'America's greatest bar band' returns
For the uninitiated, the beloved 50-plus-year-old ensemble will not bringing along a setlist. One of their many quirky charms is that not only do they keep their audiences guessing about what song comes next, they keep their members guessing as well.
Guitarist Scott Ligon explained their eccentric and eclectic approach to playing live. "When we go on tour, it's like one giant rehearsal. We know that we have a lot of music — old and new — that we want to get to in the two or three weeks that we're gonna be out, but every night is dictated solely by the feeling in the room."
Keyboardist Terry Adams, who helped form the band back in 1966, keeps everyone guessing as he calls out the songs throughout their shows. His bandmates do not know what the opening song is going to be until they hit the stage. And they stay on that stage as long as the vibe in the room says it is OK. "We don't even know exactly how long we're gonna be out there" added Ligon in an email. "The feeling in the room will let us know when it's over."
Although NRBQ stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, their improvised setlist can include rockabilly rave-ups, British invasion-styled pop, Tin Pan Alley tunes, country hits, American Songbook standards, playful polkas, jazz workouts, and good old-fashioned rock. "We also don't know exactly how any of these songs are gonna go on any given night" said Ligon. "Solos are never pre-determined (in length or even who's taking it), verses get thrown out in the blink of an eye, intros and ending are subject to people's moods. The idea is, don't get too comfortable and start leaning on what you already know. We try to reinvent the music if we can every night. And we work our asses off doing it!"
And it's not just their live shows that are spontaneous and off-the-cuff. So are their records. Case in point is their new EP, "Happy Talk." Ligon happily talked about their recording process. "We don't all live in the same part of the country, so whenever we get together we try to get into the studio if at all possible. Sometimes instead of rehearsing, we'll cut a few tracks. That's how 'Happy Talk' came about".
The EP is a collection of two originals and three covers that had accumulated over a period of time. Several of the songs were one and done. "Head On A Post" and "Only The Lonely" were definitely just one take. The Orbison song was actually cut completely live, in between takes of another song. We didn't even think about it for several months. Then one day we heard a playback of it and we just really liked it. Even though I barely knew the lyric, there's something real free and honest about it. "
Head on A Post was recorded with Adams calling out the chords to the band while we fiddling with their instruments. "We knew nothing about the song we were playing. And again several months later, we heard a playback and really liked how funky and weird the playing was on it. Mostly due to the fact that we had no idea what the hell was going on."
That is how they roll. And will continue to roll, which makes Ligon — who joined the group in 2011 — more than happy. "I've said this many times but NRBQ was my favorite group for 20 years before I became involved. Sometimes in life, you just have a feeling for someone or something and NRBQ was one of those things. Some people are just supposed to find one another it seems. We're very aware that we have a limited amount of time on this planet and we're trying to do something that makes you feel good about being here. We're gonna 'Talk Happy' and keep dreaming."
NRBQ, with Molly Steinmark, will be at The Stone Church, 210 Main St., on Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance at stonechurchvt.com, or $25 at the door. Information at 802-579-9960.
Dave Madeloni may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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