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Cigar Store Indians Play Live in Atlanta
By Frankie Hagan

Smith's Olde Bar is one of those great pieces of the Atlanta puzzle that any real music fan should know about. Above the smoky downstairs bar is a favorite venue of hometown bands, and it's the space where the Cigar Store Indians chose to record the first part of a two show live album to be released later this year.

CSI was one of several bands on the roster this past March 30, and by the time the opening act had left the stage the room was completely full. An assortment of Atlanta's citizenry and outsiders were in attendance. The rockabilly crowd, with sideburns and bowling shirts were mixed among fans of country music, good rock, great guitar, and the occasional swing kid. Money or no money, different age groups, proud rednecks and white collar workers off for the weekend, all seemed at perfect balance in the frenzy that the CSI created as they finally took the stage.

The group's attire for the evening seemed to underline their broad-based American appeal as musicians. Lead singer and gifted songwriter Ben Friedman appeared sporting a cowboy hat. A fan added a feather boa to his ensemble later in the evening, to which he commented, "I am now the redneck Elton John." Guitarist Jim "Low Note" Lavender seemed a blast from the past in his fedora, suspenders and tie, and bassist Keith Perissi, with his combed back hair and dark clothing, mirrored the look of Fifties guitar bands. From the background came energetic drummer Paul Barrie, who brought both the mischief and the fun that is the substance of rock-and-roll.


The band opened with "Hot Rod Concerto," a favorite from their self-titled debut CD. The sound was infectious with energy and toe-tapping dance possibilities, making one think of early American rock legends like Bill Haley. But the Cigar Store Indians are not so easily categorized. The songs that followed show varied influences, from the two-steppin' "Pinstripe Suit" to the crowd-pleasing punk ballad "Barfly" and the wildly fun "She Makes Me Come Undone."

The original instrumental "El Baile de la Cobra" provided a riveting Latin twist that dancers recognized as a rumba, while surf guitar fans delighted at the cover of Dick Dale's "Misirlou." Credit must be paid to Ben Friedman's strength as a song scribe as well as a lead man, as evidenced on rockabilly numbers like "Kisses in Vain," "Heaven," "Tossin' 'n' Turnin'," and the amazingly insightful, "Eagles Need a Push."

Equally noteworthy were the storytelling ballads, particularly "Mother of the Bride," framing the plight of a trucker driving his mother-in-law cross-country from Tennessee. "Dirty Belly Button" explored women with pierced navels, "Mating Call" chronicled an "easy" lady drinker, and the band's newest cut, "You Look Just Like Betty Page," may be one of the best rock songs Ben Friedman ever wrote.

In covering the material of others, Cigar Store Indians continued to exemplify that they are pure products of American music, blending Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" into "I Want to Be Sedated" from the Ramones and back again. "Sleepwalk" crept its way into a set, as did the party punk ballad "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"—prompting the fans to demand more from a band that played on until the wee hours of the morning.

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