Saturday, January 28, 2012

Yacht Rock Review review - 1/27/12

The cover band world is an inglorious one. Originality is virtually non-existent. There are no qualms, just pure imitation. To start a cover band is, by definition, to sell out. They range from the sublime (Darkstar Orchestra pre "Fake Jerry's" departure) to the ridiculous (any band that attempts to emulate the physical appearance of the band they are covering). The artistically credible cover band is the rarest of species. For these reasons and time being at a premium these days, I don't frequently find myself at cover band shows. It was thus with great suspicion that I suppressed my doubts and headed to see the vaunted Yacht Rock Review last night.

The first thing one notices upon entering a Yacht Rock show is the crowd. It is plugged in. I can't recall seeing another band where the fans dress up in quasi-uniforms to watch their heroes play (unless you consider 8 year-old Patagonia stand-up shorts and Teva's with a ratty T-shirt touting some bar "out West" as a "uniform"). Captain's hats (think Captain Stubing on "Love Boat") are an omnipresence, and they are coupled with outfits ranging from prep school debonaire to disco trashy. Ascots are commonplace and cheap blazers are a near-must if one wants to look the part. Yacht Rock fans really love Yacht Rock. It's not necessarily a bunch of people who are serious about music as it is people who are serious about having a raging good time.   

While they play no original material, Yacht Rock is not so much a cover band as a band that covers others. Quite the opposite of most cover bands, they take themselves seriously, and that is a good thing. Don't let the playful pastel dress and 1979 Miami style half-tint shades fool you. This is a serious outfit. They're something like Talking Heads meets Four Tops. To a person, the band is full of real musicians. (They could not effectively cover Steely Dan if they weren't.) They obviously rehearse hard and take the quality of what they are playing seriously. Tomfoolery is reserved for between songs. When the kick drum is pounding, it's all business. For most of the night, it was guitar/bass/drums with two keyboards a two vocalists; a totally unique lineup that works for them. The vocalists will employ hand held rhythm instruments like cowbells or tambourines to compliment the lock-step vocals. By my count, at least three members of the band can sing lead vocals, and these are not easy numbers. In lieu of disco hyperbole, the members repeatedly employ a metronome-timed array of coordinated but subdued dance steps on stage (think Four Tops) that will put you in a trance. I've never seen anything quite like the stage routine they've put together. The Bee Gee's may have looked something like this on stage if they had post-dated jam bands.  

If you want to spill your beer to "Come on Aileen," you are at the wrong show here. The setlist is a diverse mash up of mid-tempo material focused around the pre-Disco crash late '70's. As the band said from the stage, "[w]e are gonna keep it a smooth 6 out of 10 allll night long." While they can put the pedal down, these guy stay on the mid-tempo stuff like bulldogs (think Olivia Newton John's "Magic"). It's their sweet spot. Something like Toto's "Africa" is about as fast as it gets. They are not a "Greatest Hits" cover bad. Many of the songs are deep tracks and they aren't afraid to venture far outside the Top 40. The song placements will catch you off guard but not in an off putting manner. Only at Yacht Rock could one possibly hear a "Go Your On Way" second-set closer followed by a "Footloose" encore. For most of the night, the set list was roughly what one would have heard on the patio during happy hour at a martini bar on Roswell Road circa 1980 (think "Easy Lover"). The one burning exception was a bring-down-the-house rendition of Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like We Do?" From the guitar heroics in the solos to the use of a vox effect, the song is technically challenging, but they played it late-second set and pulled it off in glorious fashion. I spent most of the song with at least one hand launched skyward.

A sure fire sign of a good show for me these days is a slightly sore neck the next morning. Today, it's a totally sore pair of legs. Against all odds, Yacht Rock got me dancing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

SOTW - January 27, 2012

imagery [im-ij-ree, im-i-juh-ree] noun The formulation of mental images, figures, or likenesses of things.

Your SOTW for 1/27/12 is chock full of it. One beautiful component of music is its ability to take us to a time or place, real or imagined. I wish I knew how many times I'd driven down the road listenting to this song and trying to see in my mind the drugstore cowboy utopia that it describes so vividly. From "Annie Rich's" parlor, to the lonley switchman by the "river bridge," to rolling praries of grain, you won't hear a better example of imagery in music. Backing vocals by Emmylou Harris give it all an angelic shimmer.

Gram Parson's story is an endearing, if tragic, one. Having grown up in Waycross, Georgia (the biggest town in the biggest county in the biggest state east of the Mississippi), he made it his mission for country and rock to become one. Blazing trails with the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds (see Sweetheart of the Rodeo), he picked up what Ry Cooder started and taught the Stones how to rock, Hank Williams style. (A fly on the wall at the "Exile" sessions at Villa Nellcote in the summer of '72 would have seen Gram there.) The Stones, in turn, gave country its proper place in the lexicon of Rock, which had been a R&B and blues dominated genre up to that point. Thus, country rock became pop. I'd submit that what we affectionately call "alt country" today would not be what it is but for Gram Parsons's dedication. He managed to kill himself with drugs and alcohol at the ripe old age of 26. The only fitting way for his story to end was for his friends to steal his body from LAX, take it to the Joshua Tree National Monument, and send him back to dust with an impromptu cremation. What he left behind endures, and I am thankful for it.