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Published: 2004/03/01
by Scott Caffrey

NRBQ, Mohegan Sun Wolf Den, Uncasville, CT- 2/20

When America's best rock n' roll band puts on a free show, a road trip to wherever is a proverbial "no-brainer." But when your wife is pregnant and your wingman's already got a baby, then it becomes an intense necessity. So my buddy and I made the giddily anticipated 3-hour trek from New York to watch The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (NRBQ to the world; and simply The Q, affectionately) blast a new fae into the casino's faux-rock indoor amphitheater.

Drummer Tom Ardolino and the Spampinato brothers (bassist Joey and guitarist Johnny) took their time to saunter on stage. But not Terry Adams. The band's keyboard player and sonic mad scientist made a beeline to his rig before Ardolino even had a chance to sit down. Like a true wild man, Adams stared maniacally back and forth at each of his instruments, clearly rummaging for the first note. It took only a few seconds, but in that span, he seemed to earnestly search as if he didn't have any ideas as to how to begin the show. Rather, he was waiting for the music in his head to start and channel out through his lanky body.

BAM! (literally just like that) Adams walloped the shit out of his piano with fingers, fists, and elbows well before the Spampinatos even had a chance to strap on their guitars. After finally arming themselves, they all looked at Adams, then back at each other, and then back at Adams. They focused, listened, waited for the right spot, and finally caught a groove, which turned into a rollicking version of the Q original "Green Lights."

As an audience member, all you have to do is watch Adams. In fact, you have no choice but to surrender your eyes to his every space-shot move. At first, his antics feel a little over the top as in, "this guy is way too fucking strange-to-be-true." But then I realized this is just the way he is. A one-of-a-kind rock star and certified genius that just can't control himself. Crazy. But like a fox. And while he isn't the leader, Adams is clearly the font of energy from which The Q draws. He oozes inspiration. The other three members let Adams do his thing and then roll with that, which literally ended up being anything and everything. Whether it's commencing their first-ever a capella version of "In the Still of the Night," yelling and monkey-facing at the crowd, tossing a stationary fan from his piano top, stomping his feet, or blaring through his trumpet, he's the guide to the Q missile.

Beyond all of Adams' craziness lies an undeniable brilliance that must be experienced. He knows exactly what he's playing, even when he looks like a lunatic. Especially when he looks like a lunatic. He also happens to be the best soloist I've ever seen. For instance, the simple country sing-along "Deep in the Heart of Texas" was sliced clean through by Adams' raucous, awkward-tempoed solo via his Hohner Clavinet (that he drags around stage all night, pounding it to oblivion). Taken alone, one could never guess it somehow relates to "Texas." Yet, up and down he went slamming body parts into keys, making it sound like a fuzzed-out guitar. It looked ugly but it sounded gorgeous.

The rhythmic tightness of Joey Spampinato and Ardolino is very easy to overlook when set against the imaginative majesty of Adams' wilding. Yet it's their musical synergy that provides a two-headed secret weapon that glues the whole thing together. I got the feeling that if Adams was somehow given free reign, every song might fall apart. But by not noticing Spampinato's bass reigning Adams in, it lets you know just how seamlessly great he is.

As a live music fan, you could ask nothing more of The Q a band whose essence is to play any song, anywhere, any time. They make themselves available just about as often as one could want. So bothering to write a song-by-song review of their show is a futile effort. As varied and great as the music is, that's hardly the point of seeing NRBQ. Rather it's the superb execution and band-wide madness and humor that makes its mark. It's the total package of the overall show that makes NRBQ America's great rock n' roll band. Because of all the bands in the world that need to be experienced live, theirs is the only one whose essence, integrity, and musicianship completely and utterly excel live in concert.

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