Stan Ridgway at World Café Live, Philadelphia, PA, March 28, 2009
I have to admit; I am not too familiar with the extensive 30+ year musical career of Stan Ridgway. In fact, my only real knowledge of his back catalogue is through his former band Wall of Voodoo, who had their sole hit in 1983 with “Mexican Radio”, and even with this, I only recognize a handful of songs. Yet, being the 80s fanatic that I am, when I discovered that the great Stan Ridgway was stopping at one of my favorite venues on the planet, World Café Live for his “Desert of Dreams” tour, I knew that it was a show that I had to attend. I considered my lack of knowledge to be a plus when deciding to attend this show, as it would allow me to gain a unique perspective on the set, and allow me to get to know the songs for myself, as if I was having dinner with a brand new acquaintance. And I must say, the show was absolutely fantastic.
He began the show on a humorous note, strolling out casually 20 minutes late, explaining to the crowd, “wow, I really wish someone had came back and told me that it was time for the show to begin. Well, here I am, there you are, so let’s get the show on the road”. Yet this mild inconvenience wasn’t enough to filter out the ever-growing crowd around me, who clammed-up with glee as he took the stage, eagerly awaiting the start of the first song. With his low key band of 3, which included his wife on synthesizers, he decided to break the show into 2 parts, the first would be his more folk-oriented material, running more along the themes of the tour, which he called “Desert of Dreams”. With his confident nerd-cowboy voice leading the way, he launched into the show with “The Overloads”, which although had soft guitar strumming and dreamy synth bells to carry the rhythm still gave me the impressions of an industrial setting. He continued along the synth-tinged acoustic roads with highlights such as a Bob Dylan cover (“Lenny Bruce”), “Beloved movie star”, a song which revealed his humorous wit, with Ridgway talking to his beloved movie star, assuring her that he knows “there’s more than cold cream in your jar”, finishing up the first set with the rousing “Goin’ Southbound”, which had the unmistakable feel of a tune one would hear on a road trip, or at a bar just before a fight breaks out.
With the crowd around beginning with the usual fan boy shtick of shouting out requests, he took an audible deep breath, smiled at the crowd and said, “well, I’m not sure about those songs, but I think that the songs I have in mind should be perfect substitutes for yours”. This strange sense of humor helped ease the crowd into the second part of the show, where his more familiar material and New Wave classics began to show up in droves. Beginning with the title cut to his debt solo album, 1986’s “The Big Heat”, he continued the excursion in familiar territory with the title song from the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film Rumble Fish “Don’t Box Me In”. Further highlights include his “love letter” to his current place of residence Los Angeles (“Big Dumb Town”), a dream-like, after hours tale of visits to questionable places (“Lonely Town”), and his wild-west cowboy rhythmed tale of a soldier fighting charlies in Vietnam in the popular minor hit “Camouflage”.
One of the most interesting moments of the night occurred when it came time to play his biggest hit “Mexican Radio”. He started with the offering a humorous aecdote about vacationing in the Caribbean, where he told of sitting at the bar with a drink, and listening to the ambiance, when he heard from the stage the house band playing Mexican Radio in a calypso style. He had wondered what it would be like to cover his own song, and surprisingly asked the crowd if they would be willing to follow along in a musical experiment. And it paid off, as we were treated to a Tex-Mex version of Mexican radio, which offered the feeling of relaxing by a pool during a b-b-q rather than sitting at a nostalgia concert.
It created a perfect segway into “I Want to be a Boss”, which humorously describes the fantasizing and wishful thinking that we all do, wanting so much while trying to be grateful for the lackluster things that you have. Saving the best for last, he offered us the electronic robo-western songs “Call of the West” and the unique pulsing cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. After wrapping up the show with a 3-song encore that included the crowd favorite “Call Box”, he graciously thanked the crowd for hanging out, and invited us outside to meet him after the show. A large portion of the crowd, including myself, took him up on his offer, which was well worth it. And I have to say; he talks almost exactly like he sings.