Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Rainmakers/The SnotRockets (Saturday, May 14, 2011—Knuckleheads) Ticket price: $15.00
I wasn’t real sure what to expect heading into my fourth concert encounter with Kansas City’s most successful Rock ‘N’ Roll band ever, the mighty Rainmakers. It had been 13 years since I last saw them perform, which is almost as long as they’ve been inactive. The band has reunited this year (sort of) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their 1986 debut album on PolyGram, The Rainmakers, by releasing a new CD entitled 25 On. I was a late-bloomer as Rainmakers fans go, not really getting into their repertoire until the early/mid-‘90s after they'd broken up. Not sure where my head was at in the late ‘80s when they were regularly packing the Uptown Theater and/or Parody Hall, receiving regular airplay on the old KY-102, and getting to “play the gee-tar on the MTV” now and then via their videos and even developing a rabid following in Scandinavia, of all places (hence the title of their live album, Oslo-Wichita). Hell, the Swedish Chef probably caught them in concert before I ever did, and I’ll plead total ignorance for missing out on their original heyday! To wit (to what?), I never got to see the original linuep of lead guitarist Steve Phillips, singer/leader/rhythm guitarist Bob Walkenhorst, bassist Rich Ruth (originally known as the trio Steve, Bob & Rich) and drummer Pat Tomek—play in concert.
And oddly enough, I STILL haven’t! When I saw them play on those three previous occasions circa., 1997-98, Ruth had departed to Nashville to pursue other musical avenues, and was replaced by Michael Bliss for their 1997 CD Skin. Well, now RR’s back, but Phillips could not participate this time because of commitments with his current outfit, a Celtic-Rock band called the Elders. D’oh!! Guitarist Jeff Porter fills his spot now.
Next up, they test-drove some songs from 25 On, which I have yet to get a hold of, but I sure liked what I heard from it, especially “Half A Horse Apiece”. The second and third albums—Tornado and The Good News And The Bad News, respectively—were then finally visited, including two of my Rainmakers favorites, “The Wages Of Sin” and “Reckoning Day”, with the latter featuring the repeated refrain, “Get outta my way!”, which came in rather handy as I emerged from the restroom and made my way back through the crowd to my seat! The only real glaring omissions from the set list were “Tornado Of Love”, “Snakedance” and “I Talk With My Hands” (all off Tornado), but the surprise inclusions of “The Width Of A Line” and “Another Guitar” from 1994’s Flirting With The Universe made up for them. Much to my astonishment, Skin was the only Rainmakers album that they ignored altogether. A time-honored Rainmakers tradition also continued—during their encores these guys love to tackle a couple AM Top 40 golden oldies (often welded together with “Drinkin’ On The Job”). Past selections include the likes of The Fireballs’ “Bottle Of Wine”, the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”, C.C.R.'s "Proud Mary" and Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” and I've heard that somewhere that back in the day, the band even took on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Bob Walkenhorst sang it word-for-word! I’d give anything to hear a tape of that today. Anyway, this year’s Way-Back Machine picks-that-clicked were a raucous rendition of Elvis’ “Burning Love”, as well as Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”. Hey, Bob, if you’re out there reading this and taking requests for next time, might I suggest the Blues Magoos’ “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet”? Youse guys would sound awesome on that little ‘60s rave-up…
Looking more than a skosh grayer than the last time I saw him, Brother Walkenhorst was his usual energetic/animated self on stage, and he also displayed his typical good-humored banter between songs. As mentioned, this was my first time seeing Rich Ruth on stage, and he acquitted himself quite well on the bass, and also filled in nicely on vocals in place of Steve Phillips on “Nobody Knows”. I couldn’t see much of Pat Tomek because my view of him was blocked most of the night, but he sounded rock steady on the skins. As for Phillips’ replacement, Jeff Porter, he wasn’t too bad on lead guitar, but didn’t necessarily blow me away, either, and I definitely missed Steve’s distinctive slide playing.
This was my first experience at Knuckleheads, which is a rather unique venue. It’s an indoor/outdoor nightclub with the stage outside at the west end of the block. Technically, our seats weren’t actually IN the venue itself, but for larger shows like this, K-heads cordons off the adjoining street to allow for expansion of their seating area, and in spite of sitting on what is normally a city sidewalk by day, our view was just fine at stage left, about 20 yards from the stage. I also rather enjoyed our close proximity to the $3 beer stand a mere 15 feet away! The sound was outstanding too, apart from the first ten minutes of the Rainmakers set, which was a bit too bass-y before they corrected it. The downside to Knuckleheads is the horrid part of town it’s located in, an area called the East Bottoms, with ‘bottom’ being the operative term. To use a line from a song played early on in the Rainmakers' set, we were in "the lower parts of beautiful downtown Doomsville, baby," as you have to drive through industrial parks and W.T.H. (White Trash Heaven) to get there, and the venue itself literally abuts an active railroad line, thus Casey Jones and Union Pacific came chugging by at regular intervals all night. The crowd was estimated at around 600, which justified adding a second show on Sunday night. In spite of the unseasonably cool weather (upper 40s by show’s end), everyone seemed to go home happy, including my good friend Phil, who for one of the rare times, out-imbibed yours truly!
Opening the show were K.C.’s own SnotRockets (every city should have their own SnotRockets, doncha think?), fronted by local radio personality Doug Medlock on guitar and vocals. They played a snappy 30-minute set of edgy Reverend Horton Heat-esque Rockabilly and were quite good. High point of their set might have been their rather humorous rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass”.
SET LIST (Incomplete and kinda-sorta in sequence): Rockin’ At The T-Dance/Downstream/ Let My People Go-Go/ Doomsville/Big Fat Blonde/Long Gone Long/The One That Got Away/Government Cheese/Drinkin’ On The Job/Nobody Knows/Information/Given Time/Half A Horse Apiece/Like Dogs/Wages of Sin/Small Circles/Spend It On Love/The Lakeview Man/Another Guitar/Reckoning Day/Shiny Shiny/Width of a Line/Hoo-Dee-Hoo. ENCORE: Burning Love/Not Fade Away/One More Summer