The Cotton Club, Atlanta, GA • November 4, 1999
The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet came to Atlanta for the first time in a few years, only to find a small, fairly apathetic crowd. Sure, the die-hard NRBQ fans were there, but shouldn’t a 30-year-old band have more than 150 die hard fans in a city of millions? This is, after all, the band who provided background music for truck stop diners and nursing home escapes on The Simpsons . Two musical extremes that only hint at their on-stage unpredictability.
When I think about it, it’s simple. People consume what they’re told to consume. That explains the popularity of every famous person you can name, and then some. How many times in the past five years have you heard about NRBQ? Probably not many. If never, let this be the first. Look at it this way… every minute you spend learning about good music is one less minute you’ll have to endure hearing about the frat boys and cheerleaders that are getting rich, despite their lack of talent.
NRBQ don’t really care about getting rich or famous, and the one time they had a powerful enough label backing them to make them rich, they had the plug pulled on them. Fortunately, ad-libbing a set of tunes on a nightly basis is how they get their kicks. The show began abruptly with a trio of trumpets played by Joey Spampinato, his brother Johnny, and Terry Adams, who normally play bass, guitar, and piano respectively. Random blurts flew from the trumpets and mixed with pieces of “The Girl from Ipanema,” confounding the crowd. Unlike other bands that have been around for a while, NRBQ keep the surprises coming for more than the first three songs. Their version of “12 Bar Blues” became “11 Bar Blues” for this performance. Solid and fun rock tunes were broken down into dissonant Thelonious Monk-ified piano rompers, only to bridge into vocal harmonies strong enough to rest a shovel on. Drummer Tommy Ardolino emerged from behind his kit and took a seat with an acoustic guitar, silencing the crowd, if only for a moment, while he picked, scraped, scratched, and banged his way through two minutes of musical bravery. It may never be known if it was one moment of inspiration, or the result of a hidden, burning talent. Either way, it was good. And then I rested, but only long enough for another good time jam to come along.
One NRBQ show is all it takes to make you forget all the stupid commercials you heard, and saw, all day. Most other concerts, from the Backstreet Boys to the Rolling Stones, are just more commercials. If you’re still reading, you either know, or will soon know, to decide for yourself what entertains you. What entertains me is an NRBQ concert.