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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Unlimited Sunshine tour lives up to its name

The Avalon, Hollywood, Cal., Sept. 21, 2003

By Dan MacIntosh

HOLLYWOOD, CA - If you're a diehard country music fan, you may have looked up at marquee tonight and wondered what the heck Charlie Louvin's name was doing there right alongside that of the quirky rock act Cake.

And if your curiosity actually got you through the venue door, your question mark quotient would have increased exponentially with the sighting of Mr. Louvin singing an acoustic "California Man" with Cheap Trick and The Hackensaw Boys. But this eclectic tour, rightly called "Unlimited Sunshine," was dreamed up by Cake, and since Cake singer (or as Louvin referred to him, "The Boss") John McCrea is a Louvin Brothers fan, this night was like one long variety-packed live mix tape.

Louvin honored the memory of The Louvin Brothers by enthusiastically singing some of that duo's most treasured songs. He began with "Cash on the Barrelhead" and ended with an audience sing-along of "The Great Atomic Power" on which he used a cheat sheet for the lyrics. In between these two upbeat parentheses, he sang a couple of sad ballads ("I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" and "My Baby's Gone") and his solo hit, "See the Big Man Cry." Although his voice sounded a little rough around the edges, such flaws were overshadowed by Louvin's irresistible stage glow.

The Hackensaw Boys (also Louvin's backing band, along with his son Sonny, tonight) preceded Louvin with a fun six-song set of speedy bluegrass. Its set list ranged from the propulsive "Cannonball Breakdown" to the romantically-inspired "June Apple." These Boys deserve kudos for keeping the mood fast-paced and upbeat, which easily won over this primarily rock audience.

Cake is not a country act - not by a long shot - but there are still plenty of Americana-related elements in its sound. The group's set sometimes included a slight mariachi vibe (probably because of the trumpet player in the band), and even a little western swing in places. Yet John McCrea, and his irony-soaked lyrics, is the centerpiece of this act's performances. The audience willingly ate it all up, and sang along with glee on the religious-themed "Sheep Go To Heaven," which took a strangely lighthearted approach to the concept of eternal damnation/salvation. It may have been a Sunday night, but this certainly wasn't church.

Cheap Trick called one of its early albums "Heaven Tonight," speaking of heaven, but this show wasn't exactly heavenly for too many in tonight's audience. The group opened by sitting on stools for four acoustic numbers, and packed the performance with six new songs from its unreleased new album "Special One." The stretches between favorites like "Dream Police" and "Surrender" seemed to last forever.

Another Midwestern bred band, The Detroit Cobras, preceded Cheap Trick with a short and sweet burst of soulful garage rock, including a choppy new take on "The Twist."

"Unlimited Sunshine" was full of unexpected combinations, proving that its organizers certainly know how to do the twist.