NRBQ – Local 506 (Chapel Hill, NC)
So how unique is NRBQ? For starters, they’re the only band that’s recorded with Carl Perkins, Skeeter Davis, John Candy, and Lou Albano. That particular claim to fame came to mind as the foursome began a packed-house show with their ode to the last collaborator on that list, “Captain Lou”, but it was far from the only time that the crowd was reminded of NRBQ’s singularity.
Over the course of a 26-song set, the band came off as a combination of Louis Prima, Chuck Berry, and the Banana Splits — liberally dosed with the communal spirit of The Band. While keyboardist Terry Adams and bassist Joey Spampinato sang lead on the majority of songs, Joey’s guitar ace brother Johnny (who replaced Big Al Anderson in 1993) took several turns, most notably on his Graham Parker-ish “Be Here Now”.
Also getting a crack was former Chapel Hill-based singer-songwriter P.J. O’Connell, who joined the band mid-show for a pair of songs from his NRBQ-backed release of last year, Happy Go Lucky. And drummer Tom Ardolino wandered up to the mike not once but thrice, for “In The Still Of The Night”, Hurricane Smith’s quirky 1973 hit “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?”, and Donovan’s trippy “There Is A Mountain”, which found Ardolino on keys and Adams slipping behind the drum kit.
As if Hurricane Smith and Donovan weren’t inspired enough song sources, NRBQ also reshaped the works of Ross Bagdasarian, probably better known as David Seville of Chipmunks fame (“Things We Like To Do”), the Rebels (“It’s A Wild Weekend”), and one-hit (if that) wonder Daniel Boone (“Beautiful Sunday”). This still left plenty of time for dipping into their own catalog — the musical equivalent of a bottomless cup of coffee — for such road-tested romps as “Terry Got A Muffin”, “Flat Foot Flewzy”, and “RC Cola And A Moon Pie”.
There were also stops for less-frantic charmers such as “Little Floater” and “If I Don’t Have You”, as well as “I Want You Bad” and “Ridin’ In My Car”, two tunes on my short list of the best pure pop songs ever written.
On paper, this has “inspired mess” written all over it. But catching NRBQ live is to witness the most seasoned of pros in shaggy dog dress, a point underscored by a moment that took place in the middle of the first encore. Adams, front and near-center, was introducing the next song in authentic frontman gibberish. (If you’ve ever seen NRBQ, you know of what I speak.) Spampinato the Younger looked at Spampinato the Elder and mouthed, “What song?” just as Adams was getting ready to launch “Party In My Head”. With a good tenth of a second to spare, Joey clued him in, and Johnny blazed in right on cue. All without a net.
NRBQ spent the last ten minutes of their two hours onstage with a red-hot, second-encore run through Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm”. When you get the blues? Fat freakin’ chance when it’s Friday night and the one and only NRBQ is in your town.