Saturday, November 13, 2010

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element

I know I see this band all the time, and I usually don't write about every show I see, but this one was worth writing home about. It took place last Wednesday night at Melrose Billiards, one of my favorite places in town to hang out, as well as one of the coolest places in all of Nashville. Lately they've been having live music on Wednesday nights with bands setting up in the very back section amongst the ping pong tables and along side the shuffle board. Although it's not ideal to be out late in a smokey bar on a hump-day, the vibe and the music were worth it.

They started off in pure Criminal form, making up the first two songs and going right into their shuffle version of The Beatles' "Get Back". This was how most of the night went. There was a ton of good ole Criminal improvising including one called "It's Not About Love, It's About You", along with some of the more popular polished favorites like "Mikey" and "Playin On The Tracks". Another such run of Criminal song salad was the reggae suite with "Closing In On You" going into Stevie's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and then into a make up song that sounded just like the maybe-so-maybe-not jam section of Phish's "Stash". They even got guest guitarist Luke Davis up and he made up a blues riff that would make Stevie Ray Vaughn tip his big feathery hat. The third set started with Johnny playing "The Gift Of Song", one of his most popular solo songs, and then one more long jam with the band, the name of which escapes me. It was late.

The best part of this show was the old school feel to it. For the past few months, Johnny, Curt, and Randy have been playing pretty much the same show, four or five shows running, with a couple of different bass players and a marked decrease in improvising. At the pool hall, they were able to make up several quality songs and although Russell's lack of enthusiasm was sometimes as visible as the great wall of China from space, he was there and he played pretty awesome for someone who's firstborn just arrived last week. Elsewhere, Johnny was feeling it all night, getting stronger as the night got later, and later, and later. If they could make up songs like this on the regular, there would be no need to record these shows for ideas. This night was a fresh breath of Criminal air that has been needed from the slightly stale song selections of late. I hope they play at the old Melrose more, that place gives them something good.

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