Forget the Titans, the Predators, the Sounds or even the Commodores (may the Black and Gold ever wave). Nashville has a team that inspires heart-swelling loyalty, especially among club rats of a certain age — and its name is Jason & the Scorchers.
The Spin arrived (get this) fashionably late to the Scorchers’ Mercy Lounge revival last Friday night, detained by an unlikely opener: the sold-out-and-then-some sonic tornado of Boston’s Alloy Orchestra, performing its live score for Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi jawdropper Metropolis at The Belcourt to an immediate (and deserved) ovation. The Spin wasn’t the only death racer shifting some serious gears — in every sense — to hotfoot it from the bowels of German-expressionist class revolt in Hillsboro Village to the Scorchers’ amped-up, all-embracing hillbilly heaven by showtime.
Alas, we missed the opening salvo of “Mona Lee” (off the Scorchers’ new disc Halcyon Times, their first LP of new material since 1996) as well as the double whammy of the evergreen “Shop It Around” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” — the single that admitted the Scorchers to the exclusive club of folks who’ve smoked Bob Dylan on one of his own tunes. It was “Sweet Marie,” after all, that kicked off the refurbished Fervor EP 27 years ago — which should make Cantrell’s denizens hesitate for just a moment before tossing that AARP mailer.
But the youngest guys in the room were the daredevils at stage center: frontman Jason Ringenberg and his guitar-hurling, lick-busting comrade Warner Hodges, whose manic moves made the many iPhones held aloft look like handheld portals onto the Nashville of three decades ago.
We arrived to find Scorchers protégé Stacie Collins doing a snake-hipped cover of the band’s “200 Proof Lovin’,” showing off harp chops to rival Ringenberg’s while looking very much the bull-tamin’ hellcat drawn pin-up style on her merch. But Ringenberg, giving off twinkles of rhinestone bling in a Western outfit that summoned Gram Parsons from the beyond, left no doubt who was stoking this locomotive. After an extended riff on those round vinyl things bands used to put out back in the Scorchers’ salad days — the term escapes us — the head Scorcher kicked off a cluster of mid-‘80s classics, including Fervor’s “Harvest Moon” and the Lost and Found LP’s plaintive lament “Still Tied.”
By the time the group reached its reliable live showstopper “I Can’t Help Myself,” Ringenberg was a blur of motion, bobbing and weaving like a shadow-boxing shaman, while the plainly revved-up Hodges never let his flash overtake his playing — no small trick when your guitar is orbiting your body like a mad electron.
Throughout the night, the Halcyon Times material held its own, mostly because of the fire the band breathed into it. Dan Baird’s guest spot on the folkie shuffle “When Did It Get So Easy (to Lie to Me)” hit just the right note of hootenanny high spirits as he, Ringenberg and Hodges harmonized like hoboes around a campfire. While they’ve got the unenviable task of competing with fans’ memories of Scorchers stalwarts Jeff Johnson and Perry Baggs, new members Al Collins (on bass) and imported Swedish drummer Pontus Snibb evoked the classic lineup’s punk fury on newly minted songs such as “Gettin’ Nowhere Fast,” the gleefully spiteful “Twang Town Blues” and the second-set closer “Moonshine Guy.” It says something that even on these new numbers, The Spin could see some grey heads pogoing at their own peril.
If anything, the second set was even more torrid, from a blistering “Lost Highway” and "Both Sides of the Line" (nice snare rolls, Snibb) to the obligatory crowd sing-along with “Broken Whiskey Glass” — a moment that seemed to acknowledge how far the audience had come with the Scorchers, and how grateful the band remains. A surprising number of older men with young girls were present, which sounds kinda skeevy — until we realized that these were parents initiating their kids into the Church of Jason, offering living witness of what a rock ‘n’ roll band for the ages is supposed to look like.
Here, kids, here’s why Dad would always make the Shrek face when you told him about some flavor-of-the-month rock act, whose frontman acted like he was loitering on stage without intent. Because when he closed his eyes, he could see the Scorchers of 1985 like it was the first day of eternal summer, forever throwing guitars and chipping teeth and busting mike stands with the force of their passion. For them to come back to us now — older and sadder but with hearts still beating like pistons — seems a triumph over time for us all.
The Spin gave out before the Scorchers did, heading out near 1 a.m. as “White Lies” rang in our ears. They played “Last Time Around,” but we don’t believe it. Nashville’s team is gonna stomp the world this year. “We can still rock hard, by God,” Jason Ringenberg crowed, with bravado earned by a solid two-and-a-half hours of hardcore showmanship — only to add with a chuckle, “but it does take us longer to recover.”