Muse your illusion
Frankly, and possibly needless to say, The Spin was reluctant to attend Thursday night's final event at Nashville's most notorious all-ages haven, The Muse. Black clouds hovered ominously overhead, and by the time we found a parking spot next to the World's Largest Adult Book Store, the sky was illuminated with neon-purple spider webs of electricity so large it freaked us out a little. Were we to die at The Muse on this night of all nights? If so, we were going to be pissed.
To say it's the end of an era could be exaggerating. Given the impermanence inherent in youth culture, The Muse has seen several eras come and go. Those of you who waxed teary-eyed on your timelines, Twitters and on our blog post about The Muse's closing were very obviously not in attendance. Rather, we were greeted out front with a huddle of youngsters (some of their faces painted) clad in oversized novelty shirts, leather trench coats and sports jerseys. A freestyle rap battle ensued. It's safe to say The Muse Thursday night may have been the first place we've ever heard the word "Juggalo" tossed about with complete sincerity.
We walked in to find the place a little more dilapidated than we remembered — but wasn't it always that way? They had the finest beer selection we'd ever seen there, and were serving up Little Caesar's Hot-n-Readies a la carte. We ordered a PBR, realizing how sleazy it feels to swill a beer next to unaccompanied minors with exposed midriffs, and remembered when The Muse had public computers. We used to check our Hotmail accounts on them. So, that's a memory.
In the back, The Reverse Halo Effect was performing what looked more like a sound check with the room's brilliant fluorescence burning overhead. We'll be fair and admit almost anyone would forfeit a good bit of ambiance and stage presence competing against those things.
Next up was Wicked. No, not Wick-It, one of Nashville's most badass instigators. Perhaps oblivious to Wick-It's existence, Wicked was instead a solo horror-core MC, all of 5-foot-5 and 18 years, rocking the mic with tales of murder, lust, murder, fucking people up, getting fucked up and also more murder.
Following almost immediately, and overshadowing the former by about two feet and 100 pounds — accompanied only by a prop pig's head resting on a mic stand — Stitch Mouth convinced the place to turn off the house lights so he could rock the room properly. Unfamiliar as we are with local Juggalo culture, we could still ascertain this guy is a rainmaker in his field, gathering by far the evening's largest crowd yet and commanding mad props all around.
With our visit clocking in at just over an hour, we'd seen three acts, met a generation of new misfits who'll have to find someplace else to party, and said goodbye to a place we'd never really planned on going back to in the first place. Then, when did we ever? Not so much one last hurrah as the simply the end of the line for this place, it was as nostalgic as the last night of anything should be, we suppose.
Our Todd is an awesome Todd
Any time spent at the Mother Church of Country Music is time enjoyed — The Spin has a sense of history, such as it is, and Saturday night's show featured two songwriters who might have encountered a bit of resistance in the glory days of The Grand Ole Opry at the grand old Ryman. Nowadays, things are different. What could be more perfect for a history lover who wishes to contemplate the evolution of the narrative form as it exists in the periphery of Nashville country music than the inspired scholarship of Justin Townes Earle and the post-stoner mastery of song that Todd Snider exhibits in such enormous quantities?
Earle's pedigree as an adept of American song comes naturally, of course, from his father, Steve Earle, and the younger Earle paid tribute to his mother, who was in the audience at the Ryman. Beginning his set with a tip of the hat to the late Levon Helm and Donald "Duck" Dunn — a pretty fair rhythm section by any standards — Earle said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have a band wandering around somewhere," and he started off with a solo rendition of "They Killed John Henry," a song from his 2010 Midnight at the Movies.
Wearing a pale-yellow suit and sporting a bow tie that periodically went a little askew, Earle walked the floor in a dance with his guitar, and when his band came on, they grooved into a fine, Amazing Rhythm Aces-style number from this year's Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, "Memphis in the Rain." Drummer Jon Radford kept everything in the pocket, while guitarist Paul Niehaus and bassist Vince Ilagan provided bite and wit.
Earle proved himself a master at laconic, deadpan storytelling, and The Spin couldn't help but admire the way he combined the roles of scholar — one bit had the slender man with the guitar expounding on the blues roots of honky-tonk music — and the job of all-purpose entertainer. "One More Night in Brooklyn" got a subtly Chess-blues-flavored treatment, while Earle showed off his blues and punk roots with covers of Lightnin' Hopkins' "My Starter Won't Start This Morning" and The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait." The set ended with "Halfway to Jackson."
Coming out to the funky strains of Quincy Jones' "The Streetbeater" — that's the actual title of the theme from Sanford and Son — Todd Snider grinned from under his hat like the Nashville hero he is. Barefoot and ready to make some noise on guitar, Snider went into "The Ballad of the Kingsmen," one of the songs on his classic 2004 full-length East Nashville Skyline. His band — comprising drummer Paul Griffifh, bassist Eric McConnell and violinist Molly Thomas — shadowed Snider throughout the night, with Griffith looking suitably distracted while playing some of the most minimal drum parts The Spin has ever witnessed.
Unlike Earle, whose tight arrangements and well-constructed songs signal a return to the basics of ensemble playing even as they reveal the songwriter's roots in the Texas charm of such tunesmiths as Willis Alan Ramsey and Earle's namesake, Townes Van Zandt, Snider makes a minimal stab at arrangements — his music is a backdrop for his precisely turned and seemingly simple songs. Still, the music reinforces Snider's message of liberal forbearance in the face of drug use, bad behavior and the kind of no-job, no-future laziness that could only produce a genius such as Snider.
As usual, his stories were choice, and he delivered them with an impressive combination of simplicity and craftiness, and that's not to mention the craft behind such tunes as "Alright Guy" and "Beer Run." He did a parody of a song about how the younger generation just doesn't understand — ironic coming from this professional-fuckup-turned-good, right? — called "Precious Little Miracles." It was ghastly and hilarious, with Snider attempting the kind of sensitive, jazz-inflected vocal that his work abjures.
Musically, Snider is indeed a minimalist as well as a miniaturist, and The Spin finds this combination of attributes especially interesting. "Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males" and his other equally — and justly — celebrated tunes are the work of a master wordsmith who happens to need music as a form to deliver his insights. Yet the basic and rather perfunctory nature of the performances makes it clear that Snider is a rock 'n' roller at heart, even if he is one of those respected Nashville tunesmiths.
Snider deflated his own bohemianism, not to mention the boho leanings of his core audience. Whether or not Snider admits he wants to convert those straight Republicans out there, his storytelling and music could change some minds in the midst of the Tea Party era of American politics. Snider gets at something warm and humane in situations many would find a bit seedy, and the singer's gamy inclusiveness is another part of his genius. As for rock 'n' roll, The Spin realized he really believed in it when he encored with the venerable old "Louie Louie," and made it sound as new as The Kingsmen — and the half-forgotten author of the tune, Richard Berry — did back in the days before a drummer ever defiled the Ryman's sacred stage.
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Thanks Lance.. Let us know if you wanna come out tonight on us... Anthem
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