Talking with Bill Lloyd and Radney Foster before this much-anticipated reunion gig, the capper in a series of fund-raising shows for the Americana Music Association at the storied club, we were trying to scope out how long it has been since the innovative country duo had performed together like this.
There had been, they recalled – after some thought – a few shows about six years ago, with the Kennedy Rose duo at Sundance; one with Alison Krauss in Switzerland; and one where they sang Everly Brothers tunes for the Nashville Songwriters Association – all acoustic and as a duo. But the juice was going to be turned on tonight, and the hitmaking country act of the late 1980s hadn’t appeared electrified, with a band behind, in ten years. The show was sold out within minutes of the tickets going on sale, and that was before it was announced that that the bass player would be none other than Tom Pettersson of Cheap Trick, or that Sam Bush would join in on rocking mando.
The show was a gas, in a way that only the talents and styles which added up to “Foster & Lloyd” in the first place made possible. Having met while working as Music Row songwriters, and found that their singing voices could mesh like Everlys for the ’80s, they’d taken the modern roots-rock attack of a band like Rockpile to the country top-10, where their pop and country blend fit in fine in the “Great Credibility Scare” era of Steve Earle & the Dukes, the Mavericks, and Dwight Yoakam. A rooted song such as Foster’s “Texas In 1880″ might well have been something out of the Long Ryders’ punk-influenced Paisley Underground – and it can be sung as a folk ballad just as easily.
So we got those variations in the reunion show: Foster & Lloyd bringing on the top-5 country hit “Sure Thing” as one of the acoustic numbers they began the set with, as well as “Fair Shake”, their hit co-written with Guy Clark, then Lloyd adding his stinging guitar for the super-catchy “What Do You Want From Me This Time?” (a hit that they easily concatenated live into the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”, even rhyming the choruses). If “The Fat Lady Sings” was a little too edgy, menacing and Edmunds/Lowe-like for many mainstream country fans in 1988, it still sounded potent (and funny) live in 2009.
Foster’s comment about the attentive Bluebird crowd (“This quiet business – it didn’t used to be this way”) was a prelude to the rock set about to break loose. The numbers included such surprises as their driving version of “Picasso’s Mandolin”, which they’d written with Guy Clark but never recorded (as he did). All the more appropriate that Sam Bush was there to add thrashing mando to the mix. Lloyd’s guitar, for anybody who’s not heard his recent solo discs or his work as leader of the classic-album-saluting Long Players, still stuns.
Stunning for the many fans of this act is the news that the two of them have been writing together again. The full rock unit offered up several of these new numbers. “Just This Once”, an anthemic, hooky “let’s leave some miles in the dust now” song, got a terrific, immediate response. It was maybe enough to send the message that their combination of sensibilities – Foster’s more specifically country/Texas balladeer side and Lloyd’s more playful pop – is special and potent, and would be good to revive.
For this night, we all got to catch one special show, whether more is to come or not. Lloyd didn’t hesitate when I asked what made that happen now: “Because it’s for the Americana Music Association, and that’s very important; Americana’s where the best cutting edge acoustic and country music is going on. That’s why.” Well, sure enough, these guys still cut it.
Video by Ann Shaw, from an Obama fundraiser at the Bluebird in fall 2008