Saturday's show by the San Francisco band Tender Mercies at the has the potential to be one of those small shows that will go down big in local lore.
The band with an alt-country twang is made up of two members of the hugely successful Counting Crows --guitarist Dan Vickrey and drummer Jim Bogios -- and two guys who played with members of the Crows before they became the Crows -- Patrick Winningham on vocals and guitar and Kurt Stevenson on vocals and bass.
The show has enough stories and back stories to make a movie around. While Bogios and Vickrey have toured the world with Counting Crows, Stevenson and Winningham, although immensely talented, never made it as professional musicians and have been holding down construction jobs for years. Winningham, the brother of actress Mare Winningham, played in the band "The New Breed," which was in the movie St. Elmo's Fire.
Now-- dramatic pause --they have recorded an Americana album that is getting great reviews and compares to legendary works such as the Band's Music from Big Pink and Levon Helm's Dirt Farmer.
"Tender Mercies is the sort of album you listen to in the car on the way to Arizona, head against the window and the highway rushing past you, with only the sound to break up the monotony," writes Chantal Donnan in OC Music magazine, where you can also hear two songs.
The Counting Crows are bringing them on the road as an opening band this spring, which also means that Bogios and Vickrey will be doing double duty on some long nights.
And the other two will get to taste the rock star's life.
There was a similar drama a few years back in Santa Cruz when Tom Petty brought his first band Mudcrutch to the Civic, bringing out the guys he left behind in Florida when he became a star in Los Angeles and making some great music.
"They are ready," says Bogios, who talked by phone from his Berkeley Hills home. The Crows have taken a year off, while singer Adam Duritz recovered from prescription drug problems, but not only has Bogios been recording the Tender Mercies album, but he's playing in an instrumental side project called Glider, and has been jamming with a bar band called Lumberyard doing cover tunes around the East Bay. (Discography here.)
"A lot of people wouldn't do gigs like that," Bogios said. "But I love it. I go out in the bars and slug it out. We play. That's what we do. Counting Crows took a year off and it sucked for me. I was put on this earth to make music."
The 43-year-old drummer has had some real highs that way. Before Counting Crows he did eight years with Sheryl Crow and also played with the Dixie Chicks and Ben Folds. He shared stages and some jam sessions with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, James Taylor and Levon Helm.
Crow was a favorite of those rockers who brought her along as an opening act and sat in with her band throughout her career.
"The legends like her," said Bogios, who found himself in awe having dinner with Eric Clapton, while the guitarist would be telling stories about Jimi Hendrix --first person stories-- and he would find himself shaking his head as if he was in a dream. Other people talk about things they've read and heard about the legends. Here was this Oakland native hearing the stories from the legends themselves.
Every tour Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts would take his fellow drummer to dinner. He was also onstage when Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, who had been fighting, played together for the first time in years. He watched Richards slip a Rolex watch into Clapton's pocket, the watch Clapton had given Richards years before.
Now his own band, the Counting Crows are on the verge of legendary status themselves. They've sold more than 20 million albums since their 1991 start and have a new album due out April 10, Underwater Sunshine, which strangely, is a collection of covers by friends that features two songs by Tender Mercies (free song download here) "Mercy" and "Four White Stallions."
So, the Crow's duo could be playing the same songs twice a night, more rocking with the rock band and more countryish with Tender Mercies.
"The Counting Crows have been keeping the Tender Mercies' songs alive for decades," said Bogios. "Now it's coming full circle."
Tender Mercies finally got around to recording the songs themselves last year at Vickrey's San Francisco house, low-fi style. They had a Pro Tools recording rig and just played the songs on some microphones in the living room with no rehearsals and no expensive production.
It gives the work a stark, hard scrabble feeling, like something Johnny Cash would do.
"You always play the best stuff when you are relaxed and not overthinking things," said Bogios. "Everything is so overproduced these days, it's unnatural. Things get so sterile. When they are almost perfect, you take the life out of them."
These songs were recorded as live jams.
"You can hear on 'Scarecrow' we were jamming and we were searching. We didn't plan out how we would end the song. When you capture those moments on tape, that's when music really speaks."
Tender Mercies appears at Boardwalk Bowl Saturday, March 3. The show, with a local opening band, goes from 9:00-11:45 p.m. Tickets are $10 and $5 for students.