April 25 marked the end of a musical near-institution in town, the Tuesday night "open mike night" that ran for more than 10 years at Whitey's Restaurant in Arlington. The man who's held down the hosting job there on and off for many years, local guitar ace Bill Kirchen, says the club is replacing him with a DJ playing swing tunes to accompany dance lessons. "It seems like they're catching the tail end of that craze, but I wish them well," Kirchen says.
Even without that weekly gig Kirchen has plenty to keep him busy. He's been touring the country with his band Too Much Fun and getting all kinds of session calls, including one to play on the late Doug Sahm's last recordings and one to record with pianist Austin DeLone, a bandmate in the Moonlighters nearly 20 years ago. "We sent our tape to Nick Lowe in 1982 because we were hoping Rockpile would record our songs," says Kirchen, "and he ended up producing our second album." Kirchen and DeLone both played with Lowe again in the mid-'90s and, last week, Kirchen found himself in California playing on DeLone's record along with Lowe on bass and Jim Keltner on drums.
By happy coincidence, Elvis Costello was doing a private gig that same week in San Francisco, and he called DeLone asking him to sit in. When DeLone mentioned that he had Lowe, Keltner and Kirchen in the studio with him, Costello asked them all to join him on stage last Thursday night. "I'm just lucky I coattailed in on the gig with those guys," says Kirchen. "The show was wonderful, magnificent. I had to bone up on the repertoire. 'Pump It Up,' 'Alison,' 'Peace, Love and Understanding,' a bunch of soul tunes. It was great." After that concert that whole band moved to San Francisco's Boom Boom Room for a surprise set in front of some lucky folks.
Catch Kirchen Saturday at the State Theatre (220 N. Washington St., Falls Church; 703/237-0300) along with another of my favorites, the Hula Monsters. That night, fiddler Mike Stein and Hula Monsters' steel player Dave Giegerich will join Kirchen and Too Much Fun.