Catching Up With the “Q” – NRBQ at the Narrows Center (Fall River, MA – Dec. 30, 2014)
NRBQ is a band for the ages. At a point where many acts would be well past their heyday, the “Q” is still making great music at live shows and in the studio.
A Vintage Band
For a band that’s never had a Top 40 hit, they’ve gained quite a following over the years, and their performance on December 30, to a near sell-out crowd at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA, showed why. Their songwriting, wit, and general musicality make them unique, and their indie status as outsiders adds to the allure. Being the “House Band” on The Simpsons doesn’t hurt either.
With influences from Thelonius Monk to Jerry Lee Lewis — plus pretty much every genre from the 1950s and ’60s — NRBQ explores different musical styles, sometimes even within the same song. There’s no sullen singer-songwriter gloom here. Instead, only retro power pop. With NRBQ, even the break-up songs are fun to dance to.
Purists may grumble that today’s NRBQ is not the classic line up. But the current crew, led by founding keyboardist Terry Adams, sounds perfectly genuine. Guitarist Scott Ligon mixes just the right amount of twang with an equal serving of fuzz. Bass player Casey McDonough knows how to have fun on the four-string, and drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks keeps a steady beat and even shares vocals on a few tunes.
The Joy of Q
On the coldest night so far this season, the band warmed up their Holiday Hoedown with a nice version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” With a 39-song set list, you can expect to hear tunes old and new, rarities and classics and a few covers.
Q classics were well-represented throughout the evening. Songs like “Me and the Boys,” “I Want You Bad,” and “Riding in my Car” — a classic love song recently recorded by She and Him — were among the major highlights. They all sounded great, true to the original recordings, full of energy and sincerity.
The Joy of Q is the band’s refusal to take itself too seriously. Songs about their former manager, “Captain Lou” and fellow musician (Zydeco legend) Boozo Chavis, “Boozo and Leona,” are part of the eclectic set that changes radically from night to night.
New Album – Brass Tacks
They also sing cute little ditties about a variety of topics. You’ll find a few of these on their recent album Brass Tacks. A delightful calypso beat makes “Driving in Delaware” a poppy sing-along.
I’m just crazy bout my credit card, you know it’s making me work so hard.
The UPS man is my best friend, collection agency around the next bend.
Another “new Q” classic “Sit in My Lap,” combines retro melodies with the band’s trademark humor.
Why don’t you sit in my lap
Kiss me and give me a hug
You know that I’m thinking of
My love for you
Overall, the band sounds very true to form on Brass Tacks. With Adams taking lead, all members contributed songs to the new album. In “I’d Like to Know,” they pair a country rock beat with Everly Brothers harmonies, and a harmonica solo by Adams that rivals Dylan. It’s simply a perfect, old-fashioned love song. The same goes for “Can’t Wait to Kiss You,” an up-tempo tune devoted to teenage love. It’s songs like this that show the Q can still spawn a wide-eyed innocent love song with a slightly mischievous edge. The song is about as close as you can get to Buddy Holly singing “Peggy Sue.”
Can’t wait to kiss you
And hold you in my arms
You’ve got me wrapped up in your charms
They can even cover Broadway tunes like The King and I’s “Getting to Know You.” Not bad for a band that had their classic album Tiddywinks covered recently by Deer Tick as part of a major NYC residency.
Full of Energy
There’s no stopping NRBQ. Terry Adams is a monster on keyboards. He can’t slow down and won’t let the show end. His energy level at age 66 is a bit frightening.
“This Flat Tire,” a rockabilly two-step, featured extended solos from the band and had the crowd dancing in the aisles. It also featured the Whole Wheat Horns, with former band manager Klem Klimack on sax and lead vocals.
The four-song encore ended fittingly with the loudest song of the night — a rousing version of the Johnny Cash’s rockabilly classic “Get Rhythm.” And why not … they’ve been a roots band since they first started out in the late ’60s. This was a perfect way to end the show.
Ken Abrams reviews Roots, Rock and Blues. Click here to e-mail him.