On Saturday, April 7, five men walked onto the stage at the Theater of Living Arts. The near-capacity crowd went into a roar of applause.
One of them stepped forward and said, “I’m John Hammond,” and before the audience finished clapping he continued, “and this is Wicked Grin.” With that, Hammond and his band went into “2:19,” a track from his latest release, Wicked Grin, a collection of songs written and produced by Tom Waits.
Hammond had the same band with him at the TLA that played on Grin, save for Waits. However, most of the crowd was not in attendance because of the association with Tom Waits — by their applause, mood and looks on their faces, it was apparent that they were there because they were fans of Hammond.
Hammond is a revered blues musician. He released his first album in the early 60s, and has played on albums by artists as diverse as Duane Allman, John Lee Hooker, Jefferson Airplane, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bob Dylan.
Hammond doesn’t play the wussed-out white-boy blues, either. During the show, it was quite apparent that Hammond knew and loved the music that he was playing.
Through most of the show, Hammond stuck to the tracks on his latest album; but added some extra Waits tunes like “Lowside of the Road,” from Waits’ latest album, Mule Variations.
Hammond could have played anything and still had the audience on the edge of their seats, save for the few drunken buffoons who shouted things like, “Where’s Tom,” every time Hammond mentioned Waits’ name.
Almost as soon the show began, it was over. Hammond closed with the last track from Wicked Grin, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” a traditional gospel tune that Waits’ insisted be included on the album.
As soon as the song was through, Hammond left the stage and the audience went into an uproar of applause.
Hammond came out for an encore, but added before he began, “…there’s two comedy shows here tonight after us, so they’re kinda rushin’ us outta here,” and with that statement the crowd experienced its first disappointment of the evening.