NRBQ, a work in progress, set at Ale House
Fans love NRBQ for the surprises and the skill, but mostly because they make you feel young. That’s a uniquely impressive feat for a band that formed in 1967 and features fresh ingredients whenever they play, like tonight at the Ale House.
“I’m not able to understand how you can repeat yourself, how a band can repeat itself,” said Terry Adams — NRBQ founder, keyboardist, concept factory and only remaining original member — from his home near Northampton, Mass. “It always has to be fresh.
“We work on things constantly; every time we play, there’s new songs. We’re a constant work in progress, on the road, in the studio, on the phone or in our heads.”
NRBQ is Adams’ life’s work — more like mission or obsession. “Basically I haven’t slept since I started NRBQ,” he said. “In the middle of the night, even when I don’t want to, something will come to me so I have to get up and write it down.
“It takes a real special kind of musician to play in NRBQ, and it’s not easy. They have to be open-minded and know it’s a special thing. They have to be open-minded in the spiritual sense to what music is and what it can do and what is it saying. ‘What are the motives? Why are we musicians? What attracts us to the music we do like?’ ”
Filling a slot
These questions arose around the practical necessity of replacing bassist Pete Donnelly last September with Casey McDonough, like NRBQ guitarist Scott Ligon, a Chicagoan. Adams proclaimed Donnelly, busy with the reactivated Figgs and leading two other bands, “an honorary member and a great friend.” And he explained how McDonough fits in NRBQ since his first show in September at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass. “He and [drummer] Conrad [Choucroun, from Austin, Texas] are so great together, and they have the exact same [rhythmic] feel that I do,” Adams said, adding how well McDonough’s high voice harmonizes with Ligon’s.
“You know when things are moving good and you don’t even notice stuff; that means its good,” said Adams. “When you don’t even have to think about it, it’s locked right in.”
Adams said NRBQ is recording between gigs. “We have some really good things now and I think we’re about to wrap it up.”
In addition to a new NRBQ studio album, Adams plans to release Thelonious Monk songs that NRBQ and guests recorded last year in Vermont, first live in Burlington then in a Brattleboro studio. So far, only a 45 RPM 7-inch single of those sessions has emerged, Monk’s “Hornin’ In” on one side, “Everybody Say Yeah!” on the other. (Full disclosure: My multi-instrumentalist brother Jim Hoke played on both the live and studio Monk sessions last year. Adams said, “Jim plays so great on ‘Hornin’ In.’ I couldn’t ask for a better player on that.” You can read more at www.nippertown.com.)
Adams loves 45 singles, despite a near-death experience with one, hitchhiking on the Taconic State Parkway from a Greenwich Village record store back to Saugerties.
“I had bought a single,” Adams recalled, “and I stuck it between my belly and my pants under my shirt.” When a trooper pulled over and asked if Adams had any drugs or weapons, he said, . . .I’ve just got this 45,’ and I reached under my shirt and pulled out my record and I guess I was lucky I didn’t get killed.” The laughing trooper suggested hitchhiking elsewhere.
Adams looks forward to playing in Troy tonight. He lived in Saugerties for years and NRBQ played the long-vanished Aerodrome on Woodstock weekend in 1969 and everywhere else hereabouts, from JB Scott’s to the RPI Fieldhouse to Gathering of the Vibes and rock ’n’ roll bars Adams can’t recall by name.
Before he reclaimed the NRBQ name in 2011, Adams introduced his new band (Ligon, Donnelly and Choucroun) as the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet at WAMC in 2007 and recorded “Crazy 8s” there in 2009, then recorded “We Travel the Spaceways” at the Bearsville Theater in 2011.
The night of a previous Troy NRBQ show — tonight is NRBQ’s first there in 10 years — Elvis Costello played Albany’s Palace Theatre. A longtime NRBQ fan, Costello played just one song with opener Nick Lowe, then he said, “Now you can go hear NRBQ!”
Tonight you can go hear NRBQ at the Ale House (680 River St., Troy). Longtime guest saxophonist Klem Klimek and trombonist Carl Q join NRBQ. Show time is 8 p.m. Admission is $30. Phone 272-9740 or visit www.alehousetroy.com. Bonus: the Ale House always ranks high in Best Wings polls hereabouts.
More? Sure: NRBQ plays the Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore, Suffolk County, on Friday; the Turning Point in Piermont, Rockland County, on Saturday; and Drew’s in Ringwood, N.J., on Sunday.
Ohlman at the Caffe
Unless you read the “Saturday Night Live” band credits really fast, you may not know the soulful singer with platinum beehive hair is the great Christine Ohlman. You will if you see her on Friday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) with her band Rebel Montez: drummer Larry Donahue, bassist Michael Colbath and guitarist Cliff Goodwin.
Ohlman sent me links to some recent collaborations with ex-NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson on “The Deep End” and with Dion DiMucci on “Cry, Baby, Cry.” She’s tremendous, asserting a powerful musical personality while also fitting with these distinctive artists, a great skill honed on “Saturday Night Live.” Her talent stacks up way taller even than her high-altitude hair. Ohlman just won Roots/Americana Female Vocalist honors in the Alternate Root Readers’ Choice Awards.
Show time for Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez is 8 p.m. on Friday. Admission is $20, members $18 and $10 for children under 13. Phone 583-0022 or visit www.caffelena.org.
All-Star Sax summit
Four top area sax men — Keith Pray, Brian Patneaude and father-and-son Russos, Leo and Lee — team up at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady) on Friday, with a rhythm section of equally high-caliber players: pianist Dave Payette, bassist Otto Gardner and drummer Jeff Siegel.
It’s billed as an all-star sax summit, and that seems an understatement. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 on Friday. Phone 348-7999 or visit www.vandycklounge.com.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.