Big Head Todd and the Monsters played a gig at The Uptown Theatre in Napa on Friday night and it could have been an amazing show.
It could have been, but it wasn’t.
It’s not because they have lost a step. They haven’t, not even close.
Frontman Todd Park Mohr still plays a mean, bluesy, soulful lead guitar and hasn’t lost an ounce of his haunting vocal chops.
Founding members Rob Squires (bass) and Brian Nevin (drums) still lay down a pounding, driving rhythmic tapestry over which Mohr and relative newcomer Jeremy Lawton (joined in 2004 on keyboards and lap steel) exchanged searing licks all evening long.
Nope, the show wasn’t great in part because Big Head Todd has decided that they don’t need to play the songs that their fans really want to hear, and in part because the beautifully restored venue has 860 “comfy theater seats” and nary a dance floor.
Venues such as this one inevitably pit those who want to dance against those who want to sit, and it can get pretty vicious. Think Greasers versus Socs, or Montagues versus Capulets.
Dancers versus sitters.
On the one hand, the sitters paid good money to see the show, and don’t want to look at the back of my head. I get that. On the other hand, it’s a fucking concert. Screw you guy.
I’ve never been asked to sit down or move so many times at a concert. It was like the town in Footloose up in there. While we danced by our seats, the owner of the venue (who, not surprisingly, looked a lot like John Lithgow) asked us to move. Twice. I at least appreciated that it was the owner and not just some civilian asking me to not dance at a rock show (although that happened too, more than once.)
Finally, for the last third of the show we (the dancers) were able to commandeer the front of the lower level at stage right, and were able to dance, (nearly) unabated.
“Dancing? At a concert? Well I never!” I imagine the fuddy-duddies in the upper level to have been saying to each other, whilst shaking their heads disapprovingly.
Of course, Big Head had the ability to squash the turf war at any point by playing one of their many well-loved hits off of Another Mayberry (1989) Midnight Radio (1990), Sister Sweetly (1993), or even Strategem (1994).
In those rare moments, during “Bittersweet”, and “Vincent of Jersey” into “The Leaving Song” for example, we were all dancers, and all was right in the world.
But these moments were all too rare. During the 90 minute set I counted 6 songs off the first four Big Head Todd albums, and that’s counting the 73 second long “Vincent” and a “Turn the Light Out” that was played at such a snails pace it was hardly recognizable.
Of course, all would have been forgiven if they would have revisited their early oeuvre during their two song encore.
Drop an “It’s Alright” and a “Midnight Radio” on us at the end there and everyone goes home feeling ecstatic about the performance, thinking about how they balanced their old classics with good new stuff (I particularly enjoyed a rousing rendition of “Muhammed Ali” off of 2010’s “Rocksteady” and “Angela Dangerlove” off 2004’s “Crimes of Passion”. Or at least I was enjoying it, before being, you guessed it, asked to move.)
Or, you can go the other way, and play a couple blues covers and everyone goes home wondering what you have against your biggest hits.
And against your fans.
“We’re never going to be one of those bands that relies on their hits” Mohr says in a bio for the bands website.
That’s all well and good, I’m not asking that you become Lynyrd Skynyrd, (who close every show with “Sweet Home” and then encore with Donnie Van Zandt asking the crowd “what song is it you wanna hear?!?!?!” and the crowd responding to a man “Freebird”). . . on second thought, that might not be a bad idea. Nobody ever leaves a Skynyrd show feeling cheated.
After a set that was (generously) “light” on the songs that the crowd wanted to hear (and, let’s be honest, got a high percentage of the crowd to buy tickets and be there in the first place), to get a two song encore of John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson covers was pretty disappointing.
They knew what we wanted to hear, but they couldn’t care less.
They played as many John Lee Hooker covers as they did songs off their best selling album, Sister Sweetly.
Kind of a dick move if you ask me.
But what do I know, I’m just a fan. . . of their old shit. And dancing at rock shows. Call me old fashioned.