Date: Sun, 27 Sept. 2009
From:Kevin Cloud Brechner
Subject: DAN HICKS AND THE HOT LICKS AT McCABE’S GUITAR SHOP
Hi Happy Hipster Hixters,
Here is the set list from the second show (9:00 pm) at McCabe's Guitar Shop on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. I am sorry that I don't have time to do a full review of the show, but I can throw in a few of his funny stuff
between songs. I tried to do a full review of his show a few months ago at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles with the Ditty Bops, but I got bogged down halfway through and now it isn't timely anymore. So here we go. I went with my artist-musician friend, Anton Kaprow, and we met up with Shirley and Chris Forester who had saved us seats in
the second row. We are all long-time fans.
First, it was so nice to see the band in McCabe's. That is where I saw Dan record the Shootin' Straight album many years ago. It isa very small room that seats maybe 150. Tickets were $24.50 with a damn$4 fee to buy the tickets online. I have heard that you have to pay the fee if you buy the tickets at the store too. No seat is bad except
for the ones behind posts that hold up the ceiling. It is intimate. The stage is elevated about three feet above the floor, so you look up at the band. I was in the second row, so it was a little like sitting in the front rows of a movie theatre. You look up their nostrils and get a good look at double chins and waddles. But it is so close. Dan was about 15 feet away. Where I was on the right side of the stage, I could have leaned forward and grabbed Dave Bell's (the lead guitarist) pants leg. It was so intimate it was like being in a large living room with the band. The band is so close to the audience that if they look at you, they have to relate to you as a real person, not just an anonymous audience member out there. It was a little unnerving for a couple of the musicians I think, but once the applause started coming, there wasn’t much of a problem, and the band seemed to enjoy the close bond to the audience. In fact, near the end of the show Dan remarked, "I guess we didn't need those crowd control guys."
The stage is black with the McCabe's gray logo, of a big serifed M with the neck and headstock of a guitar next to it, painted on the back wall. It is a small stage, so the musicians are close together. The seating area is a large area they use during the day to sell guitars. Walls of raw wood planks and lots of really cool guitars hanging everywhere. Next to us was a display of about 15 Danelectric guitars that were very cool looking. On the other side of the room, hanging on the wall, were some really old acoustic guitars, including one with two necks and an oval sound hole that looked like the very guitar that Django Reinhardt would have chosen if he had played a double neck guitar. In other words, McCabe's has great music vibes going for it, before the band even comes on stage.
Because the stage was small, they decided to have all the musicians come on stage and get instrumented up, before the M.C. announcer guy gave his introduction. So it was a little weird to have the band standing on stage testing their tunings, while the M.C. announcer was first giving a line-up of future McCabe's shows. But eventually he got around to introducing Dan and the band. Applause. Applause. Then Dan thanked the M.C. with some comment that suggested that he didn't consider that to be the best introduction he had ever gotten. But they got right into the music. First up was:
1. "Long Comma Viper" It had an unusually long instrumental introduction, which was nice. It let the musicians warm back up after their break from the 7:00 pm show. (I talked to several of the people that came out from the 7 pm show who had said it had been great.)
2. Next they did a scat song that I had never heard before. It was, of course, great. "Beetle Um Bomb" was what it sounded like (I made up this title. I don't know what the real title is.)
3. "Avalon" (Instrumental) For some reason it kept reminding me of the song "The Best Things In Life Are Free.” Pure
4. "Song For My Father" (from Tangled Tales) Dan introduced this song as being from his latest album, Tangled Tales. He said it had a "quasi Latin or Latino beat,” written by Horace Silver, "with Spanish lyrics by Corky Rodriguez,” which got a chuckle. The Lickettes did several Latino rhythm variations with sandpaper blocks, guiro, and
casaba. Dave Bell backed it up with Wes Montgomery sounding leads playing octave intervals.
Dan made a comment about how low the ceiling was. On the raised stage, his head was only about a foot or two away from the ceiling and some black pipes. Someone in the audience shouted that Dan was eight feet tall. Dan responded, "I'm eight feet tall and I 'm a legend in my own pants."
Which is a good time to describe Dan's wardrobe. I saw him in three shirts during the night. As we were let in the front door of McCabe's before the show, Dan was standing on the stairs with a white shirt with thin vertical stripes. On stage, he wore a blue cowboy shirt with square shaped cowboy shirt snaps. The breast pocket flaps each had double points, with two square snaps. After the show, the band came out to the lobby to meet and greet. He had on a third shirt that was red and black tight vertical stripes. You always have to describe Dan's pants as "trousers," which are part of his retro look. They aren't exactly baggy, but they do have a lot of cloth compared to, say jeans, and he holds them up high on his "true waist" with a thin leather dressy belt. I missed noticing his shoes.
Some audience members felt called upon to join the show by shouting comments. Dan replied, "We can't take any comments from the audience. It throws off our timing."
He introduced the band, first the Lickettes and then the men, for whom he used a funny word that was not quite Hot Licks, but I can't remember it now. It wasn't "The Lickers" or The Licktones", but something in that mode that was a masculine version of Lickettes [Dan calls them "The Lickmen" -KB].
Roberta Donnay, on vocals and rhythm percussion, was wearing a black sparkly big beret type hat. Her top was a black fitted sleeveless blouse that was cut long to her mid thighs and curved down to a point in the front. It was over a
deep red skirt with black accents that was pleated down to a wide black band at the bottom. Black high-top Apache moccasins with black leather fringes at the calves. Lots of bangle bracelets and necklaces.
Daria, on vocals and rhythm percussion, was wearing a black-billed hat that sort of looked like a Greek fisherman's hat, but was bigger and had a red flower pinned above her right ear. She had a black sleeveless top over a black skirt
that had horizontal overlapping layers and looked very cool. Black shoes and also lots of bangles and necklaces.
Dave Bell, on lead guitar, wore a yellowy-green pastel-colored short-sleeve shirt with an abstract print design of little irregular blue-gray ovals that were most prominent at the bottom of the shirt. He had lime-green pants with sharp front creases in the legs, but it was not garishly green. Quite cool. He wore some sort of shoes on his feet. He played a Taylor cut-away acoustic-electric guitar all night. When he plays, he starts to really get into it, particularly with his head, which he swings around wildly in synchrony with what he is playing on the guitar.
Richard Chon, on violin and mandolin, He was very tastefully dressed in a black shirt with vertical grey-black stripes and a wide white tie with a perfect Windsor knot. Again, he was wearing shoes. His hair was nicely cut, and parted on the left side. He must have a good barber or hair stylist. Little strands of black hair would fall over his forehead, sort of like always happens to Superman's hair.
Paul Smith, on bass. Dan introduced him as a "two time Grammy loser." He was wearing a very interesting shirt that had broad and bold geometric patterns of triangular bands within rectangles. In greens, browns, and dark mauve. He had some sort of pants on standing there behind the bass, and he too was wearing shoes. It is funny how some
people, often women, always notice a person's shoes, and others don't. I am of the latter variety. His bass was a stand-up bass, but one of those fake ones that is real narrow without a full sound box (thanks to the miracle of electronics, it sounded just fine.) The narrow body I am sure made it much faster and easier to play than having to wrap yourself around a big bass body.
I am happy to report that none of men wore dorky pork pie hats, which I have unfortunately seen in the past on band members.
Then Dan introduced himself, "I'm Jackson Browne, the Third." After the laugh, he followed up with "It's a bitch
Back to music:
5. "The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave Me" (From Tangled Tales). It has a kind of blue-grassy, finger-picking guitar-mandolin duet opening, then a classic Hixian harmony vocal front comes on with Dan and the Lickettes, followed by the off-beat gypsy swing instrumental leads by Dave, Richard, and Paul. Then scat singing by Dan with wonderful
two-part harmony figures from Roberta and Daria. As good as it gets, or has ever been.
6. Next came a shameless musical commercial for Tangled Tales. The band played a piece that evoked the mood of “My Old Timey Baby” with lyrics “I played Tangled Tales for my baby…” with the suggestion that if you did so, you would get laid. Not only was if funny, it was another beautiful piece of music with nice Lickette harmony.
Dan used a term I have never heard applied to this band, “Americana.” After the commercial, he described the
music as being Americana. In fact, Dan said, "we are more Americana than Pete Seeger ever was.” When I checked my email after I got home, I had an invitation to befriend The Lickettes on MySpace. Their MySpace page also listed their style of music as “Americana.” I don’t know about that.
7. "Sweetheart - Waitress In A Donut Shop" Now here was one I never expected. Blast from the past. And the new Lickettes made it their own. In fact, I have to say that I am finally (5 years later) used to the "new band" and no longer care that they aren’t the “old band.” This whole band of Licks and Lickettes is great. Daria and Roberta nailed it.
8. "The Buzzard Was Their Friend" Dan announced this would be a “medium tempo in G.” It was great, of course. I love the fact that over the years Dan keeps changing the arrangements on the old standards, so for long-time fans
like me, the songs still seem new and fresh. It also discourages audience sing-alongs.
After the song, Dan asked if the audience ever watched re-runs of the TV show Moonlighting, because proudly he announced that in one episode in the third season Bruce Willis had sung part of “The Buzzard
Was Their Friend.” He proceeded to imitate Bruce singing a garbled half phrase. He concluded with the observation that Moonlighting was really “kind of fluffy. Serious at the time, but looking back it was pretty fluffy.” (paraphrase)
Dan announced that they needed to take a 30 second break. So he did, and then said, “Thank you.”
9. "I Scare Myself" Okay, they can’t not do this song. Dan didn’t call it an “anthem for a generation,” as he has in the
past. The Lickettes donned black sunglasses and did an ultra-hip synchronized exotic dance routine. My personal theory of this song has always been that for it to be done at its very best, the musicians, when they are doing their solos, have to push the envelope so far that they sort of scare themselves. That was not the case tonight, but it really didn’t matter, because it was damn good anyway.
And another little surprise when the next song was "Memphis, Tennessee," “Long distance information, give me
Memphis Tennessee ….” It was done in a slow tempo and was very beautiful.
Afterwards, Dan said, “That’s a new one I wrote last year.” (It was written many years ago by Chuck Berry). Dan
continued, “I had the idea to write songs about different town in the U.S.A. The next one I think will be about Chicago.”
11. "Tangled Tales" A tight scat song from the latest album. Dan announced it was in the key of F. Another good one.
Here is where he inserted his comment about not needing the crowd control guys.
12. They ended with a song that they often used to start out the show, "Canned Music” In the middle Daria played an instrumental solo on one of those little plastic, blow-through instruments with a little piano-type keyboard. It was red, with white and black keys. It kind of has the sound of a squeezebox organ, accordion, or harmonica. It was a long solo too and good. And that ended the set.
No one wanted it to end (First rule of show business: Always leave them wanting more), and the applause was a
little slow as people came to the realization that it was over all too soon. The applause built in an ascending
crescendo, that led to whistles and shouts, and a standing ovation. The band retreated up the steep black stairs on the side of the stage to the dressing rooms on the second floor. The applause and whistles sustained, and the band returned for an encore.
13. Encore: "Evening Breeze," which I remember back when the Hixlist was having everybody give their favorite songs, was mentioned frequently. The song sort of matched the weather outside. Los Angeles had about a week of very hot weather and tonight was one of the first evenings that was cool and slightly breezy. A perfect finish to another perfect night.
I guess I just wrote a longer review than I had planned at the start. I hadn’t taken as extensive notes as I have in the past, so most of this was from memory. If I screwed up any of it, I hope any Hixlisters who were there will correct me. Without the notes I can’t remember which songs, but twice tonight Dan stopped the songs in the middle. Once he seemed to forget where the words were going and just decided to forget the song altogether. It was early in the
night and I think the extreme closeness of the audience had something to do with drawing away his attention.
The other song, my buddy who came with me said, had a mix-up on the key. None of that mattered.
After the show, Dan and the entire band came out to the small lobby of the store to chat and sign autographs. Most of the audience didn’t stay behind, so it was great. Only a handful of fans were there. So, you could freely and easily talk to any one in the band, face-to-face, and for a long time without someone else anxiously waiting to get a word in. Dan sat straddling a carpeted platform that made it easy to sign autographs. One fan brought want seemed to be
almost every LP Dan had released. Dan signed them all without any irritation.
I bought some guitar picks from McCabe’s, and laid down $20 cash for the vinyl LP and CD combination album of Tangled Tales. I got the entire band to sign the inside, and I have been listening to the album over and over as I wrote this review. It is the first time I have played a brand new LP record in probably 20 years, and what a joy to hear the analog fullness of sound. I will have to listen to the CD version sometime, but there is no rush on that. The nice thing about vinyl LP albums is they are big. The artwork is big, and they have big album sleeves with liner notes on them, and these notes have a short essay by Dan about how he has evolved as a lyric writer to the point that he can write
virtually flawless scat lyrics. What a sly, subtle humor that boy has.
I had drawn a really quick, rough pen and ink sketch of the band during the show. In the past, I have scanned my sketches and uploaded them with the review, but in this case, I offered it to Dan as a souvenir of this night. He seemed to like it, (He is “The Diplomat” after all). I was happy that I was able to give him something after all the hours of absolutely wonderful music that he has given me over the years. Some of the happiest times of my tempestuous life have been spent listening to Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks in concert, and this night was no exception.