Rock Magazine article 1973


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  Just Another Night at Cowtown  
  BY RICHARD CUSIK (June 18, 1973)  
  When it all began, Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley were out in the front, pounding their guitars and getting off on the sounds of Witchi-Tai-To, a thousand year old Peyote chant.  They were finishing up the very last set of a long string of concerts at the Bitter End.  I sat backstage amid the empty guitar cases and musicians, talking to Paul Peterson, the duo's manager. He was very glad to be going home to Missouri the next day.  I told him that most everyone I had ever spoken with that has come back from Kansas City has told me that it's the deadest town in America.

"There's not much happening.  It's pretty slow down there.  I'll admit that," he admitted. "But it's kinda nice.  I like it."

Four days later, I flew out to Kansas City to see Brewer & Shipley record a live album.  There was no Missouri sunshine, only bleak dark clouds and a shitty little drizzle.  A couple of airport hassles and taxi cabs made me wonder if I had ever really left that great gotham of New York.   It took me a little bit of time, but eventually I made my way to the Cowtown Ballroom.

The Ballroom turned out to be a huge, non-descript building that looked more like a warehouse than a rock house.  Inside the doorway, a staircase led to the second floor, and the Ballroom itself.  As the term "Ballroom" implies, there were no chairs, only a large floor for the people to sit on.  Three-quarters of the hall is surrounded by a balcony also without seats.  At one time, the Cowtown Ballroom was a roller skating rink, and there are still signs on the wall warning of the dangers of going down the stairs with your skates on.  It's a good funky place to listen to music.

The afternoon prior to the concert was a busy one.  Everyone around seeing about their own little job.  There's a lot of setting up to do at any concert, especially one that's going to be recorded.

But finally the technicians finished setting up the equipment, the band was assembled, and so a sound check was about to be made.

A year ago, Brewer and Shipley were a simple acoustic duo, just two guitars and voices, but since last November they've been using a backup band: Larry Knight on guitars, Bill Berosini on bass, and for tonight's gig, Steve Starr on piano.  The resulting sound is different, though not necessarily better than the simple acoustic duo of the past.

The sound check was made and the music was good.  The band did, "I Am Less Than The Song I Am Singing," a Hoyt Axton tune which may be on the next studio album.  "Blue Highway" from the new album was done, and everyone including myself became more and more sure it was going to be a good night.

"Just another night at Cowtown," Michael Brewer would later say.

                                                         * * *

About 6:30 p.m., people began to line up outside and around the theater.  I looked, and I couldn't really notice a big difference between a New York rock audience and a Kansas City audience, except that in Kansas City, they all spoke with funny Missouri twang, and maybe they were a bit more friendly towards strangers.

Upon entering the building each ticket holder was disarmed of all wine bottles and beer cans.  The house was sold out in advance, and the crowd sat on the Ballroom floor, smoked their dope, and waited patiently for the show to begin.

The first set was the up-and-coming local band called the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  I'm told they were very good.  I can't be considered much of a judge though, as I spent most of this set in the ticket office.

The second set was performed by Loudon Wainright III which I cannot speak about either.   This time I was in Michael and Tom's dressing rooms, absorbing it all and taking notes.

There were many kids of people in the dressing room.  The entire band of course, along with some family.  Pretty ladies, all of whom seemed to be with someone or another, wandered about aimlessly.  Chet Nichols was there with a lady friend.  No one knew it then, but he was later to jam with the band on the encore.  Super-producer Glyn Johns was on hand, "on vacation" I was told by an unreliable source.  Guitarist Larry Knight sat about, picking out idle riffs on his electric guitar.  After a bit, Larry, Michael, and Bill Berosini got down on some serious music with another version of "I Am Less Than The Song I Am Singing."

Suddenly it was showtime.  Nobody in the band really seemed nervous.  "Just another gig at Cowtown."   The sidemen left for the stage, as Brewer & Shipley remained in a corner of the room tuning their guitars to each other.  Then they too left for the stage, and the room became ominously silent.  It was really all very dramatic.  I looked about, trying to read all the faces at once, and I got the feeling everyone was confident.  It was going to go well.

A simple calling card introduction heralds the two young men on stage.  The crowd cheers, and the set is begun.

"Black Sky," from the new album "Rural Space" is first.  The band sounds fairly tight, which is surprising, considering it's only the second night for Steve Starr.

The next half hour or so is a mixture from Brewer & Shipley's past four albums.  (There are actually five albums, but one of them, Down In L.A., they choose to ignore.)

"Don't Want To Die In Georgia," the only tune added since the New York sets, is a local favorite.  As the line, "I woke up in Kansas City" is sung, the crowd cheers.   I suppose Brewer & Shipley are an outlet of some kind of civic pride in Kansas City, much in the same way the Grateful Dead are thought of in San Francisco, only in a smaller scale.

A few interval moments of quiet, for tuning, and Shipley introduces a tune "people have been getting off on for a thousand years."

As the first chords of Witchi-Tai-To are heard, a white light fills the stage.  Everyone in the house is on his feet, clapping and dancing.  It's easy to see why people have been getting off on this song for a millennium.  It's even easier to see why people are getting off on it now.

The song, as well as the set, end acoustically, the way it began.  And for just a moment, my mind floats back to the memory of that acoustic duo, just two guitars and voices.  I believe the same thing is probably true of anyone who had seen them way back when.

Well, it all ended pretty fast, and when it was over, there was nothing left to do except wait it all out until the next day.  Tomorrow would be Sunday, when everyone concerned would listen to the tapes, to see if it had all been worth it.  It's all there now, and there's nothing left to do, but wait until tomorrow.

After the show, there was a party at the Ballroom, which led to a jam.  I am told that it went on almost till dawn.  I personally left it all behind hours before that.

As I said, the next day was Sunday, and we all went back to Cowtown to listen to the tapes.  I thought they were good, but it seems that some people, more experienced than myself in matters of this sort, held a different point of view.

"All I ever wanted it to be was just another night at Cowtown," Michael Brewer said.  "But it didn't work out that way."   As he spoke, I could sense frustration.  Apparently, the combined opinion was that most of the tapes weren't quite up to snuff.

And so, I flew back to New York wondering if it was worth it.  After all, after flying over a thousand miles and combating innumerable hassles, only a few tracks from the Cowtown gig were to be used on the album.

But in the end, I decided that at least for me, the good times overrode the bad, and the music, interwoven with the beautiful spirit that lies beyond, made it a valuable, enjoyable experience.

     "What a spirit:
      Spinning, spinning, 'round my head....".
      That spirit is the reason it was worth it all.


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