|The Bayou||16 Days||Next|
|Washington, DC||Yesterday's News|
|Not Home Anymore|
|Dancing With The Women At The Bar (fast)|
|Everything I Do|
|Houses On The Hill|
|Somebody Remembers The Rose|
|Don't Wanna Know Why|
|Expressway To Yr. Skull *|
|Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight|
So, i've been trying to solidify my status as a member of the fourth estate -- look, business cards and everything -- but the club and the tour management folks were adamant: "you cannot take pictures of Whiskeytown." So, of course, i spent much of the set thinking how perversely photogenic they were. Especially Ryan, of course, twisting across the stage, grabbing chunks of a green apple between tunes, blowing himself a cloud of smoke, then flinging the cigarette to the stage when the verse rolls around. But the new bass player (didn't quite catch her name, sorry) too, her face framed by twin dangles of red hair, tall and long legged in black from head to boots, pumping furiously. New lead guitarist Ed (fromohio) Crawford, brow wrinkling in concentration as he wrang the notes from his instrument. Caitlin Cary looked almost prosaic in baggy coveralls, an unassuming picture belying the clarity of her backing vocals and her elegant violin playing. i couldn't actually see much of returning original drummer Skillet behind his kit, but that was okay, i could feel my shirt vibrating when he hit his kick drum and his floor tom. There was another hired gun on keys and occasional pedal steel, Michael somebody, back well out of the lights.
Last time Ed Crawford joined a band that had just lost a lead guitarist he turned the remains of the Minutemen into fIREHOSE. i remember reviews shortly thereafter in which Mike Watt said things to the effect of Crawford not really being able to play very well, but carrying the day with his passion and commitment to the music. i have know idea how much truth there was or wasn't -- by the time i encountered fIREHOSE ed fromOhio was holding his own -- but i thought it was sort of funny that this time he's joining as the guitar player to do the tricky stuff. He was good at it too -- a couple really salty leads provided some welcome contrast, and his tenure with fIREHOSE never suggested to me the subtlety that he brang to the more overtly "country" licks.
Big surprise for the evening though, was what a good guitar player Adams hisself was. His few leads, stuttering as if they were a little unsure of themselves, were intensively expressive without any need for pyrotechnics. Reminded me a little of Kurt Cobain, a guy underrated in my opinion as a guitar soloist.
Standing up front i got an excellent view of Whiskeytown's handlers. Not just sound checking: tamping down tape, lining up beers (three per performer, mostly untouched by set's end), water bottles and towels. i guess it's good when your tour support dollars actually go somewhere.
Caitlin on the Bayou (paraphrased): "Two years ago, back when we were nobody -- not that we're anybody now, but back then we were really nobody -- Skillet was doing the booking and he talked to, I dunno, some bartender or something who said we had a gig, so when the time came we loaded up our van and our shitty rented trailer and drove down here, and the stage looked so huge and there were like four drum kits, and we said, 'we're Whiskeytown, we're playing tonight' and then said, "no you're not. here's fifty bucks, go away.'" Ryan finishes the anecdote: "actually we got free beer too, but the bands were like, three grateful dead cover bands, so none of the beer tasted good."
The enfant terrible and the rock star mythos: Watching W-town live, it was clearer than ever why they remind me so much of the Replacements. It's more than the resemblance between Westerberg and Adam's hoarse vocals, it's the way they both put so much of the meaning in the delivery -- the half swallowed words that become raw expressions of emotion. Both are ace songwriters too, and i think integrating some of the same influences. At times Adams seemed pretty into the performance, but he kept complaining about the reverb not working on his amp. A new amp was procured (more trebly and overdriven. not that much more reverb) which seemed more satisfactory. "I'm sorry we were so disheveled tonight." Ryan said after messing with it. "Actually, I'm not sorry. I'm sorry I'm not sorry. I'm sorry i don't give a fucking shit." Oh, oh, sounds like a slogan for the slacker generation, don't it? Thing is, i don't really buy it. After all the press i was prepared for the other half of the 'mats legend -- y'know, the part where they're too drunk to play. Whiskeytown weren't. And there was something about Adam's demeanor (ooh, big word. pretentious, huh?) that suggests to me that the obnoxious rawk star thing is all a bit of an act. Which is cool -- rock and roll is all a bit of an act, and there's got to be a real person underneath who comes up with the songs, so it's like, y'know, consistent. and stuff. And it all makes for a really compelling stage presence anyway.
Oh yeah, the songs. A handful of new ones which sounded pretty good: set opener "Clearly Destroyed" and one that might (or might not) be called "Bleed" and something sorta punky. Most of the Stranger's Almanac material sounding better than on record: "Turn Around" had a ferocity that stopped it from seeming repetitive the way it does on disc, the long clattering intro and outro of "Not Home Anymore" were more convincing live. "Houses on the Hill" (introduced as "Shock Me") got a twist to the melody line of the verse but kept its gorgeous chorus intact. the new supercharged version of "Dancing With the Women at the Bar" was stunning. Suddenly clear to me that the band that plays "InnTown" will probably never again play "Pawn Shop Ain't No Place for a Wedding Ring," since i now think the latter evolved into the former.
And what about the encore? Adams comes back on stage alone, snaps the low E down a full step (after a roadie just finished laboriously tuning it) and, back to the audience, begins laying down a ferocious noise. i'm trying to count all the effects he's using: digital delay, check; distortion, oh yes; chorus? yes, i think so -- so it's a while, maybe all the way to when he sings, "We're gonna kill the California Girls" before i recognize that what i'm listening to is a version of Sonic Youth's "Expressway to Your Skull" that makes the original -- i just dragged it out to compare -- seem positively sedate by comparison. The rest of the band files onto the stage and tears into the improv with a will. i keep expecting a quick three-four from Skillet and a lurch into "Waiting to Derail" (which they never did play) but "Expressway" howls on for a good dozen minutes. Most of the show made me wish i had a reliable source for a clean tape of the gig; i can't imagine really wanting to listen to "Expressway" very much, but it was pretty nifty to watch and hear in person. And a damned impressive thing for a "country" band to pull off. In i guess "maximum contrast" mode, W-town finished up with a quick run through of "Excuse Me If I Break My Own Heart," a song i can't imagine Sonic Youth playing. Caitlin afterwards: "I guess there's a reason Sonic Youth doesn't have a fiddle player." Ryan (muttering, offhanded, looking away) "I thought it sounded pretty cool." Yeah, guess i did, too.
Part of www.AnsweringBell.com