The Vista Room is a cool place, in a strip shopping center. It appears to be an event space attached to a restaurant. There is a great stage, solid sound, and lots of lighting. Soon after we arrived, Mitch Easter and Balderdash Ltd. took the stage, and from the get go they killed it. Mitch is an extraordinary guitarist, not flashy but so tasteful, and he understands how to get real guitar tone. He mostly played a very cool Gibson SG Special with two P-90 pickups and SG Standard appointments through a Vox AC30. They opened with Let’s Active’s ‘Every Dog Has His Day.’ and the show was on. The slow burning ‘Ton Of Bricks’ from Mitch’s solo record Dynamaco was a highlight, Mitch using the quiet-to-loud method to great effect on his guitar.
Bass player Shawn Lynch was a real anchor for this band, his lines fluid and melodic. He was playing an impossibly rare 1966 Fender Precision Bass with a slab body (no contours) that looked brand new through a vintage British made Vox Defiant bass amp (solid state and probably just like one Paul McCartney used) and he sounded great. He also provided most of the difficult backing vocals on Mitch’s songs. The power-pop boogie of Dynamaco’s ‘1 ½ Way Street’ went over very well.
Midway through the set, Mitch and Shawn switched to their Rickenbacker Guitars (Mitch’s blue 330 that he played on the ‘Every Word Means No’ video and Chris with a rare 4000 one pickup bass) and did fantastic versions of ‘Waters Part’ and ‘Ornamental’ from the early Let’s Active records. Mitch also did a song I did not recognize, one he described as a ‘Texas’ song. It may have been a Roky Erickson tune, but I’m not sure.
The engine of Mitch’s band is the very impressive drummer Chris Garges, he of the very quick 1-2-3-4 stick click intro. Chis is much like Mitch and Shawn, playing lots of difficult, tricky stuff and making it seem effortless. The drumming really stood out on ‘Sudden Crown Drop,’ a Mitch tune that reminds me a little of a Loud Family song. They moved on to an astounding cover of The Bay City Rollers ‘Rock And Roll Love Letter,’ that seemed maybe over the head of the crowd a bit. Mitch and Balderdash Ltd. ended with Let’s Active’s ‘Every Word Means No’ (check out our singles Going Steady Podcast at tinyurl.com/zubactive). The crowd loved it, the band was impressive, and Mitch, so known as a producer, is really an amazing songwriter and performer all on his own.
It had been a few years since I’ve seen The Swimming Pool Q’s, the Atlanta band formed in 1978. They have been a touchstone in my life since I first saw them with Adrienne in Greensboro in 1981 (check out our Podcast at tinyurl.com/zubmisfit). I’ve seen them dozens of times, we booked them repeatedly, and they’ve played at special events in my life. There truly was a lot of love in the Vista Room when the Q’s took the stage, led by singer/guitarist Jeff Calder and the wonderful singer Anne Richmond Boston, they launched into ‘Big Fat Tractor’ (originally from their first record The Deep End) and they proceeded to play a fantastic seventeen song set.
Calder is still the King of Pain on the microphone, not afraid to clown around. The best part of being up front at a Q’s show is watching them crack each other up onstage, which they do a lot. They did ‘Building With A Clock On Top,’ an early, obscure song included on The Deep End CD reissue, then ‘Purple Rivers,’ one of Anne Boston’s vocal highlights. Anne is the consummate singer and frontwoman, she commanded the crowd with her beautiful singing all night. Then straight into ‘Yin Yang’ from the masterful 2003 release Royal Academy Of Reality. The band covered a lot of territory in this set.
‘For No Reason,’ from Royal Academy, was a surprise standout and showcased Calder’s sly vocals. The Q’s rhythm section is as good as they get, navigating Calder’s often-Beefheartian beats with precision and aplomb. Original drummer Robert Schmid (who also played in The Method Actors) is now the bassist, and Bill Burton, looking rakish in a pork-pie hat, is the killer drummer. They are a very non-flashy and underrated duo, wiping the floor on lofty tunes like ‘Sacrificial Altar Of Love,’ and of course the unofficial Q’s anthem ‘Rat Bait.’
The band member I stood directly in front of, of course, was the Q’s magnificent lead guitarist, Bob Elsey. Bob is a thing of wonder, playing the craziest lines and progressions with such ease (he hardly ever looks at the fretboard). He played his white Fender Stratocaster (with a humbucker pickup in the neck position) through his ancient Music Man combo amp and his Boss pedals, and he left the crowd speechless. His playing is the true ‘special sauce’ that makes the Q’s, the Q’s.
They ended with a spirited version of ‘The Bells Ring’ from their first major label record, The Swimming Pool Q’s, followed by encores of The Deep End’s ‘Black Bug’ and Reality’s ‘The Do What And The Who What.’ It was a magical show, the crowd had a wonderful time, and the band seemed genuinely pleased. After all these years, I was lucky to see two bands still at the height of their powers. Thanks Q’s, thanks Mitch, thanks Vista Room.
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