“If you want to hear it pretty, go listen to our albums.” Thus spoke Ryan Adams at the end of a Whiskeytown concert that left some in the crowd disappointed. For those of us who like our country-rock with the needle stuck deep into rock’s red zone, though, it was a night to remember.
Whiskeytown’s six-person lineup included only three musicians from the last Whiskeytown performance in Dallas just a few months ago: Adams, fiddler Caitlin Cary and multi-instrumentalist Mike Daly. Original drummer Skillet Gilmore is back in the fold, along with new guitarist Ed Crawford (formerly of Firehose) and bassist Jennifer Snyder.
Gone, along with the replaced band members, was the softer, gentler side of Whiskeytown. Sweeter songs such as “16 Days” were delivered with rockin’ intensity, and the harder-edged stuff sounded like Whiskeytown done by The Who, or perhaps Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Some songs were so reborn that they couldn’t even be recognized until the chorus (Adams’ somewhat slurred vocals didn’t make it any easier). “Dancing With The Women At The Bar” turned into a flat-out rocker, and “Turn Around” was right off the scale.
Even so, the slow songs (all two of them) provided some of the evening’s more bizarre moments. After completing the only acoustic number of the night (just Adams on guitar, with some background keyboards), Adams stood up, smashed the guitar, and hurled the shattered remains into the audience, followed by the mike stand. Standard rock-star move? Yep, but at least he did it at an unexpected time.
The other slow song was “Losering”. Delivered near the end of the show, the band turned this one into a strange but oddly effective chant. Heavy, thudding drums dominated, with an almost psychedelic overlay of guitars, violin and keyboards. This one had the effect of thinning out the crowd a bit: It was an extended piece, combined with portions of another song and some apparently free-form verse from Adams, reminiscent of Jim Morrison and the Doors. You probably wouldn’t want to hear that all night, but as a complete change of pace from the rest of the evening, it worked remarkably well.
Throughout the concert, Adams staggered about the stage, occasionally sitting down, sometimes being held up by Cary, and spending portions of the evening playing with his back to the crowd — yet he was always a compelling figure to watch. His between-song banter varied from profanely funny comments to goading “the dumbass frat boys from Alpha Beta kiss-my-ass” for having the audacity to request songs that Adams didn’t feel like playing.
Fellow North Carolinians 6 String Drag played an excellent opening set. Not as compelling as Whiskeytown, they nonetheless performed spirited renditions of songs taken about equally from their recent E-Squared album, High Hat, and other sources, including crowd-pleasing covers of Townes Van Zandt and Gene Vincent tunes. Prior to the Van Zandt song (“Loretta”), lead singer Kenny Roby voiced his approval of Steve Earle’s declaration that Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world by stating that he “would stand on Steve Earle’s shoulders in his jock strap while Steve stood on Bob Dylan’s coffee table and say Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter ever.” The Texas crowd cheered in agreement.
Six String Drag’s own material was delivered pretty much by-the-numbers, but was very well done. Some songs felt shortened, perhaps to fit in as many as possible during the hour they had to perform. It would be great to hear this band when they have the opportunity to stretch out a bit. Their instrumentation included banjo and dobro on a few songs, and featured the tasteful, home-fried guitar work of Scott Miller, who recently rejoined the group. The sound was further enriched on one particularly pretty tune by the fiddle playing of Whiskeytown’s Caitlin Cary.