Back in the 1990s, I was big into Big Rude Jake’s records. His music was this crazy mix of jazz, blues, swing, punk, and rockabilly. He writes smart, tight songs and the records are all solid. He sort of fell by the wayside in the oughties, and I guess I figured he’d hung up his skates. Turns out he’d been in an accident (hit by a taxi) and was laying low a while. But now he’s back! Hooray!!
How’d we get to this show? My lovely wife and I were casting around for somewhere cool to spend our anniversary trip this year (our 11th!), and she happened upon a listing for a Big Rude Jake gig in Kitchener (Mike’s town!). Did I wanna go? Um, does a bear shit in the woods?
So away we went!
We got to the venue, Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub, in good time. We were eager to get going. The manager was out at the door greeting people, said he’d just talked to Jake and he was en route, somewhere between Pearson airport in Toronto and Kitchener. Jake had played in Toronto that afternoon. Cool. We got good seats at a table right up front. There were only about 20 people in the place when we arrived, but that’s fine.
Jake arrived not long after, walked past our table and said “Hey good to see you, thanks for coming out!” Cool. They set up, and then the opening act, a young guitarist calling herself Mary5E got out her blood red Gibson SG and played us a few tunes. She was very good, definitely has a really powerful voice, sustaining notes and a rasp and really belting it out. My lovely wife said she reminded her of Joan Jett, that biting attack. I agreed. She did original songs about love (or losing love), a country song, a song about leaving her socks in Waterloo (which she said was about Tobermory, which ain’t too far from our neck of the woods) and, as a closer, Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. Her voice fit it perfectly. Well done!
By the time the gig was in full swing, there were closer to 100 people there, which in this small bar was pretty damn respectable. There wasn’t much of a wait before Big Rude Jake and his band hit the stage. And can I just tell you, as a long-time fan of BRJ, that this was a real treat and a blessing and a joy to get to see this show! His band was smoking hot right from the first song. Wes Neal on upright bass laid down a sweet, sweet groove, and the drummer (whose name is Tim but I cannot recall his last name – sorry, Tim) was swingin’ and played with great sensibility to the music. Trombone/piano was brought to us by James Stager and I have to tell you, a guy we know once called the trombone the rutabaga of the band instruments, but Stager owned it and made it a lead instrument with ease. He played both instruments when it fit the song best, and did jazz shout-outs in the songs, too. You could tell he loved the music because he was dancing and singing along with Jake’s lyrics, off-mic, just because the music was moving him.
And Jake? He nailed every song. He makes it look so easy, running off those jazzy guitar licks that you notice but take for granted when you really, really shouldn’t. He’s a genius at laying down those pre-40s structures. His vocals were par excellence, crooning and growling, belting and whispering as the the moment required. I was in love with his guitar, which an article online said was a Silvertone “drugstore guitar” from the 1950s, fixed up by a luthier just for Jake’s needs. The pick guard said “sweet lieef” (or something like that), an obvious nod to the mary jane and to Black Sabbath. It’s a beautiful thing. I also liked his bowling shirt, with the name ‘Bob’ on the front, and ‘Kaul Funeral Home’ on the back. Nice one.
At the end of the first set, which included several songs I knew (including Front Street Belvedere, which he called “the poem”), I was enthralled. This was awesome! When he came off stage to get a break, Jake came over to our table and thanked us again for coming out. He shook my hand and all I could think to say, in the moment, was “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time!” To which he replied, “Well that’s great, thanks a lot!” and went off to find a seat. Right then I felt a bit silly, like I’d said something weird when I should have told him what I really thought, that he’s a brilliant player and we’re lucky to have him! But in retrospect, it was alright. He knew what I meant, and I really have been looking forward to seeing him play for a long time. This was actually my first time seeing him play and I’ve been a fan since 1993-4!
We did move tables, at this point, because some asshole behind us talked non-stop and REALLY LOUDLY the whole time, during the songs, and in between, too. I don’t even think he was breathing – just talking. He’d only stop talking long enough to cheer loudly and clap when a song ended. Why was he cheering? He hadn’t heard a thing over the sound of his own yelling about absolutely nothing. He clearly was not paying attention to the music. Shut up, dummy! He was wearing a brown wedge hat and a Bill Murray in 3D glasses t-shirt from the Chive, a web site where the thing to do when you see that shirt is to say “Hey, Chive On!” and be all buddy buddy. Well he wasn’t getting that from me. This guy deserved a full-on CHIVE OFF! and a SHUT THE FUCK UP!
So. Rather than let this moron ruin our night, we moved to the other side of the room entirely and wouldn’t you believe that, between sets, we could still hear that braying donkey loud as a bell, from across the entire room! Fortunately, when the band was back on stage, our new vantage point meant he was (mercifully) drowned out. What a jerk. If you’re reading this, you douchebag, the next time you come to a show, SHUT THE FUCK UP when a band is on stage. Your voice truly was louder than the band, in full swing, and they were amplified! Seriously. Shut. Up.
Ahem. Nevermind, that one asshole was not going to ruin our night. Nope. No way.
The band played 3 full sets (!), and all this after playing a full gig in Toronto that afternoon. The 3rd set didn’t even start until 01:00! Over the course of the night we got a lot of songs we knew, including Queer For Cat, Gotham City Serenade, Girl In The Pink Canoe (which got a lot of laughs), Speak Easy, Neck Deep In The Blues, and many, many others, all of them served up with verve, and that bluesy, swinging bliss. One I didn’t know, which was also full of humour, was Dave Bartholomew’s goofy Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear. Jake dedicated it to the table with the talking jerk, I believe, calling someone over there the most homoerotic straight man around. I loved it. I’d like to think Jake knew that dummy had been talking non-stop the whole show. Also, someone kept calling for Swing Baby, but Jake wouldn’t play it. Said he’d forgotten the chords haha.
For the third set, around 0100, Jake called a blues set that ran like this: B.B. King’s Everyday I Have The Blues (which was so fucking hot), the Hank Williams popularized Lost Highway (originally Leon Payne’s tune), then Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out) [ a Jimmy Cox tune, popularized by Bessie Smith, covered by many after that], Woody Guthrie’s This Train, and then oh man, and THEN! He played the classic Big Rude Jake chord structure and threw in the words to: The Eagles’ Hotel California! I should have videoed it, but I was too busy laughing and cheering at how awesome the whole thing was. And why would he do this? Because he’d asked the crowd for requests and someone shouted this tune (right before someone yelled Free Bird, thank goodness he didn’t play that). And then, to close out the night, pushing 0200, was the Filthy Bastard Cabaret. Which was awesome by itself, but more so because the lyrics are certainly ribald and James Stager’s Mom was in the crowd. Jake even said, mid-song, “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Mrs. Stager!” before carrying on with more. Of course.
To call this night an absolute success for Big Rude Jake and his 3-piece band is Understatement Of The Year. I will not ever forget this, the music was phenomenal. It was GREAT! Thank you so much, Big Rude Jake and his Little Band!
* I’ve posted pictures that I took with my own cell phone camera during the gig. If either performer, or the pub’s management, has a problem with my posting them here, give me a good reason to do so and I’ll take them down out of respect for Big Rude Jake.