Concert Review: NRBQ @ The Hangar on the Hudson, 09/30/2023
First, NRBQ rocked a greeting to the jam-packed Hangar crowd Saturday night, noting who would make us smile more than we had in days, weeks. The upbeat “Here comes Terry” name-checked Terry Adams, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough, John Perrin and Klem Klimek.
Two hours later, they summed up what they’d done:
Come along with me and things’ll be alright
Singing Flewzy woozy boogie on a Saturday night.
To those who say I love NRBQ too much – like savoring sunshine too much, or breathing –some quibbles, what they didn’t do:
No “Little Floater,” my favorite ‘Q fast tune; no “Things to You,” my favorite slow one. No instrument swapping, as earlier in the tour that ended Saturday. No Monk tunes.
So, what did they do?
Delight, as usual; including a growing number of younger fans, then surprise song choices. At the end of a tour, NRBQ always plays at their best: supple, tight and flowing. Their music sounds simple because it’s so lean, with nothing extra or out of place.
So it was Saturday.
They started upbeat for more than half an hour, then slowed down or sped up to build shape, pace and power despite inventing the show song by song.
“Here Comes Terry” showcased co-founder/leader Terry Adams’ piano, also his somewhat raspy voice. Scott Ligon chimed in with a sassy guitar break, and drummer John Perrin detonated drum fireworks. In the power glide “Over My Head,” Adams shared vocals with Ligon, who again soloed big. He also led in his brother Chris’s tune, “Florida,” a relaxed amble that Adams punched up at the end.
His piano again pumped hard in “Where’s My Pebble?” from 2021’s “Dragnet,” their most recent studio album of originals. Bassist Casey McDonough sang lead on his (also fairly recent) country lope “Fightin’ Back” with solos from piano, guitar and Klem Klimek’s tenor sax.
“You Got Me Goin’” got dancers going with a muscular, driving R&B shuffle, all pulsating piano power and harmonies by Ligon and McDonough. In the romance-as-physics reverie “Magnet,” Ligon slipped sly, subtle guitar harmonics into the groove, a perfect fit.
The instrumental “Tragic Magic” repeated a riff, then ran scales around it—a big, slower number.
NRBQ may be nostalgic to some fans; my friend Steve said Saturday he hadn’t seen them live since 1979 but rediscovered them through the five-CD “High Noon“ 50-year retrospective, for example. But onstage, where old songs get fresh energy, NRBQ is anti-nostalgic.
The playfully defiant vintage “Don’t Talk About My Music,” the rockabilly romp “My Girl, My Girl,” and the soul daydream “Sitting in the Park” may all be deep tracks, but they packed right-now fun Saturday. “Park,” for example, popped up as an impromptu at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel on 1987’s live “God Bless Us All.” Everybody improvised their parts on the spot; I was there in Providence that night and saw my brother Jim Hoke invent a terrific tenor sax solo. But I digress. Saturday at the Hangar, Klimek sang a sky-high vocal as slow-dance couples formed.
“That’s All” held the romantic mood, but at speed; Adams came offstage into the crowd after a keys-pounding solo as big eruptions of sax, drums and guitars made a vast noise onstage. Then they eased up with “What a Nice Way to Go” on a mellow stroll beat.
There was nothing mellow about the instrumental “Wham!” punctuated by McDonough’s screams. The tender “Yes, Yes, Yes” with a sweet Ligon vocal and an upshift via piano solo and vocal coda again took their foot off the gas. Then “I Want You Bad” slammed it back on, Ligon’s guitar prodding the verses and surging through a hot solo.
“Put Your Arms Around Me” eased them offstage as “N-R-B-Q!” shouts rose.
The encore encapsulated the show in miniature. In the rocking shuffle “The Music Goes Round and Round,” a fan grabbed up the Sousaphone resting incongruously on a couch and mimed the sound’s complex motion through it. “Here I Am” roller-coastered romantic celebration and desperation. “Baby Be Mine” rockabilly’ed back to NRBQ’s earliest trademark sound, then “Wacky Tobacco” hit our funny-bone.” So did “Puddin’ Truck,” its repeating chorus stretched to joke-y effect before a zip piano glissando recapped the punchline.
Then, “Flat Foot Flewzy” hit a mid-tempo sweet spot; Ligon’s guitar and Adams’s keyboards flew fast and far.
The packed house was with them all the way; I can’t recall a show with so few phones out, doing other than recording them.
The soaring, surging simplicity of their music supplied its usual uplift, directly hitting pleasure centers in heart and soul.