Review and photographs by Fred Rudofsky
Allegedly, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays in his career; compellingly, Rocky Velvet performed 37 songs in a night with – by their own admission – largely beer-induced rehearsals. The Bard remains a man of mystery; in contrast, the reunited quartet was as open as a slide guitar tuning, sharing jokes, exercising a hilarious feng shui moment and thanking their friends, literally, by name at a packed Ale House in Troy on a recent Saturday night.
Rockabilly, early blues and garage-rock informed two sets that left a throng of Ale House dancers sweating and thirsty and the local live music scene’s ultimate fan, Dick Quinn (name-checked by singer Ian Carlton to great applause) smiling and ecstatic. Ike Turner’s “You’ve Got to Lose” (performed as “You’ve Got to Move”), the Elvis Presley hit “Wear My Ring around Your Neck,” and “King Kong”, a primo cut from the band’s classic album It Came from Cropseyville, established that this was not going to be a sit-and-drink-a-beer kind of night. It made sense that the band dipped heavily into the Presley cannon – after all, his visage overlooks the small stage. “Just Because” got a light polka treatment, but it soon took off with two scorching solos from Graham Tichy, who was sporting a pink Fender Jazz Master. “Trouble,” full of Memphis swagger, got the crowd hooting and hollering. Todd Bradley, guest bassist on loan from the Hi-Risers, stepped to the microphone for an angsty “It’s Now or Never”; in the second set, he put a serious Fender bass groove to “One Night with You” and “King Creole.”
The King would have likely approved of the array of hard rocking songs, too. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Guitar” and “Take My Picture” (which appeared on RV’s demo over a decade ago) were fine showcases for Tichy, whose solos alluded to the influence of Eddie Angel and Link Wray. “Steak and potatoes, baby!” exclaimed Carlton in what became a “Barfly”-like vocal motif for the evening.
No doubt compelled by the atomic backbeat of Jeff Michael, Carlton was climbing upon chairs like it was the end of the world during “Come On”; two songs later, he was imploring patrons and staff alike to clear the floor of chairs before launching into crowd favorite “Shuckin’ the Corn” and the equally fine dance participation number “I’m in Love with My Baby.” Michael’s robust vocals and swampy beat nailed Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q,” and then the first set closed out with a Sun Records chestnut, Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.”
With the dance floor open for the duration, set two’s opening left-right combo of “Ain’t Asking Much of You” and Don & Dewey’s “Justine” (which featured a hellacious vocal by Tichy) re-established the momentum of the previous set and had couples dancing. Luke Royer’s “One’s All the Law Will Allow” brought word-play and mayhem, perfectly setting up an RV original, “Can’t Stop” and an insane take on the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird,” which featured Tichy on vocals, surrounded by three microphones to enhance a mix of otherworldly feedback and echo. “Burnin’ Love” had the Elvis fans in the house reeling, but fans of the Sonics got a double dose of garage-rock, too, with rambunctious takes of “She’s a Witch” and “Have Love, Will Travel.”
Perhaps inspired by his notorious cousin Ritz, Ian Carlton roamed the audience for an extroverted “Suspicious Minds – his bemused wife and her friends laughing up a storm – and took the opportunity to sing a verse flat on his back. Huey “Piano” Smith & the Clowns’ “Don’t You Just Know It” brought a fitting end to the night, with Carlton, Tichy, Bradley and Michael drenched in sweat, and dancers on their third and final wind, no doubt hoping there is another reunion of Rocky Velvet again in 2014, and recurrent cries of “Steak and potatoes, baby!”