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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 51
1/19/07 The Flat Five, House Concert. About 75 people showed up and squeezed in to hear this Chicago quartet (their drummer couldn’t make it tonight) do a couple of eclectic/eccentric sets. Fronted by vocalists Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor, these guys are all about the playful pop harmonies…think "Up, Up and Away" or "Girl From Ipanema". Tonight they did almost all covers, mostly of the odd and esoteric variety…opening with "Florida", written by the brother of guitarist Scott Ligon. Without their drummer on hand, Scott occasionally made use of the rhythm track feature on his keyboards to keep the beat. Scott, Nora and Kelly each took turns on lead vocals, almost always closely backed by the rest of the band. Highlights of the first set included Robbie Fulks’ "I Push Right Over", Mike Nesmith’s "What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?" and a Beach Boys song that my next day memory isn’t coming up with.
During the break between sets, I overheard Kelly in a conversation with Denise Bentele…she’s the sister of our friend Dan Bentele, who died a couple of years ago. Denise was telling Kelly how Dan’s favorite song on Kelly’s records was "Wild Mountain Berries" and wondered if the band might do it in the second set. Kelly kindly explained that this lineup she was with tonight had never done it before, so it wasn’t likely. A few minutes later, Nancy overheard Kelly on her cell phone talking to a musician friend back in Chicago, asking details about key and chord changes…
Set two opened with a brief "bear with us if this is less than perfect…" followed by a surprisingly convincing version of "Wild Mountain Berries". It’s one of those country songs that easily lends itself to a lively soul/R & B interpretation…that’s pretty much the way Kelly and Nora did it up. Needless to say, Denise was very moved by this.
From there, they rode a wave of silly pop songs, beginning with The Free Design’s "Kites are Fun" and continuing with selected songs from the Harry Nilsson cartoon opera "The Point". I remember "Me And My Arrow" and "Are You Sleeping?" from the animated movie I saw in the early seventies, but never picked up on how much this stuff sounds like The Beatles…piano driven pop with a playful march/strut/swagger. This theatrical show-tune medley presented in front of our home-made snow-scene backdrop (inset into the living room windows) made me feel like I was watching a small-scale production of a play.
Whatever genre they dipped into, the vocals were always impressive. The Impressions’ "I’m So Proud" rang sweet and soulful while The Handsome Family’s "Drunk By Noon" teetered between poignant and absurd. Scott’s original "Animal Life" reminded me of "Rocky Raccoon", both in its playful animal-themed lyrics and its carefree bounce. Kelly sang "Don Gato", that children’s song about the cat who dies and comes back to life. My personal highlight of the evening was Nora taking lead vocals on Tom Waits’ "Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again"…title notwithstanding, it was probably the least silly song of the evening.
Just like when Kelly, Scott and Casey played/stayed here last February, they messed around with a few pop/soul songs late into the evening after the house had cleared out. On Saturday morning, Nora (the only parent in the band) woke up around the same time as our kids. She graciously played several rounds of Connect Four with Ray (our six year old) before the rest of the band wondered downstairs. After a round of breakfast burritos and coffee, they hit the road back to Chicago.
1/27/07 Rough Shop Trio, Schlafly Bottleworks. Tonight the music was secondary to socializing…I met up with a few friends who were in from out of town. We hung in the dining room while Rough Shop (the trio version: John, Anne & Andy) played in the bar. Without going into song titles, a lot of their tried and true favorites filtered in from the other room while we drank and talked. They, appropriately, ended with "Drink Up And Go Home". We all complied.
2/2/07 Cary Hudson, House Concert. Cary showed up around 5PM; plenty of time to settle in and do a sound check. By around eight, the usual assortment of food, drink and people was on hand. It was very cold outside…probably in the teens. Only a couple of hearty smokers ventured out to stand by the fire out back.
Seated on a stool, Cary opened with "August Afternoon", featuring some easy, relaxed delta blues picking (he’s from southern Mississippi) and laid-back vocals. It took a couple of songs for Roy to tweak the vocals in the PA. After that, things sounded fine. The loose, bluesy vibe continued throughout the first set…Cary played harmonica on a few songs and got a nice slide sound (without actually using one of those metal slides) on others. Highlights included "Free State Of Jones", "Jelly Roll" and "Freight Train". "Butterfly" struck me as an acoustic take on Jimi’s "Waterfall"…replace the three-syllable "waterfall" with "butterfly" and your mind’s ear will take it from there.
Set two opened with a spoken intro about growing up in the south, leading in to "Snow In Mississippi". "Things Aint What They Used To Be" showed up shortly thereafter…it’s a great little breakup song that works in some clever wordplay. In terms of popularity, Cary’s high-water mark was his run as frontman in the alt. country band Blue Mountain. After holding out for most of the evening, he finally asked for requests and in short order, delivered on "Soul Sister" (quite the moving tale of lost love, rendered tonight without its trademark pause near the end), "Jimmy Carter" (a joyous liberal anthem, reworked w/ a bluesy melody & tempo tonight), "Blue Canoe" and "Wink" (I requested this one, seated in that small couch sitting next to Nancy with Ray spread out across the two of us…life is good).
For a Friday night, the crowd thinned out relatively early. I’m not complaining…by around midnight there were just a handful of us around the kitchen table winding down. The following morning, we ate breakfast and threw the football around before Cary headed off to Springfield.
2/3/07 The Saps, Off Broadway. Almost a year after the last night of live music at Frederick’s Music Lounge, the three bands that closed things out on 2/11/06 were on the same bill at Off Broadway. Dave and I showed up late…missed all of Fertilizer Bomb and most of Two Cow Garage. The place was packed with lots of familiar faces (some I hadn’t seen in almost a year). I fought my way to the bar and handed a couple of bottles of Stag to Fred and Kathleen as 2CG ran through their last handful of songs; Micah, Shane and Dustin still bringing the grungy rock, but tonight they had a keyboard player along…not sure if this is a momentary or permanent addition. The only song I recognized was "Alphabet City", so I’m guessing they were playing a bunch of songs from their brand new CD.
A major socialize/rebeer session went on between sets; too many familiar faces to catch up with everyone, but it was great to be among the Frederick’s crowd again. I liked tonight’s bands just fine, but I honestly got more out of re-connecting with old friends tonight.
Soon enough, The Saps went on. The tone of what they do is set by the dopey self-deprecating deadpan delivery of their frontman…kinda like Woody Allen fronting the Old 97s. As things went late and their set played out, the crowd thinned considerably. Their encore featured a twisted take on Robyn Hitchcock’s "Sleeping Knights (eyes) Of Jesus". Unlike last February’s triple-bill, I didn’t reenact the amnesia-inducing late-night marathon party.
2/17/07 Finn’s Motel, The Billiken Club. I found my way down the corridors of this brand-new student center just as some guy with an acoustic guitar was finishing up his set. The scene was pretty amusing…the usual core group of friends/family (tonight was Marla’s birthday)/fans of Finn’s Motel rubbing elbows with college kids with cafeteria trays getting late-night burritos and stumbling upon some live music. With an obviously generous budget (they didn’t skimp on sound and lighting), this venue could probably attract any number of acts, but it’s to the credit of Chris Grabau and his student staff that they’ve put together a quality lineup that attracts interest from the larger STL music community.
So about the music- another set of the usual snappy, eccentric pop these guys are known for. Guided By Voices continues to be the most obvious reference point. This was Patrick’s first gig on drums back from the DL (he messed up his shoulder in a bike wreck a few months ago) and it looks like they’ve settled on Robert as the lead guitar player. Steve’s bass playing was more animated and engaging than I’ve ever heard it. The collective sound was catchy and joyous…I had to hop up from my seat for the last half of this set. Songs that stood out were "Highway Hawk", "Alright Tonight", "Eero" (that brief, soaring interlude) and "Recent Linear Landscape". As before, "Dramamine For Engine 3" proved to hit the spot as an inspiring set-closer...plenty of opportunity for the band to wind things out.
Gentleman Auction House played next…I gotta admit that I ended up at the bar in the next room talking to friends and didn’t pay enough attention to have an impression; maybe next time.