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Hammer Down

By Erik Hage

Bill Kirchen

The Ale House, March 9

I’m fine with the arenas and larger theaters in the area continuing to bring in the pop music, with the occasional quality act slipping through the cracks, as long as there’s Brian Gilchrist’s Ale House, sitting on the quiet end of River Street in Troy. Packing one’s self into the back room of the Ale House often can feel like facing up to the furnace blast of raw rock & roll history. It’s like some kind of lost portal where nothing else matters for a moment and the musical past just folds back on itself, taking you back to the deep roots of rock & roll and honky-tonk—back to the heartwood, to a space where only the heat of guitar, rhythm and words matters.

In recent years, Rosie Flores, Dale Watson, Deke Dickerson and Eddie Angel have graced those boards. In a couple of months, country neoclassicist Wayne Hancock will bring his act to the room. Sunday night, though, it was all about Bill Kirchen, who brought his twangy trucker heat, tear-sodden country, and Telecaster-guitar fury to the place where the beer is good and the wings and music are even gooder.

Kirchen, the onetime guitar alchemist of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, doesn’t need me to roll out his resume; just be assured that names like Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe are on there. And just be assured that his work with the Airmen alone is enough to make him an entry in the Big Book of Rock & Roll.

Tonight, the old sat seamlessly with the new as Kirchen, looking like some kind of elegantly bookish and aged turkey buzzard, his ancient and stained Telecaster hung high on his lean frame, began with a few tracks from his most recent LP, Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods. Accompanied by only a bassist and drummer, he showed that he still had songwriting chops (particularly with the beautifully downtrodden “Rocks into Sand”) as well as the vocal ability to settle his husk into the most tragic and literate honky-tonk (Blackie Farrell’s “Skid Row in My Mind”). He also pulled out numerous diesel-banging tunes from his trucker canon. Mostly, there were those wild flights of guitar, twanged out on the low end and thick with Bakersfield, ancient rockabilly and western swing (as well as something more primal—and a little bit scary).

But it was during a mini-reunion with local treasure (and RPI Professor) John Tichy, his old bandmate from the early ’70s San Francisco heyday of Commander Cody, that this night was elevated even higher. This wasn’t the show that everyone else was getting; this was Ale House magic. And as the two old musical allies ripped through a trio of Cody classics, history folded back on itself, the sparks flew, and the gods of honky-tonk, rock & roll, and R&B smiled through the rafters, setting aside their ambrosia for a pint of Long Trail and a few of Gilchrist’s hot wings.

Vintage Squared


Revolution Hall, March 5

When brothers Neal and Alan Evans first joined forces with guitarist Eric Krasno in 1999, the Woodstock-based trio struck immediate success with a vintage soul/jazz sound, effectively remembering, reviving, and revamping a formula popularized in the ’60s and ’70s by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes, and Brother Jack McDuff. Nine years later (to the day)—after international touring; festival dominance; collaborations with Chaka Khan, John Scofield, Ivan Neville, Robert Randolph, and members of the Roots; forays into hip-hop; and, most recently, the addition of vocalist Toussaint (for an album on the classic Stax record label)—Soulive brought the whole thing full circle last Wednesday with a rare set of t early material. No frills, no vocals—just vintage Soulive.

It’s a sneering funk that the band purvey. It’ll start with a squint, but that ruffled brow gets the head bobbing, and before you know it, the band’s sense of pocket has worked its way down a listener’s body, enlivening his/her limbs with polyrhythm, and invariably rendering the listener a dancer. With “Steppin’,” the band’s longtime calling card, plunked at the set’s second slot, an expected truth about Soulive became apparent: There’s no such thing as warming up. When the band are on, they’re on; and, like all great musicians, the act of performance is inseparable from the act of living. From opposite sides of the stage, the Evans brothers (on drums and organ) pushed one another in ways only brothers can, generating a groove so propulsive that Krasno seemed to levitate at times above it all. With vintage effects and a sense of phrasing somewhere between Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix (both of whom Soulive are known to cover), Krasno is commonly mistaken as the band’s leader. Instead, the band’s charisma is truly a mutual one, owing as much to Alan’s charging drums and vocal exhortations as to Neal’s baffling command of right- and left-hand duties on the organ and clavinet.

While Toussaint was absent from the evening’s proceedings, the trio became a quartet with the addition of alto-sax phenom Sam Kininger, who was a regular collaborator throughout Soulive’s early years. Lending a staccato, Maceo Parker-style sensibility to material from the albums Turn It Out and Doin’ Something, Kininger stood as a fresh reminder of why this is still heralded as Soulive’s greatest era. With tunes like “One in Seven,” a stomp in 7/8 time, groove is the beginning and end, but in between is a range of rhythmic and harmonic complexity hitherto unknown within the genre. Even more, when the signature riff from Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” surfaced in the middle of a late-set clavinet solo, the gesture was more than the cute tease most bands would have made it. With a couple albums of authentic hip-hop production behind them, Soulive have earned it.

After a couple newer tunes featuring Soulive’s burgeoning sense for reggae, and an impromptu rendition of “Soul Power” (with equally impromptu vocals offered by Kininger, Krasno and Alan Evans), the band returned to the stage for an encore that seemed to sum up nicely the band’s early career. Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America” prompted “Do It Again” before finally resolving in one of the band’s most infectious and forward-thinking melodies on “Rudy’s Way.”

—Josh Potter

PHOTO: Julia Zave

Risky Business

Worcester, Mass.-based metal band Bury Your Dead brought the thrash—and the Tom Cruise references—to Albany rock club Valentine’s on Tuesday night. Fronted by new vocalist Myke Terry, the band mixed songs from their soon-to-be-released, self-titled fourth album, with older material like “Magnolia” and “Vanilla Sky.”





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