Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks a Hit in Harvard Square


Performance on Friday, November 21, 2009 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
The line was already forming outside the First Parish Church as I cruised by at 7:15 p.m. in what I knew would be a vain attempt to find a parking space. I parked in a garage at the other end of Harvard Square and walked back. The line was still down the sidewalk, but the doors were open and Dan Hicks fans were filing into the church sanctuary.
Dan Hicks
I got in line and the 50-something woman in front of me turned and said, “Are you here to see Dan?”

“No, I’m just getting a good seat for Sunday’s service,” I wanted to say, thinking that was the kind of response that Dan would appreciate. Instead, I politely nodded yes when she asked if I’d ever seen Dan before.

Inside the church, instruments, speakers and lights filled the makeshift “stage” down front as Dan Hicks disciples took their seats in the pews. Seating was also available in balconies lining the left and right sides of the church. I grabbed a seat on the floor level, just to the left of center, about ten pews from the front. The crowd appeared to be mostly 50-plus, with more than a few grey ponytails in evidence – and those were the men.

Shortly after 8 p.m., the opening act Maeve Gilchrist took the stage. She’s a lovely young Scottish-born singer-songwriter-harpist who performed for about 40 minutes and was very well received. At one point, she was plugging an upcoming show at a local jazz club on December 9. “That’s my 24th birthday,” she announced. “Come help me celebrate.” I wondered if anyone told her that she shares a birthday with headliner Dan Hicks.

After a short intermission, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks took the stage, with Dan not looking or acting the part of a man about to turn 68 years old. He introduced the “Lickettes,” Daria and Roberta, and “the Lickmen” violinist Richard Chon, bassist Paul Smith and lead guitarist Dave Bell. “And you all know me,” he added. “I’m Martha Stewart.”
Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks
After an instrumental warmup that was interrupted and restarted due to technical difficulties, the band launched into “Canned Music,” followed by the call-and-response tune, “Evening Breeze.”

“That’s pretty much the show,” Dan deadpanned from the stage.

The band continued to experience technical problems, which the audience didn’t seem to notice, but at one point Dave Bell left the stage for two or three songs before returning. Dan managed to cover the glitches with his trademark humor, claiming that Bell had gone to the store to buy a new guitar.

“The bad news for Dave is that he’ll be paid slightly less for tonight’s show,” Dan joked, “so it works out in my favor.” He noted that Maria Muldaur had graced the same stage a week earlier. “I’ll bet Maria Muldaur didn’t have these problems,” he quipped.

The set continued with “Reelin’ Down,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Blues My Naughty Baby Gave to Me.” There were no more references to technical problems, which seemed to be resolved. But early in the show Dan did complain about the stage lights being too bright.

“Can we bring the lights down a little?” he wondered. “They’re really oppressive. And isn’t there enough oppression in the world?” he added, apparently giving the needle to the Cambridge crowd.

“I scare Myself,” included the now standard interlude where, during Bell’s guitar solo, Dan channels Jimi Hendrix, pantomiming playing his guitar with his tongue.
Dan Hicks
“Milk Shakin’ Mama” followed, and then “Song for My Father” which Dan identified as a song from the new album, “Tangled Tales.” He noted that the new CD had reached “number 700,005 on the charts, so we’re hoping for the best.”

The show continued with “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette.” It’s a song I don’t recall hearing much at Dan’s live shows over the years. But it has a great line that captures the morbidly addictive power of nicotine.

Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death,
Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
That you just hate to make him wait,
But you just gotta have another cigarette.

“Sweetheart (Waitress in a Donut Shop)” featured Lickettes Roberta and Daria trading vocals. The girls sounded great all night. As always, they played a series of hand percussion instruments and engaged in choreographed dance steps with Dan. Dan Hicks was quite the hoofer in his younger days, as you can see from some of the YouTube videos available.

Dan announced the final song, adding, “And then we’re going to pretend to leave the building and then come back. We’re not actually going to leave, but we’ll sure make it look like we did.”

The band returned to play “The Buzzard Was Their Friend” as an encore. Relying on memory, I’m sure I’ve feft out a couple of songs along the way. Notable by their absence on last night’s playlist were two songs that are usually staples of the band’s live shows, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away” and “‘Long Come a Viper.”

In all Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks played for nearly two hours, and a good time was had by all.

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