My wife left me.
Hopefully not permanently. Her mother had a heart attack earlier in the week while working in Houston, so naturally she drove there to tend to her ailing mom. This left me alone for the annual Radiators reunion/anniversary shows at Tipitina’s, which my wife and I had been looking forward to for months.
But the show must go on and, despite juggling three kids, a job and the medical updates from Houston, I didn’t miss a minute of my favorite band. Hundreds of Fish Heads flew in from around the country to get their white boy wiggle on as the band jammed three-and-a-half-hour shows for three nights into the wee hours of the morning.
From the onset, it was clear that, even with the long layoff, these geriatric rockers could still bring it. Despite the less-than-packed house, lead singer/songwriter Ed Volker brought the funk, dipping into his trusty handbag for his maracas, cowbells and even his bicycle horn. Highlights from that night included “Soul of the World, “Hot Lube” and my wife’s favorite song, “Red Dress” from the first set. Opening the second set with the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” brought the funk down a notch, but it kicked back up with fan favorites “Devil’s Dream” and “Papaya.” It was a great night had by all.
The weekend brought slightly larger crowds, but still plenty of room to maneuver around the confines of the storied concert hall. Opening with a medley of Earl King’s “Come On,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” and Sam Cooke’s “Let the Good Times Roll” got the crowd into the groove. Friday’s show was packed with jams by guitarist Camile Baudoin and singer Dave Malone. Overall the show was bluesier than the night before, but a surprise appearance by George Porter– handling bass for the first two songs of the second set– got the crowd whooping and hollering.
As I walked up on Saturday to see the opening band (a disappointing acoustic duet from the Honey Island Swamp Band), I thought to myself, “Feet don’t fail me now.” After two nights of partying, I could barely keep my body in the groove. At times, I think the band felt the same way. It never ceases to amaze me that these guys in their late 60s can get back together after not playing for nearly a year and still sound like the tight band that had been around since the late ’70s.
I couldn’t tell if it was me or them, but the final show seemed to drag a bit. Ed Volker’s smiling face from Thursday night was replaced by tired eyes, and methinks his keyboards were off on the first few songs. Even so, there were certainly some stand out moments from Saturday night, including “Suck the Head,” “Screw Loose” and a funky “Cissy Strut” that would have made Porter proud. And the encore was brilliant, teasing four songs sandwiched between “The Party Ain’t Over Til I Say So” and “Soul Kitchen.”
I did feel bad for the band that they couldn’t pack the house for their annual shows, and I felt bad for me that I couldn’t sell my wife’s extra ticket. With the added cost of babysitters, it made for an expensive weekend. Since The Radiators don’t tour anymore, it is difficult for them to attract new fans, making the median age of the revelers somewhere near the big 5-0. That didn’t stop anyone from having a blast and staying until the final guitar riffs. The band made sure to acknowledge the loyal Fish Heads throughout that final show.
On a more personal note, I wish my wife had been by my side all weekend as these shows seem to act like marriage therapy for us, zapping us into la la land and continuing through the carnival and festival seasons. Hopefully there will be more anniversaries for us and for the band, so we can reunite with them next January and do it all over again. Because, as Dave Malone likes to remind us, “we are all too stupid to stop.” –Shane Finkelstein