The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill is a fine establishment all on its own, but it takes on a whole new luster when Ironing Board Sam is at the piano. Ironing Board doesn’t just play piano, he sits down and takes command of the ebony and ivory. His blues spill out from some kind of ever-deepening well and his prowess at the keyboard is astonishing. You just know…something divine is at work here. The combination of Ironing Board’s electric spirit and the finely tuned cocktails at Crunkleton are a heady mix for sure, but it was the music itself and the reverberations of one man’s soul filtered through his instrument that left me slightly wobbly and skyward-looking. After his set, I felt a little lighter and a lot more centered. That’s what the blues are supposed to do after all. Here’s to you Ironing Board. I’ll be seeing you again soon.
When I called a buddy here in Durham to ask if he wanted to go to Chapel Hill to see a new documentary on The Replacements, he said “Every once in a while something cool goes on in that town and, whenever it does, I can’t go.” Behind the humor and little jab at Chapel Hill, I know he was really bummed. He’s usually fine missing these few and far between events in our sister town, but missing this one really seemed to bother him. It’s a film about The Replacements after all. I first heard The Replacements in my friend Andrew’s beat up, late 80s Honda Civic. I was in tenth grade and All Shook Down had come out the previous year to much critical boo-hooing about the end of The Replacements, music writer one-upmanship about the death of a great band, and grumbling about the inauspicious beginnings of a watered down, lackluster Paul Westerberg solo career. The record turned out to be all of these things, but I didn’t have any clue at the time that this record was any of that. It was simply the first Replacements album I would hear and my introduction to a catalog of music that still astounds me.
The first Replacements song to enter my orbit was the roughhewn pop of “Merry Go Round,” perhaps the best track on the record. Maybe I think it is the best because it was the simply the first Replacements song that I heard and it happened to be in the car of a friend who I looked up to and who introduced me to loads of bands I still listen to (Sonic Youth, Firehose, Dinosaur Jr. come instantly to mind) sometimes with somewhat moist eyes. But after a couple of decades, “Merry Go Round” still sounds great to me and, most importantly, it doesn’t sound like a Paul Westerberg song, but like a Replacements one. Andrew’s car stereo was about as cranky and finicky as he was. The tape had to be inserted just so, the speakers rattled and hissed, and the volume knob was so picky that you had to turn it up and down several times before finding the right level of sound in each of the ornery speakers. But all that just added to the beauty of the song and the moment. As we drove out of my neighborhood to whatever high-school Friday night shenanigans were ahead of us, I knew Westerberg’s rattle and rasp and jingle jangle guitar would become our soundtrack for the night. Continue reading