JOINT IS JUMPIN' TOUR AT THE CERRITOS CENTER
now, I remember when we used to pay about 12 bucks
to see Dan Hicks, and that wasn't so long ago. So, it was no
thrill to see the ticket prices at $45/$35/$25 for his
performance at the Cerritos Center in Cerritos, California.
Granted, it wasn't just Dan, it was the "The Joint is Jumpin'
Tour with The Hot Club of Cowtown and Clarence "Gatemouth"
Brown. I laid down my hard-earned $25 for a cheap seat in
the Upper Tier.
But before we find my seat, let's back up a little and
look at the Cerritos Center. Cerritos is one of the many
areas of metropolitan Los Angeles. It might even be its own
official city, but most of the people who live in my part of
greater Los Angeles can't tell you exactly where Cerritos is.
It's somewhere in the middle of all that mass of people and
their dwellings. If you are looking at a map, Cerritos is a
couple of miles east of where the 91 freeway crosses
Interstate 605. South and east of downtown. North of Long
Beach. Northwest of Anaheim.
So, I was quite surprised to drive into Cerritos the night of
the concert to find a very unexpected modern and expensive
looking area of town. And the Cerritos Center for the Performing
Arts is one interesting and lavish looking building.
The box-office lady
on the telephone had said to look for the three tall
flagpoles. And there they were atop an edifice that is hard
to categorize. It has sort of a Mediterranean feel, almost
Moroccan, with a shallow pitched pyramidal roof and tiles in
a black and white checkerboard look. It rises up four
stories with columns. A huge circular fountain in the plaza
has a center upward spout of water that spreads evenly over
diamond shape plates formed by intersecting clockwise and
counterclockwise spirals cascading down from the waterspout.
It looked like a squashed pine cone or maybe the scales of a
reptile. It was beautiful in the night lighting.
auditorium rises up about four stories. It has a mosaic logo
repeated throughout the building. It looks a little like
patchwork quilt panel. A very interesting building along
with the adjoining white tower that is also very unique.
The main lobby inside is splendor, not in the ornate
sense, but in the rising columns washed in yellow-gold, and
columns are separated by brass and glass
panels. I took the circular staircase up, up, up to the 4th
level. The brass balustrade supported curved glass panels
sandblasted with the checkerboard motif. Walls painted
purple and warm browns with a thick deep charcoal blue
poor folks seats are up yet another level. From
the level 4 stair landing you have to walk down a narrow hall
and up another set of stairs to the Upper Tier, level 5, the
nosebleed section. The seating is so steep up there that a
person in the row in front of you has their head at about the
level of your calf. The Upper Tier is so far from the stage,
it almost feels like you are watching it on a TV that is
across the room. Even with a telescope, the people look
small and the stage and the audience on the main floor seem
to be in another world. It reminded me a little of the La
Scala Opera House in Milano, Italia, where the tourists in
non-formal evening attire were relegated to the highest level
and had to enter separately from the real Italian patrons.
Cerritos ushers were very polite and helpful in
their black blazers with nametags. About 30 people total
were up in these lofty perches. Lots of empty seats up there.
The lower house was full, but not sold-out. An older woman
named Rachel was seated next to me. Not much elbow room up
there either. She said she had come because she heard it was
going to be country music. Rachel and I talked to our male
usher for a while and then to another very nice young usher
named Carmella. She had never heard of the bands before, but
had heard that the music was indescribable. She said she
liked what she had heard during the sound check earlier.
Finally it was show time.
The first act up was The Hot
Club of Cowtown. Coming on stage to introduce them and the
concert tour was Dan Hicks himself with a Lickette on each
arm. He explained something about Fats Waller using the
terms "The Joint is Jumpin'," and told us The Hot Club would
be followed by Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks (it was weird
hearing him introduce himself as though they were somebody
else), and finally Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. But now, The
Hot Club of Cowtown. The acoustic trio from Austin came out
and immediately got the house warmed up, but never quite
jumpin'. They played the following songs:
"Little Liza Jane"
"You Took Advantage of Me"
"Deed I Do"
"Silver Dew on the Bluegrass Tonight"
"Your Sweet Secret of Mine"
player, Elana Fremerman, was as pretty as her
album cover pictures in a strapless blouse over a black skirt
with a white flower pattern.
The guitar player, Whit Smith,
wore a blue and white striped shirt where the strips go at an
angle instead of vertical or horizontal. The bass player,
Jake Erwin, wore a burgundy shirt with a bluish and white
flower pattern that seemed to echo the designs on Elana's
band rocked the house playing their retro bluegrass inspired
old standards. Elana made the violin sing on
"Bonaparte's Retreat." Jake played a great slap bass solo
"Silver Dew" which the guitar player described as "Gene
meets Bob Wills." I discovered that I was right underneath
the powerful beam of one of the follow spots that shot a
bright, person-sized spot of light the seeming quarter mile
to the stage.
They finished their set and then an off-stage announcer
proclaimed the first of two twenty-minute intermissions. It
was too far to go to walk back down five levels to the mingle
with the main audience so I hung out on the fourth level
stair landing, looking at the open court below and the tops
of the audience heads. The upper levels of the square-shaped
lobby court are blonde wood panels accented with red wood.
When I returned to my seat I discovered that my next seat
occupant, Rachel, had apparently had enough and left.
Finally a little elbowroom.
on the bill were Mr. Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks
who wandered out on stage. Dan was up front, dressed in dark
semi-baggy slacks and a bright red shirt with vertical black
stripes that got wider at chest level giving the illusion of
a broad dark band across his chest and arms. His shoes were
bright red and white wing-tips. His guitar looked like a
Gretsch Rancher acoustic, with the triangular sound hole, but
even with my little telescope I couldn't tell for sure.
to right across the back of the stage were the two Lickettes,
Linda Groves and Susan Rabin and their table of rhythm
instruments, bassist Paul Smith, fiddle/mandolinist Richard
Chon, and guitarist Dave Bell, who, according to Dan, is heir
to the fabulous Bell Telephone empire and also Taco Bell.
Linda Groves was wearing a pink spaghetti strap top, which
even in our high outpost in the Arctic could be seen to
expose a generous yet tasteful amount of cleavage. She wore
a dark blue pleated skirt with rhinestones running along the
edges of the pleats and rhinestone strapped shoes. Susan
Rabin wore a black spaghetti strapped top with rhinestones
(we have a theme going here). Her skirt was black with white
and pink polka dots. Rhinestones again adorned her black
platform shoes. Paul Smith sported a brown shirt, which
looked through the telescope like it had some kind of basket
weave design. Dark charcoal pants completed his outfit
except that he probably had shoes on. I didn't notice.
Richard Chon wore a loose white shirt and brown slacks and
wore a goofy brown felt fedora hat. I don't know why the
latter-day Licks fiddlers seem to think they should wear a
goofy hat. Maybe Dan makes them wear them. Some sort of R.
Crumb throwback. Dave Bell was wearing a dark shirt with a
white collar. Carnaby Street throwback.
thanked the crowd for coming to see the tour and
acted as though he wasn't sure what town they were in or
where they had come from. But then he acknowledged that they
had found their way to Cerritos, California, "a life-long
dream," which brought a chuckle from the crowd. They opened
with the near obligatory "Canned Music," which Dan described
as, "A fellow who goes out dancing with his girl friend who
takes off with one of the musicians, and that's about it."
Next was "Blues My Naughty" which Dan said was written
in the year 17. It had some great scat singing and a fine
dedicated the next song, "The Piano Has Been
Drinking" to its author, Tom Waits. "We wish him the best.
We're sure there must be something wrong with him: Losing
his hair, wife has rejected him, or something." A call and
response tune with Dan and the Lickettes. Dan began growling
like Tom Waits. Dave gave a lovely guitar solo.
the applause died down some audience members
started shouting requests. Dan said, "Let's take some
comments from the audience. I'm what you call the iconoclast
performer. The anti-hero." Which to my mind is a pretty
accurate assessment. Someone in the audience shouted out
"Moody Richard!" Dan said "We have a list for tonight,
don't think Moody Richard is on it."
up was "Long Comes a Viper" which Dan said "tells
the story of a viper sort of thing." In the middle of the
song he invited the audience to sing along with chorus, which
only the most neurotically obsessed of fans could actually
Next came the Anthem for a Generation, "I Scare Myself",
which Dan described as being written in Haight Ashbury in the
heyday of the hype. "I wrote it when I was in love or maybe
I just had some hashish cookies. I wrote the anthem for a
generation. Maybe I was a little paranoid. The paranoids
are after me. The paranoids are after me." The lighting
people changed the lighting in the room. Dan remarked that
the "exit sign looks like it is next to Jupiter. Boy, this
place is something else."
The tune started up with some rhythm stuff from The Lickettes,
then Dan commented, "This is designed to be scary...A wonderful
Latin crossover tune." This is the song for the musicians to show
their instrumental licks. Dave Bell gave a nice guitar solo. Richard
fiddle solo started slow but it built. Pretty nice virtuosity, but it
that edge of insanity that Sid Page gives it.
the bass solo, Dan and the Lickettes,
in a row, slowly backed away in step with each other and then
near the end reversed direction back toward center stage.
Then Dan did his fake guitar solo. Dave Bell turns away from
the audience and plays it while Dan mugs it and moves his
hands into impossible positions mimicking Jimi Hendrix. It
always gets a good laugh and this was no exception. The
whole performance was enjoyable and got a big applause.
Next, they performed a new tune, "That Ain't Right,"
from the new album "Selected Shorts" which was released
earlier in the week. In a crass commercial marketing ploy,
The Lickettes repeated in harmony Dan's voicing of the title,
"Selected Shorts." The guitar played through a wah wah
pedal, which I don't remember ever hearing with this band
"We're going to do a soft shoe number now, Ladies and
Gentlemen. Wire brushes on drum, "Exactly Like You'." Dan
played the wire brush on what looked like a coffee can drum.
At one point he did a bit where he spun the wire brush up in
the air. He missed catching it and it went to the floor.
Dan immediately pulled another from his back pocket
pretending that he had caught the first one. His timing was
great and it was funny. During the instrumental break in
this song Dan and the women do their "choreographed" dance
number. It is pretty hokey and pretty funny.
"And now we are going to do "I Feel Like Singing'."
Light applause. "I need a little response to that. And now
we are going to do "I Feel Like Singing.'" Giant applause
followed that. Both Susan Rabin and Linda Groves do long
scats. Linda has a great range from low alto to soprano. I
noticed through the telescope and was reminded that Dan
strums the guitar wearing thumb and finger picks, which is
pretty unusual outside of country music. This song had a nice
solo, a mild bass solo, and short fiddle solo.
After the last chorus, Dan put down his guitar and walked off
stage with The Lickettes. The musicians finished the tune
and they left. The lights came up and the announcer
proclaimed the second twenty-minute intermission.
A guy a few rows over said "I wonder when this place is
going to start jumpin'?" He pretty much summed up this
concert. The music was great. Maybe it was the elegant
modern surrounding and the fact that this venue offers great
performances from all over the world and of every genre. The
audience just did not create the fervor that feeds the
musicians that feeds the audience that feeds the musicians
that feeds the audience that all adds up to having a joint be
The audience was polite, and enthusiastic. Maybe
they were just too old to start jumpin'. It seemed more like
a concert and less like an incredible, in the moment, god,
we're lucky to be here, event. I felt like I got my quarter
of a hundred bucks in entertainment value though.
During the intermission I walked outside and spoke to
the usher at the door who was an older woman with hair dyed a
shiny auburn. "I liked the first group better than the
second," she proclaimed. I suggested it might be because The
Hot Club of Cowtown played songs she recognized. Much of
their repertoire is from the 1930's and 40's. She was not
sure about that but did say she used to really be up on
music. She liked to listen to Bill Monroe. But now all she
does is watch talk shows on TV so she was a little out of
touch with contemporary music.
I walked back to the fourth floor stair landing and
looked down at the crowd and the salmon colored walls and
yellow and pink colors that the par-can spot lights made on
the faceted columns. Very impressive interior design.
Through the window, the vista stretched across the big
squashed pinecone fountain to the Sheraton Hotel on the
opposite side of the plaza. This was no dive and it was no
juke joint and it made me wonder why on a "The Joint is
Jumpin' Tour" that Dan did not chose to do one of what, in my
humble opinion, is one of his all time greatest songs,
"Jukies' Ball." It even has the line, "The Juke Joint's
Jumpin'." What's up with that?
The final act was the headliner I guess, Clarence
"Gatemouth" Brown. He got top billing in the program. His
band opened it up with the bass player announcing themselves
as The Gates Express. They played the instrumental tune,
"Sister Sadie" as a warm-up. The sax player, a huge man who
seemed to envelop his alto sax, was clearly phenomenal. Then
Clarence was introduced. He came out wearing a dark brown
cowboy hat, black cowboy shirt embroidered with some kind of
white piping design that I just couldn't make out with the
telescope. He wore black stovepipe pants and black cowboy
boots. Definitely a black motif going on there. He
announced his first tune as "Bits and Pieces." His guitar
cut into it.
Clarence introduced his band. I didn't completely catch
all the names. My apologies to the musicians for not getting
it. Eric G ? on sax. Harold Hays on bass, David somebody
on drums. Jock Crown on keyboards. "And me," he said. He
asked the lighting people to turn down the bright spotlights
and turn up the audience lights. He wanted to see the
audience. They did and it immediately made it more intimate
and less of a spectacle show. He announced the next song as
something like "Dolla Got the Blues". It almost sounded like
"Dali Got the Blues." It had a very nice bass solo.
He promoted his CDs on sale in the lobby immediately
after the show. Then he played an instrumental version of
"Unchained Melody" on his Gibson electric guitar. It was
Next he played "I'm Beginning To See The Light," a Duke
Next came a Cajun tune that featured Gatemouth on
fiddle. It was called "Big Ma Mo."
The next medley he dedicated to all the men in the
audience. He challenged the men to pay attention to the four
songs he was going to do as it followed the course of
relationships from beginning to end. I failed the test,
because I could only identify the first song, "I Can't Stop
Loving You," and the third, "It Must Be Crying Time."
He explained that he was from Louisiana but lived in
Texas, and that was pretty much what you had to know to
understand him. They performed another tune, but I did not
get the title. It had a killer sax solo.
The next song was written by somebody and Charlie
Parker, and again I did not get the title. Through the
telescope I could see that he has a very interesting style of
picking the guitar. The fingers on his right hand are almost
completely straight as they hit the strings. Frankly, I
couldn't see how he could pluck the strings that way. Maybe
he had a pick hidden in there under his thumb.
The last tune was "Front Burner," a Count Basie song.
The lighting crew decided about halfway through Clarence's
set to bring out their lighting effects. Swirling white and
purple patterns on the floor. Colored lights on stage
pointing back at the audience. They started changing the
lights to the music. Frankly at this point it was
interesting but distracting and sort of out of place I
thought. Maybe they were bored.
For the Grand Finale, Clarence invited Dan and the
Lickettes, and some of the Hot Licks for a combined number.
They performed "What's The Matter With Bill?" To me it
sounded a lot like the old Hank Williams' tune "Move It On
Over." Dan did most of the singing. It was okay.
Big applause and that was it. The audience didn't even take a
step towards screaming for an encore. They just all politely
got up and left the grand palace. Once again, the music was
very fine, but the joint weren't jumpin'.
I walked down the four flights of stairs to the lobby
and hung out for a while. Gatemouth had beat me there and
was busy signing autographs on CDs. I was hoping a Lick or
two might make it out. The only one I recognized was Richard
Chon, who was talking intently with a couple. That was it.
They probably had all hit it over to their plush rooms in the
Sheraton. I walked around a little and as I was leaving I
saw all the fans had left Gatemouth alone with his
merchandise salesman. I walked over and thanked him for the
fine music he gave us. Later I kicked myself for not asking
him how he could pick that guitar with straight fingers.
14 November 2004