TVD Live: NRBQ at the Amp by Strathmore, 7/15

It was a shock six years ago when the newest incarnation of NRBQ was actually something that had been touring as the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet.

Adams had been the mainstay of the Q since the start, more than 50 years ago now, but still. NRBQ had been on a hiatus for a couple of years because of Adams’ stage four throat cancer. Longtime fans were still ready to object to his seemingly arbitrary unveiling of a new group of younger musicians under the venerable name. And then it turned out, hey they were pretty good.

The 2017 version of Q that played the Amp by Strathmore in North Bethesda Saturday night were able to conjure up the spirit of daffy joy and unpredictable musical tangents for which the band has always been known.

Adams, at 69, is still the center of this musical maelstrom, calling out songs and attacking his keyboards with fists and karate chops with an electric fan blowing back his trademark bangs and hair, now turned grey. It looked like he was riding a horse more than playing an instrument half the time.

He wasn’t singing quite as much, either because of the bout with throat cancer or because this was the end of a tour that included a swing through California. But he was full of music, playing more than 30 tunes that included Q favorites, catchy newer ones from the new lineup and oddball covers.

Guitarist Scott Ligon, who had been in the Chicago band the Flat Five with Kelly Hogan, had the kind of dexterity and country finger picking chops to remind one of Al Anderson, who left the band more than two decades ago. And he had a voice too, giving him vocal command of the new unit.

Bassist Casey McDonough had solid bass skills and a voice to lend as well—he had been on part of the Brian Wilson tour replicating “Pet Sounds” and has been known to do Everly Brothers covers with Ligon—in the Q and in the Flat Five. Newest of all is the drummer John Perrin, who in the way he smacks the drum and in picking out the single song he comes out to croon (“Everyone Says I Love You,” from an old Marx Brothers movie), carries on the tradition of Tommy Ardolino, the beloved longtime NRBQ drummer who died in 2012. And when Perrin got out in front, Adams took the drum set, and in the spirit of exchange, Ligon and McDonough switched instruments, too.

There’s a sloppiness that makes NRBQ fun, but an ingrained musicianship that makes nearly everything work no matter how far they get off track. Sure, it seems like he’s just chopping his poor keyboards, but it ends up sounding right anyway. And when he actually starts playing barrelhouse or Monk-inspired jazz, Adams really shines.

With Adams and his devices on one half of the stage and the new guys on the right half, it almost seemed at times if the band originator were orchestrating its continuance: Here was a trio that could go on, carrying the NRBQ banner if he, too, ever chose to bow out. And then he proved it, ducking off stage at one point, leaving the trio to cover the Everly Brothers’ “Sleepless Nights.”

There is a certain age that is attracted to a band that’s been around 50 years and yes, at first the supper club looked like a cruise line crowd. But when the music started kicking in, younger people danced on the edges showing there’s no age to things like “Green Lights,” “Ain’t It All Right,” and the wistful double shot of “Ridin’ in My Car” and “I Want You Bad.”

In between it all were things like their covers of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm,” Sun Ra’s “Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie,” and the ancient song about a nickelodeon, “The Music Goes Round and Round.” And after 30 songs, they summed up their approach in a trio of encores: “Me and the Boys,” “Do You Feel It?,” and “Howard Johnson’s Got His Hojo Working.”

Oh, yes, it’s still working, long after even Howard Johnson went extinct.

SETLIST
Keep This Love Goin’
Not Tonight, Hon
Little Floater
Dr. Howard, Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine
Don’t Worry Baby
Boozoo, That’s Who
It’s Not Too Late
Advice for Teenagers
It’ll Be Alright
Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie
Wild Weekend
Ain’t It All Right
Wacky Tobacky
R.C. Cola & a Moon Pie
Green Lights
Everybody’s Out of Town
Get on the Right Track, Baby
Everyone Says I Love You
instrumental
Chicken Hearted
Riding’ in My Car
I Want You Bad
Sleepless Nights
Honey Hush
Magnet
Dummy
Talk to Me
The Music Goes Round and Round

Get Rhythm

Me & the Boys
Do You Feel It?
Howard Johnson’s Got His Hojo Workin’

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