"Bacon Fat," a novelty record released in 1957, is an obscure single treasured by obsessive fans of raunchy R&B. The lively rendition of the song performed by Andre Williams at the RecordBar on Friday didn't require a thorough knowledge of music history to be appreciated. It was only one highlight of an engaging appearance that appealed to both casual carousers and dedicated musicologists.
Williams' intriguing career has been characterized by unlikely twists and turns. Since recording the original version of "Bacon Fat" over half a century ago, Williams co-wrote the soul standard "Shake a Tail Feather" and has recorded for legendary record labels including Motown and Chess. As part of his late-career resurgence, he's released material on the alternative country label Bloodshot Records. Williams, 75, transcends categories.
An audience of about 125 heard Williams and a superb seven-piece band pack a broad swathe of styles into his 50-minute appearance. "Agile, Mobile and Hostile" was imbued with a punk sensibility. "Lily White Mama and Jet Black Daddy," an exploration of racial identity, was a twang-laden country lament. A rockabilly-tinged version of his 1956 single "Goin' Down To Tijuana" was also excellent.
An astounding rendition of "I Can Tell" provided the evening's best moments. Although he's not much of a singer, Williams' emotional pleading was worthy of the greatest soul artists. Williams' mediocre voice compels him to shout, growl or simply talk his way through material including "I Can Tell" and "Bacon Fat." What was once seen as a weakness is now heralded as an innovation. Williams is often called "The Father of Rap."
Williams' profane patter at the RecordBar might have been capable of shocking even the most salacious rappers. His antics caused a few dancers near the front of the stage to double over in laughter. Most musicians a third his age fail to rival Williams' manic presence. Williams' opening act, for instance, lacked any semblance of the septuagenarian's unhinged energy. The reverb-soaked set by the locally-based psychedelic garage rock act The Conquerors was solid, but Williams did more dancing, mugging and gesticulating than all five members of the Conquerors combined.
Yet Williams became visibly fatigued near the conclusion of his set. During the otherwise terrific pop song "She's Alright," Williams closed his eyes and teetered. In spite of his late-set fade, Williams appeared to be in much better health and in higher spirits than at his 2006 show in the same venue. While a series of bad breaks and poor decisions prevented Williams from achieving greater recognition, on Friday he demonstrated that he remains a vital presence in American music.