NRBQ Brings Its Peculiar 'Omni-Pop' to San Juan--With Bonnie Raitt Along

"We've got our own music to bring to the people," says Terry Adams, who sings and plays keyboards in NRBQ. "We call it omni-pop. And I'd say it's a pretty all-encompassing brand of pop music. It really has a little bit of everything in it."

Indeed, since its appearance on the musical horizon in the early '70s, the band (whose initials stand for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet) has kept its fans guessing. The band's quirky records and frenetic live sets still leave listeners wondering what will happen next.

One wouldn't expect such a group to last long: What record company executive in his right mind, after all, would put cash on the line for a bunch of guys whose music couldn't be less in tune with what's commercially predictable?

Yet, Adams, bassist/singer Joey Spampinato, guitarist/singer Al Anderson and drummer Tom Ardolino persevere. They will be at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano tonight, with their old pal, Bonnie Raitt, sitting in.

As often has been the case with the Grateful Dead, record sales are not the best indicator of NRBQ's success, which might best be measured by loyal followers who turn out wherever the band plays. "We have been having some pretty big crowds," Adams said with a laugh the other day on the phone from San Francisco. "And we've been playing every night because that's what we were born to do!"

He was only half kidding. For NRBQ, music isn't just a way to pay the bills; it's almost a sort of lifelong mission. Adams said he and his mates can't even begin to think about what they would do if they couldn't play.

But that doesn't mean they're about to make any concessions to the mainstream. "It's like these Indians that are in Florida, the Micasookees who are Seminoles, I think," Adams said. "They never surrendered to the United States. Consequently, the government has to treat them differently than they treat the rest of the Indians.

"I'd like to think we're like that."

Can't you see it all now? NRBQ, holed up in a broken-down barroom with nothing but blazing instruments to protect the guys from the encroaching record company machinery, machinery that wants to turn them into another Foreigner/Journey/Speedwagon. The food is low, the liquor gone. Whatever will they do?

Probably the same thing they've been doing: They will stick to their guns and ride the siege out.

The band has released 10 albums, one of which, "She Sings, They Play," was a collaboration with country singer Skeeter Davis. The latest is a live LP called "God Bless Us All" (Rounder Records) that includes "Down at the Zoo," "Crazy Like a Fox," and the band's semi-hit of a few years back, "Me and the Boys."

It was recorded during "a midnight set, and mostly the songs are up-tempo," Adams said. "We didn't go back and fix anything like they do with so many 'live' albums where everything has been overdubbed except maybe the bass drum track. So, the record is truly a record of one of our live shows."

There may be no better way to catch this band: The immediacy that marks its playing is fueled in large part by interaction with the fans.

NRBQ and special guest Bonnie Raitt will play at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, tonight at 8. Admission: $15. Information: (714) 496-8927.

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