Wednesday, August 30, 2017

8.29.2017, Fort Worth

It is a measure of my shittiness as a local scene supporter that until last night, I'd never seen Big Mike Richardson play electric live. Not through years of gigs with Big Mike's Box of Rock at the Moon and later, at Lola's; not through his various tribute nights at those venues and the Keys Lounge to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica (even though friends of mine played in some of his bands).

I'd first heard Big Mike's name from Bill Pohl and Kurt Rongey while interviewing them for an Underground Railroad story back around '03. Mike played bass for the Railroad in between Matt Hembree's tenures, and Matt had described that job as "music lessons." Bill and Kurt spoke of a fella who, back when he was still in the grocery biz, would go back home to Denison for a weekend and throw together a tribute band on the fly with guys he knew there. Hembree played with Mike in his Fort Worth-based Doors (the Odors) and Police (Protect and Swerve) bands.

Big Mike has also become, along with his friend and occasional collaborator James Hinkle, something approximating a local-scene John Mayall: an older cat who schools the younger musos in the musical canon. In Hinkle's case it's blues, in Mike's case it's classic rock, including all the deep cuts. (Mike once showed me the index to his digital music collection, which is both comprehensive and painstakingly cataloged. He has also been very generous in sharing records/CDs with me.) Mike knows all the parts to thousands of songs on guitar, bass, and keys, and can sing beautifully. (I've seen vid of him sitting on his couch with his cat, playing the "Overture" from Tommy on acoustic guitar note-for-note, something Townshend couldn't even do in 1969!) The Quaker City Night Hawks cats (including his roommate, drummer Matt Mabe) and keyboardist Justin Pate (Pablo and the Hemphill 7, ex-Bindle) are among those who've fallen into his orbit.

I'd intended to catch his Zeppelin show at Lola's last weekend, when he'd promised to perform Houses of the Holy (my favorite Zep LP!) and III in their entahrty, but life intervened. (Former Lola's bartender Eric Benge told me that Friday night, there had been 350 people out to see Big Mike's Zep show. "After one o'clock," he said, "There was still a line of people wanting to pay to hear the last 20 minutes!" Big Mike brings 'em out.) So when it was announced that Mike would be reprising the show in Lola's Trailer Park to raise money and collect donated items for the folks affected by Tropical Storm Harvey down south of here -- an early show on a Tuesday night -- it seemed like a candygram from the gods.

As infrequently as I go out, it's always a treat to run into folks I haven't seen in awhile, and last night, those included the man who brought me here and his bride, as well as former Moon impresario Chris Maunder, and martial artist/former Wreck Room security chief Rod Dove's son Kashif, who once upon a time helped my wife lay the paving stones by our driveway. Next time I see Kashif, I need to remember to tell him they're still there!

Big Mike loves the orchestrated sound of classic '60s and '70s rock records, with their multiple layers of parts that the original bands often found problematic to recreate onstage. He gets around this by having enough players onstage to handle things like doubled leads or stacked electric and acoustic rhythm guitars. On this particular night, besides the aforementioned Messrs. Mabe and Pate, he was joined onstage by guitarists Chris Holt and Kris Luther, and bassist Kirk Young (filling in for the unavailable Sam Damask). Holt is a monster lead player, playing some of my favorite Jimmy Page solos the way they should be, on a Telecaster, and also adding pedal steel and a second keyboard when they were required. Every hit from Mabe's kit was like the thunder of the gods, and Mike can sing notes that Robert Plant probably can't even hit anymore.

As I've said before, Houses (which I had a white label promo of when it was new) is my favorite Zep LP even in spite of the two "goof" songs (the James Brown one, which is still a motherfucker to play, and the reggae one, which I now think of as a PH7 song after hearing them play it for years). "The Song Remains the Same" (my fave toon of the album), "Over the Hills and Far Away," and "The Ocean" are masterpieces of Page rifferama, "The Rain Song" (a lot of people's favorite Zep song, evidently, and lyrically apropos after Harvey) is probably their greatest acoustic moment, and "No Quarter" a spookily atmospheric death march. Mike and Co. did 'em up fine, and also played a couple from Physical Graffiti, which I'd spun that afternoon ("Custard Pies" with Mabe's dad on voxxx and Gary Grammer on harp, "In the Light" which I'd forgotten about for years but is becoming a new favorite), and "Your Time Is Gonna Come" from I with Dead Vinyl's Hayden Miller -- who has the sass and swagger of the cocky young Plant -- up front.

Then I had to leave to go to CVS. Life. But I've finally seen Big Mike doing what he does best, and I'm sure glad I did.

ADDENDUM: How could I forget Frank Cervantez's favorite, "Dancing Days?" (Easily, I guess. I was counting songs, too.) I never realized how Stones-like that song is. Possibly seeing Big Mike playing his open G-tuned Les Paul was the cue I needed.


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