The self-proclaimed twenty-nine year old master and his Lost Planet Airmen have struck a new plane of musical awareness. It's been too long, over a year since Commander Cody played in the area and the Masonic Temple Mother's Day Concert showed a band that has changed and improved enormously.
They've got the whole exciting show routine down, with a sense of professionalism, yet still maintaining their typical raucous styles. Band members got into a certain amount of horsing around, and fiddlin' Andy Stein pulled off some hilarious clown routines, playing his baritone sax like a guitar and zipping back and forth across the stage in incredibly fast instrument changes. The Commander himself has put some pizazz into his piano act with some Jerry Lee Lewis gestures, like playing the piano with his foot while standing on the bench. Then there's falling off the bench and walking around to the other side to remount.
The music and show moved with a pace and excitement that thrilled the crowd. The Airmen opened with a bangup rendition of their new "Armadillo Stomp," and then Billy C took it away with a couple of his inimitable Elvis-style rockers. With a voice that could break a mother's heart, Bill Kirchen sang the touching Merle Haggard tune "Mama Tried," for his own mom, who was sitting in the audience. John Tichy did two mom tunes for his mother-in-law, "Family Bible" and "Oh Momma Momma," featuring the Commander on the keys. A high point worth remembering was the fabulous Kirchen-Stein cheek-to-cheek whistling duet in "Sunset on the Stage."
The response from the crowd was a knockout. I can't remember seeing and hearing such an enthusiastic response in a long time. When the Airmen headed off the stage, the cries for "MORE!" curdled your ears. For the first encore, Billy C knocked off two screamers, including the immortal "Jailhouse Rock." Then the screams continued for nearly five minutes demanding a second encore, in which old Commander rolled out a gravel-pit voicing of "Hot Rod Lincoln."
They dwarfed New Riders of the Purple Sage, the second and presumably starring act on the bill. New Riders is a bland hippie country band, and not nearly as good as the purer Nashville sound.
A major change in the band is the addition of Ernie Hagar, who looks and is every inch the seasoned country steel guitarist. His mad man musical style is a fine accompaniment for the overall Cody approach of enthusiasm with polished playing. Hagar's version of the classic "Steel Guitar Rag" was like nothing I've ever heard - a rapid, frantic paced and truly astounding steel guitar spectacle. The crowds went wild!
In the last year the Airmen appear to have developed a new sense of innovation within their tunes. Listening to them was a series of wonderful surprises. Hopefully they might play in the Summer free concert series in Ann Arbor, and might be in town in the fall. What a great band.
-- Ellen Frank