Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Twangfest Update

Today is the last day of Twangfest, so here’s an update on what I’ve seen so far. Wednesday night’s opening festivities were a lot of fun. Three bands played. Milton Mapes were a lot more powerful live than they are on record, albeit somewhat less melodically interesting. Or maybe the livelier rock sound overpowered the subtlety of their tunes. I don’t know. I liked them, but I can’t recall too much of what I heard two and a half days ago.

Not so with Jon Dee Graham. Here’s a guy who’s flown under my radar for a long, long time. I saw him with the True Believers something like 19 years ago, but I didn’t remember him specifically being so good. I remember loving the show, but there were three guitarists. Well, he’s a world-class level player, roughly akin to a country-influenced Richard Lloyd. And, he can’t sing any better than Lloyd, so those comparisons rang in my head all night. Still, I vow to never miss this guy again, because that performance was absolutely spectacular.

The raunchy good times of the Meat Purveyors ended the night. This band is just plain fun, with an acoustic guitarist/songwriter and a mandolin player who are functional, yet completely overshadowed by the larger than life vocal presentation of Jo Walston, and the in-your-face stand-up bass playing of Cherilyn DiMond. The originals are catchy, the covers – notably the Madonna medley – brilliant. This is music that’s as close to good-time back porch party sounds as you’re ever gonna see on a stage. I do think I liked them better at Frederick’s Music Lounge, where you’re literally about ten feet away from the stage at all times, but I’m not going to begrudge them a chance to play in front of a larger crowd.

We skipped Thursday night, since neither Cat nor myself are fans of Supersuckers or Richmond Fontaine. The band on that bill we do love, St. Louis’s own Rough Shop, apparently put on the best show of its life, according to at least a dozen people we saw yesterday.

Friday afternoon, we visited Twangpin, the party held at the Maplewood Lanes bowling alley. There, the Bowling Stones, an amalgamation of Twangfest organizers and friends, played a fun set of country and rock covers. It was somewhat under-rehearsed, but full of passion and intelligent arrangements. Bet you’ve never heard “Teenage Kicks” played on a dobro, have you?

Friday night, it was on to the Duck Room for the night I most anticipated. I forget the opening act’s name, but that’s all right since I didn’t like him much. Nora O’Connor, however, was a delight. I enjoyed her more a few months back at Off Broadway, because there were only ten people in the crowd and we could concentrate on her impeccable vocal skills. She uses a lot of dynamics, moving closer and further away from the microphone as she raises and lowers her voice. In a big room, with 150 or more people talking over the quiet performance, it was hard to hear. But, it was terrific. I just wish she had brought a drummer along to pump up the crowd a bit.

Moot Davis had no such problems. What a band he’s got, led by the astounding guitar stylings of Pete Anderson (you know, the guy who worked with Dwight Yoakam for more than 15 years). This is honky tonk music on amphetamines, pumped up to warp speed without ever sounding punk. That’s because Anderson and the rhythm section insist on staying true to the groove, even if they infuse it with extra power. Davis is a great singer, and his songs are often catchy. I do still think if he ever loses Anderson, his meal ticket will be gone for good, but right now, this is as solid a country act as you’ll find.

Finally last night, we had a party with Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, one of the great country/western swing/r’n’b party bands of the last ten years. Sandy can sound absolutely like a young Elvis Presley, with that eager, look-at-me-I’m-a-singer tenor. And his band is a pure delight, especially the pedal steel player who joined him about two years ago. I hadn’t seen these guys in seven or eight years, so it was a real treat to remember just how great they are.

Today, we have Twangclips, and then tonight there’s Neko Case and the Bottle Rockets at the Pageant. Tomorrow is a day of rest, then Monday night, Marah is playing at Off Broadway, in a show not even related to Twangfest, but which we have to attend, anyway. With this much live music to entertain me, who needs a job? (Well, maybe eventually I’ll need money to pay for going out, won’t I?)


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