Lyle Lovett doesn't play by the rules. As a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 1996 release The Road to Ensenada, Lovett has put out a double album of songs by his favorite Texas-based writers over the years. It's a risky venture that only a star of his caliber can pull off.
Touring in support of his latest release, Step Inside This House, Lovett and his eight-piece band thrilled and delighted his Cleveland audience with two hours of poetry--real country music--in a way only he can.
The first half of the performance was made up of material from the new release. Songs from the late, great Townes Van Zandt and every true Texan's favorite songwriter, Guy Clark, captivated the crowd when coupled with Lovett's unique voice.
Songs from lesser knowns like Steven Fromholtz's "Bears" share the same witty perspective for which Lovett has become known. The genres explored ran from country to blues, folk to bluegrass, with plenty of space to showcase the talented band.
"Teach Me About Love," a song by Walter Hyatt, had Lovett and the band swinging with the best of them. Lovett has been exploring swing-music themes ever since he appeared on the scene, long before the current craze took hold.
Lovett's interaction with his audience was always as fun as it was funny. He takes a laid-back, down-home approach. Before playing a song by Michael Murphy, now known as Michael Martin Murphy, Lovett explained how to tell the difference between what radio passes off as country music and real country music. "Real country music is recorded somewhere other than Tennessee."
During a break for a much-needed drink, one excited female in attendance shouted out "Marry me, Lyle!" Which prompted the response, "It's hard to find a man who drinks . . . water." There were plenty of "Happy Birthday!" shouts from the audience as well, and Lovett, gentleman that he is, told his fans he was happy to share his birthday with them.
Lovett and the band began the retrospective portion of the show with "Private Conversation" from The Road to Ensenada and six other songs, including "If I Had a Boat," "She's No Lady, She's My Wife," and "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)."
Supporting Lovett on mandolin and additional vocals throughout the evening was the unmistakable Sam Bush. Just as at home leading his own band as he is playing back-up to people like Lovett and Emmylou Harris, Bush is probably the greatest working mandolin player around. Bush filled every space given to him with the perfect musical or vocal interlude.
The crowed was also enthralled by the fill provided by dobro player Mike Aldridge, whose slide work also was a standout. Rounding out the band with a strong bluegrass connection were bass player Viktor Krauss and lead guitarist Pat Bergeson, Alison Krauss's brother and husband respectively.
The last song of the regular set was Guy Clark's "Step Inside This House," the title track from Lovett's new release. Lovett explained that the song is said to be the first song Clark ever wrote, and if true, the beauty of the number explains why Lovett holds him in such high regard.
For an encore, "White Freightliner Blues" was dedicated to Lovett's girlfriend April, who was in attendance.
With a performance as spotless and powerful as Lovett's, there was no need for an opening act. When you have the kind of talent Lovett has, you make the rules.
And now the news from Lake Mushroomhead, Ohio--the quaint little town where heads bang on the two and four, where the drum sets are abused, and where the vocals are all electronically enhanced demonic yelps. Where the men all wear devil horns, sport tattoos, like to take their shirts off, mosh, and scrawl obscenities on their chests with lipstick. Where the women all strip, gyrate, and point their bouncing hootchies at the crowd. Where the bands are tough and the audience is tougher.
Another Halloween means the leaves have turned colors, the cold weather has set in, and the kooks have come out for the annual costume party and concert gala courtesy of Mushroomhead.
Mushroomhead's stage setup was performed to the tune of the Good Times and Sesame Street themes, and the band members took their places in front of fifteen-foot statues and a backdrop depiction of burning angels. Wearing freshly carved pumpkins on their heads, Mushroomhead jumped into a nearly nonstop set of popular tunes, including a well-received cover of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam."
Employing keyboards, extended bridges, and some variation in tempos, Mushroomhead's music had a complexity uncommon to the bill's other three bands. But the point of this show was not really the music but the plentiful theatrics. And Mushroomhead handled those better than anyone else, too.
As J. Mann and Jeffrey Nothing ranted and yelled into microphones, posing and scowling, the male/female performance- art duo Roxy and Bronson stripped and gyrated across the stage and across each other, rubbing each other's genitals and whatnot. Meanwhile, Pig Benis (bass) and J.J. and Dinner (guitars) assumed all the right poses, complementing the action of Roxy and Bronson and drawing raves from the crowd.
Mushroomhead so moved the audience that after the final encore, several females in the audience followed Roxy's lead by leaping on stage and gyrating for the delighted crowd.
Crayon Death, clad all in black, was the first band to appear on stage.The Pittsburgh-based outfit, consisting of two lead singers, and guitars, bass, and drums, managed a tepid set. The only point of interest was the drum work, which provided a steady beat to a band content with screaming and marking time. The crowd did enjoy the Beanie Babies the band placed in nooses and hung from its speakers, and when the pit began to lose interest, the singers threw the babies to the crowd.
The mindless thrash continued with Schnauzer. The band took the stage on rickety old bikes, but quickly discarded them in favor of their instruments. Of the singers, one was big and bulky, the other was short and skinny. The bulky one liked to yell and play drums. The skinny one, having nothing better to do, kept falling on his head. Toward the end of the set, the bulky singer engaged the crowd with random comments such as, "I don't know fuck about shit," and, "You're all motherfuckers." He was promptly called a motherfucker in return, inciting Schnauzer to punish the crowd by playing an additional song.
Runt's music approximated the sounds of large metal objects dropping on floors, and the sounds pleased the receptive crowd. As the diminutive, perhaps eponymous lead singer grunted and the guitars worked their power-chord magic, the mosh pit warmed up. The band proved to have mastered the synchronized hop, which its members employed every other song or so.
Money Mark, a.k.a. Mark Ramos Nishita, the carpenter/keyboardist made famous for his music/carpentry contributions to the Beastie Boys' recordings/studio, now has the chance to record and tour with the music and techniques he developed long before his association with the Beasties. With this in mind, it shouldn't have been surprising that his own music differs greatly from anything you might find on a Beasties recording.
For the tiny crowd still willing to go out on a Sunday after major Halloween revelry, Money Mark kept the turntables to a minimum. His main scratcher, Kid Koala, played only on a couple of tunes. Even then, he played a rather peripheral role in the music, adding bits of color here and there. Front and center were Mark's DIY, duct- tape-and-organ, '60s-sounding R&B and pop-rock styles, as well as an odd penchant for song titles with four syllables ("All the People," "Push the Button," "Pinto's New Car," "Maybe I'm Dead," Rock in the Rain," "Hand in Your Head"--you get the picture).
Half the songs, on a fair number of which he played guitar, were light and catchy rock, somewhat in the vein of Matthew Sweet--especially "Tomorrow Will Be Like Today," with its sunny chorus and catchy chord patterns.
Other times he took organ duties and added jazz shadings to his simple lyrics. On the closer "Sometimes You Gotta Make It Alone," he almost sounded like Stevie Wonder singing along with a Casiotone backbeat.
Other tunes highlighted the kitchen-sink, anything-that-makes-noise-is-cool approach to music that only a carpenter like Mark could manage. For several instrumentals, he played something resembling an electronic kazoo, in addition to drums and multiple keyboards. On one tune he attached a balloon to a coronet and played it like a bagpipe. "This is probably the first time this has ever been done in Cleveland," he said. Safe bet.
Mark's music, while certainly enjoyable, had a facile, air-pocketed quality to it. While the music entertained for the moment, it dissolved in listeners' memory, like cotton candy on the tongue.
Buffalo Daughter, the Japanese trio on the Beasties' Grand Royal label, played the more memorable of the two sets. Experimenters themselves, the opening group mixed detached, airy vocals and Asian pop with electronica, noise rock, and punk. The resulting sound was arresting.
Only during a long electronica vamp and on "Daisy," an unadulterated pop tune, did the set drag. On songs such as "Jelly Fish Blues," "Silver Turkey," and "No New Rock," Buffalo Daughter stacked deadpan lyrical humor (socks, drugs, and rock and roll) and minimalist soloing over ultra-busy drums, steady beats yet constantly changing rhythms, and felicitously placed noise. Whatever it was, it worked. Just don't ask any questions.
The crowd so appreciated Buffalo Daughter's music that it asked the band back out for an encore. Graciously, Buffalo Daughter obliged.
The Agora Theatre was transformed into a house of idolatry for Judas Priest, and the venue was packed with rabid fans eager for worship. Leaving the classic radio cuts for the end of their set, Priest roared through some of its heavier material, including several cuts from its latest, Jugulator.
Taking the stage to the dual-guitar workout "Hellion," Judas Priest segued immediately into "Electric Eyes," followed by "Metal God." Early on, the set was marred by a sound mix with too much emphasis on the high end, rendering Ian Hill's bass lines barely audible. Not that most of the audience noticed or cared. In fact, their support never wavered during the evening, evidenced by the spontaneous chants of "Priest! Priest! Priest!" that broke out at least a half-dozen times throughout the band's set.
"I've got a question for you . . . What's my name?" asked vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens midway through the show. The crowd roared back the response in unison before the band launched into "The Ripper." Throughout the evening, Owens, a native of Akron, carried himself with the intensity of a boxer about to deliver the final blow to an already battered opponent. Continually working the crowd into a fervor, Owens turned both "Blood Stained" and "Touch of Evil," the main set's highlight, into fist-pumping frenzies.
Building off the energy of the ominous opening riff of "Nightcrawler," guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing accented the song with their tight guitar duet. The two performed cohesively all night, especially on "Nightcrawler" and "Victim of Changes," which featured a blistering solo by Downing.
Closing the show with "Breaking the Law," the two encores that followed were, not surprisingly, rather predictable. The first consisted of a pounding version of "Painkiller," preceded by Owens riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle onstage, and "You Got Another Thing Comin'"; the second encore featured "Hell Bent For Leather" and "Living After Midnight," which became one of several selections during which the audience's vocal participation nearly matched Owens's.
The unenviable task of opening to a theater of ardent Judas Priest supporters went to newcomers Moondog Mane. Featuring former Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon, Moondog Mane won the crowd over rather easily with its highly melodic brand of Southern-fried work and a tight, full sound.
Hannon's guitar heroics received considerable applause as he and energetic vocalist Brodie Stewart led the band through a nearly hour-long set. Highlights included "Watcha Gonna Do?" "I Believe," and the stirring "Sweet Southern Sand."