The Blasters brought “American Music” back to St. Louis on Sunday night (May 11, 2014), and like the song says, “it was a howl from the desert (and) a scream from the slums,” with “the Mississippi rollin’ to the beat of the drums” just a few blocks away from the Off Broadway music club.
Phil Alvin’s stoked rhythm & rockabilly band from Downey, Calif., doesn’t make it to the Midwest very often, so it’s always a treat to see them. Unfortunately, Sunday was also Mother’s Day, and the crowd numbered only about 50. But they were largely hard-core fans, and they had their dancing shoes on.
The Bottle Rockets celebrated the reissue of their first two albums plus their 20th anniversary Saturday night in St. Louis and emphasized from the first note that they would not only look back, they would lean forward. So, in a rather audacious move, the hometown band opened with a new song.
“Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)” was enthusiastically received by a full house at the Off Broadway music venue and was balanced nicely by a couple of songs that have never been recorded by the Bottle Rockets, songs that are among way-back demos included as bonus tracks in the reissue package of the band’s first two albums, “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and “The Brooklyn Side” (1994).
The band, on what frontman Brian Henneman called its “One Foot in the Future, One Foot in the Past” tour, demonstrated again the depth and range of its extraordinary catalogue. The show was one of the best I’ve ever heard the Brox play.
Henneman apparently felt the same way, posting Sunday on Facebook: “Fantastic St. Louis show last night. Maybe my favorite ever.” Later in the day, he wrote: “Saturday, we had a room full of music fans on a cold, snowy night, lovin’ every minute of what we were doin’. We were lovin’ that they were lovin’ it. I guarantee ya we appreciate things like that more than the average music fan’s average rock star does.”
Throughout the show, Henneman kept his between-song chatter, which is never unwelcome, to a minimum, choosing to match musical quality with musical quantity. Bassist Keith Voegele and drummer Mark Ortmann were in tight synch; guitarist John Horton, who joined the band with Voegele about 2006, turned in one of his best nights as a Bottle Rocket; and the interplay between Horton’s and Henneman’s guitars was thrilling.
Bottle Rockets drummer Mark Ortmann proved to be clairvoyant five years ago when, on the St. Louis band’s 15th anniversary, he talked about what it takes to survive in music.
“You start dreaming big, wishing you could be the next Aerosmith, and when that doesn’t happen, many bands just collapse,” he said. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, you become a working musician and start appreciating what successes you do have. And if you’re happy with your art, then maybe, somewhere later on, it’ll find some kind of fertile ground.”
“Later on” has arrived. The band’s Chicago-based label, Bloodshot, has reissued its first two long-out-of-print albums, “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and “The Brooklyn Side” (1994), packaged as a two-disc set with 19 bonus tracks and a 40-page booklet. It may not be Aerosmith-style treatment, but it is pretty special for one of the best and most under-recognized roots-rock bands on the planet.
“People who missed us the first time around are getting a second chance with these reissues,” Ortmann said. “It gets people’s attention that we’re still around, and they’re reassessing the early part of our career.”
Frontman Brian Henneman has been doing more interviews than at any time since Atlantic Records picked up “The Brooklyn Side” from indie East Side Digital in 1994. He’s been talking with outlets ranging from Esquire and Country Music Television to blogs he’s never heard of.
“There’s a long-haul way to do it, and a very, very short-haul way,” he says. “Some of the people who blew up big for the short haul made enough money to live on the rest of their life. It’s good. (But) we got the workin’ man’s attitude toward it.”
In 1994, St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets sang about that “angry fat man on the radio (who) wants to keep his taxes way down low” in “Welfare Music,” one of the band’s finest songs. Almost 20 years later, that radio guy is, if anything, fatter and angrier, and the Bottle Rockets, thankfully, are still a working, blue-collar, roots-rock band.
Chicago’s Bloodshot Records has reissued the band’s first two out-of-print albums, the self-titled “Bottle Rockets” (1993) and its 1994 follow-up, “The Brooklyn Side.”
Fans who were present at the creation and have stuck with the band through 11 albums and its odyssey to Major Label Land and back will be familiar with this music; indeed, more than half of the original CDs’ 27 songs are in the Bottle Rockets’ concert rotation.
For relative newcomers to the band – those who came aboard with “Zoysia” (2006) and the current lineup, or may have discovered the Brox in recent years on its tours with power pop legend Marshall Crenshaw – these reissues will be an eye-opener.
But both groups will be thrilled by the package, which combines each album on a separate disc along with a total of 19 bonus tracks and a 40-page booklet full of essays and testimonials from critics and peers. Steve Earle, for example, says that when he first heard “Radar Gun” on “The Brooklyn Side,” “at least for that moment, I believed that there was hope for the future of rock and roll.”
CHICAGO (Nov. 16, 2013) // Some fans had waited for years, even decades, to see Garland Jeffreys on Saturday night. And that wait was more than worth it when the veteran rocker took the stage at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.
Jeffreys, who wears his New York City hometown like a suit of armor, came out at full speed with “Coney Island Winter” from his 2011 comeback album, “The King of in Between”: “Politician kiss my ass/ your promises break like glass,” he sang, the poetry and beat slamming at a country in crumbling decline.
But every song about liars, scam artists and abusers also showed the way toward redemption, truth and love. Jeffreys is ultimately a powerful, positive artist who radiates warmth and honesty and gets it back in kind from his audience. This show ended in a love fest that included a spontaneous third encore – his band had already tossed set lists into the crowd, and it took a few minutes for the players to heed the boss’ call to return.
Jeffreys, 70, also made a deal with his audience regarding his daughter Savannah, 16 (yes, 16!): “When my daughter comes to Northwestern (University), I expect you all to watch out for her.”
“We will,” the crowd answered.
Jeffreys is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-born singer/songwriter who has released just 12 studio albums in his 43-year career. His mixed heritage – Puerto Rican and African-American – is mirrored in his music, which embraces rock, soul, R&B and reggae. His lyrics often deal with the challenges and responsibilities of being “other,” such as in “I May Not Be Your Kind,” “It’s What I Am” (“… too white to be black, too black to be white … I’m one of them, it’s what I am”) and in “Hail Hail Rock ‘n Roll”:
Father of coal, mother of pearl/
Never too black to blush to pick up a white girl/
The color of you, the color of me/
You can’t judge a man by looking at the marque/
His set spanned 16 songs and almost 90 minutes, backed by an excellent four-piece band featuring Mark Bosch on guitar, Brian Stanley on bass, Tom Curiano on drums and Gray Reinhard on keyboards.
The Del-Lords brought their A game to St. Louis on Oct. 18. But they ended up playing before a too-small crowd, an unfortunate consequence of the Cardinals finishing off the Dodgers to win the National League pennant just three miles down Broadway at Busch Stadium.
No matter. The lucky three-dozen or so at the Off Broadway music venue who kept their ears focused on the music (and one eye on their cell phones for the score) were amply rewarded. The reunited Del-Lords performed as if the room was full, swaggering through a 14-song set that included a healthy selection from their initial run in the ’80s, a few from this year’s “Elvis Club” CD and a couple of killer covers.
It was the kind of show that reinforced why I love rock ‘n’ roll. As Del-Lords guitarist Scott Kempner says, quoting his friend, the music legend Dion DiMucci: Two guitars, bass and drums; it worked then, it works now.
A chance to interview Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top? Hell, yeah.
Unfortunately, Gibbons is not crazy about doing phone interviews, so we had to settle for an email exchange. That’s good, because it sure is easier. But that’s bad, because there’s no give and take, followup questions or a chance to salvage unresponsive answers. (Not that Billy really did that.)
That little ol’ band from Texas has been on the road for 43 years, and that road was taking it to St. Louis on Aug. 24. A concert advance based on this interview for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch can be found here.
Following is our email exchange, with editing only for punctuation and clarity.
BG: I’m sure you get asked this every day, but here it is again: How is it possible for a band to be together for so long with no personnel changes, no breakups and reunions, no tabloid dirt dishing? How do you all handle conflict?
Gibbons: First, and foremost, we embrace the continual good time doing the ‘whatever’…! We like to keep on keepin’ on with, as we like to say, ‘the same three guys and the same three chords.’ Maybe it’s that we’re a trio as it’s an odd number (very odd in our case) so no ties in the case of a vote. We like playing and recording, so no reason to stop. OK, most bands break up and, inevitably, get back together, so if you’d like to think of the past 10, 20 or 30 years as a ‘reunion tour,’ feel free to do so.
To call Dwight Yoakam a country singer really doesn’t do him justice. If that were strictly true, Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire” wouldn’t have the sound and rhythms of T Rex’s classic “Bang a Gong” when played by Yoakam and his hard-rocking band.
As Yoakam told the Post-Dispatch in the days leading up to Sunday night’s concert at the Pageant, genre is something music marketers worry about, “but it’s not a boundary for musicians.”
And that was true throughout the generous 32-song, two-hour-plus show. “Trying” from last year’s “3 Pears” CD, rode on Jonathan Clark’s bass line and rhythm, which would be at home on many a Memphis soul record. Other songs took on a similar vibe with washes of organ by multi-instrumentalist Brian Whelan.
Another new song, “Rock It All Away,” was built on power chords any rock fan would love, and early Elvis Presley hovered over the stage during a cover of “Little Sister” and in the Jordanaires-like background vocals of “Always Late With Your Kisses.” (Missing was his rave-up cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”)
Country music star Dwight Yoakam is spending the summer reconnecting with fans on a tour that takes him to a mix of venues, from theaters and festivals to state fairs and casinos. It’s a variety he appreciates, but he’s especially partial to festivals, having played Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Stagecoach in California, among others, already this year.
I caught up with him late last month while he was home in Los Angeles for one day, running errands and doing interviews before heading out on the road again. (I wrote an advance for his concert in St. Louis on Aug. 18 based on this conversation for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
We talked about a variety of subjects, from geeky guitar stuff to Western music fashion to the future of music distribution. But we started off with “3 Pears,” his latest album that came out last fall and landed him atop the Americana chart for eight straight weeks, a big change from his days as a hitmaker on mainstream Country radio.
Here is a transcript of that 44-minute interview, edited for length and clarity:
BG: Let’s start off with “3 Pears.” It’s been nine months, I guess? It was a smash on Americana …
DY: Yeah, it was an honor to have that kind of response to it, held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks on Americana radio. I was just elated. In some ways it felt like it was a full circle journey to have this album come out and be received on an alternative format, sort of like the first EP was when I began with “Guitars Cadillacs.”