Reckless Kelly — Belly Up Tavern 11/9
On November 9, alt. country rockers Reckless Kelly brought their roadhouse music show to the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA, just north of San Diego. Reckless Kelly is a band you go to see for the tradition. Willie Braun’s going to play an acoustic guitar that looks like it came from the year of the flood, without a section of the veneer that a beaver must have gnawed off. And Cody Braun’s fiddle looks like it got too close when he was spray painting a chair, and he thought “WTF, I’ll play it like that.”
All the little things you’ve come to love about them were there. Willie did a hand written setlist with a cool surfer graphic unique for San Diego. You know they blasted “Ragged as the Road I’m On” like they never played it before, and lead singer Willie Braun gave a shout out to his little brothers’ band Micky and the Motorcars when they played “Nobody’s Girl.” Cody took a familiar lead vocal on “Wild Western Windblown Band,” joking about how Covid gave the band a lot of time to work on new material, but they decided to do nothing instead.
What they’re not going to do is promote something new, even when, like for this tour, they have a wonderful new record out: 9/11 Demos, a newly mixed collection of songs that they recorded on September 11 and 12, 2001.
On this night, there was everything you came for, almost, but also a whole lot more. The band centers on brothers Willie and Cody Braun. Willie plays rhythm guitar and sings lead, while Cody plays an electric mandolin and a fiddle, singing mostly backups. Joe “Nazz“ Nazziola is the band’s long-time drummer. And Joe Miller plays bass these days. One thing that made this performance both bittersweet and thrilling for long-time fans is that it was the band’s first stop in San Diego County after the departure of long-time lead guitarist David Abeyta. The Braun’s have been inviting friends to play with them since they started touring again. Early in the year, it was Ryan Engleman from the Turnpike Troubadours. Now, it’s Geoff Queen, playing both lead guitar and some slide.
Fans knew the night would be special when opening act Bob Woodruff came out with 4/5ths of Reckless Kelly. Everybody except Joe Nazz joined Woodruff for his set with Willie Braun behind the drum kit. A few times, Woodruff brought out the band’s tour bus driver to play lap guitar. I didn’t know Woodruff, but I’ll tell you what, he’s worth checking out. His setlist popped like no opening act I’ve seen in a long time. And the band was tight. Woodruff has been playing other California dates. Hopefully, he will continue to be a regular part of the tour.
When the headliners took the stage, their new addition made himself heard. Geoff Queen is the perfect lead guitarist for Reckless Kelly. This may just be a pet peeve of mine, but I hate it when an established band loses a longtime player. And I hate it even more when they bring in some young guy who looks like he’s spent more time at the gym than he has drinking and eating barbeque. Props to Reckless Kelly for breaking that mold. Queen is age and look appropriate. And he can kick that Red Dirt as well as anyone. But he also brought some melodic ear candy to the country rock arrangements during the first half of the show when Willie played acoustic guitar.
When Willie switched to the telecaster for some rock and roll, Queen really stretched out. I prefer the more country rocking Reckless Kelly personally. But this version of the band takes it heavy really well. We rocked out and loved it.
For the encore, Willie came out alone to start “Wicked Twisted Road” with the band joining after a few stanzas. This was a change from some shows earlier in the tour when the band had been doing a tribute to Tom Petty, including “Tom Was a Friend of Mine” and a cover of his “Running Down a Dream.” Since they were changing that up, I thought I knew what would be last. Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lighting.” Reckless Kelly had covered it for years and was playing this tour both in the set and as a closing encore. But this would be my only disappointment of the night. They went hard rock for the closing number with a cover of Bob Seeger’s “Get Out of Denver.” They had covered Justin Townes Earl’s “Maybe a Moment” earlier in the show. They didn’t give us their Vincent to ride, this time. But still, I went home smiling.
You can learn more about the band and buy some cool merchandise on the band’s website.
Find more about Bob Woodruff here: http://www.bobwoodruffmusic.com