Practically New NRBQ Carries Its Mantle

IMG_6476Those who haven’t seen the long-running NRBQ for a decade or two (or five) might have been surprised at the pre-New Year’s show at the Hamilton in D.C. to find that it is almost entirely a different band.

And while it may be unsettling for fans of Joey and Johnny Spampinato, the late Tommy Ardolino or even Big Al Anderson, to see their wholesale replacements, the younger members miraculously seem largely as skilled and certainly steeped in the unique sensibility of the band, ready to rock, croon old pop or take off on free jazz at will.

Born since the band was conceived, talented guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough and super young-looking drummer John Perrin could have been raised in a lab to take the mantle of the quirky, fun-loving band.

Even the singing voices of Ligon and Perrin seem pitched at about the same light timbre of Terry Adams, who at 70 is the sole connection to the beginnings of the band more than a half century ago.

Still holding down his side of the stage, manically attacking the electric piano or clavinet, smiling goofily, his hair spilling from beneath a molting straw hat festooned with a hatband of flowers, Adams still brings the bulk of the band’s cockeyed personality. At the same time, his keyboard playing is a marvel in its accuracy (despite looking like he’s only freely pounding).

The wild man had formed what he called the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet more than a decade ago with Ligon, but abruptly re-christened it NRBQ, seemingly single-handedly reigniting the storied band that stopped performing in 2004.

As such, the band’s current swing celebrates the recent reissue of the 1977 album “All Hopped Up,” the first from the quartet of Adams, Joey Spampinato and Ardolino, with a sprinkling of songs from four decades ago that include “Help Me Somebody” and “It Feels Good.” But they sprinkled hits from a dozen other ‘Q albums over the years — and just one from their latest set, a 2017 EP called “Happy Talk,” an almost too silly new original “Yes, I Have a Banana.”

But there was just as strong a sampling of surprising covers as ever, from the kooky “Yeh, Yeh,” popularized by Georgie Fame, to rootsy 50s rock of Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy,” Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush,” Arthur Alexander’s “Anna,” Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm” (which long since became an NRBQ concert anthem) and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” during which drummer Perrin and guitarist Ligon switched instruments — a thing the old ‘Q used to do.

The advantage of Ligon and especially McDonough are their vocal skills. Few bands of any era would attempt an Everly Brothers cover like “Walk Right Back.”

The fact that McDonough chose the Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do” was probably more surprising, though the band doesn’t ease away from soul. And as for jazz, there was the sublime pick from Moondog, “Paris,” which perfectly fit the ‘Q sensibility with its simple, cheerful bilingual lyrics.

McDonough can usually be relied upon to lead a couple of Beach Boys songs — equally hard to pull off — but passed on that songbook in the wide-ranging D.C. show.

Still, the current NRBQ calls to mind the touring band of Brian Wilson — similarly led by a older, crazed genius, who usually lets others take over the vocals after a verse or two, backed by top musicians who clearly love and take very good care of the specific band’s legacy.

In this case, they’re also carrying it on, and a selection from the songbook of the Flat Five, the Chicago band led by Ligon and McDonough, fit right into the overly generous 38-song set.

It was telling that this Q 2.0 largely avoided the must-play band anthems until the very end of the night, when “Me and The Boys” finally came out (at song No. 30), “Ridin’ in My Car” (ending the main set) and “I Want You Bad” (topping the first encore).

But it hit once more when “Here Comes Terry” began the final encore. To hear the entrance-heralding ditty that originally went, “Here comes Terry, Here comes Tom, here comes Joey, here comes Al” now sung as “Here comes Terry, here comes Scott, here comes Casey, here comes John,” you had to either admire the foresight of naming the song after the one person who’d still be there, stand back at the audacity of changing 3.4 of the names, or simply marvel at its adaptation, all these decades later, in a marvelous fun-time band you never want to go away.

 

 

The setlist for NRBQ was: 

  • “All Night Long”
  • “The Animal Life”
  • “Yes, I Have a Banana”
  • “Tragic Magic”
  • “Get Down Grandpa”
  • “Bad Boy”
  • “Mona”
  • “Keep This Love Goin’”
  • “It Feels Good”
  • “Yeh, Yeh”
  • “Walk Right Back”
  • “What You Mean to Me”
  • “Help Me Somebody”
  • “Honey Hush”
  • “Designated Driver”
  • “Hey Punkin Head”
  • “Rats in My Room”
  • “The Way You Do the Things You Do”
  • “Almond Grove”
  • “Bargains”
  • “Get Rhythm”
  • “That’s Neat, That’s Nice”
  • “When Things Was Cheap”
  • “A Girl Like That”
  • “Tonight You Belong to Me”
  • “Never is a Long, Long Time”
  • “Anna”
  • “Girl Scout Cookies”
  • “Me and the Boys”
  • “Wacky Tobacco”
  • “Ridin’ in My Car”
  • “Ain’t It All Right”
  • “I Want You Bad”
  • “Here Comes Terry”
  • “Magnet”
  • “12 Bar Blues”
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