All Star team-ups are a bi-polar lot. They are typically either amazing or a train wreck. Think about it, musicians who don’t usually play together playing songs they don’t usually play or even know. Every now and then something special happens. Think Sting with Dire Straits at Live Aid, Temple of the Dog, or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds feat. Kylie Minogue. On the other hand it often ends up like Mettalica and Lou Reed, Springsteen and Chuck Berry at The Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or Led Zeppelin with Phil Collins at Live Aid.
Luckily those in attendance at the Rex Theater got the former, and I got one of my favorite shows of this year.
It helps that Baumann assembled a band of crack Pittsburgh professionals:
Nathan Zoob – Guitar (Wreck Loose, Zoob)
Mike Minda – Guitar (The Common Heart)
Jim Donovan – Drums (Sun King Warriors, formerly Rusted Root)
Chad Sipes – Bass (Chad Sipes Stereo)
Phil Brontz – Sax (Bill Toms and Hard Rain, Soulville Horns)
Lucas Bowman – Keyboards (The Common Heart)
Ryan Booth – Saxaphone (Grand Piano)
Nate Insko – Trumpet (The Common Heart)
Randy Baumann – Keyboards
Addi Twigg – Vocals (Telephone Line)
Kiki Brown – Vocals (Buckeldowns)
Jenn Wertz – Vocals (Rusted Root, Lovechild, Isabella)
None the less, these folks had to learn 23 songs. Even if they knew them, they probably hadn’t played them with this band and singers. I don’t know how much they rehearsed, but they sounded like a touring band (which would be awesome btw).
The perfomers ranged in age from early 20’s to 50’s. Pittsburgh’s deep bench of singers was called on often.
A brief overview of the songs:
Usually when you review a concert you don’t have to review every song, however every song at the Ramble is sung by a different singer – Levon Helm style. To do the concert justice, I felt the need to mention each song and singer
Things started off with every singer coming on stage. I was expecting a massive opening. Instead we got an unbilled Mark Dignam doing an an acapella Irish tune with the rest of the singers answering off mike. It was as impressive as it was surprising. Goosebumps to start the show.
Jon Belan then came up and did The Stones “Loving Cup.” I’ve heard him do the Stones with Baumann’s anual Stones tribute, and the singer from Gene The Werewolf nailed it as usual.
Addi Twigg from Telephone Line stepped up and sang the first of two Traffic songs, “Medicated Goo.” The arrangement was different than I recalled but it worked well for the band and her vocals.
The incomparable Nathan Zoob moved over from his lead guitar slot to sing The Who’s “Drowned.” If you don’t think you know this song, you do. Zoob sang and played the heck out of it, and The Horns asserted themselves on the 5:15 ish coda. Zoob and Mike Minda handled the guitars quite well in the absence of usual “Rambler” Rob James of the Clarks.
Chet Vincent of the Big Bend came out and put his own spin on George Harrison’s “Let it Down.” I actually prefered this version to George’s (shhh… don’t tell him).
Max Somerville from Wreck Loose slipped behind Bauman’s keys for Elton John’s “Ballad of a Well Known Gun.” This was not a well known song to me. I have been so effusive about my praise for Max that I won’t say he was amazing and stunning. I won’t. It would border on fawning (he was). Instead I’ll say that the original background vocals by Dusty Springfield and Lesley Duncan had nothing on these.
Morgan Erina and Jenn Wertz then became Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids,” channeling Ricki Lee Jones. These ladies colaborrated with the band to weave a seductive web that snared the entire audience.
Andre Costello led the band through Neil Young’s “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”. His vocals complimented the guitars’ deft handling of the complicated riffs.
Bill Deasy from the Gathering Field (whose solo show next month has me stoked already) came out and did a song called “Can’t Hardly Wait” which I didn’t know from the Replacements. Bill could sing the phone book and I would pay 10 dollars to hear it at Club Cafe. He sounded great and again made me rue the day I wrote off the Replacements
Molly Alphabet then did Dylan’s “Forever Young” and Kayla Schureman did “Scare Easy” by Mudcrutch. They sounded great as I waited in line for the facilities and beverages. Hey, it was a long show.
Next came a double shot of Jenn Wertz. She came out and slithered through a gritty version of Lucinda Williams “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” She and the band played the song the way I would have prefered Lucinda record it – much rawer. Then came one of the highlights of the night.
Baumann started playing the familiar opening to Traffic’s “Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys.” Rather than start off with the instrumental jam, they jumped right into the song. After a brilliant run through some of the verses, Phill Brontz stepped up for an extended saxaphone freakout that left jaws on the ground and even the band members watching in disbelief. They then built to a crescendo that brought down the house.
Who could follow this but Jimbo Jackson singing Bill Wither’s “Who is He?” I’ve been a fan of Jimbo’s since before he opened for Bon Jovi. He should seriously put out an album of Withers songs.
Josh Verbanetts of Meeting of Important People came out and did the ELO classic “Do Ya,” It presented a fun and poppy change of pace and gave Mike Minda and Zoob a chance to trade some tasty guitar.
Chad Sipes then did the Fleetwood Mac/Lindsay Buckingham nugget “I Know I’m Not Wrong” from Tusk. His voice fit the song well adding much..
Zak Kane from Grand Piano followed with The Beatle’s “Yer Blues.” It was a rough spirited presentation that makes me wonder why I haven’t heard them more in their 11 year existence.
The show then went from a 10 to an 11.
Soul was the order for the finale and first up were two songs from Clinton Clegg of the Common Heart: Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub” and Otis Redding’s “Bring It On Home.” If you have read this far and have not seen this man and his band, close the laptop, go buy their record, return home and listen repeatedly. Seriously I got more soulful just from Clinton sweating on me in the front row. This man always brings it and this was no exception.
The last three songs played tribute to the late Aretha Franklin. Did you ever wonder why noone covers her songs? Because she was the best and biggest voice ever. A powerhouse I wish I had seen more than twice.
Sierra Seller, Kiki Brown, and Addi Twigg channeled her spirit and paid tribute to her on “Rock Steady,” “Never Loved A Man,” and” You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” respectively. Closing my eyes, I felt a happiness and peace and joy and excitement that only comes from great music.
After that there was nothing to do but bring everyone back for Levon Helm’s masterpiece, “The Weight.” Everyone pitched in to send the audience home happy.
Highlights??? All of them. For me Low Spark was the song I woke up the next morning singing, but the ending trilogy of Aretha was probably the crest.
The band and singers performed lock step together. This was very much a “We Are the World” collaboration where everything seemed to work and work well.
As I stated, with this and other rambles, I hate to think these combinations are gone. It would be fun to see a tour where 5 or 6 performances of the same show are presented at different places. I know this would pack the house in Indiana, Erie, Wheeling etc. Anywhere WDVE is heard would sell this show out.
Who am I to complain though? We get to hear these singers every weekend in Pittsburgh – an embarrassment of musical riches.