Blossom Music Center
The arrival of three Cleveland Indians at Blossom Sunday night epitomized the appeal of Hootie & the Blowfish. The contingent included Omar Vizquel, last seen by me at Metallica last summer; Travis Fryman, as country as country gets; and the Warped Tour-looking Richie Sexson. The rest of the crowd fit the stereotypical Hootie fan profile: middle-aged, VH1-watching, former frat brother/sorority sister drinking two beers and a margarita while the sitter watches the kids. The pavilion-only show was merely three-quarters full, and on a sweltering night like this one, the evening was truly for diehards only.
In addition to loathing Hootie's bland sound, bashers also blame the band for restarting the Southern rock trend: a straight beat tempered with a pervasive guitar--complete with solo--and common-man, heartfelt lyrics. Sister Hazel and Matchbox 20 should be giving kickbacks to the Blowfish as well as caddying for them twice a week on the links.
Interestingly, it was the non-Hootie material that gave their show an element of surprise. In true Barenaked Ladies fashion, Hootie dipped and dabbled all night long, playing everything from a lesser-known R.E.M. tune ("Cuyahoga") and Kool in the Gang ("Get Up on It") to Soft Cell ("Tainted Love") and a brief Public Enemy reference ("Fight the Power"). A textbook cover of Santana's "Black Magic Woman," complete with calypso percussion, was well-received, and the Southern rock take on the Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song" was a showstopper.
As for the Blowfish material, the upbeat "I Will Wait," the tear-in-your-beer "Let Her Cry," and the feel-good song of 1995, "Only Wanna Be With You," gelled with their tight delivery, excellent harmonies, and Darius Rucker's distinctive voice out front. A reworked version of their hit "Hold My Hand" was less polished and loose--a nice change of pace.
Hootie's performance played right to the critics who say they are nothing more than a good bar band who made it big. Thing about Hootie is, they'd probably agree.
There once was a guy who sang in rhyme and played his guitar like a true rock star. Mullins, Shawn, was his name, and cliched storytelling was his game. His big mistake was his biggest piece of cake. Being cut too early, it made the crowd surly. So remember this my friends: A "Lullaby" is before sleep, and his audience was in deep. After he played his hit, the crowd didn't give a . . .
The Crackhouse Jazz Quartet
The band was all bare-chested, drunken, exhibitionist garage metal, tastefully lacking in any of that straight-edged, guitar-at-the-pulpit garbage. A pair of red, mega-frilled pants pulsed with every guitar chord, and a drummer wore a T-shirt that, though having survived perhaps 10,000 washings, still proudly bore the circa 1983 Led Zeppelin iron-on. In shorts, tube socks, and black leather dress shoes, a lead singer draped himself over the stage, striking Egon Schiele poses and tossing his empty beer cups off the front of the stage, where the swooning girls with exposed toes and black, spaghetti-strapped tank tops did the swirly arms dance.
They were the Crackhouse Jazz Quartet, and their music wasn't jazz (an alto jaunt and a few bongo episodes don't count). But that was probably the point. Out with the swing, in with the ponderous bass lines, robust drumming, atmospheric metal guitar (as atmospheric as a guitar put to the service of metal can get), and screechy, rambling vocals that blurred the line between pathos and stand-up comedy. At times, they were darkly funky, at others, high-octane disco. They mingled lines like "I was an attache for the CIA" with quotes from AC/DC songs.
A Presidential Physical Fitness Award to the Crackhouse for a healthy sense of humor and a drummer on speed (Mr. Skins earned that T-shirt, dammit). Five demerits for a set that disintegrated into mindless vamping and bongo madness by around 1:30.
The decidedly more sober (in more ways than one) FaceFight opened. It was pretty aggressive music for such a sedate-looking bunch of guys. One look at the wire-rimmed glasses, ponytail-able hair, and Budweiser shirt, and one would almost expect a Jimmy Buffett tribute. Instead they pounded out a quick set of melodic punk and quasi-operatic metal not too many times removed from the holy trinity of bands with three-word names: Alice in Chains/Faith No More/Stone Temple Pilots.
No rock messiahs at the Grog, nothing fresh, but still skillfully done, proletariat metal.
Christian McBride Quartet
Cleveland Museum of Art
Everybody digs Christian McBride. Since the age of eighteen, the wunderkind musician with the blurry fingers has been sitting in with some of the top jazz musicians in the world. His subtle, laid-back virtuosity can make the most lightning of lightning-fast runs sound graceful, and it fits right in with bebop, hard-bop, post-bop--you name it.
But McBride digs more than just jazz. He has a weakness for the meaty bass in R&B and the propulsive, stutter-start syncopation of funk. He let it all hang out on his latest recording, A Family Affair. In concert, dressed in a defiantly loud, banana yellow suit, McBride leaned in toward the predominantly white, gray-coifed crowd and let it be known that it was his name at the top of the bill, and he was going to let it hang out a little more.
The concert got off to a lukewarm start, with a midtempo cover of Sly's "A Family Affair," and stayed lumpy through a hard-bop tune and a soupy rendition of McBride's "A Morning Story." McBride's bass spots, though thrilling, couldn't lift the music.
Things were destined to take even funkier vectors, however. With "The Shade of the Cedar Tree," McBride and company took a quick turn for the better. Tim Warfield, on tenor, really started to warm up, and as McBride, pianist John Beasley, and drummer Rodney Green tossed in a few Latin bits, he got downright belligerent. Then came the high point of the evening: a superfusion, robustly funky cover of "Freedom Jazz Dance."
The hardest working bassist in the jazz biznus then closed with his tribute to bassist Ray Brown, "Brown Funk," his best James Brown impression, and an impromptu game of name that tune. A prolonged bout of applause brought a solo McBride out on stage one last time, to play a swinging rendition of the cello sonata he performed at his Juilliard audition. A little self-indulgent, this, but at this stage in his career, he can afford to indulge.