Date sent: 09 September 2003
From: David Apelt
Subject: Dan Hicks and Gatemouth Brown play Villa Montalvo
Friday night, August 29 was an auspicious night - Rose and I hadn't
seen Dan in months and our anticipation was running high, particularly
after the terrific show reports from Britain. After an exhausting week,
we made our way from Berkeley to the balmy south bay expecting
the best. We got it, in spades.
Villa Montalvo itself is a non-profit artist complex built around
stunning Mediterranean architecture, the centerpiece being the grand
house, a richly textured palace that is amazing. We took a long look inside
until shooed out by the small army of (friendly) docents.
The large grounds themselves are classic peninsula South Bay - in the
rain shadow (lee) of the sunny San Mateo Hills, the rich, dense oak/pine
woodland sits absolutely still in the heat. You can park yourself at the top
or take a shuttle up from the base; we took the shuttle and enjoyed the view
all the way. Saratoga is one of the richer communities in a very rich
area, the hills above silicon valley. It's a standard juxtapositioning
of (suddenly) million-dollar 1950's ranch homes with old-money mansions
and new-money Mcmansions, all with lush gardens.
Montalvo has 3 on-site venues, and Dan appeared at the 1140-seat Garden
Theatre, which sounds big but is much more like a 400-seat house, ampitheatre
style - intimate with very up-to-date staging and lighting. The fact
that we were 10th-row center didn't hurt at all, but I went to the unsold
seats in the very back and it looked and sounded great from there also.
The still, fragrant woodland idyll was lit by the waning but still potent
sun, and we had just settled into our seats after a nice conversation with
Kathy and Ken, when -
Into this magnificent setting suddenly popped Dan and the Hot Licks to
open the show; a slightly startling development that ended up working
out well. I was in no mood for David Johansen and the Harry Smiths;
though I've long enjoyed the NY Dolls and his own band, his latest
incarnation, growly, jowly delta blues, leaves me a bit chilly.
Dan and Co. took the stage loose and relaxed, and dressed for eclectic
Annabelle sported a bright lime green top, loud floral skirt with
matching half-cape, and a lynyrd-skynrd type cowboy hat (as did Dave Bell).
Dan kept referring to them both as "just in from Bozeman, Montana".
Susan hung cool in her own pale green, off-the shoulder number with a
red skirt. Dan stepped out in red & white wingtips and his black baggys
and looked younger than his years.
The band was very relaxed and happy to be there; sometimes this band
thrives on tension, on this night it sort of settled into a "slot
groove", with tension present only on "I Scare Myself". It was a tight show,
not too many surprises; the overall thing I'll remember most is the
exceptionally well-blended vocals. One reason for that could be
that there was absolutely no wind, little audience talk (yay), and great
acoustics in general. An element of theatre was in the air; Dan
waxed eloquent more than average:
To a request for "Where's The Money" : Dan explained patiently
that they had a prepared set list, and looking pointedly at the hapless
offender, drawled (pointedly) "that selection was not prepared
To the whole crowd, after one yahoo yelled "Arf, Woof Woof" super loud:
"Sounds like we won't be playing a lot of your favorites tonight; that's
a risk we take"
Announcing the CD Beatin' The Heat was for sale after the show:
"this one made #602 on the New Zealand pop charts"
Announcing "I Scare Myself":
"This song is worth about 40 bucks all by itself; we're going to do
a super psychedelic version tonight"
Announcing "Hell, I'd Go":
"this song's dedicated to all you space cadets; it's about going
up into the air and doing the hokey-pokey and features the
1. Canned Music
2. Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy (great scat solo)
3. Evenin' Breeze (Dan did an unusual falsetto scat during the
and played around with the melody some on the verses;
4. The Piano Has Been Drinkin' (very moving version; maybe the best
I've heard live)
5. Tonight I'll Dream of You (instrumental)
6. I'm Hungry (That Ain't Right) new song, in the pocket, nice
7. Hell I'd Go (crowd ate it up)
8. I Scare Myself (Lickettes in bizarre owl masks)
9. Exactly Like You
10. Song for My Father
11. Strike it While It's Hot (one of my favorite Dan tunes)
12. I Feel Like Singin'
All in all, a very good show with a light, happy vibe.
Gate's Express took the stage and did an instrumental, chitlin'
circuit style ("Sadie" by Horace Silver) and then announced Gate
mouth Brown himself, who was wearing his trademark black
cowboy shirts, pants, and hat. Gate is 79, but looks, plays and
sounds a good deal younger. Gate and his band make more noise
standing still than any 3 other blues/swing bands do jumping
around. They are seriously good musicians; Sax, Organ/Piano,
Bass, and Drums + Gate on guitar, fiddle, vocals. Gate himself
is a funny, affable, salty virtuoso; he don't play no bad notes,
uses no effects, and relies on gnarled, supple fingers to send
high, clean notes through the mix. He knows how to milk a
vocal to maximum effect and keep everyone on the edge of
their seat, which he did effortlessly at this show. His guitar
work can range from utterly understated to very showy,
but always mesmerizing. I play guitar myself, and I hung on
every note at this show. Gate's show is largely rooted in
Count Basie/Duke Ellington rhythmns, though he makes
extensive forays into slow blues, funk, and zydeco.
Gate did an astounding instrumental version of
"Unchained Melody" that had people literally crying and
gasping. Unbelievable chops in evidence.
After their fine set, Dan and all the Hot Licks came out
for a big jam. Prior to the encore, Dan was roaming the
stage as bandleader, calling out the count and teaching
everyone the melody. They all swung into "Shout Hallelujah
Yes Indeed" with Dan on lead vocal backed by everyone,
including Gatemouth's great electric bass player and drummer,
and it just sounded terrific. Dan gave everyone a solo, and they
played the song out to a long and rousing conclusion.
They were just getting warmed up, something I mentioned to
Dan after the show, and that we would've loved to have heard more.
He just shrugged; I think he felt the same way.
2. Bits and Pieces
3. Boogie Woogie on the St. Louis Blues
4. Strange Things are Happening (great slow blues)
5. Guitar in My Hands
6. Unchained Melody (2 sections, 1 slow, followed by 1 reggified
7. Grape Jelly (funk workout)
8. What a Shame (excellent slooooow blues)
10. Sunrise Cajun Style (excellent piano work)
11. One O'Clock Jump
12. Shout Hallelujah Yes Indeed (with Dan and the Hot Licks)
After the show, we met Gatemouth and his band, and spoke
with Dan, Susan, and Annabelle. Everyone was affable and
very upbeat. We also met a very nice family that's really
into Dan, especially their 12 year-old daughter. So Dan has
stolen another fan from Britney!
We were humming this show all the way home to Berkeley!