Head of the Class

NOT SOME BORING TRIO: Center Stage Theater underwent a sonic remodeling on Monday, as the Headless Household — with Joe Woodard on guitar, Dick Dunlap on keys, and Tom Lackner on percussives, plus close to a dozen talented musical aides — dropped its annual December dose of jazz eclectico. The blast-off was “Plaything,” an aptly titled Dunlap number that featured Lackner playing children’s squeeze toys before delivering the most adventurous drum beat ever imagined upon a plastic Playskool drumset. Woodard, his face frozen in the “look-what-I-made” smirk, walked around handing out various childish noisemakers, and the night — comprised mostly of songs from the new HH album Blur Joan — was rolling. Filling in for founding bassist Chris Symer was the rotating duo of Jim Connolly and David Piltch, and the role of vocalist was shared nicely between Julie Christensen’s voicebox and Tom Buckner’s singing sax. Rounding out the guests were Jeff Kaiser on trumpets, Bill Flores on pedal steel (perfect for “A World Without Polka,” one of the older faves), Tom Ball on harps, and, on elegant strings, cellist Claudia Kiser and violinist Sally Barr. The night’s 14 songs ranged from the twangy paced “3 a.m. Western” and the more pensive “Buffoons” to the R&B fun of “My Left Brain” and the frenetic “Blur Joan,” which showed off Lackner’s ability to produce a rapid rhythm that even crystal-meth heads could dig. And leading it all was Woodard, whose guitar mastery allows him to use his instrument as subtly as a conductor’s wand or to take center stage, using a slide to emulate sounds of a deejay scratching vinyl or plucking ever so tightly to evoke the internal monologues of a computer. What a weird, wonderful, wacky wreck, once again.  — Matt Kettmann

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