“We understand Dan is in the building,” the big man with the untamed duck-tail haircut and weight-challenged Elvis sideburns informed us at the start of the show. “Stay tuned for further developments.”
Our helpful announcer was, of course, Dan Hicks, who has been doling out Texas Swing and deadpan humor for over forty-five years, ever since (as he so diplomatically put it) “I was living in San Francisco (and) you were living in Troy!” Regional smackdown aside, the Arkansas native had the eventually-packed Swyer Theatre laughing and clapping from the opening Django Reinhardt instrumental “Avalon” to the easy blues closer “Four or Five Times.”
No other performer makes having a good time seem so effortless. That includes the exaggerated choreography he sporadically performed with backup singers Roberta Donnay and Daria. (Yup, that’s her real name. No, she wasn’t wearing big glasses and Doc Martens.) “We want to be just as relaxed as anyone in the room,” Hicks said off-handedly after his hilarious samba send-up of Tom Waits’ “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me).” Donnay and Daria did more than provide visual stimuli and 1930s-style background vocals: Their duet on the last administration’s unofficial theme song “I’m an Old Cowhand” was dead solid perfect, and they played a myriad number of percussion instruments throughout the set, eliminating any need for a standard drummer.
Hicks couldn’t be this laid-back without a tight band, which he definitely has. Benito Cortez’s violin jumped out on the Gypsy jazz opener and stayed razor-sharp all evening; guitarist David Bell (who could pass for a life-size bobblehead doll) expertly slipped “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” into the middle of “‘Long Come a Viper,” and he busted out a sizzling solo on the Hicks classic “I Scare Myself.” (“The anthem of a generation,” Hicks cracked).
John Hammond is as serious about the blues as Hicks is about goofing around. While Hammond’s guitar licks occasionally betrayed him during his solo-acoustic opening set, his powerful vocals and wailing harp never faltered as he mixed his own street-wise works with hot chestnuts from Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Lightning Slim. Hammond also had his usual bag of song stories, including how he once introduced “My Time after a While” as a Buddy Guy tune… in front of the man who actually wrote the song!
Hammond also performed seamlessly despite a noisy, late-arriving crowd delayed by a massive Blue Collar Comedy Tour at the TU Center-inspired traffic jam. And if you chose Blue Collar over Hicks & Hammond, two things: Larry the Cable Guy plays golf (there’s pictures and everything), and if Ron White wasn’t on the bill, you got robbed!
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
DAN HICKS & THE HOT LICKS SET LIST
The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
The Blues My Naughty Baby
‘Long Come a Viper
I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)
I Scare Myself
Milk Shakin’ Mama – with John Hammond
He Don’t Care (He’s Stoned)
Four or Five Times
JOHN HAMMOND SET LIST
Just Your Fool
Mean Ol’ Lonesome Train
My Time After a While
My Mind Is Ramblin’
Come On in My Kitchen
You Know That’s Cold
??? (Blind Willie McTell)
Come to Find Out
I Can’t Be Satisfied