Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wagons at Hotel Cafe 9-21-11 Concert Review

Wagons wrapped up their U.S. tour last night at The Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. Because of the strict schedule at that venue, there wasn't that much time for a soundcheck. After just a moment, Henry told the crowd, "If you're ready for us, we might be ready for you too."

The audience was indeed ready and eager for this band's set. I myself had high expectations for this show. Listening to their latest CD, I got the sense that this was a band that put on a great concert. And then a friend caught the Atlanta show, and told me they were fantastic. So I went in with fairly high expectations, and Wagons greatly exceeded them.

They started with "I Blew It," from their newest release, Rumble, Shake And Tumble. They followed that with one of my personal favorites from that album, "Save Me." And it was a kick-ass fun version. Those two songs were a great way to start the set, drawing in the crowd immediately.

"Never Been To Spain"

Before "Never Been To Spain," Henry talked about going to Graceland, and seeing Elvis Presley's shooting range. He joked that it was approximately the size of The Hotel Cafe's stage, that Elvis liked to practice shooting at point blank range. Henry needed to tune a bit before starting the song, so he told guitarist Chad Mason to serenade the audience for a bit. Henry then called what Chad did "the worst serenade."

"Never Been To Spain" started with Henry on acoustic guitar and vocals before the rest of the band came in. It was a really fun rendition of the song, which had been recorded by Elvis, but earlier made popular by Three Dog Night. It was written by Hoyt Axton. Wagons included a version of it on The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown (2009).

Toward the end of the song, Henry sang, "I've never been to Los Angeles, but I kinda like the music/They say the ladies are insane here - is that true?" One woman shouted out, and Henry said, "There's one."

After that song, the drummer (Si Francis) and bass player (Mark Dawson) switched instruments.

"The Gambler"

Henry dedicated "The Gambler" to Elvis, saying "I'm borderline obsessed." "The Gambler" was the oddest song of the set, and it found Henry stepping off stage into the audience to sing a section of it, and then hushing the rest of the band while placing bets on an imaginary roulette wheel. He also asked a few audience members for numbers. One woman said, "Eighty-two." Henry pointed out that roulette wheels don't go up that high. As the wheel slowed down, the drummer used the floor tom to represent the slowing click as the wheel came to a stop. Henry didn't call out a winning number. (After the set, when someone asked him about that, Henry told him that everyone lost.)

"The Gambler" is from the band's 2009 release, The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown.

Chad had a chance to redeem himself after the "worst serenade" because during "The Gambler" Henry managed to unplug his guitar. So while he plugged it back in, Chad played a short bit of a song.

The band then went into an incredibly high-energy version of "Willie Nelson," one of the coolest tracks from Rumble, Shake And Tumble. This was a favorite with the audience, who began cheering the song from the moment Henry began to introduce it. He said that while he might have an obsession with Elvis, the next song was about someone he truly was obsessed with.

The sound man alerted them that they only had five minutes left (the set flew by), and they did the most surprising song of the set, "Tha Bizness," with Si Francis on lead vocals, Mark Dawson on backing vocals, Chad on bass, and Henry on drums. I'm not really into rap, but I have to admit that was a lot of fun. They finished the set with another fun tune, "Goodtown" (with Si and Mark resuming their original instruments).

The energy at this show was tremendous, and Henry had a great rapport with the crowd. I got the feeling that he'd be able to just as easily engage a crowd of thousands at a large venue. A friend turned to me after the show and said she really wanted to see them again. I said, "Sure, next time they come to the states." But she doesn't want to wait that long and said she might go to Australia to see them. And I wouldn't be surprised if she did. I think anyone who sees this band will be an instant fan. The band just has this uncanny ability to inspire immediate loyalty. I highly recommend checking them out the next time they tour the U.S. Or, like my friend, make plans to visit Australia.

Set List

  1. I Blew It
  2. Save Me
  3. Drive All Night Till Dawn
  4. Never Been To Spain
  5. Love Me Like I Love You
  6. The Gambler
  7. Willie Nelson
  8. Tha Bizness
  9. Goodtown

There was no encore.

Wagons are Henry Wagons on lead vocals and acoustic guitar (and drums for one song), Chad Mason on electric guitar (and bass for one song), Si Francis on drums and bass (and lead vocals for one song), and Mark Dawson on bass and drums.

The Hotel Cafe is located at 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Los Angeles.

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