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The Sadies - In Concert, Vol. 1

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Artist: The Sadies

Album: In Concert, Vol. 1

Label: Yep Roc

Review date: Aug. 11, 2006

Over the last decade or so, the Sadies have played surf-punk-twang-bluegrass backing band for a stellar list of songwriters – including Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Neko Case, Kelly Hogan and Andre Williams, Jon Spencer's Heavy Trash and mom and dad's country roots outfit, the Good Brothers. Although the Sadies have five full-length studio albums out, their hardcore fans will tell you that they are primarily a live band, hyper-skilled but loose and unpretentious (and often inebriated). They're known for pulling unexpected covers out of nowhere and executing tricky style shifts with nonchalance. They've had a live disc written into their contract since they signed with Bloodshot in the late 1990s, but just never got around to recording it. So, the question is not really why make a live Sadies album now, but rather, what took so long?

Well, for one thing, they had a lot of phone calls to make. The band invited more than 20 guests to join in – family friends, ex-bosses and future collaborators, and almost everyone accepted. The sprawling, nearly two-hour In Concert Volume One was recorded in February 2006, in a two-night stand at Lee's Palace in Toronto. The band played four-hour sets on two consecutive nights, with Steve Albini recording. The two-disc Volume One incorporates about half of the available material – leaving open the question of whether there will be a Volume Two – and while not by any means cohesive, it is about as good a road map of the Sadies musical journey as we are likely to see.

The material breaks down into blocs, with the first eight songs drawn from the Sadies' solo recordings. Here you hear how this band uses traditional country instrumentation to achieve freewheeling psychedelic effects, borrowing whammy-barred tremolo from surf, rapid finger-picking from bluegrass, and mod guitar chords from Nuggets-era garage.

The Good Brothers – mom and dad Good's band who made their first tour with Janis Joplin's Festival Express in the 1960s – show up nine songs in, turning the proceedings markedly more traditional. "Higher Power," off the Sadies' second Pure Diamond Gold is an all-family hoe-down, and "Uncle Larry's Breakdown," with its super-fast banjo picking, shows exactly where Travis and Dallas got their speed. Garth Hudson from the Band drops by next, apparently commandeered by Neko Case. He puts some baroque keyboard flourishes under the Flat Duo Jet's "Lonely Guy" and accordion to the 100-mph picking of "Ridge Runner Reel." Then Kelly Hogan, who seems to be an honorary member of the family, steps to the mic for a torrid and withering divorce ditty in "1,000,002 Songs" and the Ennio Morricone-ish duet with Margeret Good in "Dying Is Easy."

Disc One is pretty good, but Two is better, starting off with the stylized stomp of Heavy Trash. Spencer recorded the first Heavy Trash album without the Sadies, then hired them as backing band for his all-strip-joint-and-bowling-alley tour last year. Here, the pairing makes perfect sense. The rockabilly raunch of "Justine Allright," and later, the as-yet-unreleased "Her Love Made Me" are much heftier with the Sadies on the back line and Spencer's inimitable "Baa-by" sounds more theatrically dangerous than ever. There's a battle-of-the-bands duet with Deadly Snakes, where Sadies and Andre Ethier trade verses of their respective songs named "Talking Down," and a couple of nice cuts from Langford's Mayors of the Moon. Neko Case's mournful "Hold On, Hold On," the second of two Roger Miller covers, is an album highlight, her strong, lovely voice framed by trippy interlacings of guitar work and driving surf rhythms.

Still, the best part of this two CD collection comes last, when the Sadies join forces with Gary Louris from the Jayhawks. Louris, alone among their collaborators, understands the links between psyche and country in a way that few since the Byrds have, and his cuts from the feedback-lacked, lazy harmonies of "Tailspin" through the blistering cover of Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" are easy standouts. That genre-hopping vibe rules the rest of the album, as members of Blue Rodeo and the Unintended step in for old home week.

In the encore, a rousing version of "Memphis, Egypt," reminds everyone of the Sadies' turn as a Mekons cover band during the 25th anniversary tour, and they burn the house down with the chorus of "Rock and Roll." Pretty much everybody's on mic by this point, and there are two drum sets and five guitars in play. It's mayhem and chaos and triumph all at once, the kind of song that makes you wish you had been there and feel like you were.

By Jennifer Kelly

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