Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen @ Shank Hall
Sept. 30, 2016
Cody, born George Frayne IV 72 years ago, led his Airmen in bounding onto Shank Hall’s stage Friday night for an evening of what could rightly be deemed the wilder side of country rock. Sporting shoulder-length grey hair and with a gaze at once steely and wild-eyed, Cody took to his keyboard with the assistance of a cane, looking like a pianistic Gary Busey. Most of his four accompanists sported silvery locks as well, but none appeared quite so wizened and ornery as the man up front.
His orneriness was congenial enough, though. Early on in the first of the group’s two 11-song sets, he responded to one smart guy cracking wise about his age, “No remarks about me being an old fucker!” The only other matters exercising Cody’s ire were his desire that his second beer be a Stella Artois and his support of marijuana legalization. The latter cause inspired the lyrical liberties he took with Tex Williams’ massive 1947 country/pop crossover “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” and his segue from that to Hoyt Axton’s “Roll Your Own.”
Weed wasn’t the only prominent theme running through the night, either. Fittingly, boogying and partying were covered in numbers including “Too Much Fun,” one of the band’s few original compositions, and The Robins’ oft remade “Riot in Cell Block #9.” Hot shot guitarist Mark Emerick, wearing a Bart Starr Packers jersey and white cowboy hat, used a couple of his turns at the mic to cover Red Simpson and Del Reeves country truck songs from the days when the vehicle in question was an 18-wheel semi, not a pick-up. Drummer Steve Barbuto, with a pompadour on its way to rivaling one of Wayne Cochran’s enormity, can take over on vocal for his boss as well, stylishly assaying rockabilly and R&B numbers such as Roy Hamilton’s “Don’t Let Go.”
And of course they played “the hit.” Cody’s Western swing-informed remake of Charlie Ryan’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” arrived in the free-for-all time in the early ’70s when country-based proto-rap talking blues numbers like this and The Charlie Daniels Band’s “Uneasy Rider” could connect with AM radio pop listeners.
Getting an encore out of the way before the audience had time to clap for one, Cody and the Airmen ended with the titular track to the same debut album that introduced their version of “Lincoln.” “Lost in the Ozone” concluded the night with the same kind of buzzy, nigh-shambolic energy they kept throughout their sets.