Check Out The Career” and “Rock Bottom Pop. 1”.  Robbie was gracious in sharing the stage/spotlight and Dave was as impressive as ever on bass.  This block of songs was followed up by a few of Jenny’s songs- pleasant enough playing and singing; I’ll have to get one of her CDs some time.  This being Saturday night, it only made sense for things to close out with Robbie’s catchy original, “Let’s Kill Saturday Night” (I got a nice wink and nod from Nancy across the room during the line, “a prince with a working wife”).  Tom tells me that the instrumental encore was written by the early twentieth-century Calypso songwriter/bandleader, Lionel Belasco.
 
If I had to pick a favorite kind of Robbie show, I might pick a full-on solo set, just for the volume of great songs, not to mention the charming sly/dry/wry presentation, but if he never mixed things up, it would get to be a bit predictable for both artist and audience.  In that regard, tonight’s show was a nice curve ball.
 
9/29/10 Small Ponds, The Old Rock House. I arrived shortly after the opening act had finished up.  This was one of those rare shows where I recognized absolutely nobody in the club.  Anne T showed up shortly before the band (the second of three acts) went on, so we hung toward the back of the relatively full dance floor.  Small Ponds is the current band that Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas) plays in; along with Matt Douglas on guitar/vocals and a rhythm section, they do these gentle duets, framed by fiddle and acoustic guitar.  In their brief set (they weren’t the headliners), I’m pretty sure they did all of the songs on their self-titled 5-song EP.  Highlights included “Horse On A Bus” (the one with a whistling part in it), “These August Days” and “Gypsy Cards”.
 
I liked it just fine, but for better or worse, I will always compare any collaboration including Caitlin to the Begonias record she did with Thad Cockrell a few years back.  That one hit a sweet country/soul spot and still leaves me breathless even when I hear it today.  This being a school night, I didn’t stick around to hear the headliner (Stephen Kellogg).
 
9/30/10 Two Tons Of Steel, Gramophone.  The early part of the evening was all about Travis’ birthday…he turned into a teenager today.  When I showed up at around 9:30, The Vondrukes were about halfway through their opening set.  The first couple of songs I heard were in that simplistic, boom-tap country-rock vein (not necessarily a bad thing), but they ended in a more complex, rocking mode.  I think the lead singer used to front the local band Ten High.
 
There were maybe 40 people in the room when Two Tons Of Steel went on.  This country/rockabilly four-piece from San Antonio apparently (and ironically) doesn’t travel outside of Texas with their steel player, so tonight’s set was heavier on the rockabilly than the C & W.  There are obviously more original reference points, but these guys somehow reminded me of other “next generation” rockabilly practitioners, especially Brian Setzer (mostly because of the sound of the lead singer’s voice).
 
In no particular order, songs I remember included: “Ice Cream Man”, “Red Hot”, Fred Eaglesmith’s “Alcohol And Pills”, The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” (with a drum solo and extended jam).

   

 

 

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