Watching a good-timing honky-tonk band play to an empty house is as sad as a cowgirl with a cold sore. Unfortunately, that was the scene from the Made in America series at the Blind Pig, where the Steam Donkeys undoubtedly encountered fewer people than they had at the Big Bone Lick rest stop on I-75 (rolling back north from their last gig in Jacksonville).
Without chippy costumes or over-the-top showmanship, the Buffalo-based group displayed a professional touch. Anchoring straight-ahead cuts such as "No Honky-Tonk Angels" and "Jesus on the 90" were the made-in-Ohio pedal steel of Jim Whitford and the meaty Telecaster of Charlie Quill. Lead singer Buck Quigley and Quill provided the solid highway harmonies to clinch the sound.
The extra load of imaginative cuts separated the band from others on the bar circuit. Two instrumentals really flew: "Dash for Cash" and the surf-fiddle original "Telluride." While Doug Moody's fiddle was unfortunately potted low all night, he barked out some nice scat singing on "Wild Cherry."
In what could be one of the first examples of honky-noir, Moody played a hypnotic ten-minute fiddle solo that segued right into a last-call medley of "Mystery Train," "Pinball Wizard," "Wabash Cannonball," and "Truckin'." Throw in Zeppelin's "Hot Dog" and call it a good night for a party.
Though the Damnations TX and Slobberbone (four stars from Rolling Stone) are coming to town, the success of the Made in America series remains to be seen. Conceptually, it's a first-rate undertaking for the town's stagnant music scene. At some point, it comes down to whether music fans will drive fifteen miles to see a rockin' band that just drove 1,500.
As to what exactly is meant by "Original P" was never explained. A best guess: that four original members of Parliament/Funkadelic--the guys whose names graced the giant yellow banner at the back of the stage--got together with a bunch of recruits and called it a band. It wasn't so much false advertising as it was an omission of an explanation.
Well, okay--so be it. The fact remains that familiar Parliament/Funkadelic songs were delivered by an indefatigable funk outfit--whoever they were. With ticket, all patrons received a "One Nation Under a Groove," a "Flashlight," etc. But still, noticeable differences set this operation apart as something odious and suspect--a funky shell game.
Most glaring of those differences was the man dressed in purple and black pharaoh robes, parading the front of the stage and participating in a few of the group vocals. With beard and sunglasses peeking out from the robe, the man looked as though someone had pushed him on stage in a desperate attempt to impersonate George Clinton, who wasn't in attendance. Because the dude spent the better part of the evening adjusting his headgear, as opposed to actually engaging the crowd with fearsome Clinton hair and neon personality, his game was up early on. Overheard in the bathroom: "Who is that up there with them? Milli Vanilli?"
On to shady element No. 2: The band didn't bother to bring a horn line. With only a lonely sax player to counteract them, guitar/drum/bass wholly dominated and took the show in a decidedly rocky direction. Dual guitars wailed over bass vamps and on-the-beat drumming, though mostly the show cried out for a few trumpets or a trombone to thicken that funk right up--an addition of real solos, not the limp synthesizer approximations handed out to the crowd.
This might explain a concert that, though not lacking in exciting moments, failed to tear the roof off that sucker (as promised) or retain what turned into the incredible shrinking crowd later in the set.
Without dancing extras in jumpsuits or giant robots, openers Mr. Tibbs coursed through a no-frills rendition of their funk opera, narration included. Wise it was, keeping the heavy, heavy bass lines pounding beneath the story lines and keeping the crowd, in turn, dancing.
The Saw Doctors
Yeah, too bad there's no Irish pride around here. Bunch of wet blankets. Wouldn't know a good time if it bit 'em in the blarney. Fortunately the folks over in Ireland airlifted a big crowd of revelers to town to give the Saw Doctors a mighty reception. Enthusiastic dancing and sing-alongs exploded out of the crowd as if a game-winning football goal were pushed into the net.
What's that? Those were the local folks turning the East Bank into the West Side? Turning Sunday evening into Saturday night?
It's easy to see why the Doctors are called "the people's band." Besides the catchy tunes, your memory is of the surging crowd, spontaneously charging through the "sha-la-la"s of "Red Cortina" or the chorus of "N17" and the ultimate bombast of "Green and Red." Without knowing the words, you're a fish out of Guinness.
The lyrics also provided the depth to the punchy anthems. Inside the songs are bright lives and fractured souls, bittersweet memories of leaving for America, or a perfect night in the wrong town. The heartfelt emotion from the crowd was the kind of energy you get from identification, echoes of a Clash or Springsteen show. Singer Davy Carton recognized the connection during "Getting Stoned" when he sang, "I'm not the only one; I hear you singing along."
The music extended from the rollicking pep of "Cortina," which almost clipped the Everly Brothers, to the implausible Caribbean sound of "She Always Gives Me More," to the aggressive pub rock of "Hay Wrap." The playing was loose, and Carton's voice was the real attraction, accompanied by Leo Moran's melodic guitar. The irony is that the band's not an over-emotional bunch, and they kept the stage action to a minimum. All the energy they needed was coming from the bouncing mass in front of them.