distills rock to a countrified essence
By Nick Carter
of the Journal Sentinel staff
March 26, 1998
Wednesday's scheduled chart-topping bill of Smash mouth and Third Eye
Blind at the Rave may be among rock's more recent and profitable ventures,
with modern-rock playlists and record-store sales a testament to that
But the root of rock's constantly poked but ultimately indomitable
spirit held forth before a mere 300 or so Tuesday night in a sweaty and
packed Shank Hall, where North Carolina upstart Whiskeytown poured on its
Whiskeytown seems to be this month's pick among college radio and
underground press circles, but this time the hype is justified. It may be
unsurprising to hear that the nostalgic renegades borrow heavily and
equally from both the Replacements and the Rolling Stones. But signifying
relics of those ancient rock forces were so constant and blatant Tuesday
night it would be downright negligent to let them go unmentioned.
After opening with "Destroyed," a humdrum '70s-style rock
throwaway, the band quickly gave justice to all the buzz during a
country-rock foray, "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart
Tonight," featuring enough dirty backwoods guitars and lazy backbeats
to make John Hiatt proud.
The next piece had the band delving into a bit of dreamy rock that
initially -- kidding you not -- inspired disorienting images of Sting, but
with some gritty blues riffs and gorgeous, drunken melodies promptly
clearing up that little misgiving.
More country tones seeped into "Midway Park," with violinist
Caitlin Cary's runs and Emmylou Harris-like harmonies adding character to
the rocking hoot.
Whiskeytown's gaunt lead singer and guitarist Ryan Adams has the Jack
Daniel's-soaked croak of a rocker at least twice his reported 23 years;
even more telling may be his black-licorice dyed mop, which conjured
images of Keith Richards circa 1972 in the heart of his "Brown
"16 Days" continued the earthy laid-back approach, with a bit
of "Sticky Fingers"-inspired backwoods rock boasting a
soul-tugging melody so sweet it almost ached.
"Everything I Do" also came smooth and lazy, but this time by
way of a shuffling Stax-Volt beat beneath its soul-enriched verses. Its
clipped and chunky guitar rhythms provided a slow-building tension for
Adams' husky tenor, all the more embellished by some swirling organ runs
that seemed to respond almost verbally to the vocalist's pleading wails.
"Strip" continued the Jagger/Richards tone, a bumpkin-steeped
send-up, that, switching around a verse or two, could have passed for a
late-Stones live version of "Dead Flowers."
"Yesterday's News" was the rare number that offered nary a
hint of the Stones. But with its punky, urgent verses collapsing into
cathartic wails of a chorus, it did strongly conjure up the band's other
often-cited influence, the Replacements.
The extended encore had Adams busting a gut in Hank Williams style on a
pair of acoustic confessionals, one of them fleshed out by Cary's
reflective fiddlings. A bit later, the band rejoined the pair, yet
remained in Nashville mode on the rustic-rock romps "Today" and
For today's poor rock fans, who recently have had to endure tortures
such as Jimmy Ray, a shot of Whiskeytown goes down like a swig of