Did that really happen? The Spin actually sat still for two whole hours Wednesday night. We didn't know we could hold our piss for two hours — until Neil Young taught us over the course of a hypnotic 120 minutes.
After surviving the harrowing ordeal of procuring our press passes from will-call with straight faces and braving the classy crowd, we took our pew assignments just in time to see the house lights fade. Revered British folkie Bert Jansch serenaded all us bookish rock aficionados in attendance with his loopy finger-picking and moody melodies. All but one that is, as some asshole in the balcony — apparently unfamiliar with the concepts of an opening act and basic social conduct — started tactlessly heckling Jansch, shouting something along the lines of, "Neeeeill, we paid to see Neeeiillll." Seriously: Who comes to such an event to act so egregiously dickish? The dude probably freaked and demanded a refund when he realized this wasn't a Crazy Horse show. Hopefully he got a DUI on his way home.
Normally when The Spin bumps the kind of meditative ambient folk that is Jansch's stock in trade, it's while taking a hot bath with Nag Champa burning and nothing but Botanica candles to illuminate the room, but we'll settle for the serenity of the Mother Church. Luckily, those around the feral heckler managed to shush him before he harshed our mellow too hard, as we were expected to be on our best behavior. After all, cell phone use in any form — meaning talking, texting, sexting, Scrabble, tweeting or anything else done on a PDA — could result in your ejection.
Clad in iconic "Godfather of grunge" garb — bell-bottom jeans, T-shirt, flannel and straw-hat — Young appeared out of the shadows as the lights went down and briefly basked in the appreciative roar and scattered "I love you Neeeiiilll" proclamations from the crowd before seating himself, nestling a six-string on his thigh and — without a word — striking the opening chords of "Hey, Hey, My, My," to which our reaction was "Fuck, Fuck, Yeah, Yeah."
Over the course of the next couple of hours Young moved between various onstage stations, switching from acoustic guitar to pump organ to piano to grand piano — which was used for a whopping one song — and, to the crowd's delight, standing at center stage to rock out on electric guitar. He spoke to the crowd only two or three times throughout the show, but every slight movement he made — under the cloak of lighting that made him look like a farmer's ghost — was taken by the crowd as a grand gesture. This created a solitary and unsettling vibe — especially when he'd rumble our bowels with stark bass notes on the acoustic and piercing wails on his many harmonicas — the tension of which was released every time he'd chime in with the opening notes of something like "After the Goldrush," with soothing reassurance. It was a show that you felt, more than listened to or watched.
While the show's moody moments were unspeakably gripping, Young was at his best when it came time to rock. He was able to unleash so much cathartic cacophony when attacking his electric guitar on bloodthirsty rockers like "Down by the River," "Ohio," a mind-blowing "Cortez the Killer," and "Cinnamon Girl," that we didn't even notice there wasn't a band backing him up.
It was truly an emotional experience — if you didn't get off on it then you're either not a big fan ... or too big a fan to see the forest through the trees.
"Mamie needs something to smoke ... fast."
This was a text message a friend of The Spin received at roughly 3 p.m. Saturday from one of Jesco and Mamie White's handlers. The Whites — Appalachian cult royalty hailing from the hollers of Boone County, W.Va., and best known as the subjects of a 1991 documentary The Dancing Outlaw — had just settled into a motel and were somewhere perilously close to sobriety. Mamie had forgotten to pack her "medicine," and was raising hell.
So we dropped what we were doing and answered the call. The Spin's associate grabbed a baggie of stinky weed. If you've seen The Dancing Outlaw or the recent follow-up, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, you know the deal: Good luck finding a White who isn't A) hopelessly addicted to and/or selling prescription meds (Xanax, Oxycontin, et. al), B) in jail for violent crimes and other felonies, or C) utterly unemployable.
Mamie, the oldest White and known as "the biggest, the meanest and the baddest," reclined in the bed. Her blood pressure was up and she needed something to take the edge off. She was pleasant, grandmotherly, but warned that if she got high — or didn't — she might very well fuck somebody up.
A joint was rolled, lit and passed around the small room. A young White who couldn't have been more than 11 or 12 years old showed The Spin a tattoo on his forearm — a pair of disembodied, pendulous breasts and a bulbous ass. Then, after dragging expertly on the joint, the boy brandished a glass pipe sporting the same T 'n' A motif.
Later that evening at Mercy Lounge, as Les Honky More Tonkies pounded their way through an energetic set of power-pop infused with some filthy Southern rawk riffs, we found White reclining in a chair backstage, clutching a PBR. It wasn't long before a strange man in a white track suit and a massive white furry pimp hat invited Jesco into the cramped backstage bathroom. We don't know what happened — but soon White shed his quiet, demure persona. He became Elvis. As he wheeled around the room, Jesco unleashed a stream-of-consciousness rap. We couldn't begin to sort through the rapid twang-slur slipping through his mouth, but we were nonetheless entertained.
When we peeked out we saw the house was packed, and shouting for Jesco. He finally took the stage, a strange self-parody of excess and dysfunction. For any other performer, what followed would have been a disaster. The videos queued up on the projector stubbornly refused to play. Long stretches of silence punctuated bawdy tunes like Hank III's "Straight to Hell" and AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," where Jesco continued tapping, stoned and oblivious, rapping in either nonsense-speak or with a mad savant's profundity while the audience gawked and cheered and laughed. It was difficult for The Spin to discern whether this was exploitation, and Jesco White was a dancing monkey, or whether this product of Appalachian destitution and isolation and hopelessness and moral turpitude had become more in one drug-frenzied lifetime than the sum of the poor generations of Boone County that had been and would come.
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