We continue our stalking of James Straight and the Wide Stance. We can't help it. We became converts the first time we heard their songs and punchy sound and saw their stage show. This night they play in a bill drawn up by Cal Cali at the Rosebud. Up to this point we have only seen James Straight and the Wide Stance at The Magic Room. Tonight we wonder what they will be like without the amazing synced video behind them. Joe Fagan wrenches out a few riffs during his set up and they have that patented dirty sound he gets with his cheap guitar and two foot square mini Marshall. With that reassurance they whip out two songs in a row that sound like some great covers but are instead great originals. It's hard to believe that the first song is over 30 years old. Michael Abbott grabs your attention with his dramatic stage moves but Joe on guitar wants attention too so he jumps on a chair, falls to his knees, plays behind his back and plays between his legs. The beauty is that the songs stand up to all these shenanigans. The songs aren't just love songs and heartbreak stories; they cover political issues and cultural facets. That makes you want to hear the lyrics which are very clever. It's all part of the package that separates James Straight and the Wide Stance from the pack. Then they do some well picked covers and end with Rebel Rebel by Bowie. Fantastic. Michael says they are almost finished recording a CD full of material. Since the material seems radio ready one hopes that mucho airplay is imminent as well as a step up in visibility. Seeing many groups at this level (like Cadillac Heart) I wonder what they can do as a next move to get national attention, but I guess that's always been the game.
We went over to the Magic Room on Saturday the 21st to check out the excellent bill going on there. People have been giving us an ear boxing for months on seeing James Straight and the Wide Stance - they were right. It took about 2 seconds to get drawn into this lively rocking set. They do mostly covers, some songs I didn't know that might have been originals. They do songs as far back as the fifties. The main thing they seem to be doing is lifting or co-opting songs and styles from the rock era and stamping them with their own ideas. One example is their cover of "It's All Over Now" by the Rolling Stones. They craft a crunching figure in the verse and barrel ass their way to the chorus where they play it fairly straight. So, you get the old with the new. They obviously are having a ball doing this and it's a ball to listen to. They do a ZZ Top style boogie which is so rock steady in the fantastic rhythm section that it's impossible not to move. On top of this Joe Fagan is pumping out his dirty untiddy riffage: not too busy, not over the top but perfect for the song.
All this and I haven't even mentioned the most outstanding thing about this group - James Straight! He's a personality filled front man with a strong expressive voice; a person who seems destined to be on stage. He was at his best in the signature song "Wide Stance", a long laugh filled song on the whole Sen. Larry Craig bathroom incident. I don't want to brand him with the Lou Miami comparison but ya, he reminds one of Lou and like Lou he brings the party with him. And of course they ended the night with "Psycho Date", a Lou Miami classic. We were a little giddy at the end of this night getting two rocking sets under out belt. The place was packed and everyone was very vocal with smiling faces.....and we had just partied beyond the purported end of the world. The theme running though this night would be that it is people from the early days of the scene back on stage for more abuse....or admiration I should say....we got there too late to hear Tommy White's band The Beach Combovers but the room was buzzing from their set, and knowing those guys it was a good one. The debut of the Cadillac Heart (Billy Connors, Gary Soprano, Scott Baerenwald and Rayboy Fernandes) was heightened by the songs that have been posted on Reverb Nation revealing a very together group. The promise was fulfilled with a tight set centered on Rayboy's solid drumming. Scott Baerenwald brings more than just his bass playing to the group his background singing along with Rayboy adds an extra dimension that elevates many songs. One of my favorite new songs is "Nothing s Gonna Change" a simple pop ditty sung by Scott and it fits him so well I imagined he had to have written it but no it was Billy Connors who wrote almost every song in the set. I find it amazing that 35 years after he started playing Billy is writing these great songs. "Fed Up" which is an updating and answer of the Who's "My Generation" is a object lesson on what songwriters on the scene should be doing. He got a subject worthy of commenting on and bringing his life experiences to the lyrics. It's intelligent and emotional. Billy's given us a wonderful anthem. Now, I'm just picking one song out of the set, they were all good! In the middle of all this is Gary Soprano, a sort of ringer. Many might not know this guitarist who used to be with Third Rail and the Count for a short while but he has an impeccable tone that goes to the service of some savory solos all right in the pocket of the tune. I'd love to have all of them available to play over and over. He's been under recorded for way too long. Wonderful players, wonderful new songs - this was a great set.