Call it a draw for Friday’s battle between Madonna and The Clash at Tonic Ball VI, because everyone won: hungry people, benefiting from over $40,000 raised from the annual benefit for Second Helpings; drunk people, donating beyond the ticket price through their beer purchases; and musicians, who played one original and one cover before packed houses at Radio Radio and the Fountain Square Theatre. So, without naming a victor, here are the highlights, starting at the home of The Clash: Radio Radio.
The always-great Otis Gibbs, who still hasn’t missed a Tonic Ball, traveled from his new home in Nashville, Tenn., arriving around midnight to add an alt-country touch to a cover of a cover, “I Fought the Law.” Three knowledgeable performances followed Gibbs’ to close out the night: Mandy Marie and the Cool Hand Lukes knocked out a couple from London Calling, “Rudie Can’t Fail” and “The Right Profile,” managing the transition from ska to rockabilly nicely on “Rudie”; Vess Ruhtenberg delivered an appropriately low-key “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” on solo electric guitar, clearly enunciating the lyrics of a tune that he said is just as meaningful to his life now as it was when he first heard it as a teenager; and Bigger Than Elvis took the only encore of the night with “Brand New Cadillac” and “Clampdown.”
Over in Madonna territory, Stasia and the Shanghai Surprise showed that True Blue’s “La Isla Bonita” could translate surprisingly well to the accordion; and Jennie Devoe, a Tonic Ball perennial, brought the full weight and energy of her band to “Express Yourself,” following up with two soulful Susan Tedeschi tunes slated for her next record.
Two groups were versatile enough to grace both venues: Yoko Moment skillfully reproduced The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” replete with keyboard, sax and a tent-revival plea for donations; while Squibnocket managed to successfully incorporate a rap into both of their covers, reinventing Madonna’s “Borderline” with rhymes about the battle of the sexes, and The Clash’s “Bankrobber” with a reggae-inspired call-and-response (between MC and crowd, and beat-boxing MC and drumset).