Review - Dan Hicks, John Hammond
Doobie Doobie Dude
Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, John Hammond
The Egg, April 23
This is, um, a critique—no, that may be too big of a, a word, so, I mean, um, a review of Dan, Dan Hicks and the, ah, Hot Licks at the Egg . . . a very, a very complex place, you know, last, when was it again, oh yeah, Friday.
That’s about what Hicks’ just-smoked-a-doobie stage persona was like. His audiences must have been amused in the late 1960s, but now the shtick just seemed lame. And although the bright spots predominated in an evening of acoustic swing, a couple of the tunes were palsied as well.
and company, consisting of Hicks on acoustic rhythm guitar, Benito
Cortez on fiddle, Dave Bell on acoustic lead guitar, Paul Smith on
eclectic upright bass, and backup singers-percussionists Roberta Donnay
and Daria—that’s just Daria, thank you—opened with a gypsy-jazz
instrumental version of the 1920 Tin Pan Alley hit “Avalon.” Cortez’s
bluegrass-influenced fiddling was up to snuff, but Bell couldn’t
approach Django Reinhardt’s brilliant, mercurial improvisations. He
missed notes, and lacked the appropriate pick technique for the daunting
manouche style. (Later on, Bell played better on downtempo tunes that
showcased his oddball phrasing.)
Another clunker, at least early on, was Hicks’ original, “I Scare Myself”—the song parked on the flamenco chord change of E to F so long that I got scared it would never end. It resolved wonderfully, though, with a hilarious mime of guitar playing by Hicks while Bell played with his back to the audience.
By and large, though, Hicks was big fun. Bing Crosby’s “I’m An Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)” was an insouciant nod to Western swing. In the hokum tune “Beedle Um Bum” by Georgia Tom Dorsey (later Thomas A. Dorsey of black gospel fame), you never quite knew if Miss Simmy’s butcher shop was literally or figuratively carnal, but you could guess. On the other hand, the encore, “Four or Five Times,” unambiguously expressed the dream of a would-be sexual athlete.
Opening for Hicks was acoustic blues guitarist and rack-mounted harmonica player John Hammond Jr., who played a masterful set of solo fingerstyle material drawn mostly from the postwar Chicago and prewar singers. Hammond, who has been performing since the 1960s, creates his own guitar parts to the older songs, but everything he plays is pure blues. Considering the respective merits of Hicks’ and Hammond’s sets, Hicks should have opened for Hammond instead of vice versa. But in show biz, acoustic soloists almost always go on before bands, no matter who is better at what they do. Unfair, yes, but that’s the blues for you.
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