Sunday, July 30, 2017

7.29.2017, Fort Worth

It was one of those wish fulfillment nights.

Big Mike Richardson and friends were performing Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow album in its entahrty, then the inimitable Bill Pohl, visiting home from Colorado, would play an Allan Holdsworth tribute set, accompanied by a couple of fiery youngsters. Big Mike's friends included my old bandmate Ron Geida in the leading role, and my old bandleader Lee Allen from two and a half years of Wednesday night jams at the Wreck Room. (Those nights were chronicled on this blog in a series called "the art of the jam," back when I was still affecting that annoying e.e. cummings "no caps" mannerism -- an infantile reaction, it seems in retrospect, to not digging being edited. Mea culpa.) On the day of the event, Big Mike informed me that there'd be a jam after Bill's set, and invited me to participate.

I got to Lola's Saloon, where the event would go down, a little after nine, and was as surprised as I'd been the night of the Transistor Tramps show a few weeks before at the number of cars outside, but I figured it was for the country show outside at the Trailer Park. Back when I was writing for the Fort Worth Weekly 15 years ago, I used to advocate for Bill's prog band the Underground Railroad, but getting people to their performances was like pulling teeth. Inside the venue were assembled the collective prog-fusion freaks and guitar heads within a 50 mile radius, including lots of young folks, which surprised me.

Promptly at 9:30, Big Mike and Co. kicked it off with "You Know What I Mean." On this occasion, Mike was playing second guitar and some keys. Besides Ron and Lee, his friends included Tyrel Choat on talkbox guitar, Steve Hammond on keys, and the phenomenal Christopher "Chill" Hill (about whom more later) on drums. Blow By Blow is the album that, when it was released back in '75, caused my teenage guitar mentor (RIP) and I to believe we needed to learn how to play good. (In my case, this was compounded by reading Robert Fripp's remarks in Guitar Player to the effect that Hendrix "had inefficient technique and misled many young players who tried to emulate him." Guilty.) We were wrong, of course, but anyway...

Blow By Blow was a revelation when it hit, although in retrospect it's more like a continuation (minus the vocals) of the jazz-inflected R&B direction Beck had undertaken with the Rough and Ready band; the secret ingredient was Max Middleton. (Beck has always relied on keyboard players to give him settings to make his unique melodic gifts shine.) I saw him live twice during his fusion period, once from the front row at the Palace Theater in Albany, NY (the sound was an undifferentiated roar, I was deaf for 24 hours afterwards, and Jan Hammer reminded me of Tim Conway), once from the first balcony at the Academy of Music in Manhattan (great view of the whole stage and beautiful, clear sound).

Big Mike and friends gave this challenging music a rougher edge than on Beck's George Martin-produced original, which I found preferable. There was blood on the stage, as there should be. Ron has great chops which have grown even more imposing since we briefly played in a band together 18 years ago, and he soloed with abandon and a brittle attack that put his own stamp on Beck's tunes (his solo on "Freeway Jam" was a particularly memorable scorcher). Lee's a consummate bandleader and interacted effectively with Chris Hill and Steve Hammond to hold things together when onstage monitors were unreliable. The rhythm section cooked on the funk grooves, and the whole band was blindingly amazing on "Scatterbrain" (taken at a furious tempo). It was nice to hear Ron on the unspeakably gorgeous "Diamond Dust," which I once heard him play (sans the head) with Bill Pohl at the Fairmount.

Then Bill got up with Chris Hill and bass virtuoso Canyon Kafer to pay homage to their inspiration, Holdsworth, who passed back in April. I'd heard Kafer's name before when he played with Bill and Eddie Dunlap on a previous visit of Bill's, and I'm sorry to say I missed a solo gig he played down the street from me at the Grackle Gallery. (I'll not repeat that mistake.) I believe he's also in Eddie's Rage-Out Arkestra. They opened with "Proto-Cosmos" from the New Tony Williams Lifetime album Believe It, the album which introduced Holdsworth to the US audience in the same year as Blow By Blow. I saw that band when that record was new, and I'm here to testify: Chris Hill's a polyrhythmic powerhouse, and his toms have the same thunder that Tony's did.

They tore into some material from Holdsworth's '83 Road Games EP, including the title track (sung by Big Mike). It was a jaw-dropper to observe the ferocity with which Cafer attacked his 6-string bass while reading chord charts. Bill showed that the move to Colorado -- where he leads a trio and plays in legendary prog band Thinking Plague -- has been beneficial to his playing. He picks lightning-fast runs with astonishing fluidity, with a smoothness of articulation that I've only ever heard from him, Holdsworth, and Eric Johnson. Watching him interact with these two young cats, it struck me how deeply all three of them had to be into the music, to be able to execute faster than most people can think.

I teared up twice during their set. The first time was when I heard the intro to "Fred" from Believe It, a song I'd seen Holdsworth play with Williams all those years ago (and I'm now really regretting not seeing him when he played the Kessler in Oak Cliff a couple of years back; never take for granted there'll be another opportunity). The second time was when I turned around when they were done and realized: they'd kept the house. Yes, there's an audience for challenging music in Fort Worth -- although Bill played it off, saying "Mike can get people out for anything."

After that, I got up and jammed with Mike, Ron, Lee, Chris, Steve, Tyrel, and a cat from the audience who got up to play guitar. It was my first time to play with Lee in a decade, and I was hyper-aware of being out of practice, although people said kind things later. (There's nothing to compare with playing a half-ass solo, turning around, and seeing Bill Pohl playing rhythm. As Eliot said, "The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.") I need a Stoogeaphilia show to restore my shaky self-esteem, and will get one, at Lola's, on September 16. Meanwhile, Big Mike will be back there on August 25, playing Led Zep III and Houses of the Holy (my favorite!) in their entahrty. I shall endeavor to be there.


Post a Comment

<< Home