The Spin made it to the Exit/In in time to catch the acts that opened for the legendary West Virginia dancer and vocalist Jesco White, and the evening turned into something far more interesting than any admirer of White's art could have predicted. Being the civilized sort that we are, we had long ago internalized the goofy and oddly inoffensive offensiveness that Jesco has brought to the world in the name of Southern culture. What Sunday night's marathon celebration of bad whiskey, warm beer and cut-off bluejeans made clear is how cunningly the cult of Jesco has come to symbolize unapologetically raucous American behavior. The Spin could only marvel at the interaction between audience and performer, and as we walked through puddles of beer in our attempt to dodge overly stimulated Jesco enthusiasts making their way toward the door, we realized we had seen a night of high-concept art worthy of New York or, yes, West Virginia.
Nashville band Slim Chance and the Can't Hardly Playboys put on a show that combined rockabilly with bad-ass guitar and fiddle. The Spin always enjoys songs about such neglected subjects as food stamps and shooting domestic partners who don't do right, and singer Jake Cox lived up to his mohawk-meets-overalls fashion sense. The power trio Beitthemeans boogied with slide guitar, while Pick up the Snake also rocked hard. Country songwriter Roger Alan Wade sang about butt-ugly sluts and other wonders of nature, and he was accompanied by a saxophonist whose playing reminded The Spin of Boots Randolph in the throes of a four-day bender — that's a compliment.
Jesco came out, bedecked in pants that featured a whiskey bottle and sporting a biker headband with a feather in it. For most of his set, he simply danced around in that inimitable way familiar to everyone who has seen the 1991 Dancing Outlaw documentary and the more recent The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Jesco was self-possessed, lip-syncing — sans microphone — to a live rendering of "Rocky Top," and finally singing a few lines into the mic along with Hank Williams Jr.'s recording of "Family Tradition."
Looking nobly ravaged, and coyly pulling a strand of hair over his eyes in teasing fashion, Jesco danced as video of his life played in the background. The Spin approves of this high-concept, post-modern stuff, and when he reappeared onstage after a break, he sang and played harmonica to the inspired sludge-rock backing of Pick up the Snake. His mostly indecipherable vocals and crazed harmonica proved that White — known for his imitations of such figures as Elvis Presley — is a rocker of weird power. The late-'60s Frank Zappa protégé Wild Man Fischer has nothing on Jesco.
In fact, The Spin was put in mind of Fischer, Zappa, Alice Cooper and The GTOs, who represented the Los Angeles underground music scene of the '60s in the same way Jesco and his rabid followers exemplify Nashville's tradition of outlaw country. The performers were devoted to rude and funny explorations of what it means to be a non-conformist in a part of the country whose wild energy has undeniable roots in conservatism, and Jesco is a symbol of that energy. Toward the end of his part of the show, Jesco mumbled a few lines from John Fogerty's "Proud Mary" — a strangely intimate moment. The show was about music and the uncontrollable way it can affect its audience, and Jesco may even be aware of just how revolutionary that concept is.