The Del Lords’ rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner once wrote about his love of Bruce Springsteen and during an early set solo, the brawny armed Kempner, every inch a rock star, leaned back into his guitar and put his powerful arms to work, the strings vibrating with a tactile metallic pushing power -he looked like Bruce in full flight. You could imagine an alternative reality where the Del Lords are where the E Street Band are, or where the E Street Band are where the Del Lords stand. It could’ve happened. They were nearly there.
But there are reasons the Del Lords didn’t become as big as Bruce, among them is a hiatus from 1990 – 2010, but one of them isn’t their professionalism, their hard edged tightness, the entire lack of bullshit and all of this was on display as Scott, guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (who was curating the evening at Sullivan Hall as part of the CBGB’s Festival) and the rhythm section bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank “you can’t say fun without it” Funaro, played a smart, crisp one hour set.
Yeah they were good, opening with a Flaming Groovies cover, closing with a Neil Young Song, going back as far as their first single “Get Tough” and fast forwarding to an excellent “When The Drugs Kick In” which seemed like an answer to their East Coast Beach Boys promise from 1982.
They followed the Groovies “Jumpin’ In The Night” with a song a piece from Johnny Comes Marching, Elvis Club and Based On A True Story, not to prove the width of their taste but the strength of their songwriting, and somewhere around the mid way point Scott got hold of their second single “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” and the band reached epic proportions: they didn’t jam the way, say, Crazy Horse might, though they come from a similar place, there is nothing even vaguely extraneous to anything the Del Lords are playing: it is a lean, smart take off from the rhythm guitar and Eric, who has been the picture of a sideman through two sets (which I will review separately), gets his chance to charge and he does. They followed it with “Get Tough” and the two songs were the highlight of the set and Ambel’s solo the best moment of the entire night.
The Del Lords were great and they weren’t having a great night.
Too many song choices had me scratching my head, they shortchanged their new Elvis Club, an album so strong no less a figure than Bill Holdship has dubbed it the best of 2013, they could have withstood passing on two of the best songs of the year “Damaged” and “Everyday”, but “Chicks, Man”??? What the hell is that? As much as I love “Burning In The Flame Of Love” and “Cheyenne”, I’d have given any of them up for “Chicks, Man”. That song is so great it is just waiting to be covered by every up and coming rock and roll band in the world. And while the old material is brought back to life and better than ever, the “Judas Kiss” tonight is as astounding beauty, the new material needs to be heard.
The band sounded real good but they didn’t quite ignite, the closest they got was “Poor Man” but even with Ambel playing the harp for the first time ever they never quite got us there. I am not sure quite why it didn’t happen but when they played Bowery Electric earlier this year the place was packed to the gills, and, with the CBGB’s Festival overwhelming a city with rock and roll, the demo audience was all over every club, it was impossible to get a consensus going on -half of the audience from this summer were actually playing Bowery Electric at that very moment.
I know I seem to be parsing my words and the reason is, it is one thing to say Justin Timberlake was great at Yankee Stadium but the Del Lords were only good at Sullivan Hall. It is true but not the way it sounds. The missing word here is COMPARATIVELY. There is no gainsaying it, Scott joined the Dictators in 1974 and has been a major inspiration for a coupla generations of rhythm guitarist -he is always pulling double duty, , Ambel is a legend, over the past four years every other time I’ve loved a new rock band I discover Ambel’s name linked somewhere or the other. These two guys are master muscians, the Del Lords are as great a rock and roll band as you will find anywhere. But there was something missing Thursday night.
On stage the band are funny, connected with each others and with the audience, friendly. Eric discusses his wife, Scott his dog, they have an ease and a friendship and when the songs kick in, they are connected. Nothing rambles, even “I Play The Drums”, an iffy choice for the encore, is both playful and in control. The rockabilly riffs on this one, the garage licks on that, their entire sound one of a kind mix and match from the late 50s on, Manny’s bass solo, so tasty and succinct you almost miss it to the great 70s rock and roll vibe on “Southern Pacific” heralding Neil if not Hendrix, it is all there. But something is missing this night.
Here are some ideas for the tail of the set:
Make “Chicks Man ” the penultimate song before the encore
“Get Tough” the last song before the encore
Encore with Neil Young.
Close with “Poor Man”
That would help to start with, and maybe, and I know the Del Lords are too pro to Crazy Horse themselves out for the most part, but they sound so good when they jam. Maybe it is time to extend to 90 minutes and aim for lift off.
My partner in crime for the night Tomas Doncker said “They are a great, great, great rock and roll band but that’s all they are”. He is damning with praise. Actually, the Del Lords are a great band and they are more than that. Since reforming in 2010, they are more hard nosed cry toughing rock and roll and less the UK Invasion cum garage rocking Flaming Grooviers. They have everything and more that rock needs to survive and thrive, just this night, maybe a little more.
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