Since Commander Cody first revved up his Lost Planet Airmen 23 years ago, crew members have come and gone. But the commander's brand of boogie-woogie and roots rock remains the same.
By now, Cody's no-manure, one-speed bar band approach is as weathered as the haggard and patched blue jeans he wore at the Coach House on Wednesday night. But his performance was as spirited and soaring as ever.
Cody and his Airmen may no longer be reigning kings of American bar rock. A number of younger bands--Orange County's own James Harman Band, for one--can serve up roots rock with as much or more energy. But it is remarkable that Cody has been charging at the same breakneck tempo since the tail end of the Bay Area psychedelic movement, and here in 1992 he still packs a full head of steam.
The path charted by the Airmen on Wednesday was predictable: Their 17-song set emphasized blues and boogie standards and obscurities, though a handful of new originals was tossed in the mix. Cody and crew flew the mission with a panache that was apparently genuine and certainly inspiring, as evidenced by the clapping, stomping and hooting from the sparse audience.
The music was given wings by the obvious love and passion that Cody (who, curiously, wore a T-shirt with a picture of an angel on it) still has for Eddie Cochran, Cab Calloway and the Delta.
Guitarist Glen Sherba and tenor saxophonist Nancy Wright, who both joined the Airmen this year, add invigorating new dimensions to the band's sound. Their performances alone were worth the price of admission.
Sherba is a throwback to the lank-haired guitar heroes of the 1970s. Wright is a precise and steady player. Both are skilled technicians who shined whether carrying the groove with the others or stepping forward for solos.
The brief solo jam is a facet of all of Cody's songs. Each number is structured about the same way: A rollicking melody builds up to solos by Cody, Sherba, Wright or all three. But, with few exceptions, the improvisations were pure, with none of the monotony so common to soloing of this kind.
Sherba's posturing might have been annoying but instead was a humorous complement to his excellent playing. And Wright time and again wowed the crowd with her impressive command of the horn, eliciting some of the loudest applause of the evening.
Singer Billy C. Farlow and drummer Lance Dickerson are original Airmen--along with, of course, Cody, a Jerry Lee Lewis-style keyboardist and singer. Bassist Dave Tolme has been with the band for more than a year.
Farlow's stage antics were rather tired and contrived Wednesday, but his singing, fortunately, hasn't failed him. Tolme and Dickerson made up a reliable if unremarkable rhythm section.
And Cody himself still ultimately steals the show.
Taking the vocals and hammering the keys, he immediately set the tempo of the 95-minute show with a bouncing and tumbling version of "Lose It Tonight." Farlow sang for most of the concert, but Cody took center stage again for the inevitable rendition of the band's biggest hit, "Hot Rod Lincoln," which inspired even the more docile suburban cowboys and cowgirls in the crowd to spring from their seats and stomp their dung-kickers.
The Airmen finished with a two-song encore, "There's a Riot Going On" and the band's anthem, "Lost in the Ozone."
Cody's set was contrasted sharply by the two bothersome acts that preceded it.
The Rompers played bland, innocuous countrified rock with polished twang and lightweight synthesizer--soulless, beer-commercial rock that was best tolerated from the bar or the bathroom.
The opening band, Both Barrels, was a notch or two better. The quintet was remarkably tight, but the slow, leaden blues-rock drifted too heavily into metallic waters, where it eventually sunk.