For many years now, Los Straitjackets have been one band that I always make it a point to go see when they played in the Capital District. With the blazing guitar work of Nippertown’s own Eddie Angel, Los Straitjackets is one of those rare bands that I can honestly say I would go to the ends of the earth to see play live. And as you will soon find out, that’s not so much of a stretch for me to say. Eddie Angel’s performances with his other well-known band, the Neanderthals, has also given my ears many hours of enjoyment over the years.
So, imagine my absolute delight when I found out that both of Eddie’s bands, Los Straitjackets and the Neanderthals would be headlining the Troy River Street Festival on June 18, a mere three blocks from my home! To have both the Neanderthals and Los Straitjackets playing live for free, within spitting distance of my front porch, was just too good to be true. It was gonna be great! I could make the five minute walk to enjoy the River Street Festival, groove to Eddie and the guys as they rocked downtown Troy… yeah, it was gonna be really great!
But alas, it was not to be. A family medical emergency required that I be in Rochester the weekend of the River Street Festival, so my plans of seeing both the Neanderthals and Los Straitjackets were utterly wiped out. As much as I knew that my place was with my family that weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder how the sweet guitar licks of “Lurch” and “Itchy Chicken” were sounding as they echoed through downtown Troy.
Fast forward to the weekend of August 27, when I found myself deep into the final preparations of a 2 1/2 week trek across Germany. I go to Germany every year, and without fail, spend a minimum of one week in Berlin each time. Part of my ritual in preparing for my time in Berlin is to find out what bands are playing at which clubs, so I can plan accordingly and decide where I want to go. There is never a shortage of nightlife in Berlin, and it’s sometimes hard to squeeze it all in, so for me, good planning is essential.
I had looked over the websites of my usual haunts (Bassy Club, Wild Heart, Tresor) and found that the Bassy Club was hosting two cool sounding garage bands on Saturday, September 17. I pretty much had decided that that’s where I was going to start off on Saturday night, then see where I ended up. But just then, I remembered another club that I had never been to and had always wanted to check out, Roadrunner’s Paradise. Like the Bassy, Roadrunner’s showcases bands with musical influences from the ’50s and ’60s. But where the Bassy takes a garage/psych and country angle, Roadrunner’s is more roots and rockabilly oriented.
I hopped onto Roadrunner’s website and started scanning the program schedule for September 16 and 17, the weekend I was going to be in Berlin, and a few days before I would (reluctantly) fly back to the States. As I scrolled down the page, I could see I was going to miss some great shows before I got to Berlin. I kept scrolling, and scanning the page, then stopped cold when I reached the listing for Saturday the 17th. There, on my screen, in big, bold, black letters it read: “17 Sept: Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party.” Huh? No way. This has to be wrong, I thought. But there is was: “17 Sept: Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party.” No way. As I read the description for the listing, I realized just how rusty my German had become since my last trip to Germany in November. If I was reading it right, Eddie Angel was going to be playing with band called Smokestack Lightning. In Berlin. When I was going to be there. No way. No f-ing way.
I had to know if this was right, and if my German translation skills (or lack thereof) were accurate. I figured that there would be no better way to confirm if this was correct than to ask Eddie Angel himself. So, I fired off a quick email asking him if he was in fact, going to be playing at Roadrunner’s in Berlin on September 17. A couple of hours later, Eddie emailed back what I had been hoping to read in his response: “Yes, Roadrunner’s on the 17th.” This was too cool. As much as I didn’t want my trip to be near the end, I couldn’t wait for the 17th to arrive. Somehow, I knew that seeing Eddie Angel play in Berlin was going to make up for me missing the Troy River Street Festival.
So on that Saturday night, I arrived at Roadrunner’s Paradise a little after 10pm, having just come from dinner around the corner at the infamous Berlin rock ’n’ roll restaurant, White Trash Fast Food. I knew it was bit early to be arriving at a gig in Berlin, since most shows don’t start until at least 11pm or later. Hell, some clubs in Berlin don’t even open until 12midnight! But, I was glad I came a bit early, as it gave me chance to catch up to Eddie, sit down with him in the courtyard outside the club, and find out what he was doing in Germany.
It turned out that Eddie had been in Europe since early September, after having played the High Rockabilly Festival in Calafell, Spain, with Los Straitjackets. Now THAT would have been a show worth seeing! After that, he had been touring Europe with a band from Nürnberg, Smokestack Lighting. They had played Eindhoven, NL the night before, and would be in Hamburg the night after the Berlin gig. They would also be playing Aachen, Hannover, Dresden and Essen before ending the tour in Smokestack Lightning’s hometown of Nürenberg. Smokestack Lightning would perform a set of their own material as the opening act, then return to the stage to back Eddie up during his set.
Eddie and I chatted for a bit more, while the guys from Smokestack Lightning went to get ready for their set. We ended up talking alot about the Capital District music scene, and I gave Eddie a quick rundown of my experiences during the recent Troy flooding after Tropical Storm Irene. It seemed a bit surreal for two Nippertown denizens to be sitting in the heart of old East Berlin, talking about Troy. But there we were. As Smokestack Lightning came on stage, Eddie left to get ready for his set, and I went back into the club to see the show.
It was roughly 11:30pm when Smokestack Lighting took the stage. They perform a twangy mix of county-blues with just enough punk sensibilities to put a raw, hard-shell coating on it all. With the floating guitar licks, crunchy, twangy reverb and strong bass lines, I could hear why Eddie chose them to play with him on tour. Anyone could mistake this trio as being a band from Nashville, rather than the heart of Germany’s Franconia region. In their 30-minute set, Smokestack Lightning put to rest any pre-conceived notions I had of what a country-rock band should sound like. It was obvious they were a versatile combo, and I couldn’t wait to see what they would sound like with Eddie Angel on stage. For that, I would not have to wait long.
After Smokestack Lightning left the stage, the house DJ cranked up some great sounding rockabilly, and I turned to the bar to grab another Berliner Pils before Eddie started his set. It then became obvious how quickly the club had filled up. When I first got there, there were maybe 15 people in the whole club, including staff. At this point, I’d have to say there might have been 75-100 including the people outside smoking in the courtyard. Although Roadrunner’s Paradise is a spacious club, it suddenly seemed a bit crowded as people get closer to the stage for the start of Eddie Angle’s Guitar Party.
It was bit after midnight when the Guitar Party officially got underway. And much to my surprise, Eddie came on stage wearing his trademark Los Straitjackets Mexican wrestling mask. I had no idea that he wore the mask during his solo gigs, and it really made me feel that I was being given a “do-over” for missing Los Straitjackets in Troy. But to add even more to that feeling, I then noticed that Smokestack Lightning had traded in their plaid button-up shirts and blue jeans for Los Straitjackets style black mock turtle necks and black jeans. I knew this was going to be good!
Eddie and the band culled their rowdy 40-minute set list from a range of sources that showcased what an amazing guitarist Eddie Angel is, and why the bands he performs with have such a loyal following. It’s not everyday that I get to hear Link Wray songs performed live, so it was a special treat to hear “Comanche,” “Ace of Spades” and others explode from the stage before me.
Yes, there were also the required Los Straitjackets cuts, such as “Casbah,” Kawanga!” and “Outta Gear,” but there was also a few surprises. Half way through the set, Smokestack Lightning’s guitarist took to the keyboards as the band played everyone’s favorite Neanderthals’ song, “Lurch.” I wasn’t expecting that one!
But it wouldn’t have been Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party with out a few songs from Eddie’s album of the same name. “Brawl” is one of my favorite tracks on that album, and it was performed with the guitarist from Smokestack Lighting once again sitting down at the keyboards, adding a great Booker T. & the M.Gs “Green Onions” twist.
One Los Straitjackets song I had really been wanting to hear, was “Itchy Chicken,” and I wasn’t disappointed. It was performed as the closing number, embellished a bit by Eddie with a slamming, twanging, banging conclusion featuring some playful guitar work. With the last few notes of “Itchy Chicken,” the Guitar Party was over.
And what party it was! I could now honestly say that I felt “compensated” for missing the Neanderthals/Los Straitjackets show in Troy. It still felt strange that I had travelled all the way to Germany and saw a talented Nippertown guitarist who had performed just down the street from my house a few months before. But as I rode the U-Bahn back towards my hotel later that night/morning, with the chants from “Comanche” still ringing in my ears, I realized that was one of the many things that makes the Capital Region music scene so special. To quote the famous line from Buckaroo Banzai, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
Review, photographs and video by Bill Dhalle.