If you ask savvy rock-fan Nashvillians — with their respective fingers on the pulse — where the place to be was on Thursday night, you might get a couple of different answers. You might hear that it was Local Natives and Ruby Suns at The Cannery Ballroom, or even Champion and His Burning Flame at The End. But those folks are doing it wrong. They might have their fingers on the pulse, but they’re totally missing the heartbeat. The heartbeat was thumping hard and loud at a little dive bar off of Charlotte that goes by the name of Betty’s. The heartbeat was beating with Kurt Wagner and Cortney Tidwell’s KORT, and it was beating strong.
Betty’s seems both an unlikely and a consummate selection for the debut of KORT. It’s off the beaten path. It isn’t the cleanest or the hippest or the most visible venue in town, but it’s the unlikely home base for not only Lambchop and its various members’ side projects, but also for the local noise scene and even for some of the most solid country and indie-rock shows you’ll ever catch in Music City. When we showed up at 9 p.m., just before local darling Caitlin Rose kicked off her set, we found that the place was packed to the gills — probably two-thirds with Lambchop/Cortney Tidwell/prospective KORT fans, and one-third good old-fashioned regulars. Mullets. NASCAR shirts. Pall Malls. The whole nine yards.
Rose clearly honed her already impressive skills while on tour in Europe over the past couple months. With just lead guitarist Jeremy Fetzer at her side, Cato proved that — as strongly as her songs and her voice have always shone — there’s no ceiling on gettin’ good, and she was the best we’ve seen her in ages. She quipped that she has missed playing in her hometown, because the boisterous din of Betty’s crowd was nearly louder than her voice as it issued from the PA, and she's grown accustomed to playing for pin-drop-quiet crowds across the pond. But she ain’t just full of beans — it was obvious that she’s missed performing for rowdy, seen-it-all-before Americans, and she clearly felt at home. We won’t lie; we have a bit of a conflict of interest when it comes to Cato. She’s long felt like a little sister we’re truly proud of. But you know what? We’re just happy to be able to claim her.
KORT somehow managed to squeeze their gear into the front corner of Betty’s — big ol’ double bass and all — with Kurt Wagner adorned in a cowboy hat and handlebar mustache, and Cortney Tidwell looking and sounding lovely as ever. With friends, strangers, fans and family gathered at almost awkwardly close proximity — but not quite awkward, ’cause we’re all friends here — KORT played the track list from their debut, Invariable Heartache, straight through, song for song. “Penetration” is most definitely our favorite jam from the record, and we’ve been dying to get our hands on the original Three Heads version for weeks. Anyone want to hook The Spin up?
Anyhow, each song was a spot-on, perfectly played re-creation of the album track, with drummer Scott Martin beautifully executing the subtle dynamics required to pull off tunes like “I Can’t Sleep With You” and “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now” — the latter of which was originally performed by Tidwell’s late mother, Connie Eaton. KORT’s version brought many of us to the verge of tears. Their encore featured a Townes Van Zandt tune — we’re pretty sure it was “None But the Rain” — a Jefferson Airplane song, and one other that we couldn’t place. Forgive us … we’d had a few by then, and we were just psyched to have seen what could very well be the only KORT performance ever to take place on American soil. Fingers crossed that it won’t be.