Thursday, July 24, 2014

Introducing the Q

     NRBQ has long been my favorite rock band. Not that I've spent much time acquiring the taste for rock bands. To be honest, most of my listening life has been spent avoiding them. I always gravitated to the singer-songwriters and a simple and soft presentation. Then I spent a long time lost in exploring jazz singers. When I lifted my head to return to contemporary music, I decided to build up my rock music collection. It wasn't long before I heard about NRBQ - the finest rock band that never made it commercially.
     I bought their vinyl recordings and heard them in concert. Absolutely adored their musicianship and their mission to create music that's pop in the best vein - with infectious melodies and sweet harmonies. I've seen them many times and kept up with their work as their roster has changed - at first, with the departure of Al Anderson in 1993 and then, most significantly, with the departure of the Spampinato brothers in 2008.
     In 2004 the band stopped performing and recording for a while. Fans were later to learn that a big reason was because Terry Adams, their musical leader and monster keyboardist, had contracted Stage 4 throat cancer. In 2011 Terry decided to launch a new edition of NRBQ. He added Scott Lignon on guitar and vocals, Casey McDonough on bass and vocals, and Conrad Choucroun on drums.
     They have subsequently released three albums that fit beautifully into the NRBQ legacy. Touring behind their latest (Brass Tacks), the Q pulled into a jazz club in my town. I couldn't resist taking the entire family - my wife (who is well-versed in their work) and my 14-year-old and 12-year-old sons (who are only vaguely familiar with the band).
     I didn't push the band hard on my boys before the show. Just played Brass Tacks and talked about how thrilled I was that they'd get to hear them. On the big night we arrived early and got a gander at some fellow NRBQ fans. A fellow at a table next to us had to do the inevitable (I suppose) once he saw my boys. "Well, you're going to hear a REAL band tonight," he emphasized. "Not any of that Justin Bieber stuff!" (Uh, OK. My lads were never interested in Bieber, but do go on...) This fan had seen the band the night before in Providence. "They did "'A' Train," he reported. "It was incredible!"
     The crowd was mostly what you'd expect: in the 55 to 65 range, but there were a few listeners in their twenties occupying a table directly in front of the band. "Are we too loud for you?" Terry Adams asked them at one point, "I was noticing you were covering your ears." The young ladies told him that they were just fine.
     When you go to hear the Q, watching Terry is an interesting pastime. He's always on the move. He bangs on the keys - sometimes hitting chords with his hand, at other times with his elbow. He jumps up and claps, or wanders about the room. He sits and gazes out at the audience. I can only hope that at 65 he is pleased with how the band's music is being received. From all the bobbing heads in the crowd, it's easy to see that everyone still digs what they do.
     I just can't get over how Terry's hairstyle is still virtually the same as when he started out in the music business. Same thing with Jackson Browne. They still look fine (although you're preoccupied with observing how they've aged). Still, a little odd - as if they refuse to acknowledge time's passage.
     How did my boys enjoy the Q? I'm definitely glad that they got to witness first-hand the sound of a great rock band. I'm confident that they get it, and understand why they're a big deal to me. My younger son asked to put some Q on his I-Pod. That's a good sign, right?
     Like most Q performances, though, the set wavered between mining classic songs from their catalog and taking detours into lengthy obscure jazz numbers. I know this programming keeps things interesting for the band, but it's taxing on the audience. My family was ready to leave a good 45 minutes before the show actually ended. Kudos to them for hanging in there with Dad!
     Once again I marveled at Scott Lignon. I just love his playing and singing. He reminds me a bit of Rhett Miller of the Old 97s. What a pleasure it was to watch his hands fly nimbly around the fret of his guitar. Scott often smiles and genuinely seems to enjoy his work.
     I recommend revisiting NRBQ if you've lost touch with them. I think that their sound is a precious commodity. They've got that roots/Americana sound down, but what's special is their humor and the way that they harken back to classic rock styles (like Beach Boy-like harmonizing and Nilsson-like hooks) in their singing and songwriting.