“Cult is just another word for loser,” Adam Ant once sneered. But in the case of NRBQ, the preeminent cult act, it’s the multitudes unfamiliar with the group that may have lost out, or at least missed the point. Like few acts other than the Grateful Dead, NRBQ succeeded and failed almost exclusively onstage, with studio albums released practially as afterthoughts. That’s too bad, as those documents provide an incomplete portrait of a band that lived to wander off the beaten path.
Of the dozens of albums and collections NRBQ has released since 1969, none quite definitively captures that elusive quality that makes the long-running outfit so beloved among die-hard fans. Seeing how hard it is to sell a band by telling someone “you had to be there,” it’s no wonder NRBQ was embraced by only a select audience. Thankfully, that’s been enough to keep the group, or at least some version of it, a going concern.
Though founding member Terry Adams retired the NRBQ name back in 2004, the singer-keyboardist has since reclaimed the acronym (which stands, reductively, for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet) and officially renamed his Rock & Roll Quartet. Of course, Adams is the only remaining member from any of NRBQ’s previous lineups, but he’s found sound, sympathetic players, particularly guitarist Scott Ligon. A local favorite, Ligon is gifted enough to handle Adams’s perverse love of everything from jazz to rockabilly, all of it performed with a seat-of-the-pants spontaneity.