News last fall of the closing of First Ave didn't make me as sad as it maybe should have. It's not a venue I've ever terribly enjoyed seeing a show at, from being jostled and groped and surrounded by really bad dancers and people who think their conversations are more important than the music on the stage, to the dark and smoky atmosphere, it's a place that I'd always tolerated watching a show more than anything else. If it weren't for the intimacy of the place- and the quality of acts it attracts- and the historical significance of the club- I'm not sure I would have missed it all that much if it never opened again.
Sure I've seen plenty of memorable shows there- from L7 in 1993 to Freedy Johnston in 1998 to the Jayhawks, Liz Phair, Wilco, and Lucinda Williams in various appearances but I'd never seen a great show there until last Friday night.
Growing up we had a term for rock music that was sonically impressive. We said it blew the roof off the dump. Friday, the Ike Reilly Assassination blew the roof off the dump during a scorching set that had everybody boppin and singing along.
From the opening reflective "St. Joe's Band" to the chaotic closing cover of the Pogues "If I Should Fall From Grace with God" where Ike did a passing Shane MacGowan imitation (right on down to being in a rather lubricated state), the IRA never let up with penetrating rocking good guitar based music that held your soul hostage and proved if nothing else great rock and roll music is as good a reason to exist in this world as anything else.
Reilly is as charismatic a performer as he is a songwriter, a nearly impossible trick to pull off. In song after song he creates a world of chaos and disorder where drink, drugs, and attitude help make some sense of politics, women, and all the trouble lacking (and sometimes having) money can cause. His music makes one want to get into the car, crank up the tunes and live the life of whatever is to be, no matter where the road ahead leads. In recent years I've come to use Ike as my standard to judge how good a music store is. If they carry his CDs I can proceed to shop. If they actually have his CDs in stock, they clearly are paying attention to what they need to be paying attention to.
The first highlight of the show packed with so many was the second song that may have been new (or really old) which had a refrain about maybe how an assassination could be OK if you apologize afterward. Reilly poured his heart out in the bit about how the union girls didn't like paying their dues that were put towards buying uniforms especially since shortly after the factory closes down. With an unexplainable lack of business success the working class message in many of Ike's songs takes on added authenticity.
My favorite song of the evening however was a cover of Dylan's "From a Buick 6." Reilly has covered the song in every show I've seen of his and each time the song gathers more and more power. It's the only Dylan cover that for me is better than the original and the original is darn good.
I also particularly liked the version of "Holiday in New York" my favorite song from the latest CD, Sparkle in the Finish. The song takes us on a typical Reillyesque journey of lusting after a toll booth worker and some sexual difficulty to a cynical look at a particular Memorial Day experience to an ultimate drug based encounter with an old friend. The refrain of the song "It's starting to look like a con game to me now..." was sung with stinging sincerity.
Before launching into "Last Time" Ike explained the band was against two things- racism and sexual malfunction (or at least one of the two for the past four days). He said the song was about the importance of always speaking your mind and then the band managed to raucously live up to that revelatory introduction.