To be blunt, I don’t like the blues. I can say that without clarification. Not Chicago. Not Delta. Not Memphis. None. I do not like them Sam-I-Am. So how did I end up at a blues gig? It’s a long story involving Man or Astroman? and the 1990s. But here I was. And by choice.
When I arrived, DJ Bazooka Joe was playing records. Roadhouse rock & roll. Several gals were dancing. A couple dudes were sulking in the corner. I got a water and hid in a different corner bracing myself for the opening act.
A bit after 9pm, Arkansas’ Rachel Ammons situated herself on stage and then quite literally – with her right foot in fact – kicked off the evening. Some may remember Ammons as half of the Tyrannosaurus Chicken duo alongside Smilin’ Bob Lewis. They seemed to be a staple at area festivals for a while. After Lewis’s passing in 2019, Ammons carried on the quick-paced, chicken-scratch blues as a one-woman act. So, while her right foot worked the pedal of a standard kick drum, and her left foot kicked a snare drum, and her right heel worked the high hat, and her left hand slid down the neck of that Kay electric guitar, and the pick-adorned fingers of her right hand pulled on the strings, she sang into two microphones, and (of course) blew into a harmonica. Phew. You know the Russian proverb about the dancing bear, right? Well, this bear danced, and danced pretty well.
Ammons played a long opening set that split its time between originals and standards – the latter either born or molded into her preferred primitive blues style. So much slide guitar. So much chopping and scratching. All with an intensity that recalled early rock & roll if not punk. When one guitar got too hot, she moved to another and then onto a five-string banjo for what she described as “a pop song from the 1800s.” Her deep love and knowledge of the expansive genre was fascinating. Nothing makes me more interested in a subject than seeing someone else love it. Suddenly I wanted to know all about Mississippi Fred McDowell. Most of her vocals were low and earthy, and it was only that second microphone, drenched in delay and reverb, that provided her a second voicing. That is until later in the set when the audience heard just how low, and how high, her voice could go. The first was shocking, the second amazing in both its clarity and firm vibrato.
Ammons herself was a genial frontwoman – full of smiles, passionate about the music she was making, and happy as a clam to be on the stage making it for others. With both her feet conscripted to percussive duty, Ammon’s performance large consisted of her stomping (generally alternating her feet) in place, mouth pressed to one microphone or the other, with her frighteningly long hair blowing backwards thanks to the fan set at her feet. Ammons plugged her CD, and the handmade jewelry she makes and sells on tour, and then she plugged the Bob Log III vinyl. I suspect if she had not been so excited to see Log (whom she called her favorite artist for the last ten years) perform, she might still be making her racket on that stage.
I too love Bob Log III. Maybe for the same reasons. Maybe not. They have a lot in common, starting with their origin stories. Like Ammons, when Log’s duo (Doo Rag) dissolved, he formed his own one-man band and continued the crude clangor that came before. And like Ammons, Log has become an accomplished musician, particularly adept in the hill country style of finger-picked and slide guitar. Log cites many of the same musical inspirations as Ammons too. And none of that makes much difference to me. As I’ve already confessed, I don’t like the blues, and every Bob Log III song sounds just like the next to me. Time and time again Log has addressed this, offering some variation of, “Of course it does, because that’s the kind of music I play. You wouldn’t go see a pole vaulter and expect him to bake a muffin. You expect him to pole vault, because that’s what he does.” So, again, why am I here if I prefer muffins to the blues? Because Bob Log III is hilarious, and his stage show is amazing.
Bob Log III came to the stage with an inflatable two-man raft on his back. In some shows he is able to ride that raft on the waves of his fans’ outstretched arms, but in the small miniBar, he simply schlepped it. As is his trademark, he wore a motorcycle helmet with a modified telephone glued into the smoked face shield to serve as his microphone. It doesn’t work worth a damn. He wore a purple velour jumpsuit with small mirrors sewn into the outside of sleeves and along the run of the pants. Maybe my love of Bob Log III also stems from his resemblance to childhood hero Evel Knievel.
After placing his raft at the back of the stage, Log sat down on a drum stool, carefully avoiding the bungee cords which keep his kick drum and foot-operated cymbal from straying too far away. Aside from those analog percussors, he used a handful of pedals to trigger digital effects – most notably a booming kick, and a synthesized hand clamp. After introducing each of those elements, as well as his fingers and his mouth, Log launched into his set. I can’t tell you a single song he played though I’m sure it was his greatest hits in all their camp and bawdy jejunity. He plays quickly, sowing his six-string chaos many different ways: finger picking (though unadorned with actual picks), slides, and frailing – the last a sort of finger flick not dissimilar from the clawhammer banjo technique. Instead of the steady percussion clomp of Ammons, Log’s percussion is busy and boggling. His telephone-come-microphone was barely audible over the clanging of his archtop guitar and the crashing percussion. Was he singing about boobs again? Could be. He often does.
After the first song was done, Log exclaimed, “That was amazing! How did I do that!?” The audience cheered and offered up similar thoughts of incredulity. Throughout the night there were hoots and hollers, loads of applause, and plenty of shouting in attempts to spur audience-to-stage conversation. As the show continued, Log’s banter and the absurdity escalated. Log asked for drinks (noting that he wouldn’t complain if they were “girly and tasted like watermelon”) and when he got them, he exclaimed this was the best night of his life. Later in the set he’d point out that he hadn’t “made a single mistake all night.” And he hadn’t. He asked the audience to blow up balloons. And they complied. Dozens of inflaters huffing into balloons. And then he stomped as many as he could before offering the rest up to the audience because “that’s what balloons are for.” Little COVID bombs popped every minute for the rest of the night. Later he’d bring out a toaster and a loaf of white bread. Soon he had recruited a chef from the audience to make toast and distribute it. The audience was told to put the toast into their pockets for later, teasing that they’d be sad if they didn’t have “pocket toast” when the time came. No spoilers. And then there was the inflatable duck full of Prosecco, but that joy was ruined by DJ Bazooka Joe. I’m sure they’re still talking about that fiasco today.
After a faux finale, Log turned invisible while the audience waited for a promised encore. How did he do that? After rematerializing, he played two songs, performed several dangerous feats, then put his raft back on his back and skulked off the stage. As the impressive crowd dispersed, the jetsam in front of the stage was revealed. It was a disaster of toast crumbs, popped balloons, and puddles of alcohol. Those are sure signs that everyone, even me, had a wonderful time at a blues show.