The Q bids the Palms adieu

When the guy who normally plays a mean guitar comes onstage for the opening number blowing seriously ragged trombone, it’s a good sign that the rock ’n’ roll band you’re about to witness won’t be delivering the musical equivalent of half-court basketball. And when, two songs later, the pianist launches into one of Thelonious Monk’s sharply angular instrumental gems, your initial suspicion—that somehow you’d crash-landed in a parallel-universe Roswell near the intersection of New Mexico and Rudd—is confirmed.

But then, NRBQ is no ordinary band. The quartet, which dates back to the late ’60s, made what’s most likely its last stop at the Palms Playhouse in Davis a week ago Wednesday, playing to a packed house of mostly over-30 folks that included several slack-jawed local musicians. The band has a history of tearing the roof off the Palms and other venues, typically leaving audiences stunned and begging for more. This night was no exception.

While, over the years, NRBQ’s juggernaut-like, turn-on-a-dime tightness has diminished ever so slightly, the tradeoff is that these guys now communicate telepathically like octogenarian Cuban jazz players, making the spaces between the notes that much more interesting. Drummer Tom Ardolino finesses the beat instead of slamming it into your solar plexus, bassist Joey Spampinato underpins the tunes with some of the most intuitive melodic lines this side of prime Paul McCartney, and pianist Terry Adams fingers the 88s like the demon-spawn of Jerry Lee Lewis and the aforementioned Mr. Monk.

When NRBQ’s newest member, the trombone-wielding guitarist Johnny Spampinato, replaced longtime fretboard mangler Al Anderson a decade ago, some Q fans were worried he might not be up to the challenge. Well, they needn’t: Johnny (brother of bassist Joey) is a master of the Fender Telecaster—an instrument that’s more difficult to sound fabulous on, as many rock guitarists can attest. Johnny makes it sing like a choirboy and bark like Keith Richards’ dog.

The two-encore show, which culminated in the chef-hatted band members whacking away at snare drums like 10-year-olds, drew from NRBQ’s newest Edisun Records disc Atsa My Band—which may explain the pizza-chef motif—and the group’s substantial back catalog. One of the evening’s coolest points happened when Ardolino came from behind his kit to sing a cover of John Sebastian’s theme from the 1970s’ TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. It was a sublime sing-along moment, one of many in a sublime show, in a magical venue that, all too soon, will be replaced by an apartment complex. Which we certainly need more of, right?