BLUEHEELS – The Only Dance You Know
When a band generates quality new songs as quickly as the Blueheels do, a live record hardly seems like the logical next step. Live CDs are typically the refuge of bands that don’t have enough material for a new release but are trying to keep the public’s attention. The Blueheels are sitting on a mountain of material with their next couple of records already mapped out, so why release live versions of songs that have already been released once? Easy, the simple fact is that the live show has made them what they are today. Tireless touring of northern and central Wisconsin and energetic, addictive shows have made them a bar favorite from Madison to Appleton. Their two studio releases are great, but this live recording shows off what they do best.
The CD was recorded over the course of two nights last November at Cranky Pat’s in Neenah, home base for their takeover of the state. Their Fox Valley fans have been there the longest and are the most loyal, not to mention the loudest. In fact, one of them has been credited with writing the mantra that anchors the title track. “The only dance you know” is the “Twist and Toil” referring to the inherently boring, cyclical nature of day to day life. Though they’ve been playing it for years, it wasn’t on their last CD. Perhaps they were saving it for just this occasion, because this one works better with some audience participation. The enthusiastically chanted chorus of “Wake up, go to work, go home, go to sleep” has unfairly been called a rip-off of the Bottle Rockets’ “Gotta Get Up.” True, they did put the sentiment “’Cause I gotta get up. Gotta go to work. Then I come home and I gotta go to bed” to music first, but the songs sound nothing alike. Besides, it isn’t like the Bottle Rockets invented getting up and going to work. On this CD the crowd makes themselves heard, putting some real volume behind their effort.
It turns out only a third of these songs have been released before. Classics “Tennessee” and “Red Pajamas” come from their 2006 debut, Long Gone. Here the former includes Blake Thomas’s unknowing rewrite‑“Drive all night and drink all day” made a lot more sense to him than “Drive all night and drink coffee”‑while I still swoon over the way Robbie Schiller sings the word “pajamas” in the latter. “Lion and the Lamb,” “Keep Your Mouth Shut Boy,” and “Stupid Little Smile” are highlights from 2008’s Lessons in Sunday Driving. That means ten of these tracks are unreleased, hardly the usual format of a live release. Two of these, the cheesy “Special Sauce” and the silly “Girl,” are no more than impromptu interludes, but that leaves eight songs you can’t get anywhere else, making this CD more essential than the average concert record.
The haunted “Sleeping in the Driveway” and the dark “The Hands that Harmed You,” both of which deal with domestic violence, are surprisingly bleak for such a good-time party band. That Schiller can wrap such depressing material into a palatable package speaks volumes of his skill as a songwriter. While their earlier material maintains a sweet alt-country face, recent compositions find them venturing into other musical territory. “Before the Fall” is a disco dance party, while “Keep Your Mouth Shut Boy” gets positively psychedelic, both primarily thanks to keyboardist Teddy Pedriana. The disc ends with the throat-shredding “Rock and Roll Haircut,” a “Twist and Shout” style rave-up that includes some hilarious freestyle “rapping” from Schiller.
The performances are all remarkably solid and studio quality, which isn’t that surprising from the crack band that also includes drummer Adam Cargin, guitarist Justin Bricco, and bassist Landon Arkens. Throughout there is just enough crowd noise and band banter to remind you that this was recorded live. Even without having been there, it’s easy to picture Schiller throwing a dollar or two into the audience for the silly “Fistfulls (sic) of Cash,” claiming, “You’re all going to be rich, rich, rich.” Perhaps he sums it up best at the end of the show, “You guys have been great, but we’ve been awesome!” Seldom is a live disc this vital, but your Blueheels collection isn’t complete without it.