by Emily Votaw
NRBQ may exist outside of time and space. Fans already know that the band’s stunning catalog sounds like a collection of Top 40 singles from another universe, flourishing outside of mainstream recognition and traditional success. But what they may not know is that even with the major changes in member alignment in recent years, the band is as tight and passionate as it has ever been. It’s still making music that is as impossibly infectious as ever. For more than two hours last night at the Beachland Ballroom, founder and keyboardist Terry Adams, guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough and drummer Conrad Choucroun expertly banged out tunes from the nooks and crannies of the legendary act’s massive discography.
Many of Cleveland’s graying hipsters turned out for the show, filling the venue with faux Ray-Bans, unmarred Converse and the occasional sensible sandal. And if anyone knows how to get an aging record store geek to bust out his best hip swaying, gesticulating moves, it’s gotta be Terry Adams. Upon taking the stage the band immediately leapt into intense performance, as though someone had combined the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sun Ra and the Ramones into some perfect rock and roll windup toy. There’s something masterful about the bizarre avant garde jazz breaks that Adams throws at his unwitting bandmates, punctuating his pop masterpieces with expertly contained and spontaneously created worlds of noise, a frequent phenomena throughout the night. The band favored tracks from its latest release Brass Tacks. One such gem was “It’ll Be Alright,” a track penned by Ligon that can stand steady next to the incredible history of stunning songwriting for which the band is so well known.
As the show went on, Adams grew more animated and more comfortable with the incredibly receptive crowd, who, by this point, appeared nearly consumed by every one of the band’s experimental, jazz-infused, starry-eyed Motown pop rock numbers. He thrashed and manhandled his keyboard while his loose, silky oddball button-ups whipped and billowed about his lean frame, making him look a little closer to 33 than 65. Towards the end of the set the band brought out several classic pieces from the discography, including “Magnet” and “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Working,” the first two cuts from the band’s 1972 album Scraps. It also presented a short but sweet rendition of Smokey Robinson and Ronald White’s “My Girl” as well as a first rate cover of Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” complete with captivating howling from McDonough. Although the names may have changed, the charming, oddball spirit of NRBQ’s music certainly has not.