Live Shots



Reckless Kelly at the Continental Club, January 11

photograph by John Carrico



WILL TAYLOR & THE JAZZ MENAGERIE

Caucus Club, January 6

On a cold, wet, miserable Tuesday, while piano music emanating from a speaker in a tree of the Caucus Club's upper deck battled a funky wah-wah guitar rising up from a radio in an open window of Club DeVille next door, Will Tayor & the Jazz Menagerie were inside, downstairs playing menagerie music -- warm, intimate, and a perfect accompaniment to the fireplace in the next room. With or without the fire, this occurrence happens every week at this Red River speakeasy -- a carriage house from the 1850s -- the one with $225 bottles of champagne and Macanudo cigars on the menu. Already on the second of the evening's three one-hour sets, Taylor and his three backers played to a small, empty room of mirrors, wood paneling, and red. Stretching out on his preferred instrument, the viola, Taylor naturally evoked chamber jazz, the only difference being that for this fusion you needed earplugs. Inviting guest Kamram Hooshmand and his oud onstage for a trio of tunes (Taylor inserts different elements into his free weekly shows), "Road to Kenai" began as a long, dusty trek into the Iranian desert -- slow and hypnotic -- and ended up a sandstorm somewhere near "Kashmir" with guitarist Glenn Rexach ripping into his instrument, while drummer Brad Evilsizer pounded out rhythms. Duke Ellington's "Caravan," featuring a long, engaging solo by Taylor followed, hitting fever pitch in this room with high stone walls and excellent acoustics. "Ragga," one of Taylor's original compositions ("This is Middle Eastern set," he joked), ended the set with a similarly dense and powerful groove. A manager freaking out convened the band's last set 30 minutes later, and as she stamped her foot for music ("Why aren't they playing?"), Taylor and company whipped into Pat Metheny's "Third Wind," seguing into "Footsteps," and winding back to the famed guitarist's tune 15 minutes later, the storm having been exhilarating (sounding like prime Sixties era Santana in one spot). Not to be outdone, Tuesday night Caucus Club frequentee, Connie Kirk, got up onstage at Taylor's urging and belted -- and I mean, belted -- out a couple of tunes, including "Stormy Monday." Fantastic. Taylor and the Menagerie finished the evening cooking up a little "Chicken," and really, that was about the only thing missing from this evening -- a fine meal. -- Raoul Hernandez


THE RECLINERS

Speakeasy, January 7

Upon passage through the staid wooden doors of Speakeasy, it immediately becomes apparent that this is a strictly downtown lounge concept where castaways best learn to front or at least take some dance lessons. It's hard to believe that such a conspicuously upscale revival began with scruffs on their hands and knees looking for scratchy old 25cents Ray Anthony and Enoch Light records at thrift stores and estate sales. But lounge really couldn't stay ironic forever, now could it? After failing to fully exploit the flannel look and heroin chic, our nation's marketing gurus must have breathed a hee-uge sigh of relief when nouveau lounge lizards sauntered back into our mass consciousness. In the most basic sense, this shouldn't have anything to do with whether or not you will enjoy The Recliners' schtick. Taken alone, they are a genuinely enjoyable goof with real musical teeth that falls somewhere between Murph and the Magic Tones, and that hilarious lounge singer sketch that Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks used to do on Saturday Night Live. Singer Neal Mehta oozes a blase sense of self-reverential hipness that's bound to work any crowd into a lather when he croons "Mack the Knife" or "Witchcraft." And you'd have to be one hell of a stodgy old bastard not to enjoy an impeccable swinging arrangement of Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" or Radiohead's "Creep." Nevertheless, it felt like a goodly number of this music's patrons would've been just as enthusiastic about doing the Lambada 10 years ago. Seeing the Recliners at Speakeasy versus seeing them in a come-as-you-are setting like the Carousel Lounge irrevocably changes the context and makes it harder to delineate between tongue-in-cheek smugness and Dallas. Perhaps this shouldn't matter when all we're talking about is a night of harmless fun, but if the folks that are really trying to effect a return to the false virtue of the Fifties wind up embracing the lounge revival like a long-lost relative, it may be time to put the kibosh on cheese-coated ironic detachment for a while and start getting angry again. -- Greg Beets


HYDE PARK UNPLUGGED

NeWorlDeli, January 8

One of the best things about this city is that if you plan your day well enough, you can be assured to catch good music, and the number of clubs and restaurants that continue to line up regular weekly happy hour/early evening gigs are a big part of the reason. On Thursdays at the NeWorlDeli, Steve Brooks and Glen Alyn play co-hosts to "Hyde Park Unplugged," an unamplified gathering of musicians from the neighborhood that runs 7-9pm. The two local musicians alternate leading the show, and there's usually a special guest. At this gig, Emily Kaitz came and played almost two sets' worth of her hilarious acoustic repertoire. Her guitar playing (part flutter and part percussion) was embellished by Mike Kearney, who sat in and soloed with all who performed, and her lyrics -- incredibly funny stories -- rolled off her tongue with the sharp and measured wit of one who knows exactly what to say at all times; it was like being let in on some huge inside joke. Songs like "The M Word Scares the F Word Out of Me" and the one about the night Bob Dylan bowled a 300 game might lead you to think Kaitz is some kind of comedian or a novelty act of some sort, and I must admit that when she played an emotionally wrenching song about her home of Oklahoma -- and the effects of the bombing -- it took me a verse or two to get the residual and now blasphemous smile off my face. Yet with four-part versions of songs like "Rocky Top" and the Traveling Wilbury's "The End of the Line," Kaitz's time onstage made for a satisfying evening meal. Try the reuben. -- Christopher Hess


JOE LOUIS WALKER

Antone's, January 9

There's a simple way to gauge the success of a blues show, the proficiency of the bluesicians onstage: the applause. Like jazz, blues depends largely on improvisation, and when a musician taps a potent musical vein, the audience responds -- especially when it's a guitarist getting off a good line. What does it say about Joe Louis Walker, then, that there were exactly two bursts of applause (for him) during his first set at Antone's? Derek O'Brien saw his fair share of audience reciprocation, as did Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff, who blew the hell out of the harp and his saxophone, but Walker, red Les Paul Sunburst and all, didn't generate much applause other than those accompanying his opening salvo, "We're gonna start things off with some T-Bone." Good choice, and a few songs down the line, on a humming "Rocket 88," the band, including Tommy Shannon on bass, George Raines on drums, and Riley Osborn on Hammond, had a pretty good head of steam up -- enough to match that of a rowdy and good-sized audience. Standing stageside, Clifford Antone looked happy, signaling to get the house lights turned down, which took the shape of a fuse blowing out -- twice. This got the lights down, but it made it somewhat harder to hear Walker or his guitar, and the effect was to further rob the first set of any excitement; workmanlike, yes -- fun even, and Walker did get a couple of good solos off -- but exciting, no. And at 90 minutes, the first set was way too long. The second set, starting a good bit after 1am, was of course much better -- the second set always is, right? Naturally. Why even bother with the first set, then? Starting with "Rock Me Baby," the band was in a groove from the opening note, and Walker immediately got hot, Osborn adding plenty of fuel to the fire. Unfortunately, as it was now close to 2am, and with the show giving no sign of stopping, it was a case of too much too late (not for Doug Sahm, of course, who was having a good time at the bar). Bleary-eyed and tired, I, along with the steadily thinning crowd, applauded all the way out the door.
-- Raoul Hernandez


JOSEPH HILL & CULTURE

Liberty Lunch, January 10

No history of Jamaica's sweet sounds and heavy riddems is complete without mentioning Culture, originally a vocal trio, but currently the vehicle for frontman Joseph Hill. And it's not hard to see why: a mix of Burning Spear's man of the mountain and Eek-a-Mouse's urban trickster, Hill is a crucial reggae leader. Resplendently relaxed onstage in a matching Lion of Judah colored knit outfit and gesturing with a hand-carved wooden staff as if he were Aaron leading Jah's children to the Promised Land, Hill was nothing if not charismatic. Were it not for the six backing musicians who created Blue Mountain fertile musical soil for Hill's lyrical Rasta seeds, however, charisma would not have gotten the frontman through the set, which he sang in his distinctive raw-and-sweet-as-sugar-cane voice. Despite the lack of a horn section, and particularly after local horn-spiced vocal harmonizers Tribal Nation had loosened the crowd up, the two keyboardists in Hill's backing band covered tracks well, and most in attendance (500 or so) didn't seem too concerned by the lack of horns during the nearly two-hour show. And this crowd wasn't a bunch of fair-weather fans, either: the vibrant mix of years and hues exuded a friendly loose vibe which demonstrated, like all good shows, that this concert was a social event. Hearing friends from Burundi, the war-scarred central African country shout "Right On!" to Hill's crying out the wise words to "Intertribal War" also proved that reggae creates an emancipating environment as much as the island's other popular export. The show hit a Mt. Zion-high groove in the second half with an energetic version of "International Herb," giving respect to Peter Tosh by inserting "Legalize It" as the song's bridge. Shortly after, the show lost some of the earlier earned momentum, but in the end, Culture made it clear that reggae doesn't have to resort to flava of the month formulas to pack and please the house. -- David Lynch

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