Feeling the Glow

A trail of trees lay broken like so many jilted lovers who dared to dance with the dashing and despicable derecho as it wrested through our area recently, leaving many people without electricity for a week or more. Dark anxiety and frustration were etched on every face I encountered while searching and waiting in long lines day after day for a bag of ice or a twelve-pack of bottled water to fend off the stifling ninety-plus degree heat. It was a stark contrast to what we are accustomed. However, on the tenth day I saw the kitchen light flicker for a hopeful bit and then proudly return to life. A welcome contrast reversal, to be sure, but something felt different; all of those long, candle-lit evenings alone had left me with a residual, philosophical hangover.

I decided to celebrate my deliverance from darkness by driving downriver where the Pomeroy Blues & Jazz Society, led by The Right Reverend JW Juke and The ‘Fessor, was hosting the second act in its thirteenth annual free concert series, Rhythm on the River, and it just happened to be a Court Street Grill favorite, the Gas House Gorillas from New York. I knew that if anything could put my experience with the dark ages in its proper perspective, it would be the controlled artistry and madness of these five primates who have everything polished, right down to their ill-manners.

I noticed a definite change in the rhythm of my step as I crossed the parking lot toward the Ohio River a few minutes late; the Gorillas were laying down their dance-contagious second song of the evening, “Swing That Thing,” partly penned by the colorful Crusher Carmean. Once at the top of the open-air amphitheater, I looked down in amazement at a crowd estimated to be close to a thousand people, many of whom were up clapping and dancing. Of course, a few Gorillas had already violated normal stage-boundary protocol, moving through the crowd with their unpredictable, space-invading, bordering on bawdy, often rude, laugh-inducing antics; the audience expected nothing less.

Aside from the fact that the Gorillas are not contained by the stage and treat every venue as their own personal jungle gym, their musicianship is solid. Rick Fink’s fine, flexible vocals and energetic, back-alley stage demeanor can shake the hell out of the band’s musical martini, obliterating all lines between rhythm and blues, jump blues, retro, rock, and rockabilly, or he can lightly stir them so as not to bruise their individual identities. And, he can do this while hanging upside down on the amphitheater handrail. Sharing instrumental leads were “Seltzer” Jim Davis on sax, who totally tore it up all evening, especially on Rick Fink’s original, “Nobody’s Fool,” and Stu Newman on guitar. Stu’s blistering lead in “Shake Your Money Maker,” originally recorded in 1961 by Elmore James, received nods well after it was over. In the same tune, Eddie Everett, who stayed on stage behind the theatrical jungle like a good Gorilla should, showed everyone how the heart can beat on an exquisite, hand-made, mahogany-stained, nothing-comes-close, Larry Wright Signature Drum kit. Black-booted, black-kilted Crusher Carmean brought up the bottom, once more playing an upright bass that he had modified (no, not the one made of slip grip diamond sheet metal). “Nine Lives,” another song Crusher co-authored, which begins with a strong, intriguing bass line joined by a Gene Krupa-style drum beat, was exemplary of his musical genius. And, he can do this while perched on one shoulder of his bass as it stands – well – upright.

At the end of the concert an exodus of radiant souls slowly climbed the stairs, smiling, beaming faces lighting the way into the night. And just guess where a lot of those people went; they went several blocks to Rev’s Court Street Grill for even more Gorilla debauchery. As you may know, the Grill provides more of what a Gorilla needs, such as a spiral staircase, from which Rick Fink loves to dangle while singing, and tables and chairs at the ready for a whimsical leap, perch, and chirp. But perhaps Rick’s favorite, and Crusher’s too, is Rev’s nice long bar, the perfect runway for runaway disregard for conventional musical presentation.

The Gorillas played into the late evening to a shoulder to shoulder, upstairs and downstairs, flowing-out-the-door crowd. After the last few songs were played (Crusher was by that time shirtless), the upstairs crowd and the downstairs crowd joined the flowing-out-the-door crowd to form a mass of excitedly animated and rejuvenated, pre-home sidewalk conversations. The Gas House Gorillas’ musical and theatrical forget-yourself attitude had rekindled everyone’s love-of-life lamp. My hangover had vanished, and I felt the glow.

Spider - The Big Bend Blues News (July 20, 2012)