Dave Edmunds – Maxwell’s (Hoboken, NJ)
This veteran pub rock hero’s career goes back decades, of course, but he holds a special place in the hearts of twang-rock fans for his stand with Rockpile in the late 1970s — a U.K. contribution that kept the music comin’ during a lull, and also set the table for the likes of Elvis Costello to “go country” with a little less backflack. Edmunds has mostly kept a low profile lately, and given his recent recovery from heart surgery, this much-anticipated stand in a short U.S. tour was something of a comeback.
“The signs say ‘Dave Edmunds, Solo Acoustic’ — I never thought I’d see that!” he admitted to the packed house, but that was the basis of the show. It turned out to mean a very satisfying, crowd-pleasing 50/50 combination of hard Edmunds rockers and impressive acoustic guitar pyrotechnics in the Chet Atkins or Merle Travis vein — jazz-tinged pickin’ and twangin’.
These instrumentals, delivered on a big ol’ black Gibson, included everything from “Lady Madonna” (which appears on his new live disc Pile Of Rock) and “Sukiyaki” to classic-rock guitar instrumentals such as “Classical Gas” to the traditional pop of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Love Letters In The Sand” (presented as a tribute to bluegrass vocalist Mac Wiseman, not Pat Boone!) to some traditional Celtic-inspired guitar runs fitting for this Welsh resident of Los Angeles to — no kidding — a fairly rocking version of Mozart’s 40th Symphony!
Edmunds not only demonstrated his justly famed ability to pick up all the parts of a band’s instruments himself, with bass solo breaks on the guitar in the middle of numbers, for instance, but also a seemingly effortless capacity to tackle all these genres much more subtly than a flying mallet. Delicate, syncopated picking meshed with surprising, sudden tempo shifts that showed the rocker lurking just beneath the calm exterior.
Not that it had to lurk much. The rest of the show unleashed a rock ‘n’ roll storm, even in solo amplified acoustic mode, that left no doubt this guy has recovered. With the Gene Vincent-style big-beat rockabilly takes — “Mystery Train”, a very rustic “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, Brian Hyland’s “Leftover Love”, and “Singin’ The Blues” — Edmunds knocked the hop socks off a bopping audience, while furthering the mystery of how he sings live in a big hollow-body echo-chamber style, without benefit of electronic help.
His only way up from there was delivering the hits the well-attuned audience was demanding: “I Knew The Bride” and “Queen Of Hearts”, and “I Hear You Knockin'”, which rocked immensely — all the bigger for following on the hushed heels of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile Though Your Heart Is Breaking”.
For an encore, he pulled out that Fender after all and ripped into a blazing version of the fire juggler’s favorite, “Sabre Dance”, his first hit with Love Sculpture way back when. That closer left no doubt the man remains in an exclusive class with the likes of Bill Kirchen and Dave Alvin as a stand-alone twangin’ guitar hero performer. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that make for a hell of a live trio tour…