Like a lovely and unkillable weed patch, NRBQ endures. Together for more than 30 years, the band has defied the laws of rock & roll physics, refusing either to burn out or to become an ugly caricature of itself. But the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet—as the group is known when not being cleverly acronymic—has suffered. The band has been unceremoniously bounced around from label to label (mostly indies), remaining largely unknown and underappreciated, save for a small but devoted cult audience, since their inception back in the days when sitars and Owsley acid were all the rage.
"We're Timex watches—we just keep on ticking," keyboardist Terry Adams told me a couple of years ago, clearly enamored of his own badass, underdog status. "We've been here many a day, and we're here to stay—often imitated, never duplicated."
Actually, I dunno how many have even tried to imitate the Q; the task would be formidable. These Florida peckerheads excel at rockabilly, country, jazz, rock, blues and pop, whether playing it pure or mixing it all together and somehow making it not merely digestible but delicious (in fact, Adams' 1995 solo effort, Terrible, was among the best jazz releases of the '90s).
Adams takes his eclecticism seriously. "I listen to all music," he told me. "Anything that makes sound interests me. The Coasters, Link Wray, Elvis, Jimmy Reed—but naming names doesn't make a difference. It's really just a matter of listening to what humans have to say with music. There are no barriers. If you have those barriers, it's the same as racism. I want to know what Howlin' Wolf has to say—I'm interested in that, and I don't care that he's different than me. I'm also interested in what Stravinsky has to say because he's a human being—so is John Cage and so are the Byrds. I don't have the time to decide whether something is similar enough to me to determine whether to devote my time to listening to it. I decided that when I was a kid."
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With this joyfully freestyle mixing of sounds, the only reference point that comes to mind is the Grateful Dead. But while the Dead's noble musical experiments often fell flatter 'n George W.'s smirking one-liners, the Q dances as gracefully as Nureyev over all its endeavors. If NRBQ's dozens of records have been reliably enjoyable (for a comprehensive career-spanning primer, pick up Peek-A-Boo: The Best of NRBQ on Rhino and The Best of NRBQ: Stay With Me on Columbia), the group is also consistently brilliant live, veering nonchalantly from free jazz to soul to 'billy as if it's the most natural thing in the world and soliciting requests from the audience as the demented Adams rides his clavinet all over the stage like a bronco. The group is one of rock's great concert experiences—experience it Friday night at the Coach House.
Long Beach-based roots rockers THE DIBS are poised for greatness, a prediction I base on slim evidence —a three-song demo sent to me by front man Chris Hanlin (who also fronts the better-known blues/gospel group Bourbon Jones). But gawt-damn, that's one mighty demo, kicked off by an anthemic bit of bitchen-ness called "The Gaps" that's been playing over and over in my brain ever since I first heard it a few weeks ago. With a killer hook as infectious as hepatitis and impassioned vocals dripping with raw passion, this sucker would ignite an immediate bidding war and become a massive hit, were this a day and age when labels and radio still cared about what makes the best rock & roll larger than life. "The Gaps" sounds like prime Gary Brooker singing a tune written by a prime Bruce Springsteen and backed by a prime Heartbreakers. If the Dibs are able to create music like this consistently, the world shall quake and tremble at their force. Meanwhile, local fans can check out "The Gaps" when it appears on Volume 4 of the next OC Weekly local-band compilation CD in a couple of weeks and catch the Dibs live on Monday night at the Blue Cafe.
I've always had a soft spot in my hard old arteries for Richie Havens, who plays the Sun Theatre on Thursday night with fellow '60s hippie-folkie Arlo Guthrie. His hoarse, ashen voice and world-weary persona are so sodden with some kinda weird old wisdom and his face and eyes so oddly saint-like that he's always seemed as much a philosopher or biblical figure as a musician. Havens' "Handsome Johnny" (co-written with Louis Gossett Jr., of all people) was one of the best and most intelligent protest anthems of the mid-'60s. His rapturously spontaneous performance of "Freedom" at Woodstock (the real Woodstock, not the rape-and-pillage one) was the quintessence of everything good about the original festival and the youth movement in general. His 1971 hit cover of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" summed up why the word "mellow" used to mean something beneficent, rather than merely bland and boring. Unfortunately, Havens has been largely inactive in music since that long-ago heyday, although his voice is familiar to subsequent generations through his jingle-singing for such companies as McDonald's and Amtrak (his work for philanthropic organizations occupies much of his time as well, to be fair). Havens may be as irrelevant to today's youth culture (or any culture, for that matter) as he once was essential, but that'll be me at the front table watching Havens cast old spells Thursday night, reliving a time before gentleness was popularly equated with lameness.
NRBQ PERFORMS AT THE COACH HOUSE, 33157 CAMINO CAPISTRANO, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, (949) 496-8930; WWW. THECOACHHOUSE.COM. FRI., 8 P.M. $16.50. All ages; THE DIBS AT THE BLUE CAFE, 210 THE PROMENADE, LONG BEACH, (562) 983-7111. MON., 9 P.M. $5. 21+; RICHIE HAVENS AND ARLO GUTHRIE AT THE SUN THEATRE, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 712-2700; WWW.SUN-THEATRE.COM. SUN., 8:30 P.M. $35. All Ages.