Triumvirate: The Silvermen, Webb Wilder, and Junior Brown
The cover story for our trip to Kansas City was the Webb Wilder show Saturday night at Knuckleheads. Having learned about the show from Webb's site, I didn't register that it was Webb AND Junior Brown (I don't care if Junior's site is under construction, I am not linking to Crankipedia). And, as it turned out, it was actually Webb, Junior, and my new boyfriends, The Silvermen.
So back when this plan was formulated, I figured that spending the evening in a smokey bar that advertises itself as a Honky Tonk was kind of Wire Monkey Mother's nightmare. The Lad, on the other hand, I thought might like to go. He was indeed on board, as was Leather Pants Grrrl, as it turned out.
Knuckleheads is actually a fair jaunt from Wire Monkey Keep, way down on the Missouri River. We knew the opening band (I hesitate to apply the term to The Silvermen, because it has such dire and unpleasant connotations) was supposed to start at 8, Webb at 9, and Junior at 11. We set out early enough that we'd have some hope of getting a table or other comfortable digs. Getting there involved going around lowered and merrily flashing/dinging railroad guards (train car left sitting close enough to trip the sensor), following tiny yellow signs (although thank Cthulhu for those), and wondering why the abandoned stroller was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. I don't think that my providing the soundtrack ("One, two. Freddy's coming for you! Three, four. Better lock your door!") was appreciated as it ought to have been.
If anyone doubts that I have magical powers, I invite you to ponder this: I thought myself very clever in not bringing my duster with me to the show. It's always hot inside, thought I, and the only thing that is achieved by bringing the coat is the coat gets smokey! This line of thinking transformed the entire show, attended by hundreds of people, into an outdoor event. FEAR ME.
Seriously, Knuckleheads has rather a cool set up. It was once the boarding house for railroad men (there's a bit about this on the website if you can navigate it. Good luck.), and it is literally alongside a set of train tracks. The main bar building is not large. To the left as you enter, there's a small space that might be for indoor performances (but it's very small). To the right are typical bar tables, long, narrow and running in parallel rows. At the end of these tables is the sound board (enemy of the people as we shall see), and the "wall" is heavy-duty shades that can be drawn up.
The bar is in the far right-hand corner from the door and it opens into the bar itself and to the very large outdoor patio. As one exits the bar and goes on to the patio, the large stage is opposite the door, a fence (which appears to be removable) makes up the right-hand wall along the street. A freaking caboose that has been converted for seating inside and on top makes up the left-hand wall along the tracks.
Seating on the patio comprises about a dozen picnic tables, two sets of bleachers (one jutting diagonally from one end of the caboose, the other flush against the fence along the street), and a number of tables for two. We scored a picnic table near an outdoor heater (see above re: no jacket) and set up shop. It was a good seating choice for the most part: easy to see the stage even over the dancers (when there were any), easy to get to and from, and, most importantly, near the bar.
We were pretty early, but this turned out to be fortuitous. The Silvermen started early, too, and I wouldn't have missed a minute of their performance for the world. They're a four-man, five-piece (six, really, as I'll reveal) group: Zoop on guitar (this awesome Hallmark swept wing) and vocals; Paul on drums and vocals (Paul looks like the love child of Penn Jillette and my friend J's hPh); Skaught (love child of B from 40 Sardines and Conan O'Brien) on bass, vocals, and occasionally trumpet; and Junior (very Peter DeLuise-y if PD had been part of some very manly facial hair experiment that resulted in his cheeks being taken over by purely peaceful death hyperbolae) on tenor sax and vocals.
All the guys wear black pants (I have to disclose that Skaught WAS wearing a white belt and, therefore, must be kicked out of the band), black t-shirts of some kind (e.g., Junior wore his PBR t-shirt with obvious irony, not to be confused with losers in the crowd wearing nonironic t-shirt from God's country), and sweet, sweet black-and-white wingtips. The shoes pleased me to no end even when I thought it was just Junior wearing them. When I realized it was officially A Thing, I was very happy, and those babies are put to great use as the guys frolic around the stage, jumping off things, taking a sax solo on a structure that probably wasn't meant to be weight bearing, and so on. It's a testament to my enjoyment of them that my inner stage manager hardly freaked out at all during their dangerous antics.
As for the music, I loved loved loved it. In one of his "hissy fits" on Town and Country, Webb says: "Remember, real music is out there and real people are making it." The Silvermen definitely qualify. They're evocative of a number of different and great people (
They specialize in lots of yummy surf guitar backed with almost-jazz bass and drums. That might make your head explode but for the sax and trumpet (and, occasionally, some hilarious mouth-foley work) bringing it all together until they launch in to perfect Doo-Wop four-part harmonies. Their original stuff is fabulous, and they played most of that at the top of the set, devoting the latter part to brilliant medleys of familiar stuff: Secret Agent Man, the Batman theme, James Bond, mixing it altogether with 40s bebop and such. If I were forced to lodge a complaint about the set, I wish they'd alternated more between these medleys and their originals, simply because I think I'd have had a better appreciation for both that way.
By the end of their set, I knew that I wanted a CD. I headed over to the table, which was tragically unmanned at the time, and tried to look as above-board as possible while I fondled the merchandise and waited for someone to take my money. I had no intention of buying a t-shirt when I went over there, but ladies and gentlement: GIANT ROBOT t-shirt! I, of course, had to have it, and I picked up Silvermen Attack, which seems to be self-produced and has fantastic packaging.
After such an unexpectedly great experience with The Silvermen, it's unfortunate that the trouble started. The first odd thing we noticed was that Webb and the guys were doing their own set up exclusively. It's not a snooty thing, but we've just never seen it before, and it was obvious that things were not going too well. It seemed to be taking longer than they'd like, their mics were persistently not working, etc. Eventually some people attached to Knuckleheads appeared on stage, but they didn't seem to be doing much.
As noted by M, George "The Torch" Bradfute, the Tone Chaperone was appearing with Webb for the first time in a while. With all deserved props to Tony Bowles (whose guitars seem to have been attacking him during the last two shows, to say nothing of the narrowly averted seersucker attack in St. Louis), it is always good to see George. And seeing George at close range, he strongly reminds me of someone from Deadwood, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe a mix of Dan and Ellsworth. Also, George is fun to watch because he always seems like he might be doing fractals in his head or perhaps rewriting tax code. I mean that in the best possible way, and the contrast is a sight to behold when Webb comes over to his side of the stage to jam and George looks at him like "Oh, was I playing guitar? Guess I'll keep on, then."
Webb's set opened with a strange and sedate rendition of "One Taste of the Bait," at the end of which he apologized to the crowd and said they hadn't gotten to do a sound check. He asked the soundboard to make some adjustments, notably to take the bass out of the drummer's wedge and up the vocals in his. I think their next was "I Just Had to Laugh," and he again made some sound requests after it, which involved a funny exchange between him and Tom.
Webb: Can I get some more of Tom's great harmonies in my wedge?
Tom: Yeah, and for the first time ever, I need more Webb over here.
They kept on keepin' on and things seemed to be improving dramatically, but after a few more songs, Webb damn near snapped as he said, "Will you please take the bass out of the drummer's wedge?" I've been seeing Webb for more than 10 years now. I've seen him sarcastic, I've seen him working the hissy fit. I do believe I saw him pissed for the first time ever, and given that I don't think we EVER saw anyone manning the soundboard other than between acts, I can't really blame him.
Another unfortunate aspect to their set was that the "NO NEW CRAP" vibe seemed to be strong among most of them. People went crazy and danced for Human Cannonball, Tough it Out, and many of the oldies, but were pretty sedate for things off "About Time," which is more than a year old now. That's unfortunate, in my opinion, because About Time rocks, covers and original stuff alike.
The first encore they did was the traditional "Baby Please Don't Go," but without some of the medley stuff they often do. I think there were time concerns, because when the sound guy/possible owner egged the crowd on to call for a second encore, they breezed quickly through Otis Rush's "Tomorrow You Could be Crying," and Webb graciously thanked the crowd, but rather pointedly said that they had to let Junior get on stage. Jimmy emphasized this point by taking his cymbal with him.
I could see why he was concerned when they had to basically strip the stage entirely for Junior who plays with an electric bass and a single snare/cymbal as backup for his Dark Implement. Again there seemed to be minimal help from club employees and some awkwardness in achieving even this simple set up. Complicating things is the fact that part of Junior's showmanship demands that the bassist and drummer come on stage in their sedate black suits and play him to the stand. That's kinda ruined if you see him crawling around with glowtape, know what I mean, Vern?
Anyway, the set up got done, Junior's band took the stage, and suddenly it was 1958. I mean seriously. Earlier in the weekend, M and I had gotten into a verbal scuffle about how to classify Junior. M claimed him to be alt.country. One presumes that this is the smack talking. I don't care if he was on an alt.country compilation CD. He is freakin' old school, even if he was born in 1953. Everything about him, from the string tie to the hat to the Guit-Steel, an object inspiring terror and devotion in equal measure is Old School Outlaw Country.
To be sure, Junior seems to exploit his time-traveling abilities to their fullest. Not only does he take the crowd back to the 50s and leave them there, he also appears to have made his way to the not-too-distant future to obtain a bespelled android body into which he's deposited his consciousness. Likewise, he is able to bend time and space so that he can rip out something amazing on the fender part of the Guit-Steel, calmly create a slide from the ether, and set to wailing on the lap steel part. I'm also pretty sure I saw him doing both those things at the same time while he stepped away to grab a drink and adjust the amp.
Tragically, something needed adjusting badly. There was a rotten constant buzzing from his mic that never let up once during the entire set. I'm not sure if the Guit-Steel was too close to the mic or if the incredible distortion was a separate problem, but many of the most delicious parts played way up on the neck were painfully slicing into our brains. And that is a fucking crime.
Junior never, EVER stops between songs. In a 90-minute (or slightly longer) set, he probably played one song for every person, living and dead, in China. This meant that only his valiant on-stage efforts were trying to combat the sound problems. Not that shouting instructions at the, once again, unmanned soundboard would have helped or anything. At the end of the set, the mysterious sound/owner person appeared again and got on the mic, as if the crowd needed to be urged to call for an encore. We got our encore and he got on the mic AGAIN, calling for another.
They did eventually reemerge, but it was clear that they'd already begun packing. Junior shaded his eyes and looked to the back of the room: "Who's the cheerleader? Is that the [was it me, or did he actually sneer?] sound man? I don't think these folks wanted to hear more after I did an encore. I'll do it, but I don't need any cheerleading." Said cheerleader had noted that this was Junior's first apperance there, and I'm willing to bet it was is last, too.
It's a shame that there were so many problems. It's a GREAT venue for seeing and hearing music, which is unusual when you venture into the great outdoors. The waitstaff were terrific. Everyone else was just absent or there was bad communication or something. In fact, there was a rather scary-looking mountain man who was toting boxes of "beer" back and forth all night. We all agreed that those babies were really filled with human heads. And, really, the only excuse for the amateur mistakes and total lack of respect for the musicians would be if the staff had been killed off one by one.
Still even that couldn't ruin a fabulous night of music. Which is fortunate. I'd had to have to choke a bitch.