Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Drive By Truckers/A3/Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams; July 3, 2008; Summerfest, Milwaukee

I was seriously considering driving to Michigan just to see A3 at the Rothbury Festival, whose jam band heavy line-up gave the impression of a sort of Bonnaroo junior. While three days of camping at a hippie-centric festival with a $200 ticket price just to see A3 do at most a 45 minute set didn’t really sound like a lot of fun, I was still considering it. It had been eight years since A3 toured the States on the La Peste tour, and that (tragically) sparsely attended show at the Metro may have been one of the best I have ever seen. So it was with surprised disbelief that I read they were going to be at Summerfest, and on a day I was already planning on going. OK sure, I was going to have to miss Paul Thorn who was next door at the Harley stage at the same time, but I was finally going to see A3 again.

I can tell you this with certainty; there is no way I am waiting eight years to see them again. A plane ticket to the UK is not only likely, it is necessary.

Alabama 3, or A3 as they are known here after being sued by the country band Alabama (c’mon), is best known for the song “Woke Up This Morning,” otherwise known as the theme song to The Sopranos. Despite the popularity of the show, most people looked at me blankly when I mentioned their name. On their website they claim “that song bought someone a swimming pool, it just wasn’t any of us.” Perhaps in an attempt to make the connection and draw a few more people into the half-full Miller Oasis, they opened with that song, the band strutting on stage, Miller products in hand, like they didn’t care that it was 6 pm, still light out and that they were playing for only a couple hundred people.

If you looked up “cool” in a UK dictionary, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a picture of A3’s dashing leader Larry Love. Impossibly thin and impeccably dressed in a long gray duster which hid a lacy black shirt, cigar in one hand, MGD in the other, he was arguably the focal point of everything that was going on. Lithe and agile, with a smooth growl of a voice that drew shivers every time he opened his mouth, I found it hard to take my eyes off him. That is, unless Devlin Love was singing. There was always a strong female vocal presence on the records, but this was the first time I remember actually seeing a girl with them. And her I would have remembered. Dressed in a black and silver sparkly dress, the tiny, perfectly adorable, girl had a voice like Tina Turner and she was certainly not afraid to use it, especially on songs like “Bulletproof” from Power in the Blood, which finds her proclaiming, “up against the wall, snipers on the roof, thought I was a goner baby, I'm bullet proof” with conviction. .

Surprisingly, for the most part they drew their set list from the awesome first record Exile on Coldharbour Lane, even though they have released four full lengths since then. I’m not one to argue, with songs like “Hypo Full of Love” and “The Night We Nearly Got Busted,” that has always been my favorite. The country flavored “U Don’t Dance 2 Techno Anymore,” has been a mix tape staple of mine for years, though I was disappointed that the Reverend D Wayne Love did not deliver his rambling monologue which ends “One night she took this funny little heart shaped pill, and just died right there on the dance floor, and now she don’t dance to techno anymore.” Then again, since not much he said was intelligible anyway, maybe I’m not so disappointed. Whether intentional or not, I am pretty sure the Reverend has never done one thing that was good for him. Even though he really doesn’t do much, the band wouldn’t be the same without him.

Summerfest is not usually the best way to see a band, but from their opening Sopranos theme to closer “Hello I’m Johnny Cash,” A3 put on a truly amazing show. I was the only one of our crowd who had seen them before, and half of them had never even heard their music, but the opinion was unanimous, they all loved them. Hopefully they won’t wait 8 years to get back to the States.

A3 were the best show that day, but there was no shortage of great music. Alejandro Escovedo put on an electric performance just as it started getting dark. Touring behind his new rocker Real Animal he put on a high powered show that turned up the energy from previous shows. The interesting thing was that he did it with the same band he always has, notably Wauwatosa native Susan Voelz and ridiculously handsome cellist Brian Standefer. I was holding out hope that Chuck Prophet (who is all over Animal and had been in Chicago the day before) might show up to play guitar, but the only special guest was Lucinda Williams’s guitar player (no slouch himself). As far as Lucinda’s set, a long day of drinking and listening to music had shortened our attention spans to the point that we only made it through a few songs before we decided it would be prudent to get on the road. She had already played “Passionate Kisses,” so I didn’t protest too much.

The honor of the second best set of the day goes to the Drive By Truckers. I’ve long believed them to be one of the top five live bands in the world, so it is hard to believe that they could have been bested by a bunch of Brits. It was definitely a solid set from a band that never lets me down, that’s just how good A3 was. Early on they played Pete’s favorite “Uncle Frank,” a song that doesn’t show up in their sets all that often. I was happy too since “Sinkhole” and “Shut Your Mouth and Get your Ass on the Plane,” my favorites from Patterson and Cooley respectively, were part of their near two hour set. They alternated songs for nearly the entire time, only breaking that pattern to allow bassist Shonna Tucker to sing her sweetly heartbreaking “I’m Sorry Huston.” As opposed to their show earlier this year at the Pabst which featured new material in the first half of the show before giving way to older stuff later, this afternoon show had a nice mix throughout.

As always, Patterson seemed to be having the time of his life, grinning from ear to ear from start to finish. “18 Wheels of Love” was again prefaced by the story of his divorced mother marrying a truck driver that is as much a part of the song as the song itself. The health report on that driver, Chester, is still good as he miraculously recovered from a heart condition that should have killed him. Unfortunately “Living Bubba” doesn’t have such a happy ending, Patterson claimed they should play this song more often than they do in salute to a musician afflicted with AIDS who played hundreds of shows in the year before he died.

It is unusual to see what should be a headlining band at 3 pm on a Thursday at Summerfest, and I still don’t know how we got so lucky, but I’m certainly not complaining. Today’s music selection brought back my faith in a fest that I had lost interest in years ago. Thank you.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

great pics! I was pissed I missed Alejandro!