Monday, March 28, 2005

subdudes in Santa Rosa

The subdudes, with the Pulsators opening, played The Last Day Saloon in Santa Rosa Friday night. It was the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen the band and easily the best of their shows I’ve seen. A quartet until they broke up about 8 years ago (although their shows and recordings often featured Willie Williams on guitar and vocals), the reunited subdudes feature, in addition to original members Tommy Malone, John Magnie, and Steve Amedee, Tim Cook on bass (Replacing Johnny Ray Allen) and percussion and Jimmy Messa on guitar and bass. Combined with Malone’s guitar, Magnie’s accordion and keyboard, and Amedee’s percussion playing (the band lacks a drummer; Amedee keeps the beat largely by whacking an amplified tambourine (among other things) with a stick. It’s more effective than it sounds and you don’t notice the lack of a full drum kit while listening), the newer members fill out the band’s full rock and blues sound.

Tommy Malone’s bluesy tenor voice has always been one of the hallmarks of the subdudes’ sound; more and more as the years pass his guitar playing stands out as well. Friday night, alternating between an acoustic guitar, an ’88 repro of a ’58 Homer Haynes Strat that he has worn the paint off of, and a beautiful hollow body ’67 Gretsch, there were times when he just tore the place up. His scorching extended solo on the Gretsch on “Straight Shot” was as good as any I’ve heard.

The band has an easy stage presence, the band members occasionally speaking to those in the front row (with the exception of Amedee, who, though he sits right at the edge of the stage seems pretty well caught up in the playing. He looks as though he’s happy to be there and having a good time, but isn’t engaged with the audience. He was very friendly and voluble after the show, however). There was a brief interruption early in the show when one of the amp monitors caught fire, but it didn’t appear to have a distracting affect on anybody and the band resumed playing once the smoldering amp was removed. Starting around 10:30 the band played for more than two hours, playing material from their earlier albums as well as a number of songs from last year’s release, Miracle Mule, including “Morning Glory” and “If Wishing Made it So,” and about four songs from an album they are preparing to go into the studio to work on with Keb Mo producing. Highlights, in addition to “Straight Shot,” include the songs you would expect, such as “All the Time in the World,” “Need Somebody,” “Late at Night,” and “Sarita.” At the end of the night, everybody went home tired and happy.

You can catch the band tonight and tomorrow night at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz.

Opening for the subdudes were The Pulsators, a six-piece Sonoma County band, playing a tasty combination of island rhythms and a Memphis-style horn section. The band played a relaxed yet strong set. Particularly notable were trumpeter Steve Long’s fiery solos. Interestingly enough, the Pulsators lack a true drummer, too, as Johnny Campbell, who is also the main singer, primarily plays a bongo.

The Last Day Saloon has been open for a couple of years in Railroad Square but until Friday I’d never been there, as their calendar seemed to reflect a heavy mix of DJs, dance bands and comics. There seems to be new commitment to bringing high level musical talent to the club, though. The night before the subdudes performed the Reverent Horton Heat was on stage and future performers scheduled to appear include Maria Muldaur with Shana Morrison opening for her, Elvin Bishop, and Dr. John.
As much as I love The Mystic Theatre in Petaluma and appreciate the too rare show The Raven in Healdsburg puts on, I am thrilled to have another club poised to bring this kind of talent to the North Bay on a regular basis. It’s a nicely set up club, with a separate bar and a restaurant with a window onto the showroom. That it’s just a five minute drive from my house makes it all the sweeter.

Finally, I have to thank Bill Bowker and radio station KRSH for their efforts to bring the subdudes to the north bay and their broader efforts to promote live music in this area.
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