Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Ed Conway
Backed by four exceptional musicians, Lenz made quite an impression in her Nippertown debut. If Poison Ivy and Lux Interior of the Cramps had had a daughter, and raised her on Sun Records platters and bordertown honky tonk 45s, and perhaps named Janis Martin the girl’s godmother, she would have grown up to be Lenz. With her fiery red hair and vintage dress and high heels, the LA-based singer had everybody’s attention as she strolled out into the audience to say hello.
With a road-tested acoustic guitar in hand, Lenz opened with a “Saturday Jump” that featured guitarists Ramon Espinoza and Joel Morin trading some scorching solos over a swinging rhythm by Santos de Leon on drums and Shorty Poole on upright bass. Her vocal prowess was undeniable, as was her sense of humor. “Thanks for being part of that sound check!” cracked Lenz after taking a sip of red wine.
The sound was excellent throughout the evening, and the small but enthusiastic crowd picked up what Lenz and her band were putting down. Ray Smith’s “You Made a Hit” and “That’s the Breaks,” a Lenz co-write with Robert “Big Sandy” Williams from 2009’s It’s All True, had feet tapping, hands clapping and pint glasses shaking. Lenz gave a shout out to local heroes Rocky Velvet – she had noticed that guitarist Graham Tichy was in the house – before the one-two punch of “Tumble and Fall” and the title cut from her recent Riley Records album Follow Me.
A big strumming build-up by Lenz, thumping bass and double-time blues meter by Poole gave a Les Paul-meets-Wanda Jackson feel to “Zombie for Your Love,” which also featured some fine chorus harmonizing by Lenz and Espinoza. “Here’s a song about kissing – do you all do that in this part of the country?” asked Lenz with a wink before “Kiss and Tell Baby,” a sassy mid-tempo rocker that had a Carl Perkins feel to it and flawless stick work by de Leon. A toast to all in the Ale House followed, and so did some deep cuts from Lenz’s impressive catalog. “Burning Rubber” lived up to its renegade lyrics (“Speed limit was 65/ I was doing 94”) with unhinged solos by Morin and Espinoza and hot vocals by Lenz. “Choctaw Boogie” from 1999’s The One and Only engaged the audience in a call-and-response take on the chorus, and had a few women dancing it up off to the side of the stage.
A sultry “Thinkin’ About You” and twin-guitar shuffling “Dang Good Stuff” from her 1998’s debut showed that Lenz has always had a knack for writing originals that can stand up to comparison with the 1950s classics. “Pay Dearly,” which Lenz said has recently been done as a video for the new album, featured a seductive, pleading vocal and hit-the-rails-running beat. “Devil on My Shoulder” had a wild start-and-stop feel to it, while closer “Cry Wolf,” the singer’s favorite cut on Follow Me, prompted Lenz to jump with glee and rev up her band mates a couple of more notches.
After the show, Lenz and her band did an extensive meet-and-greet at the merch table near the bar, graciously autographing albums and posing for photos with old and new fans alike. Lenz spoke candidly about the joys and challenges of being on the road, her memories of working with the late, great Nick Curran and her love of Los Straitjackets, Big Sandy & the Fly-rite Boys and Rosie Flores.
Roots rockers and dancers take note: the next time the Ale House books Kim Lenz & the Jaguars, it’s a safe bet it will be for a Saturday night. You’ll want to be there early and stay late, too.
KIM LENZ & THE JAGUARS SET LIST
You Made a Hit
That’s the Breaks
Tumble and Fall
Zombie for Your Love
Kiss and Tell Baby
Thinkin’ about You
Dang Good Stuff
Devil on My Shoulder