(March 8, 2014; THE PAGEANT, Saint Louis, MO)
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Big Head Todd and the Monsters recorded some of the most memorable music of the “alternative rock era.” A lot – “Bittersweet,” “Circle,” “Resignation Superman” – are still personal favorites from that time. And, yet, somehow, this March night in Saint Louis, is the first time I’ve seen them play live. What can I say, except… “Wow!” This is one of the tightest bands it has ever been my pleasure to see play live. And, their fans? Some would call them “rabid,” but that really isn’t right… sounds too animalistic. However, the word “loyal” does come to mind… and, not in a puppy dog kind of way. Speaking to a couple of young ladies before the show, I discovered that one had been following the guys around the country, through some truly horrible weather, like that ancient tribe known as the “Dead-Heads.” The other – even though she, like myself, was attending her first BHTM show – talked about how excited she was because this is the music that got her through some very hard times.
The night was billed as “An Evening With Big Head Todd and the Monsters,” which meant – obviously – no opening act. But, the quartet (Todd Park Mohr, Rob Squires, Brian Nevin and Jeremy Lawton) did bring along a couple of friends to join in on the fun: Guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks (son of legendary Chicago Bluesman, Lonnie Brooks) and vocalist (and former full-time member of the band) Hazel Miller. It was apparent that all six came to play! Todd and the Monsters kicked things off with one of their biggest hits, “Bittersweet,” following that with another, “Resignation Superman.” You just know that you’re in for a special night when the band starts with two of their biggest achievements, chart-wise. A couple of early songs, “Vincent of Jersey” and “The Leaving Song” (the first two tracks from the group’s second album, 1990’s MIDNIGHT RADIO) brought us to the first new tune, the beautifully rendered “Josephina,” which reminds me of some of Phil Lynott’s best Thin Lizzy balladry. Ronnie Baker Brooks joined the band for a fun version of “Twine Time,” a 1964 hit for Saint Louis natives, Alvin Cash and the Crawlers. At the time, I had no idea who the guy playing the mean blues guitar was, but I knew that he had a familiar style. After speaking to him during the break and learning his heritage, that style and sound made perfect sense: His father, Lonnie, was a leading light in bringing the Chicago style of the Blues to prominence in the ’70s. Mohr and Brooks are certainly a formidable guitar tandem. Hazel Miller joined in the fun a few songs later, delivering a mesmerizing “ICU In Everything.” The sextet ended the set with a funky, roiling “Beautiful World” and a great version of “It’s Alright.”
The second set kicked off with another pair of hits, “Broken Hearted Savior” and “Circle,” before moving into “Please Don’t Tell Her” – a song that prominently features the organ-work of Jeremy Lawton – and its BEAUTIFUL WORLD album-mate, “Caroline.” The next several songs were from the group’s latest, BLACK BEEHIVE: “Everything About You,” “I Get Smooth,” which is sort of a Fats Domino-type stroll with a nice upright bass line from Rob Squires, and the funky slide workout of “Seven State Lines.” “Dirty Juice,” another – harder edged – slide extravaganza breaks up the new music set before the title track ballad, “Black Beehive.” A honkin’, funky take of “Yes We Can” kicked things back up a notch before a solemn “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which was ingeniously coupled with the Staple Singers’ fantastic 1971 hit, “Respect Yourself.” A Brooks song, “Love Me Baby,” from his album, THE TORCH, led into the set closer, the muscular “We Won’t Go Back,” another BLACK BEEHIVE track. The encore featured a rocking cover of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” sandwiched between another pair of new songs, the hauntingly beautiful, acoustic “Travelin’ Light” and the heavy, chugging funk of “Hey Delilah.”
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this evening. What I got were great performances – guitarists Brooks and Mohr and drummer Brian Nevin in particular; a healthy dose of the BLACK BEEHIVE album, as well as classic BHTM tracks and some well-chosen (if occasionally odd) covers. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, this was my first BHTM live experience. It will not be my last!