It was a night that a lot of us thought we'd never see--a reunion of early 80's pop group the dB's.
Saturday night, September 17, at The House of Blues in Chicago, the reunited band--Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Gene Holder, and Will Rigby--played their second show of the day (the first, a shorter set at the Hideout's annual Block Party) to a fanatical crowd of pop consumers.
The band has reunited this year to work on new material, and one new original ("World to Cry") is available on thedbsonline.net. A new album is hoped for sometime next year.
Amid pre-show rumors of on-stage band tension, and poor House of Blues sound system plaguing the dB's two opening acts, a good-sized crowd (including a huge dB's fan named Adrian, who had come all the way from the Czech Republic to see the reunion) buzzed with anticipation.
Would we be disappointed? Would Holsapple's pop smarts, wry vocals, and aggressive guitaring still ring true after all these years, what with his stints with the rootsier Continental Drifters and his day job as a keyboardsman/utility player with Hootie and the Blowfish? Could Stamey, whose guitar playing has become increasingly artful and deft over the years, channel his avant-garde tendencies into material now 25 years old? Could Rigby recapture the creatively aggressive drumming that characterized the band's work? Would Holder, a terrific guitarist who moved into the lead guitar role after Stamey left in 1982 after two albums, be satisfied playing bass?
These questions and others danced through the minds of many audience members. It was an older crowd of pop believers, as befits a group that hadn't played in this four-man lineup for more than two decades. There were faces in the crowd, who I recognized from other shows, that I hadn't seen for years.
It was interesting to see the four guys (plus keyboardsman Andy Burton) plug in their own equipment, although as a friend pointed out, it would have been nice to have some sort of dramatic introduction. As it was, the band got a rousing hand before they even started to play.
They opened with "Ask for Jill," the first of five songs from 1982's "Repercussion" album, which many (myself included) feel to be their finest hour. It was almost dreamlike to see a band that I've loved for more than 20 years back together, but harsh reality set in quickly: the sound was mediocre all night; the band was clearly under-rehearsed, having had just two days to run through the old material; and Will Rigby was hampered by having to play the House of Blues' house drum kit.
For several of the songs, Holsapple's vocals were strained, and Stamey's guitar didn't always come through. Some of the softer stuff, such as the great "She's Not Worried," got a bit lost in the mediocre audio mix. But the crowd's collective goodwill was well-founded; as the show went on, the band, especially Rigby, got stronger, and really seemed to come to life during "Black & White," perhaps their greatest moment--a classic single and the leadoff track from their first album, 1981's Stands for deciBels
. Response to this song was rapturous.
Other highlights included a gorgeous new song of Stamey's, "Hang Around (With You)," which featured two-guitar interplay reminiscent of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's work in Televison, and a pair of standouts from the band's third album (post-Stamey), Like This
: "Lonely is as Lonely Does" and the evergreen "Love is For Lovers."
The whacked science-rock of "Cycles Per Second," from Stands for deciBels
, was even loopier on this night as the edgy Meters-like speedfunk of the recorded version gave way to an almost rockabilly-ish treatment and some goofy altered lyrics from Holsapple.
The band concluded the show with "Amplifier," which featured a rattling New Orleans-style piano-pounding solo by Burton and some intense guitar duetting from Holsapple and Stamey.
When called out for not one, but two encores by a fanatical crowd, the band seemed both genuinely grateful and genuinely tired. "We've run out of old songs," Stamey noted before the band played two new ones, an aggressive, raunchy number of Holsapple's entitled "That Time is Gone," a blistering Buffalo Springfield-meets-MC5 guitar cruncher, and the show's last song, another beautiful Stamey gem, which I believe contained the line, "because I've forgotten what it's like to feel pure."
remember now, for what it's worth...
Ask for Jill
Big Brown Eyes
World to Cry
Hang Around (new Stamey song)
Purple Rose (instrumental)
Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)
Medley: She's Not Worried/Living a Lie/Dynamite
I'm in Love
Black and White
If and When
Love is for Lovers
Cycles Per Second
Amplifier (Encore 1)
That Time is Gone (Encore 2)
(New Stamey Song) (Encore 2)