COMBINED REPORTS - Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael CA, July 20 2002 Review by Mark Langton, for the Novato Advance
Presented here by their kind permission.
He's the walkin' one & only
Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks return to Marin in triumph
Like a slightly hipper, funkier Garrison Keillor with Marin County as his Lake Wobegon, a rejuvenated Dan Hicks sang, cajoled, quipped and danced through a weird and wonderful homecoming concert at the Marin Osher Jewish Community Center Saturday.
Wearing a huge, black, velvet top hat, silver-striped pants and a pair of dark shades, the once and future king of sardonic swing fairly oozed with oddball, contemporary cool.
Tongue planted firmly in cheek, if not exactly in check, Hicks immediately began to roll out his trademark, laconic, onstage patter - a post-modern, drawling Groucho Marx as social anthropologist.
"We understand that Dan has entered the building," Hicks said to the outdoor crowd. A master of the slow burn and pregnant pause, he then merely stood and stared at the capacity crowd of 700.
"We appreciate your input, we really do," Hicks deadpanned. "It must be that Marin warmth that each of us have. Now, please, talk amongst yourselves," he said, then wandered aimlessly around the stage.
The crowd ate it up.
Over 30 years after establishing himself as a bona fide American original, Hicks finds himself in the middle of an undeniable second burst of celebrity, powered in part by a recent, critically-acclaimed comeback album, Beatin' the Heat (Surfdog), said to be a harkening back to his heyday with the Hot Licks. The new recording featured guest duets by the likes of Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones and Bette Midler - who reportedly all fell over themselves to be a part of the resurgence of the Marin-based singer-songwriter's career.
This was followed by a re-release of classic Hot Licks recordings, The Most of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks (Epic/Legacy), which was in turn followed by Alive and Licking (Surfdog), a recently-recorded collection of live performances of new material with the Hot Licks, in furtherance of the Hicks tradition of genre-defying, acoustic "folk jazz."
Opening Saturday's show with his early '70s classic, "Canned Music," Hicks introduced the band by identifying various musicians, at various times, inexplicably, as "Corky Rodriguez." The actual lineup of the re-formed Hot Licks included two new, female backup-singing "Lickettes" (the boa-feathered Susan Rabin and Annabelle Cruz); Paul Smith on string bass; Dave Bell on guitar, and Brian Godshaux on violin.
Also joining the band onstage for a few numbers were the "Fabulous Opinions," a backup vocal quartet made up of local favorites Jay David, Tim Eschliman and Brien Hopkins (formerly of Eggs Over Easy) and Austin Delone (a contemporary of those other legendary singer-songwriters, Costello and Nick Lowe).
Cruz frequently provided violin duets with Godshaux, notably on the "scat"-alogical "I Feel Like Singing," with Hicks deconstructing this seminal classic with his deft bebop vocal gymnastics. Rabin weighed in, variously, with sand boards, shakers, a rainstick and kabasa, as well as other, often strange, inventions of percussion.
Other highlights of the set included "Payday Blues" (said Hicks: "This one's about a guy who goes down to the bar for a little therapy - you know, a support group…"); a Carribean-flavored cover of Tom Waits' "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)"; "Hook or by Crook"; "Reelin' Down"; and a new song from Beat the Heat, "Strike It While It's Hot."
For sheer entertainment value, there was Hicks' spastic, show-stopping dance routine with the Lickettes on the Tin Pan Alley standard, "Exactly Like You," featuring percussive prestidigitation by Hicks on what looked like battered brush and Frisbee. Plus, a hilarious Hicks original about alien abduction called "Hell, I'd Go," featuring the entire Hot Licks ensemble in a kind of Martian/Munchkin scat.
But the transcendent artistic achievement of the evening was the nearly terrifying, "I Scare Myself," which proved once and for all that Hicks is no mere novelty act. Hicks inhabited the song, with Bell's guitar matching - and layering - Sid Page's infamous violin solo (from the original recording), note for note, followed by Godshaux going him one better with an almost Mideastern-flavored violin solo, so discordant and creepy it literally made flesh crawl.
In all, it was a kinder, gentler, happier Hicks that took and held the stage Saturday night - at once familiar and unrecognizeable. Gone was the remote, hipper-than-thou snarl of earlier years, replaced by a self-realized, playful old charmer who clearly has come into his own. Danny, we hardly knew ye.
From: To: email@example.com
From: Kathy & Ken
Date sent: Sun, 21 Jul 2002
Subject: The (Hep)Cat In The Hat - DH&THL at Marin JCC, San Rafael CA
The Marin JCC website invited patrons to bring their own low-backed beach chairs and picnic fare to enjoy an outdoor concert. We got some nice chairs at the end of season sale at Target, and picked up a healthy dinner to go at the Whole Foods in Mill Valley. About the only thing we forgot was to dress more warmly than we did, but we tend to forget that it can be 15 to 20 degrees cooler up in Marin than it is in Fremont. (Thanx to Hixters David and Rose Apelt for the use of their blanket!)
The grassy field in back of the JCC, where the concert was held, was very pleasant, bordered by lush green hills. The brick and concrete stage was shaded by a beautiful 30-foot oak tree. It was one of the most laid-back places we have been for a concert in quite a long while - although we chose to buy wine at the show, we could have brought our own adult beverages, and most of our fellow concert-goers did just that. It brought back memories of days of yore, when you could carry your bottle of Yago Sangria into the show with impunity. The crowd was mostly comprised of mellow, mature Marinites, along with some younger families who brought their little kids to romp on the playground equipment.
Opening act Noe Venable was a young singer-songwriter in the Edie Brickell Meets Joni Mitchell vein, who was just a little too precious for our tastes. She was promoting her new CD, "Boots"; while singing the title song, about why she wears boots, we decided that Nancy Sinatra had said the same thing long ago, and much better, too. Her last song, about feral cats, was kind of out there and really lost us.
Dan and troupe took the stage at twilight time, around 8pm. Dan sauntered across the lawn from stage left wearing an 18-inch-tall furry black "Cat In The Hat" style top hat. There's nothing like seven and a half feet of Dan comin' at ya.
The Hot Licks lineup for the evening were Dave Bell on guitar, Brian Godchaux on mandolin and violin, Susan Rabin and Annabelle Cruz as Lickettes, and a bass player who we did not recognize and was introduced by Dan as "That Guy" and "Corky Rodriguez".
Set list was as follows:
Strike It While It's Hot
The Piano Has Been Drinking
Hell, I'd Go!
Peach Pickin' Time In Georgia
I Feel Like Singin'
Exactly Like You
I Scare Myself
By Hook Or By Crook
Savin' My Lovin'
Long Comma Viper
Blues For Dixie
The band sounded excellent, for which they deserve an extra tip of the Hixter hat. They had just gotten in from Friday night's show in Colorado, and we heard that they came to the JCC directly from the airport after a very long day of travel. Many bands might have wilted under the circumstances, but you wouldn't have guessed they'd been through all that from the great show they turned in. Dan and the Licks are hard workers, that's for sure.
The local crowd clearly loved Dan, and he was in good spirits and good voice, with lots of bon mots. He was on a "be" kick, as in "Where be my happiness?" in "Payday Blues". When he introduced the band, we were informed that Annabelle and Susan were there "direct from Lickette School". (Is that anywhere near Spinal Tap's Bitch School?) He said something in the intro to "Hell, I'd Go!" about "ironclad ambience"… don't know what that is, but it was pretty funny the way Dan said it. We also learned that instead of Folk Rock or Folk Swing, the Hot Licks specialized in White Rap.
Dan's guitar solo during "I Scare Myself", and his Bob Dylan "tribute" during "Peach Pickin' Time In Georgia" were very much enjoyed by the crowd. "Peach Pickin'" also featured some Sinatra-esque "scooby dooby doo" yodeling, and a very nice - and all too rare - harp break by The Man.
As night fell, and the waxing moon shone as brightly as the metallic stripes in Dan's slacks, the band began the "anthem for a paranoid generation", "I Scare Myself". The lighting was somewhat spare, making the band appear as if they were in a campfire glow. As the tune's tension mounted, the Special Guests for the evening took their places on the stage next to the Lickettes. They were The Fabulous Opinions (who we last saw performing backup vocals at Dan's 60th Birthday Bash last December) – Austin DeLone, Tim Eschliman, Brian Hopkins and Jay David. The moon, the lighting, and the eerie violin stylings of Brian Godchaux made it seem that we were at a "Halloween Jug Band" show. The only things lacking were a couple of Jack O'Lanterns on the stage to make the vibe complete.
The Opinions also contributed backing vocals (not to mention their interpretive version of the Temptations' stage moves) on "By Hook Or By Crook", "Savin' My Lovin", and during the encore's wonderful reprise of the B-Day Bash's gospel version of "Reelin' Down". It was a great show, well-received by Dan's hometown crowd.
In closing, we give you evidence that the next generation will love great music after all. Sitting near us were two young ladies who looked to be in the Britney/Backstreet demographic, bopping in their lawn chairs all though Dan's set. Seated on the grass in front of us were two teenage boys, wearing the requisite black ball cap worn backwards, offensive black t-shirts, and grubby jeans. They swayed and grooved through the whole show, punching each other occasionally, as boys will do, and loved every minute of Dan's music.
Later, Kathy & Ken
From: David Apelt
Date sent: Tue, 23 Jul 2002
Subject: Re: The (Hep)Cat In The Hat - DH&THL at Marin JCC, San Rafael CA
I concur with Kathy and Ken's very accurate review of the Osher Marin Center Hicks show. It was sublime. Dan's music is made for outdoor enjoyment.
Of particular note for me at this show was Dan's voice - very strong and cutting clear through the trees, with a nice backslap echo off the school building wall a few hundred feet in front of the stage. Dan loves Satchmo, and he slipped into some crescent city mushmouth shoutin' a couple of times to great effect. Also, Dan did not have any trouble with high notes, and clearly reveled in the chance to display them. His stage banter was softened somewhat for the hometown crowd, pithy but burnished to a soft mellow glow. He thanked the crowd for "that smattering of applause for Tom Waits". And the Hat, oh my.
Annabelle Cruz was on fire this night! I have never seen her quite so effervescent, cookin' on dual violin with Brian and just vamping shamelessly with Dan, anticipating his every riff with a warm smile and literally bouncing up and down. She deployed the giant jungle rain forest "stick" to great effect during "I Scare Myself". The Lickettes used about a picnic table full of percussion for this show, and the Opinions were not shy about borrowing liberally from the selection available.
The saddest guy at the show was the forlorn Marin Sheriff's deputy, who looked like the Maytag repairman all night. What a long strange trip it's been from the Fillmore.
All in all, a wonderful event. Reelin' Down and By Hook or By Crook were favorites.