Popdose Concert Flashback: Big Ass Truck, Northampton, Mass., 1997

Written by Concert Flashback, Music

There’s no ticket from this show to scan; I was just one of the guys on the guest list. Turns out that when this band came to the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass., touring off their album Kent, me and my sidekick Jack—the funk-loving, fun-loving concert pallie who lived downstairs from me in the godforsaken burg of Rowley, Mass.—didn’t have to elbow through a mass of devotees at the club to find a seat: It was literally me, Jack, a couple other people, and some barflies who probably didn’t have to pay a cover to see the gig.

But this group threw down some of the most innovative funk rock this side of the Average White Band: Hailing from Memphis, Big Ass Truck jammed hard, with a DJ in tow punching in samples and scratching records to great rhythmic effect. Their groove and stage vibe looked a lot like this rendition of “Theem From,” one of Kent’s cuts:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/K1hwWNdJxdo" width="600" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

There is little Google-able history on this band, so I throw it to the hardcore Big Ass Historians who may read this: Can you find the actual date and set list for this gig? The total lack of information seems to be woven into the history of this band, which at the time was signed to the Boston-based label Upstart, Rounder Records’ attempt to expand its roster beyond dusty old folk and blues artists—and their finite audiences.

After Upstart failed to take them to the heights of national popularity one would expect after investing the time, money, and energy into the project, the members moved on in 2001 and joined various different bands such as Robby Grant’s Vending Machine or, in the case of guitarist and songwriter Steve Selvidge, a solo career. He’s still making some beautifully grungy, raw stuff with a tablespoon of soul mixed in to great effect; check out his cover of the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” posted at his MySpace page.

But for that one night, Big Ass Truck was one hardworking group drawn to the backwoods of west-central Massachusetts, far from Memphis, where no one knew about them except a few folks connected to Upstart and its promotional efforts.

Many bands pack up when they see an empty club, or phone in a halfhearted set and bail early. Not these guys. They were loud, obnoxious, used all the wattage and samples they brought with ’em in the van, and sweated their backsides off. Jack and I watched in slack-jawed disbelief at the awesome funk force and power displayed in songs like “Li’l Tico” and “I’m a Ram,” it was as if they were putting on a show just for us. They were crisp, well-rehearsed, and took this gig more seriously than we deserved.

Jack bought the T-shirt, I’ve kept the CDs. To this day, I mourn the passing of Big Ass Truck, and from the tenor of their words on MySpace, (“Seriously, we haven’t been a band since 2001. We can’t help you with trading shows, or anything else like that. Have a great day!”) I’m not the only one.

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