The players change, but NRBQ keeps surprising
The more some things change, the more they stay the same.
Since Terry Adams formed his new NRBQ in 2007 (originally the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet), some band mates have changed. But they arrive tonight at the Ale House with their reputation intact as rock ’n’ roll’s fountain of youth. They sound like every great radio song since 1966 and, they make you feel young while they do it.
The changes: Bassist-singer-songwriter Pete Donnelly left this spring for his burgeoning solo career and role with the Figgs, replaced by Casey McDonough; and drummer Conrad Choucroun went on paternity leave. So in came Bobby Lloyd Hicks, whose résumé sparkles with stints backing Dave Alvin, Jonathan Richman and Steve Forbert, and, since the 1980s, the Skeletons.
Hailed as “the world’s greatest garage band,” the Skeletons formed from the shards of the Morrells from Springfield, Mo., a hard-touring band I loved at Pauly’s Hotel in the late 1980s. They also backed Syd Straw on her 1996 album “War & Peace.” In other words, Hicks knows how to rock the house.
When McDonough replaced Donnelly just before NRBQ played the Ale House in April, Adams told me: “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 stays the same: NRBQ brings a constant state of surprise to the stage, in part by surprising themselves and each other. Adams usually launches a song by simply starting it. The guys jump in, like passengers boarding a moving car. Immediately, they’re driving, too. This makes things feel loose, spontaneous; but the players follow a carefully drawn map, the songs themselves.
Like the Skeletons, tagged as “world’s greatest garage band,” NRBQ has long been branded the world’s greatest bar band. But that insults their song-craft, the care they put into structuring each tune. Their music is several sometimes contradictory things at once. It confuses some new listeners, for about a minute, then its muscular, sly bounce takes over and their bodies move up and down with it, like everybody else around them. And everybody feels about 16.
Tonight NRBQ returns to the Ale House (680 River St., Troy). Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $30. Phone 272-9740 or visit www.alehousetroy.com.
Now this is better.
Last Saturday, two great guitarists played free at simultaneous Albany festivals. Charlie Hunter at the Riverfront Jazz Festival and Robert Randolph at the New Music Festival at the Empire State Plaza presented a seriously tough choice for guitar fans.
This weekend is better: Julian Lage plays with the New Gary Burton Quartet on Saturday night at Jazz at the Lake (George, that is), and John Scofield leads his Uberjam Band into the Massry Center at The College of Saint Rose on Sunday night. Fans can hear both.
Other guitarists play in Lake George, notably Joel Harrison in a transcontinental duo with sarod player Anupam Shobhakar. Lage probably leads the pack — a virtuoso of great skill and precocious taste. (He’s 24.) Like NRBQ’s Adams, Burton has led several quartets over time, featuring guitarists Larry Coryell, Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, Kurt Rosenwinkel and John Scofield — we’ll come back to him in a minute.
The familiar instrumentation of vibraphone (Burton), guitar (Lage), bass (Scott Colley) and drums (Antonio Sanchez, who also plays with Metheny) has jelled to perfection on the 70-year-old Burton’s latest album, “Guided Tour,” one of dozens as a leader since 1961.
For all of Lage’s fireworks — and they’re bright and explosive or languid and lovely — Burton shines brightest here. Fittingly, the 7:30 p.m. performance by the New Gary Burton Quartet on Saturday climaxes with fireworks over the lake. Admission is free to Jazz at The Lake at Shepard Park (Canada Street).
And the New Gary Burton Quartet returns on Sept. 24 to play the Massry Center for the Arts at Saint Rose with Bopitude opening, featuring guest Gary Smulyan.
The Massry Center is where Scofield leads his Uberjam Band on Sunday. The “uber,” German for super, is no exaggeration. This quartet features Scofield’s slippery, clear-as-glass guitar sound in a virtuoso framework of highly capable improvisers: rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick from Israel via St. Louis; drummer Tony Mason from backwoods North Carolina via the Manhattan School of Music and gigs with everybody, and bassist Andy Hess from the Black Crowes and lots of sessions via Gov’t Mule.
Compatibility may be Scofield’s middle name. He’s led and played in more bands than Michael Eck, and that’s a boatload of bands, from Miles to Dave Liebman (who plays at Lake George on Sunday with his big band) to Trio Beyond, the uncanny re-creation of the great Tony Williams Lifetime, with Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings.
In addition to sideman gigs all over the musical map, Scofield has released 42 albums as a leader, including two with the (somewhat elastic) Uberjam Band he leads at the Massry Center on Sunday.
Show time for the John Scofield Uberjam Band is 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $30, $15 for students. Phone 337-4871 or visit www.massrycenter.org.
Give the cellist some!
Contemporary Christian fans: Going to see the talented Casting Crowns at the Glens Falls Civic Center tonight? (See Brian McElhiney’s story, below.) Check the cellist: It’s my nephew Austin Jitterbug Hoke in his first steady road gig, apart from busking from Nashville to L.A. via Santa Fe a few summers between semesters at Indiana University.
My brother Jim Hoke knew Austin had arrived when he met him going into a Nashville studio for a session as Jim came out. Neither knew the other was booked that day. Casting Crowns plays tonight at 7 p.m. at the Glens Falls Civic Center (1 Civic Center Plaza). Admission is $50, $35 and $22. Phone 798-0366 or visit www.glensfallscc.com.