By Mike Sembos
12:45 PM EDT, October 3, 2012
Sat., Nov. 24, 8:30 p.m. $15, $20 at the door. Toad’s Place, 300 York St., New Haven. (203) 624-8623, toadsplace.com.
For a while there, it looked like NRBQ was finished. They'd been consistently touring and releasing albums since 1967, the quintessential blue-collar road band that never relied on having radio hits or mass popularity to keep the machine chugging along. They were often called "the world's greatest bar band," and they embraced that title. While not the most financially lucrative niche for a band to own, it's certainly one of the hippest.
But in 2004, they went on hiatus. It was later revealed that front man Terry Adams had developed stage-four throat cancer, which can often imply a dismal prognosis. Adams' band mates were forced to find other projects, and the future of NRBQ was in jeopardy.
Fortunately, Adams' cancer treatment was successful.
"I'm healthier than ever," he says. "I say that because having gone through the illness that I did has strengthened me and has given me a better understanding of myself and things around me."
In 2007 he formed the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet, and after a few years pursuing that, it made sense to reinstate the NRBQ name. The current lineup includes Scott Ligon on guitar and vocals, Casey McDonough on bass and vocals and Conrad Choucroun on drums and vocals, in addition to Adams on keyboards and vocals. The latest record, We Travel the Spaceways, was released earlier this year, a seemingly mistake-free live album recorded in April of last year at a single show in Bearsville, New York. Classic-era NRBQ drummer Tom Ardolino often would sit in with the new lineup, and he was thankfully in attendance at that show, his drumming featured on four tracks. Ardolino passed away earlier this year following a long illness, but he had handpicked Choucroun as his replacement, cementing the authenticity of the lineage.
"The new line-up swings like mad and runs on clean energy," says Adams. "Each member's inspired and self-sufficient. No one complains about their discomforts in traveling and everyone does their fair share. Our newest member is Casey McDonough on bass. [The band's bassist for the last five years, Pete Donnelly, has moved on to focus on his other commitments.] We're lucky to have Casey, he's one of the most brilliant musicians I know and sings in perfect harmony with Scott. The band is swinging with complete authority and confidence."
"We Travel the Spaceways," the title track of the new album, is a Sun Ra song (recorded in 1960, released in 1967). Sun Ra is high on the list be on the list of musicians that influenced Adams and the NRBQ approach to making music.
"Sun Ra should be an inspiration to all musicians," he says. "To this day, even without his physical presence, the Arkestra remains creative and doesn't waste time, they're always moving ahead. I once asked Sun Ra how he found enough time in the day to be as creative as he was. His response was, 'You have to have a genuine concern for humanity.' Too many musicians today waste their gift by incorporating their own insecurities into their sound."
NRBQ never uses a set list, but makes up their shows on the fly. In an age where it's common for bands to use click tracks and pre-recorded backing tracks that nail their shows down to a grid, these guys still insist that spontaneity is necessary for any on-stage magic to take place.
"What's next for NRBQ is that we don't stand still," Adams says. "I'll never have NRBQ be a band that's about nostalgia. This music is in the moment."
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