Saw two of my favorite bands from Saturday to Saturday, and it would have been three if Wussy hadn’t hit so late Thursday (through no fault of their own or of The Low Beat).
At the Met in Pawtucket on the 19th, NRBQ fired up Duke Ellington’s theme “Take the A Train” to start in a rambunctious, classic, horn-and-piano-powered groove.
Openers Jellyroll Soul, featuring sometime ’Q sax man Klem Klimek, also had a vintage feel, starting with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s New Orleans-funky “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing,” finishing with “Lil Liza Jane” — spunky, old-school.
NRBQ rocked more than two hours, playing longer shows these days than ever. Like Paul McCartney (tremendous here recently), NRBQ makes short songs, so they crammed many old faves, fresh tunes from their new “Brass Tacks” album and eye-popping surprises into a freewheeling celebration. Surprise curveballs flew wide and far.
Bassist Casey McDonough coached Klimek line by line through “Give Me Some Lovin’” when Adams challenged the band with it: McDonough knew the words. Everybody soloed in “Put Another Nickel In” but Adams’ break was best. Who knew they’d tackle Dylan’s “My Back Pages” in the Byrds’ arrangement or do “Get An Ugly Girl to Marry You” without laughing? Not even they did.
As usual, NRBQ made everybody feel happy, in a youthful state where romance is sweet and fast tunes feel like stepping on the gas in your first fast car. Thanks to substitute drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks, in for Conrad Choucroun.
I missed Wussy last Thursday at the Low Beat, so I was glad friend and colleague Greg Haymes caught them. He reported how they’d transmuted traffic stop delay frustration into “a molten outpouring of intense, straight-from-the-heart, real life rock ’n’ roll.”
The subdudes’ show at The Egg on the 26th packed big promise: the return of long-absent (since 1996) bassist Johnny Ray Allen to complete the original quartet. Not that anything was wrong with the 2004-11 quintet, but I was excited to see how Allen (re-)fit into the band and how his presence might spur fresh thinking through the tunes.
Early on, accordionist John Magnie’s powerful vocal pushed “So Hard” harder than the recorded version; next in “Why Can’t I Forget About You” (my favorite of their songs), Tommy Malone sped up his soulful singing to a drawling casualness that brought real tension to its heartbroken lyrics.
With Allen on board, they revived some seldom-heard songs he’d written. “Run Little One” got a delayed start as tambourine player Steve Amedee fixed his gear; Malone stretched it with a great guitar solo. Allen seldom sang. “Got You On his Mind” almost an hour in was the first tune with all four voices.
Tim Cook, who’d played bass in the reformed subdudes after Allen left, guested Saturday in “Sarita,” which he’d written, and “Sugar Pie.” Allen then replaced him onstage to rock “Late at Night,” powered by Malone’s slide guitar; so was their hard-rocking last number, “All the Time in the World.”
Amedee launched the encore with a spoken intro that grew into the Chi-Lites’ 1970s soul classic “Have You Seen Her,” a delicious surprise with its cheerful, wordless “Bup-bup-bup” couplet chorus belying the song’s underlying sadness. “Light in Your Eyes” let the crowd down easy with its uplifting lovesong hopefulness.
Deep grooves and soulful melodies demonstrated that this is a super-skilled players’ band with one great voice — Malone’s — and three very good ones. Allen plays bass in a simpler, more rhythmically authoritative style than Cook, and during the instrumental breaks that grew longer and more plentiful as the show went on, Magnie often stepped over from his stage left spot to stand between Malone and Allen, so close together you could drop a blanket over the whole band. They were that close musically, too.
Short cuts free
Hard-rocking Grand Funk Railroad, with founders drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher and experienced replacements for departed members, headlines tonight at Alive at Five (Jennings Landing, Albany).
Wild Adriatic — who could steal this one — open at 5 p.m. Free. Rain site: Corning Preserve boat launch under I-787
On Saturday, veteran soul singer Jeffrey Osborne headlines African American Family Day (Empire State Plaza, Albany); TruMastr, J-Live, Boog Brown, the Chronicles, and Wassa Pan Africa Dance Ensemble also play. Noon to 7 p.m. Free. www.empirestateplaza.org
Louisiana accordionist/fiddler Jeffery Broussard rocks a zydeco dance party on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Music Haven (Central Park, Schenectady) with his Creole Cowboys. Veteran of the Lawtell Playboys (with his father) and the Zydeco Force (with a brother and a cousin), Broussard plays to have and give fun and to keep the zydeco tradition alive.
The Ramblin Jug Stompers, another good-time band steeped in tradition, opens, and Home Style Caterers are adding Creole dishes to the menu; ice cream by Ben & Jerry’s. Free. Rain site: Proctors. www.musichavenstage.org
Gulf Coast pianist-singer Marcia Ball plays Shepard Park (Lake George Village) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. She’d be terrific, all by herself; but always brings a hard-hitting, funky band. Free. www.lakegeorge.com/events/concert
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.