Beautiful Melodies telling you Terrible Things Vol. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I can have very eclectic tastes in music. Various genres ranging from recordings from the 1920's to albums released last week. When it comes down to it though, there's a genre called the blues. If you don't like the blues, why are you even reading a music article? Much like those dreaded gingers, I sometimes feel that those who don't dig the blues have no soul. Anyhow, it's due to this fact I found my way the other night to...
The Venue - Rhythm Room: Quick easy way to describe the Rhythm Room? A dive, hole in the wall bar concert venue. A legend of a dive hole in the wall bar concert venue, though. A well known spot in Phoenix for decades, most notably the last 20 years under current ownership. Just about any night of the week you can find live music, often from national known acts, and usually for very reasonable cover or ticket prices. When it comes down to the blues, real blues, not watered down modern day rhythm and blues, or roots music in general, it's the best place to go in Phoenix. Though it doesn't only cater to the blues, in recent years such acts as the Black Lips and Mumford & Sons (before radioplay and a Grammy appearance got them popular with the hipsters from douchebagistan who suddenly like to wear the same wayfarer sunglasses I've worn for years) have also made their mark on the Rhythm Room stage. Later this year The Dex Romweber Duo (who Jack White ripped off in a little band called the White Stripes) will be playing there, and that's one not to miss. Bottom line, it's hard to beat seeing, say Muddy Waters oldest son Mud Morganfield in a room with about 150-200 other people.
I also must say, when it comes to concerts, you'll never know who you'll meet. No, I'm not talking about meeting Jimmie Vaughan (yet), but waiting in line to get in we met a great family in town from New Mexico. They were here to bring their sweetheart of a daughter, who had maybe down syndrome or the like, to the Backstreet Boys concert, and while here they wanted to see a show they were interested in and bring her along. Come to find out the father and us shared quite a few musical interested and had seen a lot of similar (sometimes same) shows. It's just nice to meet new people at concerts, especially ones that aren't Miss Piggy, more on that later...
Act One - Valerie June: Most shows I've seen at the RR have featured opening sets by the Rhythm Room All-Stars. Now, this isn't say a bad thing, they're talented enough, but if you've seen them once, you've seen them. Owner of the RR and member of the All-Stars, Bob Corritore is a nice enough guy and the blues brings quite the smile to his face, but man, he loves the stage. Now THAT I don't mean in a good way. He loves any excuse to step on-stage and play his harmonica. So while I was pleasantly surprised both by finding out there was an actual out of state opening act playing tonight, as well as being pleasantly surprised with my enjoyment of her (more on that in a second) I can't say I was surprised nor pleased when Bob found his way on stage for the last few songs of her set to play some simple mouth-harp riffs.
However, Varlerie June, was enjoyable. Hailing from Tennessee, June plays what she calls "moonshine roots" music, which in all it's essence is just her own unique extension of the blues. She busted out with some well-done acoustic guitar playing for someone who only learned the instrument five years ago, and her setlist was a nice variety of old blues standards like "Baby, Please Don't Go" and "CC Rider" alongside some of her own originals such as "Phoenix" (name merely coincidence to the city) and "Workinwoman Blues," which showed off her songwriting craft rather well. After Corritore showed up to play harp, she did take a little long tuning before two songs. However, she made no amateur mistakes during this un-forseen problem and made light chat with the audience with stories about her career and her favorite blues artists. Which gets me to a problem I had with this set, but hold on...
Her voice is one that some may like the uniqueness of, others may not. I'm a fan of the likes of Bob Dylan, so suffice to say it, a unique voice is a plus for me. Miss Piggy however, the fat middle-aged blonde yuppie sitting with her skinny middle-aged yuppie husband, weren't big fans. Yes, she did look like Mis Piggy, and yes, she enjoyed sitting there making fun of the set when she could. This gets me to the previously mentioned problem...some of the audience were complete un-educated (speaking of the bleus) tools. Let me give you an example...
Valerie June: "Do y'all like Ma Rainey?"
Crowd: *Six people collectively sort of clap*
This is a blues club right? Not a bunch of white people who want to go to work the next day and say they been culture-fied!? It reminded me of that scene in "Ghost World," where Steve Buscemi sits in the bar watching a fantastic bluesman playing a ragtime bit of music, no one pays attention at all. Then the most cliche electric blues band spoof Blueshammer comes on, and people go crazy. Now, don't think I'm comparing Blueshammer to Jimmie Vaughan or saying Valerie June is a 75 year-old blues great, I'm referring to the fact Ma Rainey, Elizabeth Cotten (you know, only the girl who wrote "Shake Sugaree" at what, age 9?!) and Townes Van Zandt among others got about six people to barely clap, but when she mentioned to tip your waitress the crowd cheered. Whatever. At least Miss Piggy left halfway through Vaughan, but that didn't keep 60-year old crackwhore with her short shorts from hitting on me...in front of her husband. Well, at least she liked the blues...
Highlight of the Night & Overall Score: Her opening number, the cover of "Baby, Please Don't Go," was my favorite of her setlist. All in all, it was a solid little opening set that was a breath of fresh air as far as RR openers go, save for the extended tuning incidents and Bob "Get me on that stage!" Corritore finding his way into the spotlight again...nice guy, just, too much sometimes. She seemed like a sweetheart, and she's obviously steeped deep into her chosen genre of music she plays.
"I play probably 80 percent of what I can play. Jimmie plays one percent of what he knows. He can play ANYTHING."
~Stevie Ray Vaughan~
"He's unbeatable when it comes to the bleus. He just plays it like it's supposed to be played.
"The First time I heard Jimmie Vaughan, I was impressed with the raw power of his sound. His style is unique..."
Act Two - Jimmie Vaughan & the Tilt-a-Whirl Band with Lou Ann Barton: Why, you may ask, did I feel the need to slip those quotes in there about the legendary Austin guitarist? Too often, with the general public, Jimmie Vaughan is looked upon as the less talented, less well known Vaughan brother. Never mind the fact he was a well known recording artist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds before SRV was ever on the map, or the fact that Jimmie taught Stevie how to play, but I digress, the general public is stupid in the first place. I first saw Vaughan in 2007 at an amphitheatre in Michigan, where he not only killed as an opening act, but was nice enough to hang out at the merch stand after his set. I've seen him since, here locally at the Rhythm Room. I'd like to say I never miss a set when he comes to town, but I have. Point I'm getting to, is if you like Stevie Ray Vaughan but haven't given Jimmie Vaughan a chance, do so. Go pick up 'Blues, Ballads and Favorites,' or at least download the song "Six Strings Down."
As far as the set from the other night goes, Vaughan and company were in rare form. The slick group of players stepped on stage and seemed spry from the moment they picked up their instruments. Vaughan killing already on the opening instrumental, "Comin' and Goin," while the bass player laughed and pointed out at our side of the crowd as they started getting moving. "This is gonna be a fun night," he said as he turned in to get back to his stand-up bass. Meanwhile the band have moved into "It's Been a Long Time," and Vaughan is trading verses and guitar licks with his already dueling duo of saxophonists. They played mostly songs off of 'Blues, Ballads & Favorites' though threw in a couple from left field, as Vaughan announced they were on their upcoming release, 'MORE Blues, Ballads & Favorites.' Say what you will, but I guess album titling isn't his best artistic trait. A few more songs in, and Vaughan brought on one of the sax players to sing lead on his self-written track "Yes Indeed," before bringing on Austin mainstay Lou Ann Barton to sing lead on a few tracks, including some duets (more like duels, romantically speaking at least from the songs characters points of view) with Vaughan. Sometimes the Barton section of Vaughan shows can drag a little, and can certainly be called the weakest part of the show. However, tonight it continued one what was a great first third of the show. The tunes they played with her allowed the band, and specifically Jimmie's guitar, to play some songs with some more variety in their styles, and gave Jimmie a chance to really focus just on guitar.
They moved through favorites such as "Come Love" an epic, nine-minute version of "Boom Bapa Boom." At one point, after some audience sing-a-long chants of "Boom Bapa Boom," Vaughan did one of his trademarks, throwing his guitar behind the back of his head and playing a solo. This isn't some gimmick, we're talking about a two-and-a-half PERFECT multi-layered solo played that way.
Let's just say he's probably better at guitar than you...
After that the band and Barton left the stage and Vaughan played what is probably his best known song, "Six Strings Down," solo. It's a song that begins as a gospel-blues tribute to his brother Stevie Ray Vaughan (who died in a helicopter crash in 1990), but also throws love the way of other fallen bluesman such as Jimi Hendrix, Guitar Slim and T-Bone Walker among others. Between verses about the blues band Heaven is putting together, it gives the refrain of "Heaven done called another blues stringer back home." After that, he could have ended his set and folks would have been happy. Instead they brought the band back out and played "Scratchin," which I won't like, is always a highlight for me. Back at a show in 2010 I yelled out like an annoying lunatic after every song, "Chicken Scratch!" Finally Vaughan turned to his band and said "Well, I guess we should play Scratchin'". I yell that out in reference to the solo Vaughan does during this song, which sounds like a chicken scratching. No such yells were needed tonight, though I still let me approval known when he turned to his band to tell them that was next. Which I must add, being right at the side of the stage not only allowed for a great view, but I really enjoyed seeing the in-between (and sometimes during) song banter between Vaughan and his band.
They trekked through a few more tunes, including the second instrumental of the night, and then just when it seemed over...Vaughan asked "Any hot rod fans out there?" and launched into the lesser played "Motor head Baby." Can't say I was disappointed. Afterwards, I grabbed a setlist off the stage while amidst being hit on by drunk crackwhore lady, and made my way over to the merch stand and Vaughan signed it for me while being very friendly chatting with us, class act. Upon hearing from someone else (because I wasn't letting the info out) that it had been my birthday the night before, he added a "happy birthday" to the signature. Thanks Jimmie, and thanks to your band and Lou Ann.
Highlight of the Night & Overall Score: Call me what you'd like, but "Scratchin'" is a highlight for me during any Jimmie set, as is "Six Strings Down." This is the first show I've seen him do where he didn't play his brothers "Texas Flood," but he more than made up for it with some of the other choices ("Motor Head Baby" anyone?) played. This 23-song marathon of a show certainly surpassed the recent Cake show as the best of the year thus far...
DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER
Yes folks, you read that right, a 5/5, which is indeed the highest score I give out. This is the first 5/5 I've given out since the Old Crow Medicine's performance at the Marquee Theatre in September of 2009. I don't give this score out just for a specific band either, as I mentioned I've seen Vaughan and company before, however, while the received solid scores, they weren't 5/5's, and while I gave Old Crow's Railroad Revival Tour a solid score, it wasn't a 5/5 like their Marquee show. So, these are rare, friends, cherish them, they don't come along often.
Also, as a side note, what happened to Tempe? It's still a solid town, but this just reminded me it had the chance to become another Austin, not blueswise, but just music and culture wise, and they let the corporations come in and take so much of that away...
Tuneful of Sugar: For those who find words and pretty pictures to be not enough...
Boom Bapa Boom - Jimmie Vaughan & Tilt-A-Whirl live at Rhythm Room by Hudson-Hawk
Valerie June - Baby Please Don't Go Live at Rhythm Room by Hudson-Hawk