Al & the Transamericans
November 13, 2008
With moe. on an extended break for the near future, it has given guitarist Al Schnier time to take his longtime side project, Al & the Transamericans out on the road. With their recently released second album This Day & Age in hand, the country-fried-folk-rock group set out for a brief two-week run around the east coast.
Despite their limited output and the small number of shows they have played in their almost ten years, this band has always seemed to be more than just a half-assed indulgence to fulfill some overlooked musical fantasy. Even though the band bears Schnier’s name and the majority of tunes are penned by him, The Transamericans have always seemed to be more than just a backing group.
On stage they are a cohesive unit with a singular vision guiding their musical direction. With everyone else in the band coming from another full time gig – drummer Vinnie Amico (moe.), bassist Erick Glocker (Strangefolk), keyboardist Kirk Juhas (Okemah), banjo & pedal steel Gordon Stone (Gordon Stone Trio) – Al & the Transamericans provides them a chance to step outside what they may normally do.
While that step outside may not be a giant move away from their norm (as The Transamericans mine an Americana-roots-rock vein, and all of their day jobs dip a pretty big toe into that musical pool as well), it is still enough of step away to be exciting to see them play and present songs with a different touch then what is normally expected.
Their sets this tour, as you would expect have pulled heavily from their two albums, with a fairly even mix between both. “I Will,” “Old Friends” and the hoe-down rocker “Red Hill Road” were among those from 2003’s Analog on this night. From the new album they plucked a couple of Juhas-sung tunes, “Time” and “Light of the Moon” as well “Another Home”.
They augmented the rest of the set with a couple of covers and assorted odds and ends. Schnier led the band through a ragged, but fun take on Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” while bassist Glockler provided two of the highlights of the evening with his mid-set take on the Jerry Reed classic “Eastbound & Down” and his night ending rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.”
As he usually does with the Transamericans, Schnier also co-opted a few of his tunes that have fallen out of rotation in moe.’s sets. To the 8×10 he brought along the old school, “Me & Pat & Bill & You,” the encore “Queen of the Rodeo,” and the set-ending “Waiting For the Punchline,” that despite being played as a simplified version of what moe. usually rocks out, still retained enough of its forehead-vein busting intensity to make one worry about Schnier’s safety.
The song was also given new life by Stone’s pedal steel work that balanced Schnier’s aggressive guitar, giving a country tilt to the well-worn tune. Throughout the night Stone was the lynchpin to the band’s country-fried approach, with his subtle pedal steel and banjo lines floating in and out of the rest band, providing an ethereal-dreamy-down-home ring to every song.
No matter who provided the highlight – whether it was Glocker’s well sung covers, Schnier’s guitar insanity, Amico’s steady hand on the drum kit, Juhas’ quiet intensity behind his keyboards, or Stone’s masterful work on the pedal steel – it was more about what they did as a band and the way they came together that defined this night and who they are.
Who are they, you ask?
Al & the Transamericans.