Review: All That Crazy Jazz and Gongs
Tigertail Productions brought guitarist Eugene Chadbourne and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani into the On Stage Black Box at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium for an electrifying night of songs and sounds on Nov 9. There were Chadbourne originals like the show-closing “Armageddon” — a droning tune featuring the line “Watch out for good health…If you hang on for too long, there’ll be no one left to eat” — and the opening ballad about “the old piano nobody can play,” also a metaphor for aging. But most of the choices were from an eclectic fake book of American songs, with the Duke Ellington standard “In a Sentimental Mood” sandwiched between a spirited “Folsom Prison Blues” and the crossover-country ditty “Drivin’ My Life Away.” When Eddie Rabbitt sings that last song, it’s not bad, but it sounds like a record label A&R man is whispering suggestions in his ear. You can smile and tap your feet and ignore the gritty reality of the “truck stop cutie comin’ on to me…said I wouldn’t be sorry.” Chadbourne, on the other hand, tore into it with a gnarly two-string electric guitar attack, and although he hit most of the chords and sang all the verses, in between he just did whatever he felt like. When he asked the waitress to “pour me another cup of coffee, pop me down, jack me up, shoot me out,” it felt like a real possibility. Meanwhile, Nakatani kept up a constant dialog on his percussion kit, which included a drum set but also a host of broken cymbals, singing bowls, and gongs. A favorite was a particular cymbal with a ragged hole torn in the middle, allowing him to bend the cymbal and draw out a range of sounds, sort of like a musical saw. Sweat on his forehead, his long black hair pulled back in a ponytail, metallic instruments radiating in the spotlights, he was a dynamic and endlessly original stew of sight, sound, and rhythm. Occasionally he would break into a train beat. Chadbourne worked a number of instruments, including a fretless banjo and a National-style metal-body resonator guitar, always with a slide on his pinky. Sitting on the edge of a wooden kitchen chair with his curly white hair and round black-rim glasses, retuning his guitar in the middle of a song, punctuating every line with a flurry of steel-strung energy, Doc Chad just kept on rolling. From the start, two rusty lawn rakes perched on top of a music stand, strapped together by the cut-off handles, their business ends aimed in opposite directions. Towards the end of the show, Chadbourne announced the world premiere of the double-necked electric rake. He plugged it into a Fender amp and he and Nakatani proceeded to attack the thing with drumsticks, a metallic roar plowing out of the amp, continuing after it plunged off the stand almost into the audience. Oddly, it made perfect sense following Johnny Paycheck’s classic “Georgia in a Jug,” which is probably best remembered by it’s proclamation: “I’m going down to Mexico in a glass of tequila.” A song like that manages to be a corny novelty song at the same time that it takes a poignant look at longing, alcoholism, and the American dream that never quite arrives. The protagonist in the song has been saving his money for a cruise in an “old mason jar,” but ends up taking the more realistic escape to the local bar after his wife leaves him. Chadbourne’s entire stage persona embodies that spectrum of emotion, with Nakatani in the role of the good-natured buddy who’s up for anything. If you’ve lost your faith in rock ‘n’ roll or folk or country or whatever angle you take on the great American populist sound experiment, the raw energy and subtle skills of this duo just might revive it.