THIS PAST MONDAY NIGHT, AUGUST 4, Savannah Smiles Dueling Piano Bar was once more transformed into a live music showcase by local grass roots concert promoters the Tiny Team (of which I am a member), with help from co-sponsor Connect Savannah.
As in the past, the small group of area music lovers pooled their talents to present a show that otherwise would never have come through this market. While the turnout was small, likely owing to the fact that it was held on a Monday night, and that the featured artists —while considered rock royalty by some— are far from being household names, the general consensus from all concerned was that this incendiary performance by Atlanta-based openers The Supreme Court and the NYC-based headliners The Sufi-Monkey Trio was one of the most memorable rock concerts to come through Savannah in years.
Singer and rhythm guitarist Jeff Calder (best known as the longtime frontman for famed Southern new-wave indie-rockers The Swimming Pool Q’s) led The Supreme Court through almost an hour’s worth of original tunes from their 1994 debut LP The Supreme Court Goes Electric, as well as newer, unreleased tracks from their forthcoming follow-up , and a few choice blues-rock covers — rearranged, of course, to take advantage of the stellar, sci-fi tonalities and dazzling, technical fretwork of the band’s internationally-known fusion guitar guru Glenn Phillips.
As too the case with The Sufi-Monkey Trio’s set which followed, The Supreme Court’s powerful, precise and —at times— over-the-top delivery of their complex, electric guitar-centric rock music put the lie to any obsolete notions of this art form being a young person’s game.
With the average age of all the musicians on stage that night easily in the 50s, it was thrilling to see these masters of their domain play circles around most any band one could name, regardless of any perceived notion of youthful virility or stamina.
Delving deep into the type of role-playing and character-driven set-pieces which initially helped Calder make a name for himself in the late-’70s with the earliest incarnations of The Pool Q’s, he sang, gesticulated and put his all into such sardonic musical portraits as the Television-esque “King Fried Jackass”, the Beefheart-ian “Hot Potato” and “Millionaire In Rags”, which could easily be mistaken for one of John Hiatt’s more witty compositions.
The fact that “King Fried Jackass” owes more than a passing resemblance to the 1992 self-titled LP by NYC art-punks Television was completely apropos, as both guitarist Richard Lloyd and The Sufi-Monkey trio’s drummer Billy Ficca were founding members of that pioneering group (also featuring guitarist Tom Verlaine and bassists Richard Hell and Fred Smith).
Last summer, after 34 years as a Television member, Lloyd left the group to focus on his solo career as a singer/songwriter/gunslinger, which has resulted in a handful of albums under his own name since the late ‘70s. His latest effort, The Radiant Monkey, is an intense mélange of skronk, aggressive electric guitar magic (of the type he’s known for in Television), Stonesy push-and-pull rock & roll, and the kind of sunny, hooky power-pop epitomized by Matthew Sweet (an artist who has frequently brought in Lloyd to add inimitable lead guitar stylings to many of his best records).
This new band (also featuring Keith Harshtel on bass) bears more than a passing resemblance to Television, in that the interplay between Lloyd and Ficca remains as tight as ever. Yet, without Tom Verlaine, or, truly, any guitar foil, Lloyd is completely free to wail wherever and whenever he wants.
It’s a freedom he clearly relishes. Unbound by the constraints of another guitarist, and in possession of more than enough wicked chops to carry a simple three-piece rock power trio into the ozone, he threw his all into the show with a degree of gusto unexpected even from someone of his reputation for virile soloing.
An underrated vocalist whose no-frills singing voice swings between declamatory punk-tinged pontification and a casual, almost bubble-gum offhandedness, Lloyd cooed, bellowed and spat through his own tunes dating back to 1980 “I Thought”, and running through this past year “Glurp”.
Along the way, he put his own spin on Television classics like “Friction”, “Elevation” and “See No Evil” (all from the band’s earth-shattering 1977 debut Marquee Moon), “Amnesia” —a Lloyd original initially intended for a never-realized album by the reformed (and now defunct again) Rocket From The Tombs— and a handful of Jimi Hendrix nuggets, such as “Spanish Castle Magic”, “I Don’t Live Today”, and “Axis: Bold As Love”.
While the Hendrix tunes may have —to some audience members— initially seemed slightly out of place in this set, they actually served to highlight just how much of the late guitar icon’s phrasings, chordal structure and soloing techniques lie hidden at the core of Lloyd’s famously idiosyncratic playing style.
Watching Lloyd bark out some of Jimi’s most poetic lyrics, while Ficca and Harshtel whipped up a maelstrom of intense, swirling, jazz-inflected, poly-rhythmic psychedelic rock was just about the closest most of us in attendance will likely ever get to watching a group like Cream or the original Jimi Hendrix Experience back in their heyday.
And yet, as wonderful as those Hendrix compositions were, Lloyd was correct when he told me in advance of the show that his own songs held up well beside them.
His next release will be an entire disc of re-worked Hendrix tunes, doubtlessly including the ones he aired out on the stage of Savannah Smiles. I am certain it will be a moving and cathartic album, and one I’ll snap up instantly.
However, I can’t help but think it’s unlikely listening to such a disc could conjure the fragile beauty of watching this complex man down on both knees, back to the crowd, kneeling into his vintage early ‘60s Supro amplifier, as he was for several minutes toward the end of this Savannah gig.
As Lloyd bit the neck of his Fender Stratocaster, coaxing alien feedback moans from his rig, completely into the moment, it was truly, a snapshot of pure rock and roll bliss.
Luckily for everyone, the Tiny Team’s official photographer Geoff L Johnson (geoffsphotos.com) was on hand to preserve it for posterity.