LIVE: Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys @ Caffe Lena, 11/8/18 & Club Helsinki, 11/10/18

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Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys

Reviews and photographs by Ed Conway

Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys made their annual trek through Greater Nippertown, although this time, his tour brought him through twice in three days. The Fly-Rite Boys are made up of long-time stalwarts Kevin Stewart on upright bass and harmonies and Ashley Kingman on lead guitar. They brought along their newest addition, drummer Frankie Hernandez to keep the beat.

First up was a brand new venue for the Southern California quartet, the historic Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. Sadly, the house wasn’t quite half full, but that didn’t stop the band – or the audience – from having a blast.

Front man Big Sandy, aka Robert Williams, is a master at entertaining the crowd. His facial expressions and lilting voice can really pull in an audience and make them feel the emotions his songs evoke. His between-song stories reveal a lot about him, further endearing him to the audience. With no opening act, the Fly-Rites did a two-set show, highlighting some songs that aren’t normally featured in their set list. “Here Comes the Bride,” a lament about a lost love at her wedding (not the the “Bridal Chorus” from Lohengren) opened the second set, followed by “Thru Dreamin” from the Fly-Rite Trio days. While most of the show’s selections were original Big Sandy songs, such as “Fine Fine Superfine” and “Tequila Calling,” he did throw in a few cover songs.

The current tour ran through Halloween, and Big Sandy dressed as Freddie Fender, so it was fitting to include “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” A couple of my favorite covers he frequently includes, however, are the Lester Flatt/Bill Monroe-penned “Little Cabin Home on the Hill” and Ken Boothe’s “When I Fall in Love,” which he did only accompanied by Stewart on bass and harmonies. The band closed the show with a request from the audience of “Miss Tracy,” another song from the Fly-Rite Trio days. While the audience may have been a little on the small side, they thoroughly enjoyed the evening and showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.

Two days later, after a trip to Connecticut’s Café 9, and dodging early season snows, the Boys returned to Greater Nippertown at Hudson’s Club Helsinki. This time, they were joined, once again, by Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles. Interestingly, the evening was reported in a local paper as “Sarah Borges & the Fly-Rite Boys with special guests Sarah Borges & the Brown Shingles” (sounds like the kind of typo I would do). Of course, that became the running joke the rest of the evening.

Last year, Borges opened the show as a solo singer-songwriter. While that show was wonderful, it lacked the power that can only come from a full rock band. This time, the Broken Singles filled the club with full on rock and roll, opening the set with a cut from their “House on the Hill,” a track from her new album Love’s Middle Name. They also reworked some of Borges’ earlier works such as “Band Girlfriend” and “Caught by Rain” from her Good and Dirty EP. Borges was backed by the rest of the Broken Singles – Binky on bass, Alejandro on lead guitar and Chris on drums.

After a short intermission, Big Sandy and the rest took the stage at Club Helsinki before the standing-rrom-only crowd. It was obvious from the beginning this was a different show than the Lena show just two days earlier. While much of the set list was the same, Kingman’s lead guitar improvisation made each song very different from every show I’ve seen. Also, by jumbling up the set list, it also changed the ebb and flow of the show itself, making is seem almost completely different. Even Big Sandy’s stories were different. Also, with the bigger crowd and dance floor full, it energized the band to a level even higher than they achieved at Lena (not to suggest the energy level at Lena was anything but high). Like at the Caffe, the show opened with “Heaven Is the Other Way” from It’s Time, and “Spanish Dagger” from Turntable Matinee.

While much of the night had a different feel on old favorites, a couple of songs that weren’t included at Lena’s were a second Freddie Fender song “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and a Buck Owens song, “I Don’t Care (Just as Long as You Love Me).” Closing out the evening, Big Sandy went to his usual last song of the main set, “Chalk (Chops) It Up to the Blues” from It’s Time. The encore included the Stewart/Sandy sung “When I Fall in Love” and “Little Cabin Home on the Hill.” The evening was finished up with “Haunted Heels” from Turntable Matinee.

What a difference two days make. While both shows were wonderful, they were very different in timing, feel and sound. These differences can only come from a band who has played together for a long time and who trust each other completely. Even the “Instrumental” song, where Big Sandy steps off the stage and lets the Fly-Rite Boys fly, was very different as they got together for a little huddle before taking off. Watching the pure enjoyment on Stewart’s face as he closed his eyes and fully immersed himself in the song and Kingman’s completely relaxed soloing, whether leaning on the stage stairs handrail at Caffe Lena, or striding the stage at Helsinki. Hernandez also brings a young enthusiasm to this world traveled quartet.

BIG SANDY & HIS FLY-RITE BOYS SET LIST (CAFFE LENA)
Heaven Is the Other Way
Spanish Dagger
Greatest Story Ever Told
Love That Man
Wishing Him Away
Fine Fine Superfine
Every Time
Before the Next Teardrop Falls
Instrumental
Hot Water
The Ones You Love
INTERMISSION
Here Comes the Bride
Thru Dreamin
Tequila Calling
Hey Lowdown
If You Fall Out of Love With Me
Little Cabin Home on the Hill
Yamma Yamma Pretty Mama
Catalina
Chalk It Up to the Blues
ENCORES
When I Fall in Love
Miss Tracy

BIG SANDY & HIS FLY-RITE BOYS SET LIST (CLUB HELSINKI)
Heaven Is the Other Way
Spanish Dagger
Love That Man
Hip Shaken Mama
Greatest Story Ever Told
Hey Lowdown
Just As Long As You Love Me
Before the Next Teardrop Falls
Wasted Days and Wasted Nights
Fine Fine Superfine
Every Time
Tequila Calling
Wishing Him Away
Fly-Rite Instrumental
Catalina
Miss Tracy
???
Chalk (Chops) It Up to the Blues
ENCORES
When I Fall in Love
Little Cabin Home on the Hill
Haunted Heels

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys
The Broken Singles
The Broken Singles

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