Two shows in three nights. Another banner week for the Kid, and let me tell you, these were two very different shows in two nice venues. Funny, but neither one had an opening act. It was down to business right away.
On Wednesday, it was off to the Keswick Theater in Glenside to see Robin Trower. Now I’m old as dirt, but Trower has 15 years on me, meaning he was around for the Big Bang. But he’s still on tour, probably because his retirement plan needs a boost. Anyway, Trower is British, played with Procol Harum in the ‘60s (the real big bang), and then set off on his own with a power trio. His most famous album, and the one I’m most familiar with, is Bridge of Sighs and was put out in 1974. I own it on vinyl, and wore down one side of it in college.
Trower is known for his guitar jams, and he does have a way with a Stratocaster. But he isn’t Mr. Personality on the stage. In fact, I think he said “thank you” and “you’re a great crowd,” and that’s about it. At least he wasn’t an obnoxious jerk with the audience like the young Elvis Costello, but a little banter could have helped.
The essential Bridge of Sighs songs were played, and that pleased the crowd. There was a lot of blues-based material, and his trio powered through. He didn’t play long – only about 1:40 – but it was more than enough for me. There is no doubt that Robin is a guitar master, and he can make a lot of sounds come out of that Fender. But there wasn’t a lot of dynamism on the stage, the crowd pretty much sat in their seats and bobbed their heads, and I was home by 10:30. Not exactly hot times in the city.
As for the venue, the Keswick is an old movie theater that was reborn into a music venue a while ago. A lot of bands come through, but since the place holds a few thousand, the bands have to have enough popularity to make the event economical. By the way, the Trower show was far from sold out, but I would say that the crowd filled about ¾ of the theater. Acoustics are good, sight lines are fine, but there is nothing fancy in the lighting or stage set. The seats are relatively close together (not so ungodly as the Tower Theater, but you still have to stand up every time someone comes or goes), and they can move a bit so that you can either sit straight up or slide the seat forward and lean back a bit. The place could use a bit of refurbishing, but it’s a good venue, close, with free parking, and for those who like to drink, it sells beer. For those who need to get rid of the beer before they leave, be sure to give yourself ample time as there is only one restroom and it’s small and crowded.
Friday night brought a very different band to the area. The Feelies ain’t young, either, but man, this was a GREAT show. The band has been around since the mid-1970s, and were a big influence on early REM (you know, back when REM was good). It’s obvious that REM liked the jangling, hook-filled and layered guitar sound. They’re hard not to like if you like rock music. The Feelies formed during the eruption of music that spawned the punk/new wave scene, and had a unique sound that set them apart. Ultimately, the band released four or five albums, broke up in the early ‘90s, took about 15 years off, and then reformed for small reunion tours about 7 or 8 years ago. This is the first time I have seen them, but if luck plays out for me, it won’t be the last.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes up a great show. I think it’s a combination of things. You have to like the band (a lot) and know their music well enough so that you can recognize most of the songs. The band has to bring it, be well-rehearsed, pick good songs to play, and basically leave it all on stage. Your frame of mind has to be right – you know, it’s better to be in a party mood than to be hangdog about something or other. The venue and crowd have to be top-notch. And it helps to have the show on a weekend night when people are more likely to want to stay up late and have a good time.
The Feelies first performance in Delaware (and they’re from NJ!) on Friday had all of those things. The show was at the Queen in Wilmington, which is one of my two favorite Philly – area venues (along with Union Transfer). The acoustics are just terrific, and the space has a great combination of new and old, with a sweeping balcony, high roof and low-key blue-lighted dome at the top. There is a bar at the back where all rock ‘n roll venues ought to have their bar, and it serves a wide assortment of micros. The space is great, and it’s small so there isn’t a bad spot in the club. It’s cool. I’ve seen a lot of bands there (Los Lonely Boys, Rev. Horton Heat, Southern Culture on the Skids, Rosie Flores, Old 97’s, the English Beat, Joe Ely, and others that aren’t coming to mind at the moment) and never had a bad experience. Parking is simple to find on the street, and if you can’t find a street spot, it’s $5 to park in a connected parking garage. It just doesn’t get much better than that.
Friday’s crowd, while healthy, was moderately sized so that you had space and the ability to move to the music. There were not a lot of people pushing and shoving, and as my pictures show, we were as close as you can come to the stage. In fact, the crowd was amazingly polite, happy, and fun to be with.
And the band was on fire. Again, this isn’t a band with a lot of crowd interaction, but they played all of their great tunes, never slowed it down for a boring ballad nor stopped the momentum of the show with those famous words “and now we’ll play something from our upcoming new album.” Instead, the lights went down at 8 pm, the band came out and smoked through an hour-long set, took about a 25 minute break, then played another 1 ½ hours. They played five, yes five, covers to close the show with songs from Jonathan Richman (“Astral Plane”), Bob Dylan (“Seven Days”), the Stones (“Paint it Black”), the Beatles (sorry, can’t remember the song title) and Lou Reed ("I Can't Stand It"). The band played about 2 ½ hours and the crowd would have gladly stayed for more.
The band has 5 members, with Bill Million and Glenn Mercer being the up-front guitarists. They have two guys playing percussion: one is a drummer who looks like an accountant with his glasses and balding head, but the dude can play. And the other is a very intense guy with white socks and who plays a snare, marraccas, bells, tambourine, a rain stick, wood blocks, and whatever else he can hit with a stick. I’m not quite sure which one is which, but their names are Dave Weckerman and Stan Demeski. The bassist is Brenda Sauter who stands pretty still and lays down a mean bass line that keeps the band rolling. They are very tight and have obviously played a lot together.
In the pictures below, check out the talismen on the amplifiers. I'm not sure what that is all about. Oh, and when Brenda came out wearing glasses for the encores, it became obvious that the Feelies have a terrific vision care benefit plan.
Here’s a link to their website: http://www.thefeeliesweb.com/
Check out the pics. By the way, I've now upgraded to an iPhone 6, and the camera is superior to the old iPhone 5. It also helps to be really close to the stage. I really like some of these photos, and hope that you will, too.
Thanks for reading and I'll be back next with something different: a quick review of the Barnes Museum's new Picasso show, as well as some thoughts on the Barnes itself. OK? And check out the new BillyRocksPhilly logo at the very bottom - kind of cool, right? Hope you like it.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.