There are plenty of reasons why a live performance by grunge-sounding Big Wreck should not be inspiring. Pilfering the Seattle sound--power chords, brooding bass lines, howling vocals--this quartet appears to be no better than the formulaic Bush or Collective Soul. Yet the Boston band ripped through a memorable set last Monday night with vigor and left with its credibility intact.
It's been awhile since a non-metal, suntanned, unpierced macho band played rock with the same intensity and intelligence that Big Wreck did before a half-filled Peabody's DownUnder. Led by vocalist/guitarist Ian Thornley, the talented bunch swayed from in-the-swamp grunge to slide-guitar blues rock. With a swaggering groove, "Look What I Found" featured an avalanche of soloing guitars and Thornley's wailing voice, often a dead-on for Chris Cornell's.
Give the band credit for effortlessly gliding in and out of the diverse songs without the slightest hint of discord. Sure, it may be a poor man's crutch, but the digression into Jimi Hendrix, abstract poetry, and reggae-influenced vocals was sublime. By the time the band played its hit "The Oaf," which already possessed a heavy "Baba O'Riley" sound, it was a no-brainer when Thornley indulged in a few lines of "Teenage Wasteland."
Big Wreck's 1997 debut, In Loving Memory of . . . appears to be five years too late. But who would have thought an evening of grunge would have been so enjoyable?
Openers Sara Star and the Fireside Poets shared banality. The former band's performance resembled a high-school talent-show act, while the latter toiled in unfocused material with a contrived stage presence. The Poets' punked-up cover of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" would make the Hall of Fame rocker roll over in his Depends.
Wilbert's Bar & Grille
For fans of acoustic guitar music, the circus came to Wilbert's last Thursday in the form of Adrian Legg and Billy McLaughlin. Where Ringling Bros. could give you the bearded lady and midgets fired from cannons, these two have managed to coax music out of their instruments by every means but those taught in a Mel Bay book.
McLaughlin would have been worth the price of admission alone, as he wove beautiful textures of new age and Irish folk tunes that, thanks to the alchemy of special tuning, sounded as though he was accompanied by a string bass. Not since jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan has a player spent so much of his time with both hands tapping the fretboard, and the effect was nearly as interesting to watch as it was to listen to.
His between-song asides were self-effacing and humorous, and when he resorted to playing to a percussion backing track on "Fingerdance," he joked about making sure that the band didn't get too loud and hurried to get his guitar in sync with the tape. He made a room full of friends fast and shouldn't be missed the next time he's in town.
English legend Adrian Legg's observations on life were nearly as interesting to listen to as his inexplicable mix of folk, country, and world music. And compared to his show here last year, he didn't even bring his "A" game. You don't get invited to town with the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani unless you bring something special to the table, and, like Joe DiMaggio, Legg makes the astounding look effortless. Whether it was cascading, harp-like arpeggios on pieces like "Mrs. Jack's Last Stand" or his nearly constant tuning and detuning mid-song to imitate a pedal steel or reach notes not otherwise accessible, he made his craft look like something anyone could do--though no one else does.
Legg debuted a number of new pieces, such as "Hymn for Jaco" (which, curiously, doesn't sound like a hymn or like the late bass giant), "Cradle Song," and "Sweetheart." His compositional style seems to have two moods--Nashville breakdown and European romantic, with the former being more impressive to gearheads in the audience and the latter more satisfying to practically everyone else. In either case, it was a welcome change of pace to have a master artist performing in a smoke-free room for a crowd that doesn't speak until spoken to. I'd like to know which guitar school teaches that.
Hot Rod Lincoln
For sale: 1999 Hot Rod Lincoln. Grog Showroom. A value at the low, low price of six bucks. Highway-tested (San Diego). Bumper-to-bumper rock and rollabilly. Hick-injected. Excellent condition. Runs hot. Comes fully equipped with dual harmonic vocals, tilt-action stand-up bass, precision drums, and impeccable Guild 170 guitar playing with optional Gretsch pick-ups for warm, blacktop-hugging twang.
J.D. Scene and Associates Performance Review: Impressive entry of this year's Retro Touring Class. "Hit" styling circa 1940s makes it a smooth, luxurious ride through uptempo honky swing. Power-injected reliability through fast-action "Red Lipstick," "Dance Till Sunrise," and "Drive." Handles clean on slow turns like "Blue Cafe" and "Saddle Shoe Stomp." Loaded with polite, professional showmanship throughout. AM/FM radio-unfriendly, due to unfortunate suburban party mentality of country radio. Retains 90 percent of original songs, easily mistaken for classic covers.
Minor repairs needed: Problems with timing belt (12:30 a.m. start) due to malfunctioning speed control (ticket by the Heights cops prior to show), but little warm-up time needed. Warning to 12-horsepower, supercharged "Hot Rod Hell" fans: HRL is street legal. Custom "travelin'" sound not geared for the mosh. Needs additional hoop-and-holler in-stalled. Empty showroom indicates low consumer recognition.
Premium rockabilly sound should provide more than enough power to accelerate through waning swing craze. Although unknown to area, ride well worth the money. Test drive the new Hot Rod Lincoln at your nearest roadhouse. This doggone Ford can really go.