Saturday, March 12, 2005

Stan Ridgway Reviewed, Sort Of

Stan Ridgway at Plush, Tucson, AZ,
SXSW Tour, March 10th, 2005

Stan and the cam. Note the autograph!It's likely that some of you don't know who this guy is, so I'll tell you.  Stanard Ridgway used to be the frontman/ composer/ lyricist/ and guy with the weird name and weirder voice for the early 1980s band Wall of Voodoo.  Remember the 1982 hit Mexican Radio?  That was Stan.

John and I saw Wall of Voodoo at the Agora in Columbus all those years ago, while their one big hit was still fresh.  Most of the audience, it was clear, only knew the one song, but John and I had the LP.  We therefore appreciated the whole show--or, at least, more of it than people who were just waiting for the hit to be played.

I pretty much lost track of Stan after the first two Wall of Voodoo LPs.  In recent years I've heard him occasionally on KXCI (our local community radio station here), or NPR reviews or interviews. Wall of Voodoo islong gone, and the singer-songwriter is now called Stan instead of Stanard, but there's no mistaking that voice.  He's still fun to listen to.

One stop shopping for death: guns sold next door to the funeral parlor.So anyway, when John announced that we were going to see Stan Ridgway at Plush on my birthday,  I was all for it.

The concert (Stan's part of it, anyway) was scheduled for 10 PM, so we had time to do other things first.  The evening began with dinner at Pinnacle Peak Steaks in Trail Dust Town.  As you know, Batman (running joke), I didn't have a camera with me for that, but I swung by there again on my way home tonight, and snapped several shots with the new camera before the battery ran out.  Here's one of them.

Casa Video beats the heck out of Blockbuster!

So.  Dinner, home, got my present (the camera), Best Buy for accessories, Casa Video to drop off DVD rentals, and then on to Plush.  Casa Video is a locally-owned video rental store with a huge selection, expert staff, free popcorn and a great neon sign.  The first pictures we took with the new camera were of that sign.  Here's one of those shots.

Shonen Knife for John's birthdayThe first thing we noticed when we pulled into the Plush parking lot was that it was fairly full, but not so full that we couldn't park.  We pulled right in.

The second thing we noticed was the mysterious, comforting sound of a train whistle, coming from about a block away.  The third thing we noticed--or rather, John noticed--was Stan in the corner of the lot, being his own roadie.  We did not approach. 

(We later learned that Stan had also noticed the train whistle.  He performed two or three train-related songs (e.g. Goin' Southbound), and expressed regret that a train didn't come along on cue.  "It will probably turn up while I'm singing a song about elephants," he said.  He did, in fact, mention elephants in a song later on, but no train was heard for the duration of the concert.)

The fourth thing we noticed on our way in was that one of John's favorite bands, Shonen Knife, was advertised as coming back to Tucson on John's birthday!  I'm not quite sure, but I think their previous gig at Plush was also on John's birthday, or possibly mine.

Stan's small entourage included a guy named Joe, or possibly Bob--I can't remember, okay?--who was hawking Stan's CDs, DVDs, 23-year-old Wall of Voodoo matchbooks (recently found in Stan's garage), buttons, posters, and shot glasses. This guy remembered the Agora in Columbus, later called the Newport.  He worked with both the Plasmatics (whom we saw at the Agora, once the Columbus police finally agreed to let Wendy O. Williams on stage) and Culture Club.  Listening to him and fans going on about Stan and Boy George and music and venues, while looking at little buttons and other odd, him merchandise, was a real flashback to my Rockarama days.

I was low on cash once I'd paid for the tickets, so I bought a little button to start with, and planned to return later for more, once Joe / Bob / Whoever had a chance to get out his old manual credit card machine. (I like to call it a ca-chung.)

Stan from the next roomThe rest of Stan's traveling companions consisted of a competent but not amazing lead guitarist on acoustic, and an extrordinary keyboardist.  Because of her, the three piece band had a full, intricate and varied sound (with drums, synth, traditional piano sounds and weirder stuff) without ever being over the top.  I wish I could tell you her name for sure  It may have been Pietra Wexstun.

John did his best to get decent pictures with my new camera, but Plush is a remarkably dark place, with red and brown and purple walls and carpeted floor.  The few pictures here are the best that we could manage under the circumstances.  Even these look a lot better than they did before I started messing around with my cheap photo editing software.

Most of the songs Stan performed were original, with a few old ones that I thought I recognized from the Wall of Voodoo LPs all those years ago.  They tended to be about drugs and/or crime, people on the lam or at the end of their rope (whether they knew it or not). Pick It Up (And Put It In Your Pocket), which I think opened the show ("like a rocket," Stan said in self-mockery), fell into this category. So did The Big Heat, Peg and Pete and Me, and Wake Up Sally (the cops are here). There was a good song about a salesman, one about a teenaged garage band, and one about a factory worker.  Honestly, I didn't know most of the songs, I didn't take notes, and I don't want to stay up all night researching song titles on  Let's just say there were a lot of original songs. 

One song was made up on the spot, as Stan vamped a musical complaint about a couple of guys at the bar less than ten feet from the stage, trading stock tips.  "I need to concentrate up here," Stan said, and later sang.  That was the nicest of the things he said to those guys.  At  other times he invited the audience to come closer to the stage, asked what kind of day we'd all had, and even requested immediate detailed information on the history of Tucson. Nobody provided this, but Stan was assured that the club's owner could fill him in on such things later.  I think he was mostly trying to keep himself amused.

Stan on stageAlong with the original material, there are also more than a few covers: Johnny Cash songs Ring of Fire and Luther Played Guitar, the Joe South hit Down in the Boondocks, the Beatles' You've Got to Hide Your Love Away (my favorite song from Help!) an early Bob Dylan song about a dead tramp, and, of all things, Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit.  The remarkable thing about the covers was how very different they were from the original artists' versions. However, Ring of Fire, John said afterward, wasn't far off Stan's own recording of the song.

One song that was very different from all previous recordings was Mexican Radio, when Stan finally got around to singing it.  He introduced the song with brief snatches of it as performed by others in Brazil and Jamaica. Then he launched into yet another version of it. I think resentment of his one big hit probably accounts for his semi-terrible, semi-tuneless, determinedly uninteresting "cover" of his own song.

By the time he and his band finished playing, it was nearly 1 AM.  Five minutes after that, Stan was sitting next to his merchandise hawking guy, autographing people's purchases.  I told him about the Agora in 1982. He didn't quite remember the Agora.  "How big was that place?" he asked.

Stan and (ugh) me"Not terribly big, but pretty big," I said.  I should have told him that it was a medium-sized club venue, where the Ramones and David Johansen also performed (to say nothing of the Plasmatics).

"Well, thanks for coming," he said.

"Thanks for playing on my birthday," I said.

"It's your birthday?  Happy  birthday!"  With that, he added the words "Happy B'day" to his autograph of my CD ("That's all there's room for," he said apologetically), and above that, the date.

I wished him luck on his "big gig," the SXSW (South By Southwest) festival, for which the Phoenix and Tucson dates were a preparation.  And that was that.



ryanagi said...

Wall of LOL Sounds like a fun night. I am totally envious!

deabvt said...

That was a great tale....Hunter Thompson-like!!! [without the drugs!]