Thursday, November 24, 2016

Don't Do It

Look at these jamokes. If you were drinking in your local dive, or maybe a guest at the wedding of a distant acquaintance, and these guys got up to play, what would you think? I mean, really. Just look at them.

Levon looks like the really good mechanic you're pleased to have finally found, even though you can't help but feel—accurately—that he's always looking down at you because you don't know as much about cars as he does. Rick looks like the guy who works the counter at the autoparts store. Richard looks like the guy who stocks the shelves at the autoparts store: there's something about his smile that freaks out the customers too much, even the most manly ones, so they don't let him work the register. Robbie looks like the guy who mixes paint at the hardware store and tries to chat up the housewives, most of whom see right through him, and don't so much enjoy the attention as feel a bit creeped out and like they need a shower. And then there's Garth—in the end, there's always Garth. He's the guy who works in the stacks at the local university library, the one you hope the librarian won't have to go to for help when you ask your question, even though they always do, 'cuz he always knows, and there's no reason you hope they won't, as he's never said or done anything weird to you or anyone you know: in fact, he never does anything weird, other than never doing anything but studying old, arcane tomes and feeding his fish. It's just that he always stares at your shoes as he mumbles the answer to even the most esoteric of queries.

And then they start playing.

Would you get it right away? Would Levon's jittery yet slinky beat immediately clue you in that you're in the presence of a master, of a man who got as much funk, as much soul in his DNA as guanine? I'm not sure you would. What about when Rick starts in with that bassline? I like to think so, but I'm still not sure; the goofy way he bops might distract you. Sure, you'd think, okay, this might not be totally embarrassing, but I don't think you'd quite realize yet what you're in for.

It's Richard's piano that prepares you. His chording is simple, sweet, tasteful...but quiet as it is, it's got that tang of the roadhouse about it—but a roadhouse down New Orleans way—that subtly shifts your thoughts and expectations and even though you haven't fully grokked it yet, you're already starting to think, well...huh. This might just

And then Robbie starts playing. And the slightly sad lounge lizard reveals himself to be the greatest guitarist you've ever actually seen in person, with just a few chords. They're not difficult chords; this isn't Jim Hall playing some bizarre inversed voicing. They're just your standard rock and roll chords...but they're rock and roll chords played with that distorted Strat tone that bypasses your aural canal and goes directly into your very being and makes it clear that the guy making those sounds knows rock and roll and he knows the guitar and suddenly the smugness seems entirely justified.

And then they start singing. And it hits you, first, that this sweaty funk workout is somehow Marvin Gaye's boppy classic. And, secondly, you realize, accurately, that if this isn't the best group vocals you've ever heard, well, you never heard better. Never. Not by the Beach Boys, not by the Beatles, not even by the Everlys. Never.

Robbie's guitar solo only confirms what you could tell by his opening chords, which is that this superior bastard is indeed superior—he's got the technical ability, but he's more than just flash: he's got the spirit. And behind him, supporting them all, is that intense research librarian who, it turns out, plays the church organ like Bach, if Bach had been raised as a tobacco farmer in Kentucky.

Turns out, and who knew? that looks can be deceptive. And that the rock, the funk, the soul, can take root in the most unlikely of places, whether a guy who looks like a smarmy bastard or a creepy stockboy. And that the proof is always in the sound. And god-a-mighty, what a sound.

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