By Jim Ridley
DECEMBER 22, 1997:
I missed David Byrne at 328. I missed the Indigo Girls at the Ryman. I
missed all but the last half-hour of Jason & the Scorchers' second set at
the Exit/In last month, and that alone was enough to cure my cold. But I
still saw a dozen shows this year that reminded me, for all the setbacks
that bands and bookers and club owners face, live music is Nashville's
blessing, the salvation of its music-biz soul. Am I preaching? You probably
are too, if you saw these 12 shows:
The Fairfield Four and guests (Caffé Milano) For the Live From
Mountain Stage radio show, Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, Lee Roy Parnell,
Kathy Mattea, and other guests joined the Fairfield Four for two hours of
testifying. The result was a soul-stirring, roof-rattling evening that
wound the city's many loose social and musical threads--men of the church
and reformed heroin addicts, gospel and country, Christian and secular,
historic and progressive, black and white--into one unforgettably joyous
strand. The Lord's music never rocked so hard; the devil's music couldn't
rock any harder. My definition of a great place to live: a town where you
can walk down the street late at night and see the Fairfield Four and Elvis
Costello harmonizing in a parking lot.
BR5-49/Johnny Paycheck (328 Performance Hall) Just as playing to
sailors and whores on the Reeperbahn hardened the Beatles into one
world-dominating outfit, a year of constant touring toughened up the city's
honky-tonk heroes. Their training in rock bands surfaced in a tightness and
aggression they've never shown before, and thus a lovably loose-limbed
saloon band blossomed into a full-blown, bound-for-glory Headlining Act.
Tell your kids you saw 'em back when. As for Paycheck--hell, Paycheck's
Paycheck, and that's enough for any man.
Diana Krall (Caffé Milano) For 90 minutes last spring, the
Canadian jazz vocalist/pianist transformed Caffé Milano into the
Rainbow Room and her jaded Nashville audience into starstruck swells. With
her flawless playing, insouciant phrasing, and impeccable taste in
standards--not to mention a black miniskirt that left men and women alike
agape--Krall made listeners hungry to hear more live cabaret jazz in a club
At Caffé Milano earlier this year, the Fairfield
Four brought together the diverse threads of Nashville's music
Photo by Ron Keith
John Fogerty (Ryman Auditorium) At which one of rock 'n' roll's
greatest, most underrated songwriters rediscovered something any
12-year-old kid with a radio could've told him: Over the years he'd written
about 30 of the most fun songs anybody could ever play with a band. No
bitterness, no false modesty, just one chest-tightening tune after another,
as expansive, American, and full of promise and beckoning danger as the
bridge across the Mississippi River.
The Spot (Upstairs at Bongo Java) Bohemian hip-hop, R&B, poetry,
and jazz collided at a summer jam session in a sweltering room above Bongo
Java. The music was electrifying, the vibes were galvanizing. Result: a
revolution in the making. In 1998 you're going to feel the shock waves from
the initial blast. Count yourself lucky if you were at ground zero.
Magnetic Fields/Lambchop (Victor/Victoria's) A perfect pairing of
acts and venue. The difference between Stephin Merritt's painfully
beautiful Spectorian pop songs and Lambchop's dreamy Salvation Army plaint
is the difference between a wall of sound and a billowing, gauzy curtain.
Under the Christmas lights and drag-bar seediness of the old Victor V's,
though, each band sparkled like a garnet in a tarnished setting. R.I.P.,
113 8th Ave. N.
Billy Block's Western Beat Roots Revival (The Sutler) For its
special Extravaganza edition, the left-of-the-dial hoedown was utterly
jubilant. Mandy Barnett had to follow Joy Lynn White; Phil Lee and John
Sieger had to follow Mandy Barnett; Kevin Gordon had to follow Phil Lee and
John Sieger. Then Lucinda Williams spun her legendary stage fright into
fearsome catharsis, on a "Pineola" of pitiless intensity. As far as country
goes, this was the real deal. Why doesn't somebody slap that wretched
"alt-country" label on those mashed carrots that Music Row's been feeding
radio all year?
Holtzclaw (Campus Pub) Forget the chainsaw, the pi-ata, the
staged audience sacrifice, and the climactic shower of sparks and rubber
snakes. What made this Murfreesboro gig by a rowdy troupe of
theaterfolk-cum-art terrorists so memorable was the oversold crowd, which
stamped, hollered, heckled, shouted requests, shimmied on tables, and
alternated dirty dancing with fisticuffs. In short, they did exactly what
an audience is supposed to do--respond to the challenge thrown down by the
performer, and in turn challenge the band to kick ass that much harder.
Champion Records Reunion (3rd & Lindsley) Herbert Hunter, Earl
Gaines, Al "Murfreesboro" Garner, and guest ringer Tracy Nelson sang like
vocals were coal and they were stoking a freighter, while big Johnny Jones
swung his axe as if he still needed to cut somebody's head. Oh, to have
seen these guys 35 years ago, in their furious youth. But this'll do.
Mark Eitzel (The Church) A few songs into his hastily arranged
show, the former American Music Club frontman made two discoveries: He
didn't need a soundman in the acoustically cozy room, and he'd had a little
too much wine too early in his set. So he upended the bottle, walked to the
center of the room, and balanced himself on a borrowed stool. Then he
reared back his head and sang as if his heart would fly out of his mouth.
Overhead, a mirror ball spun diamonds on the darkened walls. It was so
quiet you could hear headlights shining through the window.
Los Lobos (328 Performance Hall) Three-chord garage slop-rock,
honking R&B, big-band swing, and Mexican folk music all booming at once
from the bass-boosting speakers of a window-tinted low rider. It was a
thrilling rumble, and it hit everyone in the room somewhere between the
hips and the gut.
Tito Puente (Caffé Milano) One of the most encouraging sights
at any show all year: a roomful of buttoned-down industry types finally
shoving aside tables and leaping onto the impromptu dance floor. Then
again, "Oye Como Va" could put boogie in Al Gore's butt.
Also noted with pleasure: Tricky at Starwood; CYOD at a
mid-summer house party off Charlotte Pike; Harvey Sid Fisher at Lucy's
Record Shop; Girls in Action at Springwater's Working Stiff Jamboree; the
gig where Merle Haggard didn't show up at Wolfy's; Tom House at Douglas