Haggard but not tired
“I wanna get something straight,” Merle Haggard
explained to a sold-out Ryman audience. “We’re a beer joint band.” And, pews aside, the Mother Church of Country Music felt more like a dusty Bakersfield honky-tonk last Wednesday, as the man with 38 No. 1 hits (and a lengthy rap sheet) showed once again that the more things change, the more Hag stays the same. With a spry demeanor and sharp humor that belied his 69 years (his birthday coincides with this issue date), the waggish singer lived up to his legend, trolling through one of the deepest catalogs in popular music and delivering gem after gem in a strong, soul-drenched baritone that puts most singers a third his age to shame. Fronting a strong band that featured the chicken-pickin’ of former Lower Broad mainstay Joe Manuel
, Hag kicked off with “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and proceeded on a journey through roadhouse rave-ups (“Swinging Doors,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Honky Tonk Night Time Man”), heart-rending ballads (“That’s the Way Love Goes,” “Silver Wings”) and flag-waving anthems (“Fightin’ Side of Me”). Introducing “Okie From Muskogee,” he told a story about being asked why he wrote the song: “I wrote it,” he answered, “because I was the only one who knew the words.” It’s that sort of plainspoken humor and wisdom that are the key to Merle’s charm. What else would you expect from a guy who can turn a line as simple as “I make my livin’ writin’ songs / And singin’ them” into a moment of sublime transcendence?
Keithin’ it real
Yes, The Pink Spiders
are on a major label, so we guess it’s OK that they were the only band at last Monday’s 8 off 8th
writer’s night to have their roadies set up, bring their own mic-stand lights and wear sunglasses indoors. Joined by Dave Paulson
of The Privates on guitar—sticking out like an understated thumb in his white T-shirt and jeans—the Spiders were loud and tight, but a bit incongruous with the spirit of the evening, which was, on the whole, unpretentious, egalitarian and far more fun than anyone is supposed to have on a Monday night. We don’t know if it was the lineup or the price tag (zero dollars), but the Mercy Lounge was packed. Most likely, it was that certain je ne sais quoi
of Hail to the Keith’s Keith Lowen
, who is guest-hosting the show once every couple of months. Also on the bill were Imagine Asians
(Spin.com’s band of the day for April 6), Beth Cameron
of Forget Cassettes (who did some old Liz Phair covers with a friend), The Clutters
, Apollo Up!
and Umbrella Tree
, who played way-offbeat rock and brought the energy level up midway through the night—even if their lead singer did look a bit like an extra from Witness
. In some ways, The Clutters and The Pink Spiders are a study in contrasts: The Clutters’ Doug Lehmann
might have skipped the so-tight-they-might-as-well-be-painted-on white jeans (à la Jon Decious
of the Spiders), but what could be more rock ’n’ roll than the duct tape on his guitar?
Out of this world
We have to give it up to Galactic
and their hosts at City Hall Thursday night for making us feel like we were down in New Orleans. In between the funk jams, our drink orders were filled promptly with a smile and a simple “Is that strong enough for you?” Tie-dyed hippies and polo-wearing frat boys intermingled while couples mugged down on the dance floor and thick clouds of Black & Milds wafted through the venue. (The smell of pot smoke was mysteriously absent.) The Gamble Brothers Band
started things off with a short set that seemed rushed at times, though they finished strong—in the final moments of their performance, singer/keyboardist Al Gamble
sounded like a young Steve Winwood. Mollified but unsatisfied, we began to wonder how much we’d have to drink before we started having fun. Enter Galactic, who played with feverish intensity for close to two hours before ending just past midnight. The band’s flowing improvisation combined powerful bass lines with tight, well-orchestrated drum beats captivating enough to keep the hipsters noodling and the preps nodding—enough even to keep our hands off our libations (at least for a little while).
Music, food, beer, sunshine, temperature in the mid-70s—that was more than enough to get us down to Music Row on Saturday to celebrate American Songwriter
magazine’s 22nd anniversary. With performances by Greenland
, Trent Dabbs
and Carey Ott
, fried chicken and the first chance we’ve had to actually pump a keg in a good long while, the event had all the makings of a lovely springtime Saturday. We rolled up just in time to see literate pop-rocker Ott (who plays the Exit/In on Saturday) kick off his set. He had a bit of trouble pulling people’s eyes away from their beverages and their ears away from lazy warm-weather conversations, but we think even Bon Jovi would have struggled on such a gorgeous day. American Songwriter
got an infusion of new blood in 2004 under new owners Doug Waterman
and Robert Clement
, young entrepreneurs from Mobile, Ala., whose enormous work ethic has helped bring the magazine out of relative obscurity. So Doug, our only complaint: where were all the magazines? We couldn’t seem to get our hands on one. Was it the cover story on The Strokes, or do all your issues vanish that quickly?
Room at the In?
Since opening in 1971, the Exit/In
has had a long, storied history, hosting many legendary acts and having its fair share of problems along the way. But this time the issue isn’t bankruptcy or failure to pay taxes—it’s capacity. The Environmental Task Force—an agency comprising inspectors from Metro’s codes, health, fire and police departments—made a surprise visit to the club to make sure it complies with codes for public safety. Two Fridays ago, they found it to be filled over capacity. According to Chris Cobb
, who books acts for Great Big Shows
, the company that runs the Exit/In, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission requires the venue to maintain seating for its patrons, and for the Exit/In, that reduces the capacity to 115. “At 115 capacity, the Exit/In doesn’t function,” Cobb says. As for future shows booked at the venue, he says, “Some shows may have to be moved, but we’re taking it on a case-by-case basis. We are working as quickly as we can to resolve this. But I’m confident the Exit/In will return to business as usual as the legendary venue it has always been.”
, the old-time string band who were making the local rounds a couple years back, are reuniting this Friday, April 7, at The Basement for a night of whoopin’ and hollerin’. Included among the hornswoggling rogues: Justin Earle
, Cory Younts
, Willie Domann
, Skyler Wilson
and Ben Martin
. Bassist-singer Amy LaVere
, who we’ve heard was terrific in her last Nashville performance, opens the show.
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