Fairly early in Joe Ely‘s sublime set last evening at new Collar City performance space, the Hangar, he launched into an extended yarn about a spur of the moment trip he and a buddy took to see the fall foliage in New England. Without a whole lot of money between them, they somehow managed to hitch rides, including several by train, all the way up to New York City from Amarillo. The trip culminated with the experience of busking on a street corner adjacent to Carnegie Hall. Many years later, while playing a gig inside that hallowed venue with the Flatlanders, he was able to say that this was the second time he had played Carnegie Hall…
Stories such as these are from where great songs are born, and Joe Ely has lived a life that is worthy of some great songs. He shared a clutch of them with a large and appreciative audience, who responded with acclaim and suggestions for song choices. Favorites of this scribe included a couple from the new CD “Satisfied at Last”, the tender but tough “Leo and Leona” and the eulogy by shotgun, “You Can Bet I’m Gone”, classics such as “Letters to Laredo”, “Dallas” and “All Just to Get to You”. Accompanied by obscenely talented Jeff Plankenhorn on Dobro, mandolin and electric guitar, each song matched story-lines with music that only served to enhance each performance. And since I had the pleasure of experiencing it all with my buddy “Jimmy 2 Books”, there was of course another story to the evening, but I will let him tell you that one. All in all a terrific evening of first rate music to kick off what I truly hope will be the establishment of a great relationship between the Ale House, the Hangar, and an audience hungry for evenings like this on a regular basis. If you missed it, don’t make the same mistake twice! And check out this great piece on Joe Ely from Nippertown, who will soon also provide a review of the show that includes the playlist. The tour continues tonight in Maine and tomorrow in Northhampton, MA.
Upon first getting to the Ale House last evening, with the bar partially filled and the back room only slightly more so, I wasn’t certain what sort of crowd Ray Wylie Hubbard would be performing to in a couple hours. But before too much later, it became clear that although his catalog may be somewhat under appreciated (primarily by this writer at his own peril), that was not a commonly held sentiment by the crowd that eventually filled the backroom, hootin’ and hollerin’ and defying the fact that it was sweaty, pungent AND a “school night”! Ray seemed to quickly surmise that he was amongst friends and fellow travelers and settled in to a nice groove, which combined great songwriting, picking, and anecdotal humor. The setlist included selections from many of Ray’s albums, including his latest Grifter’s Hymnal from which he featured, “Count My Blessings” and “Mother Blues”. He name-checked numerous fellow Lone Star troubadours, including Hayes Carll, playing “Drunken Poet’s Dream” which they’ve both recorded. Sadly I had to exit prior to the conclusion of Ray’s set, so I’m sure I missed a few other gems. I did want to mention that the opening act was a wispy lad, with a smoky baritone by the name of Dustin Welch. None other than the son of Kevin Welch, Dustin played both banjo and guitar and featured several tunes from his two releases, Whiskey Priest and Tijuana Bible, many of which were full of promise. The ride home was a riot of lightning, thunder and fat drops of rain, a bit like a trip over the Purgatory Road.
Late into their set last evening at the Ale House, I turned to my buddy “Jimmy 2 Books” and said, I got a new phrase for the type of music NRBQ plays, I call it “shit eating grin music”, cause they’re all wearing one, and so was everyone else in the house. Jimmy’s response was pretty much the same after every song, “Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” What an amazing evening of music, and to think I actually almost passed it up. Didn’t decide to go, until lunchtime yesterday, and thankfully there were still a few ducats remaining. This latest incarnation of the band features Conrad Choucroun, who has an uncanny resemblance in looks and playing style to the late Tommy Ardolino, bassist Casey McDonough, and guitarist Scott Ligon, who does a damn fine Joey Spampinato vocal impression. He also plays a hellacious guitar. Anyhow their two hour plus set included everything from improvised raveups, the ubiquitous silly Terry songs, to spot on takes of Q classics like “Howard Johnson….”, “Green Light”, “Rain at the Drive-In”, and too many others to count. Lest we forget the band featured a smoking horn section of Carl Q on “bone” and Klem Klimeck on sax, who also sang lead on several tunes. Actually Terry did very little singing, not sure what that was about. So a fortuitous decision to end my NRBQ hiatus paid off like a 20-1 shot at the Spa, I ain’t fucking kidding about that neither!