POP MUSIC REVIEW : Ridgway Tones Down Act at Roxy
A magazine recently pegged Stan Ridgway as “the hip-hop Jack Kerouac.” That’s a left-field comparison, but Ridgway does invite authorial analogies: The opening song of his set at the sold-out Roxy on Monday, “Dogs,” was inspired by Samuel Beckett. Soon after it came the James Cain-style “Peg and Pete and Me,” a generic “The Postman Always Rings With Double Indemnity” love-and-murder narrative.
There is plenty of Raymond Chandler in Ridgway too, mostly in his depressing yet bemused fascination with criminally minded losers. And following Chandler’s dictum that “down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean,” Ridgway seems a gentler soul nowadays than in his heyday with his old band, Wall of Voodoo, when the stories and stage presence had a crueler edge. Ridgway’s tales are passed along without judgment or spite, and when he says “Thank you very much” to the audience, it’s sincere and polite, not a sardonic rejoinder.
The down side of that is that some might say he is losing his edge. Certainly Ridgway’s music has never been more relaxed than on his new album “Mosquitos,” where the sophisticated, glossy backing mainly points attention back to his wry, storyteller lyrics. It’s an approach that works better on record than in concert, where no one in the five-piece, keyboard-dominated band was allowed to shine (save for some tasty slide guitar by Richard McGrath).
The players were fine, but Ridgway might as well have been working with a tape, and veteran Voodoo fans can attest that he is at his live best being challenged for the spotlight by some feisty, dangerous fellow musicians.Still, a toned-down Ridgway may be even more appealing than the old, hyperactive Ridgway. There is no contemporary writer who would be better company on the mean streets of Hollywood--or Bay City. And in a dangerous spot, it’s safer to be with a quiet, streetwise observer type than some jumpy new-waver guy, no?