As an original member of the Stiff Records roster, Wreckless Eric (born Eric Goulden on May 18, 1954 in Newhaven, East Sussex, England) rubbed shoulders with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Ian Dury, often out-drinking and upstaging his more famous label mates on the notorious Live Stiffs tours of the late ‘70s. His single “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” has become an oft-covered staple of British punk, gaining mainstream notoriety in America when it was covered by Will Ferrell in the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction. Amy Rigby first made waves in the American underground with the cowpunk outfit Last Roundup and later did time in The Shams before releasing 1996’s Diary of a Mod Housewife to massive critical acclaim. She released four more solo albums and an anthology of singles before meeting and falling in love with one Eric Goulden. The two were married in France (where they share a house and makeshift recording studio) earlier this year and collaborated on the newly-released Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, Eric’s first release on Stiff in 30 years. The newlyweds took the backroom stage at Chicago’s Schuba’s Tavern to a small crowd of diehards as the vice presidential debates held most patrons captive in the front bar. Dismissing the debaters as “a monkey and a plastic doll,” Eric was in fine, caustic form. Grey, unshaven, and a good inch shorter than Rigby, Wreckless Eric lived up to his name as he rambled and raged, yet still found time to moon over his new bride, who played up her “mod housewife” credentials with a vintage frock and shag haircut. The night found Eric on electric guitar and beatbox/laptop, while Rigby alternated between acoustic guitar and keyboard. The pair traded vocals on their solo material, collaborative efforts, and a fantastic Flamin’ Groovies cover, while Eric seemed to be in charge of stories, jokes, and rants. He was quick to point out fans that he recognized, including a couple visiting from his native Britain, had a keen ear and acid tongue for ringing cell phones, and reminisced about coming of age during the glam rock reign of David Bowie. “You Can’t be a Man (Without a Beer in Your Hand)” kicked things off, presenting the couple as a demented version of Sonny and Cher. Rigby’s rollicking “Raising the Bar” was an early standout, while her lovely “Don’t Ever Change” (written for her daughter, who was in the audience) matched the bittersweet beauty of Eric’s “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World”, which was dispatched with a long spoken intro later in the set. “Dancing with Joey Ramone”, from Rigby’s 2005 release, Little Fugitive, benefited from a bit of blitzkrieg bop, while Eric’s pidgin French “Reconnez Cherie” was prefaced with sketchy remembrances of British DJ John Peel. “Hit and Miss Judy”, a number one hit in Belgium for Eric, was counted off, in German, by Rigby and displayed an obvious debt to rhythm and blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. Other solo highlights included Rigby’s would-be sports anthem “Like Rasputin” and a few early Wreckless Eric hits. “Take the Cash (K.A.S.H.)”, which saw the pair scrambling hilariously to fix technical difficulties, was controlled chaos from the very first note, while Eric’s freak-out guitar was tamed by Rigby’s acoustic strumming on “Walking on the Surface of the Moon”. “Broken Doll”, a standout from Eric’s 1980 release, Big Smash!, was introduced with some truly odd comments about English pop institution Cliff Richard, who covered the song on his 1981 album, Wired for Sound. Tracks from the new record fared even better, especially the giddy “Round”, which the couple co-wrote, and the funny, lighthearted Rigby composition “Men in Sandals”. Sadly, the couple decided to skip their cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone”, which, on record, highlights their quirky vocal interplay. Gloriously unpolished, diminutive and disshelved, fashionably middle-aged — Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby will make a great couple. Live at Schuba’s they made for a really great treat.
Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby