Too much fun with Kirchen

May 2, 2012

Bill Kirchen gave a masters class in music history at Molly Malone’s in Covington Tuesday night. The difference between his presentation and a college lecture was the fact that he was thoroughly entertaining as well as enlightening.

Kirchen, the “Titan of the Telecaster,” is in his mid 60s but retains the impish gleam that he must have had at Ann Arbor (Mich.) High School where he went to class with Iggy Pop. He plays with such joy that it’s immediately obvious why his band is called Too Much Fun.

Starting with the instrumental “Buckaroo,” Kirchen alternated paying tribute to his heroes, such as Buck Owens and Buckaroos’ guitarist Don Rich, with coaxing unheard of sounds from his trusty Fender. Playing the same guitar for more than two hours while hardly fiddling with the tuning makes one wonder why some slingers can’t play two songs in a row without switching instruments.

As he wound his way through the American songbook (non-Rod Stewart edition), Kirchen was more than ably supported by drummer Jack O’Dell and bass player Maurice Cridlin, each of whom was given multiple turns in the spotlight. O’Dell’s original “I Might Have Been a Lawyer, But I Couldn’t Pass the Bar,” for instance, would fit comfortably on any Dan Hicks’ album.

Speaking of Hicks, Kirchen opened the second set with “Word to the Wise,” his collaboration with the leader of the Hot Licks. Then Kirchen introduced his trilogy of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen tunes, including the classic “Seeds and Stems Blues Again,” with an explanation of his “wasted youth. That’s a double entendre, isn’t it?”

No Kirchen performance is complete without “Hot Rod Lincoln,” Commander Cody’s most famous song. The guitarist has added his own touch; a journey through rock guitar history that travels from Johnny Cash to Jimi Hendrix with many stops along the way. The fact that he can switch gears so quickly is impressive; that O’Dell and Cridlin are right with him at every twist even more so.

Kirchen, who played the season finale of WNKU’s Studio 89 Monday night, wrapped up the second set with a nod to another hero, Bob Dylan, with an uptempo version of “The Times They Are a Changin’.” It was a fitting end to the night’s lesson.

But after O’Dell and Cridlin left the stage and the lights came up, Kirchen decided he wasn’t finished, so the lights dimmed, the players returned, and a trombone case mysteriously appeared in the second row of seats. The band broke into “Milk Cow Blues,” and after a few blues licks on his guitar, Kirchen grabbed the trombone, and with O’Dell carrying his snare in one hand and a drum stick in the other, the pair marched through the audience like a second line at a New Orleans funeral.

It was simply too much fun.