Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Last Day of Twang

The last day of Twangfest 9 seems like a blur to me now. Images mix up in my head. There’s Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash dueting on the same song Armstrong recorded in 1930 with Jimmie Rodgers. Here’s the Bottle Rockets playing the tightest, most power-packed set I’ve ever heard from them (going back some 18 years to their Chicken Truck incarnation). And now, it’s 2 in the morning and some 5’6” girl at the bar wants to see how tall she is compared to my 6’8” frame.

I sat in the Schlafly Bottle Works for three and a half hours watching the amazing collection of vintage films and TV transcripts called Twangclips. Barry Mazor, senior editor of No Depression, runs this part of the program. There were technical difficulties aplenty, and the people in the room were talking louder than the music – can you believe they could make more noise than the Dream Syndicate in their Paul B. Cutler guitar shredding prime? – but it was a blast seeing images of Bob Wills, Patsy Cline, Green on Red, Loretta Lynn, and many, many more.

Meanwhile, Undertow Records was hosting a party out on the parking lot, spotlighting a number of their bands. I didn’t get to catch much, though the last couple songs played by Steve Dawson (of Dolly Varden) were exceptional. I think this guy is a songwriter to watch. He’s written some really interesting stuff already, and the bits I’ve heard from his forthcoming solo album are really cool. Finally, Adam Reichmann (formerly of Nadine) played a half dozen lovely songs all by his lonesome, ending just before the rain started coming down hard.

That night, Twangfest moved from the comfy confines of the Duck Room to the large space of the Pageant. With hundreds more people in the club, it was much harder to spot all the friends I know from previous nights (and years), but I got plenty of socializing in. The Townsmen from Columbus, Ohio opened the show with a nice bit of R.E.M./Jayhawks jangle pop. I really liked the drummer a lot, and the guitar solos had some teeth to them. The guy from Slobberbone followed, and did nothing for me. It was raunchy country-based rock that never quite coalesced into anything with a personality.

The Bottle Rockets, however, had personality to spare. For many years, Brian Henneman has been the focus of this band, and if he was in a bad mood, there was no hope for the show. Now, while he’s still the driving force, he is surrounded by excellent musicians. Long-time drummer Mark Ortmann is locked in with brand new bassist Keith Voegele, and somewhat recent additional guitarist John Horton can give Henneman a run for his money in the lead guitar race. It’s great to see a band come together better than they’ve ever been after all these years. They played old classics and a few new songs which should be recorded by next spring. I’ve always thought the Bottle Rockets were the best of the original alt-country triumvirate (along with Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks), but now they’re truly great.

I wish I was as excited by Neko Case, the final act of this year’s Twangfest. I love her records, but somehow, when I see her live, things never quite reach the apex of excitement I expect from her. She sings beautifully, but seems detached from the music. This doesn’t happen when she’s in the New Pornographers, where she seems to be having a ball. But as a front person, she comes off as too serious, and perversely deflects the serious beauty of the songs. They sound not exactly clinical, but far from emotionally true.

After the Pageant kicked us out, we repaired to the Halo Bar for further drinking. Much fun and hysterical conversation occurred, very little of which would make sense to anybody reading this. But, on a personal note, Cat and I achieved a new milestone. After getting to sleep near 4 in the morning, we didn’t wake up until after 11 am. Normally, we tend to arise before 8, no matter what we did the night before. What will this mean for our future weekends?

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