This is considered blasphemy, I know, but Terry Adams’ current version of NRBQ, based on their show last week at B.B. King’s, is at the very least as good as any—and yes, that includes the best-loved, longest-running 1974-1994 lineup of Terry on keyboards and vocals, Joey Spampinato on bass and vocals, Al Anderson on guitar and vocals, and Tom Ardolino on drums.
Now with the superb guitarist/vocalist Scott Ligon, bassist/vocalist Casey McDonough (who took over last year for The Figgs’ Pete Donnelly due to too many other commitments), and Conrad Choucroun on drums (a new father, his spot was filled at B.B.’s by veteran Chicago drummer Joe Camarillo of alt-country’s Waco Brothers), the new “Q” has at least as much spirit and joy in playing its traditionally eclectic set of esoteric pop, rock, country, R&B, jazz and gospel covers and originals as any since the venerable band’s inception in 1967.
And aside from being equally brilliant musically, the new lineup is also as photogenically unphotogenic as any of the others.
An anti-star who nevertheless long ago trumped the competition in star power, Adams, of course, will always stand out for his long blond locks flailing about above a lanky body that moves about all over the place, that is, within the confines of his multi-keyboard cage. Ligon and especially McDonough exude the anti-look so prized by decades-long Q followers, who prefer music to makeover. Choucroun uncannily looks like Ardolino.
In other words, it’s no flash, all fun—like always. Not to leave out extraordinary musicianship.
“The band’s hotter than a firecracker right now, and we’re having a blast,” Adams said before the B.B.’s show, and so it is. Adams, whose 2004 diagnosis of throat cancer put the band on hiatus until he reformed it in 2007 as the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet before renaming it NRBQ in 2011, has lost nothing in either voice or spontaneity—and more important, playlist.
From a reimagining of Herman’s Hermits “I’m Into Something Good” (itself a cover of Earl-Jean’s original) into a Chuck Berry song, this NRBQ progressed from the Q classic “Boozoo, That’s Who”—a tribute to the late zydeco king Boozoo Chavis—to the Tommy Dorsey big band hit “The Music Goes Round and Round” (another Q concert staple); the Q’s “Hobbies,” featuring wordless vocals, and fellow Q faves “I Want You Bad” and “RC Cola And A Moon Pie”; Terry’s beautiful “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “The Stripper” (Terry yelling “Take it off! Take it all off!” and noting that its composer David Rose also scored Little House On The Prairie); and Al Hirt’s “Java,” which somehow segued into the Everly Brothers “Let It Be Me.”
You really needed a live music version on Shazam! to stay on top of it all.
But what of the departed Q’s? Anderson, who left in 1993 after 22 years with the group, continues to enjoy a stellar songwriting and solo career in Nashville. Ardolino, sadly, died last year after a long illness and is dearly missed.
As for Spampinato, he has a fun band with brother Johnny—who replaced Anderson on guitar in NRBQ—as the Spampinato Brothers, and also plays bass in his wonderfully talented wife Kami Lyle’s jazz-pop group the Kami Lyle Trio.
True, the current Q has been both respectfully and derisively called the best NRBQ tribute band imaginable. But what was Adams supposed to do? Just let it die?
No! Resoundingly, no! Not when he’s in such good health, and can keep making fans happy with the singular performing experience that is and has always been NRBQ.