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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 86
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 86
9/26/09 The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Off Broadway. The place was pretty full (maybe 150 people…I only knew two) when I got there, just before the music started at 7:30 (early!). CCD is an African-American old-time/bluegrass/roots trio from North Carolina (their name is, apparently inspired by an old-time group called the Tennessee Chocolate Drops). Two of the three played seated and all instruments (banjo, guitar, fiddle, snare, castanets, even lead vocals) were freely traded about.
It’s rare to see black people following this tradition in music…they were well aware of all of their musical ancestors and added lots of interesting stories along the way. They draw from old traditional folk songs, but the only one I recognized in set one was “John Henry”. There were lots of grey-haired liberal KDHX-types in the crowd tonight (I did notice three or four black people, a rarity among shows that I find myself attending). The crowd ate it all up and listened attentively to the music as well as their charming stories about the origin of certain songs…it lent something of a social studies/cultural exchange vibe to the proceedings. (Apparently, they often perform/speak at schools and other cultural institutions).
Set two was a bit more whipped-up and lively. A few hippie chicks found a little dancing space toward the back of the room. Toward the end, we got a cover of “Hit Em Up” (apparently this is an hit by Beyonce), one of the guys providing mouth-synth with his lips right up to the mic. They closed things out with “Sourwood Mountain” and came back out for a one-song encore, leaving us with “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad”.
9/27/09 Deke Dickerson, Beale On Broadway. It was a bit hard to get up off of the mat on a Sunday night, but I kissed the family “good night” around 9PM and got to this cool outdoor courtyard about halfway through the opening set by Scott Kay And The Continentals… impressive playing and singing from this local 4-piece. Billy Lee Riley’s “Red Hot”, Buck’s “Tiger By The Tail” and Johnny’s “Folsom Prison Blues” stood out. Between bands, it was nice to catch up with a few people. There were maybe 40 people on hand and the temperature was just about perfect even as a pretty stiff breeze extinguished all of the tiki torches on the fence and candles on the tables.
Deke Dickerson came on around 10:30. Backed by the Chicago jazz trio (d, g & stand-up bass), Joel Paterson And The Modern Sounds, Deke ran through an opening set that ran the range from hopped up rockabilly (not remembering specific titles, but Joel and Deke laid into some impressive dual lead interplay) to classic honky tonk (Merle’s “Honky Tonk Night Time Man”, Porter’s “I’ll Go Down Swinging”, Conway’s “Hello, Darlin”…Joel on weeping steel guitar), to jazzy instrumentals (“Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Train With a Rumba Beat”…the latter played as a train roared by on the elevated tracks to the south). The overall feel was relaxed, yet inspiring…at one point, each player rotated away from his main instrument: Deke to bass, Joel to drums, bassist Beau Sample to guitar and drummer Alex Hall to a small electronic keyboard. My personal highlight was Willie’s “I Never Cared For You”.
This being a Sunday night, I made myself leave when set one wound down at midnight. Note to self: Those 24 ounce PBRs get warm toward the bottom and parking right next to White Castle doesn’t lead to healthy late-night eating habits.
9/29/09 Mike Compton and David Grier, House Concert. Don Christy and Lisa Ellis have been attending house concerts at our place for a while. Tonight was the first time they hosted music in their cool, intimate courtyard space in south St. Louis. Their house is on that nice boulevard part of Flora Place, a bit west of Grand and south of I-44. The brick-paved courtyard out back is an ideal venue for such things; it has covered colonnades on the left and right and a fountain in the middle. The back porch off of the main house has a set of wide stairs (almost like bleachers) stepping down to the courtyard level and the stand-alone garage at the back end of the lot provides the backdrop to the musicians. There were about 70 people assembled out back, seated in an assortment of chairs brought out from the house and a neighbors’ house.
Don plays mandolin and serves on the board at the Folk School of St. Louis, so he was well-connected in lining up both the musicians and the audience (Don and Lisa were the only people I knew here tonight). Being anonymous in the crowd gave me a refreshing perspective, as I found a chair off to the side, near the back, in the cool September air.
Accompanied by chirping crickets and the occasional south city siren, Mike Compton (mandolin) and David Grier (guitar) played two impressive sets of mostly old-time music: bluegrass, traditional reels, flat-picking and the like. Things stayed plenty varied over the course of two long sets- some vocalizing, some instrumentals, a few solo songs and plenty of tight instrumental interplay. Both players sang in the same easy vocal style that Doc Watson is known for…endearingly modest, in contrast to each player’s superb instrumental prowess. Don’s brand-new PA sounded perfectly clear in its maiden voyage.
A few songs I remember were “Hesitation Blues”, “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” and Buddy Miller’s “Forever Has Come To An End”. One guitar-only (no mandolin) instrumental segued from “America The Beautiful” to “Yesterday” and back. I’m pretty sure there was a Bill Monroe breakdown in there, as well. This was one of the more fun and unusual Tuesday evenings I’ve had in a long time. I’m hoping that the success of this show will encourage Don and Lisa to continue to host these intimate, open-air acoustic shows.
10/9/09 The Bottle Rockets, The Duck Room. By now, The Bottle Rockets have figured out the best way to play their hometown; rather than play one show in a larger venue, they book consecutive nights at The Duck Room. Their fans get an up-close, intimate evening with the band and the place is full both nights, but never packed to an uncomfortable degree. At this point, their catalog of songs is so large that they can do an entirely different set each night, making it worthwhile for big fans to go both nights. Having played in some variation of this room for almost twenty years, there’s always a real community vibe whenever Brian Henneman’s band plays here…lots of familiar faces in the house.
Tonight they were showcasing their brand-new Lean Forward CD (don’t those words look better italicized?), opening with the good-time Little Feat-style boogie song, “Get On The Bus”. At previous CD-release shows, these guys have played the new songs in one early chunk before moving on to old favorites. This time around, they shuffled the deck and freely hopped around from album to album, old to new (& back) all night long. Given that they now have so many bona fide classic crowd pleasers, I find myself wondering which of the new songs will make the cut and become part of their ongoing repertoire as subsequent releases come and go…almost as if these new songs are a crop of rookie ballplayers, each hoping to find a spot on a team of proven pros,
“Way it Used to Be” is one of the more upbeat, driving songs on the new CD and featured a few soaring solos. "Give Me Room", a mid-tempo shuffle provided a nice platform for some ringing/stinging bluesy guitar interplay between Brian and John. “The Long Way” (the album’s opener) features an intro riff akin that that in “Kit Kat Clock”. The new ballad, “Solitaire” reminded me and the bartender of “Bell Bottom Blues”
I’ve seen this before at other of their CD release shows, but here’s how Robin Wheeler of the RFT put it: “Despite the enthusiasm for the new material, the excitement level exploded when the band returned to its classics.” My off-the-top-of-my-head/morning-after memory comes up with “Welfare Music” (I like the way that they bring it down to snare drum and guitar toward the end), “Thousand Dollar Car”, “Things You Didn’t Know” (sounds like a long-lost Neil Young song, circa 1975), “Slo Tom’s”, “Kit Kat Clock”, “Indianapolis” (one of my favorites…this one always roars and soars), “Love Like A Truck” and “Happy Anniversary” (a rare representative from a more recent album).
I ended up among a handful of friends pretty close to the stage for the home stretch…rounds of drinks bought back and forth and all around. Somewhere in our orbit, Janet Henneman (Brian’s wife) was joyously jumping around. It made me smile to see her so happy and into it, even though she’s probably heard most of these songs hundreds of times. As much as everyone here loves The Bottle Rockets’ originals, there’s always a bit of giddy anticipation when the band comes out for an encore, which usually involves a surprise cover. Tonight we got Neil Young’s grungy “Lookout Joe”. If I remember right, this band was briefly called Lookout Joe…shortly after retiring the “Chicken Truck” name and right before coming up with “The Bottle Rockets”. From there, they rocked out with their own Chuck Berry send-up, "Take Me to the Bank". Keeping with the cozy, “you’re among friends” vibe, Brian left the stage by saying, “If you didn't hear it tonight, you'll probably hear it tomorrow”.
10/10/09 Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, The Ranch House. By the time Ray and I made it back home from NLDS game three (the Cardinals lost 5-1 and were unceremoniously swept by the Dodgers), it was already kinda late. I got over to the Ranch House just as set two was starting up and Nancy was heading home. There were maybe 35 people on hand to hear this Nashville-based duo. Stacey Earle (Steve’s sister) started off set two with an extended, somewhat theatrical spoken narrative (unamplified from the middle of the room) that set the stage for a couple of songs of a very personal, confessional nature- one was about a son going off to war in Iraq and another was about giving a baby up for adoption. Her stage presence/persona is in that wholesome, Nanci Griffith vein.
Somewhere in there, Mark Stuart joined Stacey E on guitar and vocals. Their vocal chemistry is the result of years of singing together (apparently, they’ll soon take a break from touring and playing together). Mark’s cover of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” featured a few nice leads and played well with this crowd. They closed things out singing one last unplugged song from the middle of the room, Mark on piano. Stacey sat down beside him as things briefly evolved into “Heart And Soul”.
Stacey and Mark graciously sold and signed a few CDs before heading off to their hotel, leaving a handful of us to hang out by the fire out back. Eventually it was just me and Dave talking and drinking beer until around 1AM. I ended up crashing on a couch inside and driving home the next morning.
10/16/09 The Amazing Rhythm Aces, House Concert. I was a big fan and had all of their records back in the seventies, so it came as a surprise when I got an email from keyboardist Billy Earheart a while back, inquiring about a gig at our house…looks like the word gets around. The band’s price tag was higher than what we usually guarantee, so we had to ask a bit more money per person. That (combined with the fact that most people under the age of 45 are too young to remember who they are) made it a little harder to fill the room. But between some persistent emailing and a little help from a few DJ friends at KDHX, we got enough people to attend and make it all work.
The band showed up around 5PM. Having listened to their records for years, it was nice to meet Russell and Billy (the band’s two original members). Younger musicians (b, d & g) round out the band’s current lineup and they all pretty quickly set up and ran through sound check. We fed them all bar-b-q right before the crowd (around 75 people) filtered in. A few of the people who showed up were big ARA fans from way back.
The band didn’t waste any time drawing everyone in, opening with “Cowboy Song (The End Is Not In Sight)”, one of their hits from back in the day. This song has it all: reassuring lyrics delivered by Russell’s rich, distinctive voice over a memorable melody, punctuated with a couple of inspiring instrumental breaks. Of the twenty or so songs they did, only a handful were from the early years, but the prevailing tone was in that country soul/R & B vein. If that’s what you do, it doesn’t hurt to have Rick Kurtz (a veteran of Delbert McClinton’s band) playing lead guitar.
Set one wound down with “Amazing Grace (Used To Be Her Favorite Song)” (with it’s clever use of the traditional hymn as a lead-in to a tale of a good girl gone bad) and “Redneck Unplugged” (this newer one superimposes a stream-of-consciousness list of all things southern over a melody that splices in a tease from “Dixie”)
During the break, the band graciously held court with the crowd. It would be easy to take a dim, cynical view of the fact that this band who once played large halls are now playing for less than a hundred people in someone’s living room some thirty years after their heyday. But Russell and Billy seemed less concerned with who wasn’t here than with showing the love for the quality crowd of people who still appreciate what they do. One couple flew into town from Denver to be here and another avid fan brought the band several bottles of their favorite brand of tequila (Petron).
Those bottles figured prominently into set two, as things got loose and spirited. Lots of newer songs in blues-based/country-soul mode… “Out Of The Blue” and “One Love” are staples of the current incarnation of the band. Toward the end, Billy called out for “Ella B”, an old ARA classic about a riverboat on the Mississippi (a few hoots came from the audience at the mention of St. Louis). As is their pattern, they closed the set out with their greatest hit- “Third Rate Romance”. I first heard this steamy tale of a one-night stand when the song came out in 1975…it had quite an impact on this teenage kid, all curious and filled with anticipation of such sensual pleasures. The song is melodically captivating, as well; it had everyone drawn in and on their feet as it wound down. After a brief pause, they gave us a one-song encore (“Jerry Fontaine”?)…another newer, less familiar one that packed a bit of punch.
After the requiste wind-down/merch sales/signing, we loaded the (non-drinking) driver up with a thermos full of coffee and the rest of the band up with more beer and sent them off in their rented van back to Nashville.
I ended up staying in touch with drummer Marco Giovino- he got a kick out of some of the weird artwork I have around the house and it turns out his girlfriend does some cool folk-art paintings. Marco called me up about a month after this show, asking if I’d be interested in helping him with a project. He’s scheduled to record with Robert Plant in early December. Apparently, Robert has an aversion to the sound of hi-hat, so Marco did a little research and found this foot-driven maraca deal: http://www.hidehitters.com/gallery/pedals/chachapedal/chachapedal.html
Because this thing is an antique and no longer available, I made Marco a working replica. We’ll see if he ends up using it in the recording sessions… “and she’s buying a stairway (chicka, chicka, chicka)…to heaven”.
10/16/09 Eddie Spaghetti, Deluxe. Since the band that played at our house earlier this evening opted to drive all the way back to Nashville tonight, I was able to do a cursory clean-up of the place and make it down to Deluxe in time to hear the last song of this “special secret set” by Eddie Spaghetti (front man for The Supersuckers, who will be headlining this same room tomorrow night). I was greeted by a big old hug from Trina and a cold PBR from Suzanne. There were maybe 30 or 40 people in the room at around midnight. When the band finished their song (and set) they did that “fake encore” thing and launched right into the old Supersuckers’ chestnut, “Born With A Tail”…and that was it. A little catch-up time with friends and on home by around 1AM.