by Mike Corrigan

By most any standard you care to apply, singer/songwriter/guitarist Loudon Wainwright III has led a pretty charmed life. He was raised in the 1950s in a wealthy suburbanite household in affluent Westchester, N.Y., and in Beverly Hills. His father was a writer and editor at Life magazine. His musical career caught fire in the late '60s, and by 1972, he had scored an unlikely Top 40 hit with a tossed-off tune about roadkill ("Dead Skunk"). He's fathered talented children (son Rufus and daughter Martha are both successful musicians in their own right). His discography includes some 20 albums, and his songs have been performed by the likes of Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Freakwater, Norma Waterson and his son, Rufus. He's even been a star of screen (28 Days, The Slugger's Wife and the as-yet-unreleased Tim Burton flick, Big Fish), television (Grounded for Life, Undeclared, Ally McBeal, M*A*S*H) and stage (Pump Boys and Dinettes). His op-ed bits have found their way into The New York Times and The Guardian.

Charmed, charming and entertainment jack-of-all-trades, Wainwright brings his accessible and emotionally complex folk songbook and casual performance style to the Met this Friday night (that's right, on Halloween).

Yet for all his good fortune and opportunity, there must be something harshing this guy's mellow. His songs, while intelligent and humorous, frequently delve into a place where optimism and personal integrity are put to the test by dark and implacable forces.

It's no wonder then, that the title of his latest album, So Damn Happy (Sanctuary), a live album that nicely captures Wainwright in his most natural habitat, rings at least partially ironic. His songs have always been imbued with sadness that comes from repeated hard knocks and a fatalism that has a way of creeping into the art of those whose hope has been tempered by cold reality.

"Nothing bad has happened yet," he sings in "Thanksgiving," a song that recalls his largely idyllic childhood with only a hint of cynicism. In contrast, his own personal and family life has been anything but stable, his romantic history full of mishaps. About his work on the Fox TV show Undeclared, Wainwright reveals, "I played the part of the recurrent and dysfunctional dad, Hal, a role I had spent a lifetime preparing for."

So Damn Happy, featuring a collection of mostly latter-day Wainwright tunes ("Sixty minutes and 11 seconds of music and yakking," he deadpans), was recorded live at the Largo in Los Angeles and at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma, Calif., with the help of like-minded friends and past collaborators, Richard Thompson (on guitar), Van Dyke Parks (on piano), David Mansfield (on fiddle and mandolin) and daughter Martha (on vocals).

"Rich and I go way back," Wainwright says of guitar virtuoso Thompson, "he having co-produced and played on several of the albums I made in the 1980s. These days, Mr. Thompson and I most likely meet on the tennis court, where the last time, unless I'm mistaken, I kicked his Celtic butt."

Who wouldn't be happy about that? But for Wainwright, there's more to it. Even though his big shot at a career as a laid-back, pampered actor was cut short with the unceremonious cancellation of Undeclared in its first season, he seems as comfortable and, yeah, as happy as we do with his return, however temporary, to home base.

"I've inched back from the brink of TV stardom," he says, "once again falling into the arms of my former mistress, Contemporary Folk."

Halloween Shows '03 -- Let it not be said that Halloween in '03 poses no opportunity for rocking all ghoulish-like in the midnight hour. In fact there are several rock and/or roll parties in the name of All Hallow's Eve commencing at local live music clubs this weekend. Some of them even dribble into All Saints Day.

On Friday night, the B-Side and Mootsy's are throwing a joint Halloween bash with a single cover charge ($6 with a costume, $8 without) and free limo service between the two venues. It's a reprise of the highly successful party the B-Side threw last year, featuring the talents of local and regional bands impersonating more international stars. Last year, Prince, DEVO, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath facsimiles held court. This year, look for the glam-funk majesty of Parliament (as performed by BeeCraft) at the B-Side in conjunction with DJs Grand Groove, Brainchild, and Laxxx Luster spinning a wicked dance party at Mootsy's.

Over at Club Soda at around 8 pm, local wrecking crew Five Foot Thick will be throwing a $6.66 all-ages heavy rock party to trumpet the official national release of its new Eclipse Records CD, Blood Puddle. Also on deck will be Seattle band Drop Six, Portlanders, Syx and 40 Grit from the Schwarzenegger state.

There's also something sinister going on at the Quarterhorse on Friday night with One From None (formerly Rivet), 427, Two Headed Chang and Anomoly. Cover there is five bucks. For another fiver, you can scope out the rock fun (and messed-up costumes) at Ichabod's East at 9 pm with Apitomee, Soma and 7th Cycle. And at the Detour, there will be a costume party raging with ska-rock from 10 Minutes Down starting at 8 pm. That one will cost ya $5 with a costume and a buck more without one.

Saturday night, it's Civilized Animals' turn to peel the paint with a 9 pm show at Fat Tuesday's Concert Hall along with guests Java Kola and The Mack Decklers. In addition to infectious sonic mayhem, the festivities will include a Costume Contest (with a $1,000 Grand Prize) and various other giveaways (guitars, concert tickets, tattoos, etc.). Ten bucks will get you in to this one. Advanced tickets are available at David's Pizza, Northern Lights Brewery, Piece of Mind and College Road Recording (Spokane) and at Pyramid Skate Shop (CDA) and Triumphant Tattoo (Post Falls).

I would like to rock and roll all night -- When is a kiss not just a kiss? When it's a KISS tribute show, silly. Of all the bands out there to impersonate, KISS, on one level at least, would have to be one of the easiest. You need the hair, of course, and the appropriate leather-and spandex accoutrements -- all fairly easy to procure from your favorite costume supply house or adult bookstore. And certainly any facial dissimilarities between your crew and the Simmons-Stanley crew can be quite easily obscured with a handful or two of white grease paint.

Ah, but on another level, duping KISS would be a real bitch. What wouldn't be so easy to pull off is the band's capacity for showmanship and spectacle. KISS built its reputation on providing concertgoers with the show of a lifetime, a four-ring circus of flash, thunder, blood and sex. That's how they've earned the right to endure. It's Darwin's theory played out in rock 'n' roll context on an arena-sized scale. And KISS fans have, over the years, come to expect a lot from anyone invoking the most holy name of their favorite rock band. If you're gonna do KISS, brother, you better do it right.

The KISS tribute band on tap at the Coeur d'Alene Casino this Halloween night (how appropriate) seems to talk a pretty good talk. They are called Shout Out Loud and they boast a freak show on par with that perfected over these many long years by the Gods of Thunder. That means, of course, high volume, high-energy and melodic hard rock, lots and lots of makeup, studs, spikes and black tights. Oh yes, and props galore, along with blazing lights, flowing bodily fluids (and other "special effects") and the potential for a certain amount of breakage.

But the metallic charade on the stage is only the beginning. The deception will spill out into the room, as two Halloween costume contests are also on deck, one for adults and one for youth 17 and younger. Winners of the costume contests will receive Coeur d'Alene Resort gift certificates.

Publication date: 10/30/03

The Black Jack Band @ Backwoods Whiskey Bar

Sat., Feb. 4, 8-11 p.m.
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