LIVE: Bill Kirchen’s Honky Tonk Christmas @ The Hangar, 12/20/15
Review and photographs by Ed Conway
It’s Christmas time in Greater Nippertown. I state the obvious because the temperatures are certainly not Christmas-like. Usually, this time of year brings at least a modicum of snow, but obviously that wasn’t the case this year.
One thing you can count on, however, is that Bill Kirchen, Master of the Telecaster, will pay a visit to Troy. Rather than his usual holiday haunt, the Ale House, this time around Kirchen moved across the street to The Hangar to accommodate a larger crowd and afford everyone a little extra elbow room on the dance floor. Many of the faces were regular attendees of the merry mayhem, but there were several who had never seen him before – and chances are they’re regulars now, too.
One of the founding members of Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Kirchen bounced between songs from his albums, Christmas songs (though not the usual suspects) and Commander Cody favorites. While best known for his guitar riffing on the Cody classic “Hot Rod Lincoln,” Kirchen showed off his fretboard prowess throughout the evening. He played his Tele throughout the show, but at the end of the night, Kirchen also pulled out his trombone to close out the evening as he marched around and through the crowd.
Although he’s been around the music business for over 40 years, he still plays with a young man’s sense of exuberance and wonder as his fingers fly over the frets. If you haven’t heard his extended version of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” check it out, as he deftly shifts keys and styles to pay tribute to some of the great guitarists. He’s followed close on his heels by his band – bassist/backup vocalist David Carroll and drummer Rick Richards – who seem to know where Kirchen is going before he does.
As I said above, the Christmas tunes were not the normal carols you hear everywhere you go nowadays. These were, instead, as the show title says, honky tonk songs, filled with the same sense of sadness that comes from the country music of old. Kirchen was joined on stage by local professor and longstanding Cody cohort John Tichy to sing his classic “Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas” – which is quickly becoming my favorite Christmas song – as well as a few more.
Kirchen was also joined by the Lustre King himself Mark Gamsjager for several songs, including the vintage Elvis holiday classic, “Blue Christmas.”
Some of the non-holiday tunes included Kirchen’s ode to the Telecaster, “Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods” and “Rocks into Sand,” as well as the aforementioned “Hot Rod Lincoln,” but the highlight of the evening, dedicated to Dick Quinn, was Commander Cody’s “Rockabilly Funeral.” I can’t think of a more appropriate musical eulogy. Dick Quinn passed away late last month, but he was certainly still with us in spirit at The Hangar.
As always, the Bill Kirchen holiday tour-stop is a must-see, and now that it’s at The Hangar, more people can enjoy the annual rollicking show.