That sardonic grin, the black humour and occasional snarl can only mean one thing, Dan Stuart is back in town. With a new album under his belt, the invigorating slice of punk/garage rampage that is Marlowe’s Revenge, recorded with Mexico’s Twin Tones, Stuart is carousing around the country and further abroad with what he called tonight an old-fashioned variety show. No jugglers or performing animals, no comedians or showgirls but some comedy and political satire was promised. Fancy words for what was in reality Stuart and chums (in this case and for the rest of the UK dates Tom Heyman and Fernando Viciconti) but there was an element of an old fashioned package tour in there, Stuart the MC, providing the introductions (and the comedy) as he goofed about and mugged unashamedly before getting down to business. There were laughs and chortles aplenty, an impression of a besotted fan (with a Cockney accent) who remembered seeing a gig back in ’86, an ongoing argument with his amplification pedal, the occasional (and noisy) plumbing in the venue and his infamous brush with spear guns in an Edinburgh hotel just some of the pearls thrown to the crowd.
For those who want the wasted youthful Stuart from his days in Green On Red or who have honed in on his well publicised meltdown and incarceration in a mental institution prior to his flight to Mexico this larger than life and invigorated presence must have come as a bit of a surprise. For sure Stuart has a chip or two on his shoulder and there’s still an element of danger, of teetering on the edge about him but over the past few years he’s produced an amazing body of work. The sublime Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings record, an EP of home demos and the raw vitality of the new album along with his “false memoir” which is as good a rock’n’roll binge as any published since Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock’n’Roll Star. Tonight he appeared fit and limber, racing around the stage, energy in abundance and if there’s a devil on his tail then it’s going to have its work cut out trying to keep up with him.
With the introductions done Stuart introduced Fernando Viciconte on stage. Argentinian born, now domiciled in Portland Oregon, Viciconte has only recently returned to the recording studio after some health problems. Portland buddies, Peter Buck, Paul Brainard and Scott McCaughey are all on his new album, Leave The Radio On and tonight, armed only with his guitar he offered some insights into the album, in particular a moving Kingdom Come. He delved into his Latin roots for a sweetly affecting song sung in Spanish before a muscular reading of True Instigator from his 2011 album of the same name. However his most powerful and moving song was his closing tribute to the late Jimmy Boyers, a stalwart of the Portland music scene who recently passed away. Here Viciconte sang Hank Williams’ Angel of Death imbuing it with a Johnny Cash like gravitas.
Next up Dan Stuart introduced us to Tom Heyman, an SF musician by way of Philadelphia who has a CV to die for (Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovido, Go To Blazes, John Doe) and who recently released the excellent album That Cool Blue Feeling. Stuart’s introduction provided us with one of the lines of the night as he tried to describe Heyman’s music ending with the immortal words, “It’s not fucking Americana!” Perched on a stool and hunched over his acoustic guitar (with a very interesting headstock) Heyman parried Viciconte’s high and lonesome leanings with his bluesy and folky urban cool opening with Time and Money from the new album. Cool and Blue showcased his fine guitar picking on a wistful love note while Always Be Around saw him ringing notes from his instrument. A fine raconteur himself Heyman added to the merriment of the night when he spoke about his shared experience with Stuart, both having played with the mighty Chuck Prophet and both then suffering from PTCD, that is, post traumatic Chuck disorder. Black Mollies sounded like something that Bobbie Gentry might have recorded had she been on steroids and he topped his set with a great delivery of Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks, a song that, to my mind, does touch all the Americana bases (we could argue this all night), whatever it’s a tremendous song. Heyman again closed his set with a cover, a fine and heartfelt rendition of Phil Ochs I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.
Time then for the ringmaster to jump into the spotlight and with Heyman remaining on stage to add his guitar to Stuart’s the man launched into the aching Over My Shoulder from the new album. The Whores Above was the snarling Stuart beloved of old and was followed by a cover of Lou Reed’s Vicious, Stuart’s riposte to one of the reviews of his latest disc and a riff he defiantly returned to throughout the night with him deriding the reviewer prior to Name Hog. While he and Heyman were able to whip up some fine storms on their guitars there were quieter moments, his emotional scars on show on Why I Ever Married You and there was a tender reading of The Greatest, Stuart’s paean to Mohammed Ali, one of his heroes. Heyman was sterling on guitar throughout, whether punching out taut lines or adding some cutting slide and bottleneck and abiding Stuart’s rather random approach to guitar tuning. And of course, despite his disdain for the rock’n’roll ride, Stuart delivered several songs from his past, songs that once were pulverised by the garage abandon of Green On Red but now sit finely in his canon. Rock’n’Roll Disease, Baby Loves Her Gun, 16 Ways (with Heyman really on the ball here), Gravity Talks and Time Ain’t Nothin were all delivered, the latter less of a punk sneer now, more a reflection on the arrogance of youth. Scattered throughout the set, for some these songs might have been the gravy on the pie and there’s no denying the frisson of hearing Stuart revisit these but overall the new songs show that he still delivers and he does so in spades.
There was another cover to end the night, Fernando bounded back on stage for this “unholy trinity” to delight us with their rendition of The Stones’ Dead Flowers, some of the audience joining in on this song that perhaps, many years ago, set the young Dan Stuart on his wayward path. A fine end to what was a fantastic evening. Mr. Stuart is on the road for several more weeks, the dates are here, if he’s near you then do go and see a man who is rock’n’roll to his fingertips and prepare to be amused, transfixed and mesmerised.