Show Review: NRBQ’s Legendary “Happy Talk” Tour is a Piece of Americana History

Show Reviews

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Walking up to the door of the iconic Ottobar rock club in Baltimore Thursday night, there was a line down the alley and back around to the street.  When a band reissues its first album on nearly its 50th anniversary, you know something magical must be afoot.   When I spoke to Terry Adams last week (stay tuned for the forthcoming interview post), he told me that he made music for spiritual reasons, and the energy in the crowd feels like there’s more to this connection than simply the music.

The band waited for the crowd to finally make its way to the dance floor — there are only a few barstools at the club; its a big dance floor space and it’s rapidly filling.

Terry Adams is the only surviving member of original NRBQ onstage tonight.  He cuts an angelic figure with his white hair in the stage lights, and there’s a tangible aura surrounding him.  The band is notorious for never using a setlist, they flow with impulsive spontaneity even in the studio; so it’s a bit of an extended jam fest on the easy side.  NRBQ walks in the light, away from dark shadows.  “Ain’t It All Right,” “The One and Only,” “Fighting Back,” and a dreamy pop “Twilight Time,” open the night, and the crowd is dancing their socks off.

It’s like a scene out of Jung’s collective unconscious, the way the crowd frolics and Terry Adams plays them.  Songs that all feel familiar mark this “Happy Talk” tour:  “Mona,” Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” Randy Weston’s “Cabana Bamboo Highlife,” “King of the Road,” “It’ll Be Alright,” “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,”  and Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm.”

There’s a Theolonius Monk cover “Ruby My Dear,” and when Terry Adams plays songs from the man who influenced him so much, it’s the moment where his persona really crystallizes.  He’s said he plays that clavinet like a guitar.  When you watch his hands, you can see it — his fingers make the shapes you’d make if you were forming guitar chords, and they pluck as they plunk on the keys.  To say that his is an improvisational style is inadequate to describe it, but it’d be a start.

The band played 27 songs in all — a hefty set on a Thursday night, and the band’s flock stayed true until the end of “I Want You Bad,” and Tommy Dorsey’s “The Music Goes Round and Round” with the fans reaching onto the stage and trying to draw out as much of the spiritual energy as they could get for themselves.

This tour rounds out with only one more date left, ending at Mountain Stage on Mother’s Day.  If you’re anywhere in the area, go celebrate this piece of our collective history.

Get their music, here.



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