Wednesday, November 14, 2007

REK and Toad's & Zappa reviews

Good evening. I dug deep into the videotape bag and pulled out one of the videotapes I made from the Amnesty Intl. Conspiracy of Hope Tour in 1986. I just saw hosts Christopher Reeve, Richard Belzer & Elliot Gould introduce Buster Poindexter (aka David Johannson) interviewing Bryan Adams. Right now, Joni Mitchell is playing. I had forgotten she was on this show. This is the tour that featured U2, Peter Gabriel and the first reunion of the Police.

Let's get right to it by letting you know that the great Robert Earl Keen will be playing at Toad's Place Thursday night. Doors are at 8, show starts at 9 and there is an opener (Matt King). Tickets are $25. For those that don't know, REK (as us fans refer to him) is part of the Austin music scene. Why do you never hear him on the radio? Because he is (repeat after me) too country for rock radio and too rock for country radio. However, he is an incredibly gifted lyricist, his band is great and his concerts are a hell of a lot of fun. He has written such classics as "The Road Goes On Forever" (this is the original mostly acoustic version. Believe when he plays this in concert everyone sings along, dances and Marines fight with cowboys. Its great.) and our Christmas favorite, "Merry Christmas from the Family". You know its a different kind of Christmas song when the opening line is "Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk/at our Christmas party". Speaking of drinking and REK, he is a great drinking band. I don't think I've found a song yet that doesn't reference alcohol at least once. Kathy (he is one of her favorites) & I will regrettably miss this one due to new baby, but he comes around once a year now, so we'll be there next year, for sure.

Speaking of Toad's, I finally got there for a show last Thursday and was impressed by the facility. Good sightlines all around, excellent acoustics, and an intimate feel. Also, you can start a tab at one bar and its good at any bar you go to in the place. Computers are cool! On the lower floor (I didn't get to check out the balcony because the band had just begun when we walked in), the bars are to the rear of the floor. This works well because when bars are closer to the stage, those more inclined to drink and talk than watch the show can be quite distracting.

OK, quick interlude. The U2 performance at the Amnesty show is beginning now. Bono's mullet is grown out a bit here and he has more of a Michael Hutchence haircut. Its weird to see Bono without the sunglasses. It seems like he has worn them forever. This performance and the one at Live Aid pushed them right to the brink of superstardom. Their next album had huge expectations attached to it and would make or break them. "The Joshua Tree" came out and the rest is history. I used to have this performance on a cassette tape also and would listen to it constantly. It was a concise setlist (MLK, Pride (In The Name Of Love), Bad, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Maggie's Farm / Cold Turkey (snippet), Help, Sun City) with Bad and the Maggie's Farm/Cold Turkey being the standouts.

Now, back to the present day and Toad's. The only minor quibble I had was that it got quite warm in there and this was on a cool night. Also, if you go, don't park in the free Toad's lot. The lot is on the river side of the flood wall at the entrance to Mayo Island. I am not one to fear the city, but the lot was dark and brush and trees obscured the lot from the road. There was no security that I could see and I thought that a crime could easily occur and not be seen. Pay the $3 or $5 to park in one of the garages nearby.

As for the show, Zappa Plays Zappa was excellent (3.5 stars out of 4). The show began on an ominous note when Dweezil had problems with his guitar. The band jammed without Dweezil and then they took a 10 minute break to replace his volume pedal which turned out to be the issue. From then on Dweezil's guitar was fine and a good thing, because Dweezil is an incredible guitarist. Whether its technical stuff or blues, he is the man. The rest of the band were all excellent players also, doing equally well on improvisation and the intricate Zappa songs. They did "Dirty Love" by request. "Joe's Garage" rocked. "City of Tiny Lights", one of my all-time favorite Zappa tunes, was all I could have asked for. Dweezil conducted the band and the audience together at one point. Another highlight was when Dweezil asked for a phrase from the audience that the band would then work into an improv jam. The phrase was "Oriental Exciter". After each band member took a turn jamming, Dweezil asked former Frank Zappa band member, vocalist Ray White, to work the phrases "Oriental Exciter", "Great Decider", "spawning", and "You Tube" into a song. With no hesitation, Ray improvised an excellent, dirty little ditty about our prez, his wife and the Oriental Exciter. Other highlights included Uncle Remus, Willie the Pimp, and Yo' Mama, The Illinois Enema Bandit and Muffin Man. When they played the song "Cosmik Debris", they merged video and audio of Frank singing and playing with the live band playing and it was cool to watch Dweezil jam with his father. Dweezil promised that Zappa Plays Zappa would be an annual tour to help spread Frank's music to a new generation and keep it alive for the people that love it. I know I will not miss it as long as Dweezil continues to bring it.

This week at Toad's, besides REK, pianist Leon Russell plays on Saturday night. Doors are at 7 PM, show at 8 PM, tix are $20 for GA and $30 for Gold Circle (thankfully, no gold circle at Zappa). Here is a short list of the people Leon has played with: Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Edgar Winter, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, J.J. Cale, David Gates, Bruce Hornsby, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, B.B. King, Freddie King, Bill Wyman, Steve Cropper, Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell, Don Preston, Jesse Ed Davis, Rita Coolidge, Gram Parsons, Barbra Streisand, Ike & Tina Turner, Ricky Nelson, Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Ann-Margret, Dean Martin, Marvin Gaye, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and groups such as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, The Monkees, The Astronauts, The Accents, The Fencemen, The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Rolling Stones, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Tractors and on and on and on…

On Monday night at Toad's are new bands The Hold Steady, Art Brut and 1990s. I like what I have heard from The Hold Steady. They play upbeat, straight forward rock n' roll, with nice pop touches (like layered "Yeah Yeah Yeah" vocals during choruses. I like "Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs". Rock needs more "Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs".). Think Modest Mouse but a little rougher and not as snobby. Also, they like Springsteen and he likes them, which makes them alright in my book. Doors are at 7, show at 8 and tix are only $20.

Regina Spektor plays Toad's on Tuesday night. Doors at 8, show at 9, openers are Only Son and tickets are $28. Part of the Anti-Folk movement (think folk rock with a punk attitude), if you dig Cat Power, Nellie McKay, Fiona Apple or the Strokes you might dig her.

At the Capital Ale House Downtown on Thursday night, Vienna Teng plays. If you like Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin or Joan Osborne, you'll like her. Doors open at 8 and tix are $15.

On Friday at the Capital Ale House, blues guitarist Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin plays. Doors are at 9;30 and tix are $10. This guy played in Muddy Waters' band and has won the WC Handy Blues Award (the most prestigious blues award) for best guitarist.

On Saturday at the Capital Ale House, Bobby Lee Rodgers & The Codetalkers are playing. The Codetalkers are a jammy blues band and have featured Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.) and Jimmy Herring in the past. I haven't seen them for a number of years, but when I did see them they were always good. Doors at 8:30, tix are $10.

That's it. Isn't that enough?!? So go out and see some live music. Have a great weekend.

Tony Jordan
Richmond VA