Monday, December 02, 2002

The Freakin’ James Gang

Friday night I drove over to St. Paul to check out Howlin’ Andy Hound at Big V’s. I had been looking forward to seeing him for quite some time – I had heard that he was a hard-hitting, garage-rock wonder. But Andy must have changed his sound; because instead of sounding like the Chocolate Watchband or the Electric Prunes, he sounded to me more like Blue Cheer. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Incessant heavy riffing that sounds better with each beer has been known to cure more blues than Prozac. My theory is that Howlin’ Andy Hound simply moved his mid-sixties garage rock sound forward a few years into late-sixties metal. Maybe in a couple of years he’ll add a keyboard and sci-fi lyrics and be the next Blue Oyster Cult. We can only hope.

At some point, the band went into what I swear was a James Gang song. The freakin’ James Gang! I felt that giddy glimpse of recognition when you hear a song you hadn’t heard in years but you have fond memories of it. That ruined the rest of the set for me – because I couldn’t quite place the James Gang song. See, for probably a year or so of my high school existence when I got sick of the Eagles and started diving into the Joe Walsh back catalog, I fell in love with the early-metal-power-trio riffings of Walsh and the James Gang. And then twenty years later I’m in some half-full bar in St. Paul and some “they might be ironic but they probably just love heavy riffs” band wows would-be hipsters with a deep cut from the James Gang catalog! Yes!

So a portion of my Saturday afternoon was spent in front of my turntable, spinning James Gang albums and trying to place that elusive track. I don’t think I found it – it may have been “The Bomber” or maybe Andy Hound thought: heh heh heh I’m gonna write a full-on James Gang tribute. Whatever. Tracking James Gang songs gave me some cheap kicks – once they stepped outside of their trademark hard rock sound (e.g. “Walk Away”, “Funk #49”) and tried to be smart, they gave us unintentionally hilarious songs with titles like “Ashes, The Rain, and I” and “Tend My Garden.” The funniest might be “White Man/Black Man” a white-gospel plea for racial unity that contains the lyric “to love each other is a good thing and to know is to love.” I’m all for that, but the way that “Funk #49” combined funk and metal said it much more brilliantly. Without much for lyrics. On “Funk #49”, they also threw in some Latin percussion during the break – apparently the James Gang wanted to unify A BUNCH of races. They had a shot at doing it, but they thought about it too hard.

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