Sunday, June 25, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days: # 006: NRBQ, God Bless Us All

Arguably the greatest bar band on the planet, and I'm granting the qualifier (“arguably”) only because different people define “bar bands” different ways. But if your definition includes the “ability to play absolutely any song, from any style, in their own distinctive way and in a fashion that makes you want to dance,” then NRBQ (the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) is in fact the greatest bar band in the world.

It doesn’t hurt that they’re headquartered—more or less—in Western Massachusetts, my old stomping grounds, or that bassist Joey Spampinato plays Danelectro and National basses exclusively, or that keyboardist Terry Adams (a Monk fanatic) is one of the only clavinet players in rock ‘n’ roll, or that (erstwhile) guitarist Al Anderson plays a paisley Telecaster and is bigger than me, or that they have a standing New Year’s Day eve gig at the greatest nightclub in the world (the Iron Horse in Northampton), or that they have a standing policy that if even one of four members knows a verse and chorus of a requested song, they’ll play it.

But it all helps.

They sound like James Burton jamming with Thelonious Monk, accompanied by Louis Jordan’s rhythm section; a fantastic amalgam of all the great American roots musics, from hard country through R&B through doo-wop and free jazz. Tommy is a truly fantastic jump-blues drummer who hits the skins so hard he regularly breaks drum rims (no need for a snare ‘mic when Tommy’s in the house), Terry (who regularly wears colanders on his head during gigs) finds ways to layer noise, clusters, and random wrestlings of the keyboard over the groove.

It all comes together on this live disc, which really has it all: Big Al’s earthquaking ferocity on Crazy Like a Fox, the goofy band intro of Here Comes Terry (whose entire lyrics consist of “here comes Terry, here comes Al, here comes Joey, here comes Tommy”) and Music Theory 101 of Twelve Bar Blues (wherein band and crowd together practice counting the measures of a blues), the beautiful melting pop of Joey’s Every Boy, and the fantastic bent rock of Me and the Boys (a hit for Bonnie Raitt in the 1980s). It also has the great byplay which makes their live shows hilarious, notably in Terry’s “They loved it, Big Al! They loved it! They love ME!!”

My little brother, who used to live up that way and closed down the Horse on many a night, stood in line all day to get us tickets to a New Year's Day show--and he was right.

This is indispensable. Sell the car, mortgage the kids, board the dog, get a sitter, and GO SEE THIS BAND.

Thanks, J.

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