Bourbon Street Symphony: the subdudes at The Birchmere
The latter song was preceded by a humorous story narrated by Tommy Malone. Malone revealed that one-time subdude Willie Williams gave each of the dudes weird nicknames, but the weirdest was reserved for percussion ace Steve Amedee. Apparently Williams nicknamed him “Shipe.” When asked, Williams responded, “You know, Shipe. Sixteen Shipe!” To this day they still don’t know what he was talking about. During Amedee’s drum solo Malone and company led the audience in repeated shouts of “Sixteen Shipe” as the master of the blast stick pounded the tambourine skin.
The swamp-funk-folk-soul-country-groove-gospel sounds of the subdudes created a festival atmosphere in the 500 seat venue. They took the audience for a journey through their catalog that was part tent revival and part roadhouse romp. And the audience was up for the trip.
The boys were barely three songs into their set when the crowd started calling for a new album. (Later Amedee confided they have been kicking some ideas around, but no date was set). Next up, “Got You on His Mind” featured a beautiful bottleneck slide solo from Malone, who introduced the song as a tribute to the late Johnny Ray Allen.
One of the best things about seeing the subdudes is that they don’t disappoint. Nobody seems to have as much fun as the dudes themselves. They leave you feeling that they were throwing a party and you were just lucky enough to be invited. Unlike some much bigger acts who have grown stuffy and seem to exist to be worshipped, the subdudes never take themselves too seriously. This is not to say they aren’t professional, they are consummate craftsmen. It’s just that they haven’t tried to drain the spontaneity and joy out of what they do. Thursday night was a hoot of a hoedown.
One of the highlights was their cover of the old Chi-lites classic, “Have You Seen Her” with Amedee doing the spoken word narration parts and all of the subdudes blending their voices in exquisite harmony. In fact, the vocal harmonies were spot-on all night long.
The set list was an excellent overview of their body of work, with plenty of highlights for everyone. The final three songs of the night were done unplugged, as the guys left the stage and wandered out into the audience. During “Known to Touch Me” they were joined by Vance Gilbert, which clearly delighted the audience and the band.
One enduring memory best describes the magic the band makes. During “All the Time in the World,” the dudes really let loose. Amedee was getting a big boom from his tambourine, and Malone went into a prolonged solo. His slide work was layered in greasy notes, part lazy, part sexy, and all fun. At one point squeeze box wizard John Magnie had to remind Malone of the spoken word lyrics in the middle after Malone muttered, “Brain fart.” Set against the backbeat laid down by Amedee and bassist Tim Cook, they created a distinctly Crescent City image. You could almost see a Fat Tuesday parade, the procession high-stepping down Bourbon Street in the cool night air.
I am glad I made it to the party, catch them if you can. www.theflamestillburns.com