Notorious Cherry Bombs – Ryman Auditorium (Nashville, TN)
Back twenty years ago before the Cherry Bombs decided they were “notorious,” and got together for their recent reunion (and debut) disc, they were a live touring outfit behind Rodney Crowell. So this rare live extravaganza with Crowell, co-leader Vince Gill and the understandably celebrated gang backing them was something of an event.
As an only semi-announced surprise $10 show celebrating the tenth anniversary of the illustrious Ryman’s renovation, it was more so. And for a band so packed with stars that they could barely get together to rehearse — Richard Bennett sharing lead guitar with Gill, the continually amazing Hank DeVito on steel or extra guitar, the twin hot pianos of Universal South exec Tony Brown and Johnny Hobbs, vet sax man Jim Horn and more — they sure showed up good to go. Chops will out.
If the whole eleven-piece big band event was obvious honky-tonk and rock-reunion fun for them — worth noting because the fun was so infectious — the skill on display was obvious from the moment Gill started the raucous proceedings with the warning, “You guys are gonna be deaf in about an hour!”
Act One of the proceedings — the performance of the entire new CD, in sequence — offered tuneful, surprising evidence of how much Crowell and Gill can sound like vocal doubles when singing poppified country harmony in a certain vocal range, and how loose “Nashville cat” session men can be given the impetus. A tasty three-piece R&B horn section and the rock and blues side of the music contributed to that, though on the R&B turn “On The Road To Ruin”, it was actually DeVito’s pedal steel driviing the shout. Bennett’s patented guitar twang, as made famous on Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, nailed the tone for the Johnny Cash “Big River” tribute “Oklahoma Dust”.
The generationally diverse audience, in case you’re wondering, was hardly offended by the classically comic “It’s Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long”. The choruses became an exuberant sing-along — even if the band didn’t appear in drag for the occasion, as they do on the song’s video.
After the intermission, Crowell and Gill treated the crowd to four duet acoustic numbers with some shared history (“Till I Gain Control Again”, “Ring Of Fire”), and then the band returned to set their homemade fireworks spiraling in all directions — from surprisingly tight renditions of ballads or recent hits by the leaders (Gill’s “Next Big Thing”) to rave-ups on Crowell’s “All Like This” and “Lovin’ All Night”.
Through all of the tones was the defining “twang pop” umbrella sound that tied the pieces together. It’s a still-vital mix that holds its own in the hands of these semi-old boys, whether compared to road-tested Nashville bands — or Rockpile in their prime.