By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Anyone who doubts that Howard’s Club H is having a revival as a music venue wasn’t at Saturday night’s NRBQ show.
The venerable rock quartet was right at home in the stylish grit of the venerable club. And the sound system did justice to the band’s mix.
NRBQ responded with 100 minutes of effervescent groove-based music delivered with a sly smile.
The band opened with founder Terry Adams’ ”Rhythm Spell” and wrapped things up with Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm” as an encore.
That was fitting because there was plenty of rhythm on display between the two. Whether they were sunny rock, the blues, or mambo, the beat was the thing throughout the night. The set bounced with little time between numbers from one highlight to another – the NRBG standard “Me and the Boys” or a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” among them.
The show had its odd turns, as when the Adams summoned drummer John Perrin from behind his set to sing a number, supposedly for a woman in the audience. He ambled to the front of the stage and consulted with bassist Casey McDonough and guitarist Scott Ligon about what to sing. Then they eased into Roger Miller’s hit “King of the Road.”
Adams took his place behind the drum set, He treated those drums far gentler than he did his two keyboards, which he treated like percussion throughout the night, slapping, punching, and then executing flowing runs.
That’s the secret of NRBQ. Why after 50 years and shifts in personnel – Adams is the only founder and long-time member – the band is something more than the best bar band in the country.
The repertoire is true to the sounds you’d expect from a band planted in the 1960s – before it seems anyone on stage except Adams was born. The celebrates the pop music of that time and the various Americana sounds that inspired it. They’re not afraid to play a novelty tune like Adams’ “Yes I Have a Banana” from the new EP “Happy Talk” that responds to a novelty tune from the 1920s.
Adams is a musical subversive. He brings the joyous anarchy of an overgrown teenager to the mix, and a sophistication of someone whose influences include jazz mystery men Sun Ra and Thelonious Monk. He demonstrates how those seeming musical poles are all part of the same musical culture.
Given this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Monk, another musical subversive, Adams had promised to play one of the jazz icon’s compositions. He fulfilled that promise early in the show with a tender reading of Monk’s walking ballad “Ruby My Dear.” That was proof enough that Adams may play in a rock band but he is one of the best interpreters of Monk out there. His ease with the casual dissonances and the jagged turns of phrase and his respect for the song’s melody and roots in American song and dance are unmatched.
Then late in the show he declared they had five minutes left, and then four and three, as the banter with the audience continued. He asked for requests and was greeted with a cacophony of song titles, which he let continue in a bit of spontaneous performance art.
Then he launched into rocking version of Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie.”
Well, NRBQ had more than three minutes left, and the band cruise through a few more tunes on a mission to empty the tank before landing on the blues, then finishing aptly with the warhorse “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” popular on stage, screen, and at gatherings of Girl Scout counselors.
The members walked off stage through the crowd that now was undergoing a generational shift from the NRBQ’s older fans to the young costumed arrivals for the Halloween party to follow. They seemed to be digging the band’s upbeat rock as much as the elders who’d arrived two hours before.
But Adams called the band back for that final rockabilly shout out: “Get rhythm, when you’ve got the blues.”
As the stage lights snapped to black, and the band made its way back through the crowd, it seemed like nobody had the blues, and they’d certainly gotten more than their daily recommended allowance of rhythm.