PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | It wasn’t just the overhyped blizzard that bedeviled gigs along the Eastern Seaboard last week. There were also more mundane barriers, like the missing drain plug in the oil tank of Eric Ambel’s Suburban that drained it just before he was to drive from New York for a gig at DC’s Hill Country Barbecue Thursday.
It put a big delay in travel plans, and caused the headlining half of the bill, Dan Baird and Homemade Sin, to go on early instead and play a few songs until Ambel and his band got there after 10. It worked out comfortably enough. The two have toured together before, and were even bandmates in the short-lived Yayhoos a decade ago.
So when the late coming openers got there, it was a very quick matter of plugging into the Homemade Sin equipment and sitting down at their drum set (which also proved that switchovers between bands need not be more than a few minutes). The two rockers are also pursuing the same riff-fueled dirt road too with revved-up Chuck Berry riffs and a kind of raucous Faces mindset making way for the kind of rock soloing that is increasingly now only heard in classic rock stations.
Like a lot of roots rocking Americana bands, Baird and his crew are bigger in Europe than they are in their home country. It’s a shame more people don’t follow them stateside, but those who do are rewarded by intimate club shows like this one, a more natural habitat for bands like these than genteel theaters on the Continent.
Baird is still best known around here for fronting the Georgia Satellites back in the ’80s. And he knew how to dole out the big Satellites hit, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” right in the middle of the main set, and sprinkle the others around, playing “Six Years Gone” to close the four-song replacement opening set until Amble showed up.
At 63, the stringy-haired Baird is looking a little snaggletoothed, but that only serves to push the Keith Richards comparisons. He kept on his now-trademark top hat, which bolstered the Tom Petty vibe that the jangly guitars of the opening “Shake It Til It’s Sore,” one of a handful from the group’s latest, Rollercoaster, and one that could have come right off of Damn the Torpedoes.
As the album title suggests, it’s a collection of ups and downs and odd turns, one of them was the back to basics “Knocked Out Cold” that was so basic and hard-charing you could have sworn it was an AC/DC cover. Such arena rock only seems to fuel amiable lead guitarist Warner E. Hodges, who in addition to several soaring solos, kept swinging his axe overhead for theatrical effect, just missing the joists of the basement ceiling. Hodges also managed to plug the other band in which he plays, Jason & the Scorchers.
Longtime drummer Mauro Magellan and bassist Micke Bjork round out the band, which also brought out such Baird favorites as “Woke Up Jake,” “Julie and Lucky,” and “I Love You Period,” one of the greatest rock songs about punctuation, just before the close.
The band also premiered one song from Baird’s solo album So Low (released alongside the band album). It’s a thoughtful reconsideration of the American South, “Look Away,” that admonishes Dixieland of being “so afraid of what you don’t understand.”
Ambel and his quartet concentrated almost exclusively on his new album Lakeside, that’s full of songs by artists with whom he’s collaborated, from Scott Kemper of the Dictators, in “Here Come My Love” to Jimbo Malthus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who contributed the thudding, sardonic “Hey Mr. DJ” that took the voice of thuggish audiences who “Don’t like nobody that don’t sound like me.”
Ambel, also known as Roscoe, has spent time in a number of great bands from Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, the Del-Lords and Steve Earle’s Dukes, and he often channels a kind of Neil Young sound, with keening vocals and cutthroat soloing.
It happened on a surprising version of Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio” that started out as world-weary as the original, before rumbling into a big rock ending, echoing the bass progressions in Hendrix’ “Hey Joe.”
Throughout the night, sound proved a problem as the main P.A. went out; that meant vocals were tough to make out at time, but one could always groove to the rest of the glorious noise.
DAN BAIRD & HOMEMADE SIN SETLIST
Shake It Til It’s Sore
Do My Worst
Six Years Gone
Knocked Out Cold
Fall Apart On Me
The Myth of Love
Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Woke Up Jake
Can Ya Hear Me Now
Julie and Lucky
I Love You Period
The Other Side
Damn Thing to Be Done
ERIC AMBEL SETLIST
Girl That I Ain’t Got
Here Come My Love
Hey Mr DJ
Look at Miss Ohio