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Welch does double duty in St. Louis

Off Broadway Nite Club, St. Louis, March 19, 1996

By Roy Kasten

ST. LOUIS - Kevin Welch walked on stage, picked up his Sunburst Gibson, tuned while his backing trio find their places, and looked to the sound man who called out, "Hurt me."

Welch responded, "All right, we'll hurt you...and this'll be our sound check." The band tears into "Pushing Up Daisies," an exhilarating journeyman anthem.

Hours before, Welch had opened for Bob Seger. The pairing of the two makes sense. Both are survivors of over 20 years on the road, and both have respectfully preserved their roots. Whereas Seger is a rocker who knows the country tradition, Welch is an incisive, delicate wordsmith, combining the outlaw and working class motifs familiar to Seger into a hopeful, religious lyricism.

Welch's songs move between expansive, mythical lyrics like "Early Summer Rain," and "Troublesome Times," to more detailed, character-oriented songs like "Wilson's Tracks" and "Sam's Town." The latter is a new song about growing up in Oklahoma, and the falsely magical capitalism that buys and sells life and land.

In January 1995, Welch and Kieran Kane, both Nashville journeymen who've never found consistent major label support, formed an independent, cooperatively run record label, Dead Reckoning.

In the last year, they've released exceptional roots and country records like Kane's "Dead Reckoning," Mike Henderson's "Edge of the Night," and Welch's own "Life Down Here on Earth."

In concert, Welch's rhythm section consisted of veterans Byron House on bass and Bob Mumardt on drums, both formerly of Foster and Lloyd. Mumardt's drumming was clean and understated, keeping a Rolex-sharp time.

House showed a mastery of bass textures, moving between clear, but not overmixed pumping, to lilting melodic lines, as if enjoying the extra space in the absence of a lead guitar. He played with a bow sparingly and offered quiet harmonies, notably on "Feast of Bread and Water." Fats Kaplan, with a face like the Shroud of Turin, attended to fiddle, accordion, and steel guitar. Neither showman nor super-virtuoso, Kaplan wisely judged solos and flourishes, showing that less can be more, never obscuring Welch's poetic language and finger picking.

The band's playing was technically immaculate. While that might disappoint some, on this night a slight cold lent Welch's voice some grit, and two unexpected requests, "Vagabond on the Streets of Love" and "Same Old Rain," helped increase the spontaneity. Welch revealed that we "haven't really played these before," but the band adapted gladly and quickly.

The show's highlight came midway with the John Hiatt song, "Train to Birmingham" which Welch claimed he had been playing for 20 years. Although he can build a roots rock storm as well as any new country insurgent, on lyrical songs like this and "Early Summer Rain," the music turns incandescent, Welch's voice finds wings, and the boundary between listener and performer disappears.

Set list:
Pushing Up Daisies
Early Summer Rain
Happy Ever After (Comes One Day at a Time)
Troublesome Times
Life Down Here on Earth
Wilson's Tracks
Something 'Bout You
Feast of Bread and Water
Some Kind of Paradise
Hello, I'm Gone
Train to Birmingham
Vagabond on the Streets of Love
Sam's Town
Kickin' Back in Amsterdam
Untitled Waltz: For William Stafford
Till I See You Again
Same Old Rain
Restless Kind
Me and Billy the Kid

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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