Huey Lewis and the News with Striking Matches at the Schermerhorn, Diamond Rugs with JP5 at The Basement 

The Spin

The Spin

I Want an Old Drug

With a substantial number of pop concerts added to the 2013-2014 season, the tone at the Schermerhorn is bound to change a little, but that isn't really a loss. If toning down the exclusive atmosphere is part of filling seats, who better to help out than Huey Lewis and the News? It may gall purists that the world's best bar band closed out the summer at our state-of-the-art hall on Sunday night, but the strategy seems to be working: The couple seated next to The Spin reported it was their first time in, and they were already planning a return visit.

We were a little surprised to see pop-country duo Striking Matches open the show, until we realized that Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis are an impressive bar band themselves. Both are excellent players, and not afraid to show it off, weaving in and out of each other's way with more ferocity than grace, Ms. Zimmerman indulging in a particularly pyrotechnic slide solo on "Make a Liar out of Me." The songs weren't up our alley, but that's more a commentary on the market's requirement that a song be able to boil down to a gift shop T-shirt than a critique of the group's songwriting abilities.

After a short break, the trademark electronic heartbeat from "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll" signaled that time had come to catch up on The News. Despite a few key lineup changes — seasoned session bassist John Pierce taking over for Mario Cipollina and his dangling cigarette, and James Harrah currently subbing for lead guitarist Chris Hayes — the band's core has remained mostly intact since 1978, and the nine-piece looked comfortable as they filled the stage. On cue, casually dapper Lewis sauntered into the spotlight with his harmonica, playing the same role he's held down for 35 years: the easygoing regular Joe who stumbled into the middle of this rock 'n' roll thing, and is determined to have a damn good time with it.

The Sports portion of the program went off with only one hitch that caught our attention: "I Want a New Drug" was sped up, which harshed the vibe a little, but did nothing to dim the stellar ensemble playing, which remained tight without being over-wound through the whole evening. As the ever-affable Lewis paused mid-set to "flip the album over," he reflected wryly on The News' success and longevity, noting that "We used to be a beer and hot dog band, but now we're in with the wine-and-cheese set."

For some, the glossy, manic production of Fore! lingers like a dark cloud over Lewis' catalog, but nary a cut from Fore! appeared on the set list. Sunday night's show was clearly dedicated to the group's roots in country-funk band Clover, which played bars in San Francisco and pubs in London for a decade before guitar-slinger John McFee left to join The Doobie Brothers. McFee played the reverent pedal steel accompaniment to the cover of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues" that closes out Sports, and appeared in person to reprise his role on Sunday, to the full approval of the Music City crowd.

A new song, "While We're Young," was met with polite enthusiasm. Aside from a few choice cuts — the obligatory and excellent "The Power of Love" and a laid-back take on "Do You Believe in Love" among them — the rest of the evening was dedicated to the soul and blues that were The News' meat and potatoes way back when. Hammering the point home, the group took time out for a second take on "Bad Is Bad," reverting from the smoothed-out version that appears on Sports to the John Lee Hooker homage that Huey wrote during the Clover days (its line about "All you can eat for $1.99" adjusted for inflation to $5.99, of course).

Mr. Lewis and his News never claimed to be anything other than entertainers, and sticking to what they know has served them well. Just as they ought to do in any corner bar, all 1,800 or so patrons were singing and clapping along, having a great night out.


D, I Am on Drugs

As The Spin knows, supergroups can sometimes be super groups, as was the case late Monday night at The Basement, where Diamond Rugs and JP5 demonstrated rock 'n' roll virtuosity that was visceral and completely lacking in frills or affectation. Including members of Black Lips, Deer Tick, Dead Confederate, Six Finger Satellite and — the clincher — Los Lobos, Diamond Rugs is, The Spin thinks, one of the best rock 'n' roll bands in the world at the moment. With big Deer Tick John McCauley providing focus, Diamond Rugs create insidious, catchy pop rock with a sardonic but never hard-hearted point of view.

Joey Plunket and his JP5 amazed The Spin — and the audience — with their perfectly calibrated riffs and subtle but full-bodied mix of guitar licks and vocal interplay. JP5 rocks, but in the slightly country-influenced manner of Crazy Horse or Moby Grape circa 20 Granite Creek.

Diamond Rugs opened with "Tell Me Why," one of the great tunes on their 2012 self-titled debut full-length. The groove was ferocious, and Los Lobos' Steve Berlin added saxophone riffs — on many of the songs, Berlin's parts were augmented by a two-piece horn section. As on Diamond Rugs, the addition of horns and keyboards gave the band's seemingly straight-ahead tunes a nicely diseased twist. The songs skillfully contort clever riffs and chord progressions into new shapes, while the added textures suggest a fusion of The Replacements and the Latin Playboys of Dose.

The ferocious rock groove of "Hungover and Horny" contrasted with the psycho dynamics of "Totally Lonely," which began as a sort of tribal breakdown before proceeding into a weird Orbison-esque — or, perhaps, David Lynchian — version of '60s melodrama. With everyone pitching in, the Rugs also played a couple of punk-influenced tunes from their new project, which is in process. In fact, The Spin noted the in-process mood of the night, with an insouciant but dark undertone to the proceedings. The band did an amazing version of "Motherland," which features lyrics about waiting for the final word, and how what once was rock now is sand.

Diamond Rugs' lyrics often describe desperate situations — "Motherland" certainly comes to mind, and "Hungover and Horny" also qualifies. "Call Girl Blues" suggests the lingering influence of such '80s New Wave groups as The Cars. Diamond Rugs are a supergroup with a worldview, and their full-bodied but slightly distanced takes on stardom and identity came across perfectly in live performance. Songs like "Gimme a Beer" and "Big God" are about what happens when you get pushed to limits you were only dimly aware of, while "Country Mile" parodies country music, but not unkindly. At one level, Diamond Rugs' songs are basic rock constructed out of sturdy chords and sturdier rhythms. At another level, the band seeks to subvert that sturdy framework without dismantling the entire thing.

The two new songs sounded great — both had pretty speedy punk grooves. One new tune was called something like "I Love You So," and it demonstrated the band's ability to breathe life into ancient rock. On the other side of the coin, they handled the mock country-rock of "Country Mile" with style. The country-rock side of the band fleshes out their sound, since many of their tunes are variations on punk and garage rock. Appropriately enough for a band that writes about fame and its discontents, McCauley introduced "Blue Mountains" in a somewhat self-deprecating manner: "We got on David Letterman for this one, don't ask me why."

What made Monday night's show remarkable was the way both JP5 and Diamond Rugs integrated their members' varied personalities into rock 'n' roll that never smoothes out idiosyncrasies or makes a big deal out of how consciously it messes with the form itself.

Email thespin@nashvillescene.com.

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