My momma always told me you could tell a lot about a person by the shoes he wears. I’ve been self-conscious about my shoes, and noticing of others, ever since.
So the first thing I did after shouldering my way to the front of The Grey Eagle stage was spy the Custard Pie footwear. This July 18 performance was billed as a reunion show after the band took a break last fall. I wanted to see what they’d bring to this auspicious occasion.
Vocalist Rhett McGahee styled in black pumps. To her left, guitarist Aaron “Woody” Wood kicked it in a beat-up pair of cowboy boots, each toe wrapped solidly in layers of duct tape. And to McGahee’s left, bassist David Connor Jones rocked the flip-flops. Behind them all, drummer Jamie Stirling kept his toes tucked behind his kit, so I didn’t get a view.
The shoes fit. McGahee took elegant command of the microphone, strutting across the stage and kicking up her right heel in time with the groove. Wood mostly kept his boots to himself for the first three or four tunes, playing with his back to the crowd. But warming to the task, Wood promptly tossed his shirt and unleashed his guitar virtuosity for all to see. Jones, clearly having a good time and showing it, stretched out his long legs and moved to the music.
The band, which performs Led Zeppelin covers, started off with “Rock and Roll,” and as soon as the words “It’s been a long time since …” pierced the air, McGahee had the crowd in the palm of her hand. Sporting shorter hair than last I’d seen her, McGahee did her best, full-throated Robert Plant. I don’t think McGahee, or anyone, can match the visceral power of Plant at his best, but she sure came close. Her low moans and shrill screams glided around the room like a ghost in the attic. I’m still haunted.
But it’s really Wood who rivets me. I caught Custard Pie at its Downtown After Five performance last year. I’d heard about McGahee’s turn with Menage, about Stirling’s DrugMoney days and about Wood’s abilities on the ax. Seeing them all together on stage in the August heat, though, Wood stood out. He did so again this time.
Sure, he’s got the look—the stringy, wild hair, the mirrored sunglasses, the skinny, tattooed chest. That aside, Wood’s performance demands attention. There’s strength and tension there, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to set him off. He’s a coiled rattler, and you’re just waiting for him to strike. He does, and you feel all the better for it.
The Grey Eagle was only about three-quarters full for the show, which surprised me. Downtown After Five got the evening started early, and there were several other shows around town. Still, the crowd that turned out was ready to jam. One over-served 20-something in the front row got his holler on, and McGahee noticed. “We’ve got some screamers here tonight,” she said with a laugh, then hollered right back.
At another break, a young woman made her way to the front to present McGahee with a bouquet of fresh flowers. The singer was touched.
All together, the band performed one tight, and satisfyingly long, show. Custard Pie started about 10 p.m. and went on well past midnight, bouncing through “Black Dog” and “Dancing Days” and “Immigrant Song” and all the other great Led Zep tunes you know by heart.
Shoes aside, I left knowing the band hasn’t been diminished by its break, and that I’m still hungry for more.
— Jason Sandford
Custard Pie plays the Trinumeral Music & Arts Festival at Deerfields at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9. For festival info, go to www.trinumeral.com.
POPAsheville is looking for bands
The POPAsheville committee is currently accepting submissions (through Monday, *** Sept. 29 THE WEB SITE SAYS SEPT. 30 ***) for bands to play the Jan. 16-18, 2009, festival. Twenty-plus slots will be given to Asheville-based original pop, indie and rock bands. These bands must “have a strong live performance, recent quality recordings, an updated website and be actively promoting shows with an interest in gig-swapping with other POPAsheville bands.” Visit www.myspace.com/popasheville to learn more.